In the high mountains of Greece’s history

Harilaos Florakis, the leader of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) from 1972-89 who died Sunday at the age of 91, is to be buried tomorrow, after a funeral service this afternoon in Athens, in the mountains where he was born and raised and where he fought – under the nom de guerre Capetan Yiotis – during the Resistance and the 1946-49 Civil War. This afternoon, at their headquarters in the western Athens district of Perissos, Greece’s Communists will say goodbye to their former leader, who marked the history of the Greek Left more than anyone besides the legendary Nikos Zachariadis, the party’s leader during the Civil War. The Greek state is also paying its respects to a powerful personality who, like all politicians, will be judged by history but who also managed to earn the respect of his ideological rivals. Florakis was a telegraph operator in Athens, a member of the National Liberation Army during the Resistance, and a lieutenant general in the Democratic Army during the Civil War who was also outlawed, tried for espionage and exiled. He experienced the vicissitudes of history that brought the KKE from obscurity to power to the «stone years» of illegality and finally to a new political era. The fact that he was not blamed for any of the mistakes committed by previous leaders – including the 1945 Varkiza agreement, the refusal to take part in the 1946 elections, the persecution of Zachariadis’s supporters after the death of Stalin in 1953, the dissolution of the party organizations in 1958 – stood in his favor when he took the helm of the party in 1972. At the time, the party was in disarray because of the party schism in 1968 and the abuse it had taken from 1967-74 military dictatorship. Displaying a strong political instinct, Florakis rejected the «liberalization» of the junta under the premiership of Spyros Markezinis at a time when the majority of the old political guard, including a considerable sector of the United Democratic Left (EDA), was inclined to take part in it. After the 1973 Polytechnic uprising, at the KKE’s Ninth Congress, he made a sharp left turn in the party’s policy aimed at creating a «New Democracy.» A few months later, Constantine Karamanlis seized on that term in an entirely different ideological vein. These choices allowed the KKE to once more ally itself with the radicalism of the younger generations – to rise from being a party of defeated, mostly exiled resistance fighters into a political force of the masses and to defend itself on the left from the «reformist» element of the Communist Party of the Interior. It is no exaggeration to say that without the dynamic contribution of the KKE and its youth group, the period following the fall of the dictatorship in 1974 could have been a much more uncertain and painful time. It is also true that Florakis and his party did not earn recognition by making sworn statements of conformity with the law or by a servile adjustment to the criteria of the media. Since the day after the junta fell, and at least until 1981, the overwhelming majority of the media scoffed outrageously at Florakis’s linguistic idiom, attaching to the KKE the insulting appendage «of the Exterior» and declaring it to be (along with Andreas Papandreou’s PASOK) «to the left of the Left.» Essentially, the country’s political and publishing elite acknowledged the KKE – in the political rather than in the legal sense – only when the internecine conflict with the Communist Party of the Interior under Babis Drakopoulos and Leonidas Kyrkos had clearly ended in the former’s favor. However, according to an article in an Italian newspaper in 1989, it was Florakis as leader of the most «orthodox» communist party in Europe, who finally carried out the «historic compromise» with the Right advocated by Enrico Berlinguer’s Eurocommunists. Then there was the mutiny within the party’s youth wing (KNE) that affected the ranks of cadres as well as the party itself, followed shortly afterward by a split with the wing led by Grigoros Farakos that led to the breakup of the short-lived united Coalition of the Left. The persistence of Florakis and the party’s new leadership under Aleka Papariga on safeguarding the party’s communist character was scorned by many as an indication of ideological arteriosclerosis. The truth is, however, that this tendency – both an emotional and a reflex action – allowed the party to withstand the climate of ideological illegitimacy created by the collapse of «existing socialism» when much larger parties of the European Left were shrinking or disappearing altogether. When Lenin was told of the death of Rosa Luxemburg (with whom he had often clashed), he wrote: «An eagle might sometimes fly low down with the hens, but hens can never fly as high as an eagle. Despite our differences, Rosa was always an eagle of the revolution.» This is the Florakis that will be missed by comrades who accompany him to his final resting place in the windswept Agrafa mountains. The rest will bid a final goodbye to a major chapter in our history, to a leader who lived through earth-shattering changes and yet saw only some – and not the most ambitious – of his visions become reality.