A veteran leftist looks back on long service to Greece

By Giorgos Douatzis *

In his fight for freedom, Manolis Glezos has come close to death on numerous occasions. He has led an eventful life, from imprisonment to the highest distinctions, from pursuit and exile to recognition. An eternal optimist, his vitality of thought is startling. Now 85 years old, he admitted to having thought a great deal about death: «When I think of geological time periods, our life is just a moment, nothing. Yet we can do so much during this brief moment that we live...» Are you afraid of death? No, because I am familiar with death. We exaggerate fear. Anything unknown creates fear. When you analyze it and discuss it, you can overcome it. I have faced all forms of death: illness, death sentences, murder attempts, conflicts and hunger strikes. I now await a natural death. You mentioned many forms of death. One form was due to illness. I was tortured horribly in the Averof prison and I fell ill with tuberculosis at the age of 20. On my way home, I started spitting blood. At home, my mother filled a bucket with blood. I couldn't speak and I overheard the doctor say: «Make him comfortable because in three days' time, he is going to die.» When my mother came into the room, I wrote her a message: «Don't listen to the doctor. I'm not going to die.» And the decisions of others? I was confronted with this form of death three times. Apostolos Santas and I were sentenced to death by the German authorities during the occupation in 1941 because we took down the swastika from the Acropolis. In 1948, during the Civil War, I was sentenced by the Athens Military Tribunal. The third time was in 1949. Knowing that you are alive today but may not be tomorrow is a terrible feeling. When the tribunal sentenced me to death, there was a three-day period during which an appeal could be made, but the appeal was invariably rejected and then you were executed. On the night before the execution, prisoners were locked up in an underground cell. We were certain we would be executed. With the mobilization of public opinion and the international community, and the intervention of Charles de Gaulle, we were released 10 days later; it took the Ministerial Council that long to make a decision. What about murder attempts? There were nine attempts. I remember the one in Florina, in 1963, during the election campaign. I was warned not to go to Florina for the United Democratic Left (EDA). In Florina, we were greeted with slogans such as «Death to Glezos.» A man tried to knife me but one of our men had seen him and knocked him out. How did you feel? It was worse when I met my would-be killer in Florina. He was ashamed. He said he had been forced to do it and he was sorry. We embraced. The local authorities also apologized on behalf of the town for that attempt on my life. What about your time in jail? I was in and out six times during what were supposed to be the best years of my life, between 20 and 49. I remember the dark. I would conjure up images of the outside world. I tried to remember everything I had seen and processed it in my mind with words. What does the notion of time mean to you? There are moments when you gain centuries of experience. For me time counts in relation to social and political action. I feel acutely that our time on earth is ephemeral. What is your opinion of democracy in Greece? We have the best democracy our country has ever had and the worst of what we should have. Why? Today people don't care. What democracy is there when every four years Greek citizens relinquish their rights to delegates. We have reached the point where relinquishing our rights is considered a political right and this has been institutionally established. Only when citizens come together to discuss, decide and conduct politics, rather than have politicians exercise politics, can we talk of a democracy. Politicians have turned political discourse into the language of power and propaganda. Rather than sharpening our senses, it blurs and kills thought. Their language creates the impression that nothing can change. What do you think of the unpleasant goings-on in public life? It is a consequence of a distorted democracy. It is not surprising, as citizens have no part in decision-making. As for journalism, the TV screen no longer shows us the event but presents commentary as the event. What about the future? The immediate future is difficult. When events reach a point of no return, then the people's indignation will brim over and it is impossible to foresee developments. When citizens realize their power, those in power are doomed. * This article first appeared in the February 17 edition of K, Kathimerini's weekly supplement. From wartime resistance to years of imprisonment Born in Aperathou on Naxos in 1922, Manolis Glezos settled in Athens at the age of 13. In 1940 he entered the then Economics University. On the night of May 30, 1941, he and Apostolos Santas together removed the swastika from the Acropolis. They were arrested on March 24 of the following year and sentenced to death. After his release from prison, he was arrested by the Italians in 1943 and by occupation collaborators in 1944. In 1945, he became the editor of the Communist newspaper Rizospastis, and later its chief editor, director and publisher. Three years later, he was arrested and tried 28 times in court for press offenses. In October 1948, he was sentenced to death. In 1949, he was given a second death sentence. In 1950, his death sentences were changed to life sentences and in 1951, while imprisoned, he was elected Athens deputy for the United Democratic Left (EDA). He was released in 1954. In 1956, he became director of the newspaper Avghi. Two years later, he was arrested and convicted of espionage. In 1961, still in prison, he was re-elected deputy for EDA and was released a year later. He was arrested during the coup in April 21, 1967, and was imprisoned until 1971. In 1974, he helped revive EDA and became party secretary. He was elected first deputy for Athens in 1981, Eurodeputy in 1984 and deputy for Pireaus's second constituency in 1985, for PASOK on all three occasions. Between 1985 and 1989, he was president of EDA and in 2002 he was elected Athens prefectural counsellor. He was awarded the International Award of Journalism in 1958, the Golden Medal Joliot-Curie of the World Peace Council in 1959, the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963, the Palm Cross for his services to his country in 1997 and the Golden Medal of the Athens Academy in 2006, along with Apostolos Santas, for his resistance activity.