In the long days of the dictatorship

Journalist Maria Karavia has achieved two feats with her book, «To imerologio tou Londinou: Simeioseis apo tin epohi tis diktatorias» (London Diary: Notes from the Time of the Dictatorship»), published by Agra. Not only does she recall the life and deeds of the Greek resistance in Western Europe, but she also brings back to life the suspenseful, breathless pace of life of those disappointed exiles who for years had observed the colonels’ junta rule unshaken, trampling on every democratic sensibility in Greece. The notion that the Greek people had unanimously resisted the seven-year dictatorship of 1967-1974 is a conveniently flattering myth that was cultivated after the event, and was based on the rebellion of the students at the Polytechneio, the National Technical University of Athens. In the early years, the despotic regime of the junta was all-powerful, opposition movements could be counted on one’s fingers, and the prevailing sense was one of semi-acceptance by the people. The entries in Maria Karavia’s diary cover five-and-a-half years, from November 15, 1968 to June 1, 1974. It is set in London, which was full of exiles and travelers, the healthy, the sick, the tortured, soldiers, politicians, couriers, artists, actors, journalists, junta officials and obedient diplomats. Among them were Eleni Vlachou, Takis Lambrias, Constantine Mitsotakis, Costas Simitis, General Tsigantes, Dimitris Opropoulos, Admiral Engolfopoulos, Lady Fleming, Stathis Panagoulis, Panos Kokkas, Mikis Theodorakis, Maria Farantouri, Aspasia Papathanassiou, Yiannis Spraos, Makis Arnaoutis, Stefanos Linaios and Manos Hadjidakis. The non-Greeks who took an actively philhellene stance included Marion Sarafi, Betty Abatielou, Maria Beckett, Lord Jellicoe, Leslie Fainer, David Tong, Glenda Jackson, Ian McKellen and Alan Bates. At first the news arriving from Greece was deeply discouraging: arrests, imprisonment, trials, torture, expulsions, exiles (and only infrequent news of anti-dictatorship bombings). Long meetings, endless telephone calls, noisy printing houses, lightning trips, silent picketing, socialite receptions and enthusiastic concerts all joined to help the anti-junta struggle. Selflessly, with passion and without pay, the core team of Takis Lambrias’s resistance periodical, Greek Report, tried to collect information, channel news to the press, and speak on foreign radio. They strove to raise European public awareness, influence the actions of foreign politicians, speed up the trial of Greece at the Court of Human Rights, and draw attention to the unacceptable things that were happening. In doing so, they helped create the widespread anti-dictatorship network that was established in London, Paris, Geneva, Munich, Cologne and Rome. Considering its remarkable uniformity of style, it is hard to imagine that a diary that has come out 40 years after the junta was imposed has not been subject to some later editing. A highly experienced journalist, Karavia knows the art of reportage. Avoiding pointless commentary and emotional flourishes, she confines herself to the events, allowing them to speak for themselves. Controlled emotion overflows through the actions and attitudes of the people, bringing to life the Greek communities abroad. Polyphonic, active, and sensitive, the diaspora Greeks worry, struggle, hope, are disappointed and loved. People of diverse social backgrounds, different characters and diametrically opposed political views meet for the common goal of opposing the dictatorship. Solidarity A strong sense of solidarity is forged. Within that community, the individual life of the author is not at all easy of course, with anxiety, dull days, mist, rain, despondency, straitened financial circumstances and boundless nostalgia. Art, which is available in abundance there, offers some consolation, without negating Sartre’s comment on self-exile, that «regardless of the reasons that cause it, you lose your place in the world and can never fully regain it.» Indeed the sense of reality dissipates, as you are always somewhere different from the place you are constantly thinking about. These particular circumstances do however provide an opportunity for all sorts of experiences. You acquire a strange taste of poverty, as at one moment you are worrying whether you can come up with the small sum you need to pay the electricity bill, and at the next you are being invited by rich people who are also working against the dictatorship to some posh event at Claridges, or receiving visitors in Rolls Royces. You experience unforgettable scenes of a Greek neighborhood in a vast block of furnished flats with exiles in London weeping as they hear the radio program from the Polytechneio. And you are astounded by the comical, unsuspecting, monumental ignorance of Constantine, the former king of Greece, who is in London for the World Sailing Congress: «Have you seen the marbles? Are they in good condition? I must go and see them some time.»

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