Keeping the Polytechnic alive

In «Is the Polytechnic alive? 30+1 Dreams – Myths – Truths,» Dimitris Papachristos has managed to compile an array of information – in Greek – about the student uprising on November 17, 1973 against the military dictatorship that comfortably rivals any other book on the subject. Essentially, this is an update of an earlier version, released in 1993 and also published by Livanis, but is still an indispensable and readable guide to a bloody chapter in Greece’s modern history. Papachristos has pulled together a selection of newspaper reports from the time and later accounts from people who took part in events as well as magazine features from recent years. Add to that a CD with recordings from the pirate radio station that the students famously set up and the 20-euro asking price starts to look like good value. One of the book’s aims is, as the title suggests, to demystify the aura surrounding those four November days 31 years ago when a sit-in by students at the Athens Polytechnic led to a revolt against the junta of Giorgos Papadopoulos. In this, Papachristos succeeds. His compilation is by no means an hagiography and helps contextualize the uprising as the first nail in the coffin of the dictatorship rather than as the burial itself. As he indicates in the book’s introduction, Papachristos is intent on doing away with the nostalgia that now seems to surround the event. He presents it simply as a brave, spontaneous act carried out by people living through tough times. Seen in this light, November 17 ceases to be a millstone around the neck of a generation of youngsters who are more comfortable with Playstation than Plato and more of a «refueling stop and point of reference in facing the aridity of the future,» as Papachristos writes. One of the slogans popular with the 1973 students was «Bread – Education – Freedom» – simple, effective and to the point. Papachristos makes a play on this with his own equally telling and uncomplicated motto of «Dreams – Myths – Truths» and it is indicative of the fact that his compilation gains over other books on same subject matter because of its simplicity. An example of this is that Papachristos includes a list of the people killed during the uprising – 24. There is even a street map of the area showing where each of the victims lost their lives. The precise number killed has long been a topic of debate but many contemporary media reports do not even give an indication of the death toll. A section titled «We are November 17» contains articles written by people involved in the 1973 student uprising and has the key goal of reclaiming the date in question after it had been hijacked by the terrorist group of the same name. As if to say that teenagers may now be more familiar with the latter rather than the former, Papachristos includes the results of a survey, carried out last year, in which Athenian high school students were asked about the 1973 uprising. Over half did not know when it happened. The book also makes good use of pictures from the era, taken by photographers Dimis Argyopoulos and Petros Tsikourgias. The images of a beaming Giorgos Papadopoulos as some sort of malevolent Mickey Mouse with deadly tendencies are chilling and indelible. Papachristos ends his collection with the gripping confession of the soldier who drove the first tank through the gates of the Polytechnic. The soldier admits that he has never told his children or anyone else, apart from his wife, about his true identity. In answer to the question posed by Papachristos himself in the title, it is human stories like this that mean the Polytechnic is still alive.