A communist and a renaissance man

Antonis Karkayiannis was a close associate of Aristides Alafouzos for 20 years and the mastermind of the new Kathimerini. Born in Ambelakia, near Larissa, 79 years ago, he moved to Athens in 1951. The son of a wealthy and distinguished family and whose father was a judicial official, he became involved in the outlawed communist movement and took an active role in the Greek Communist Party (KKE). In March of 1953 he was arrested for his participation in the turbulent protest movement in support of the Cypriot liberation. This made him a target of authorities in the post-civil war regime. In 1954, he was exiled to Leros. In 1955, he participated in helping and hiding 27 communist convicts who had escaped from the Vourlon Prison in Piraeus. He also published the outlawed magazine Nea Genia, a mouthpiece for the United Panhellenic Organization of Youth (EPON), an activity for which he was convicted to two years in prison. He was arrested on November 6, 1958, on a passenger ship off the coast of Corfu and was brought before the military court in Athens along with other cadres of KKE, led by the junta-era hero and executive editor of I Avgi daily, Manolis Glezos. Facing charges of espionage on July 16, 1959, Karkayiannis turned the charge against his accusers in an allusive and sarcastic manner: «I never engaged in espionage because I am incapable of turning against my country.» Specifically, he said: «These charges are insulting and libelous. They are not based on the so-called evidence found against us, nonexistent evidence, but on a policy of fighting the KKE and especially the prevalent policy during the elections of 1958. I need to speak about my past life. When I was locked up in the prison in Kallithea for my participation in the Cypriot liberation movement, my defense was conducted via Mr Loizidis by the Cyprus ethnarchy itself. In 1954, I was exiled for unlawful activities. That ‘unlawful’ behavior is still with me today. I am a communist. I am being charged and tried on unfounded charges, along with others whom I have never seen before. «I will not deny that I have a false passport. I was on my way to France. There are a lot of forged papers in circulation. I am obliged for ethical reasons not to divulge the source of mine. But, of course, for the espionage charges to stick, all of this had to be invented: That I allegedly got my passport from a spy and that I was on my way to report for the Greek Communist Party behind the Iron Curtain. I never engaged in espionage because I am incapable of turning against my country.» Antonis Karkayianis and his comrades were sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was released in May 1966, along with the other people convicted under Law 375/1936, following a decree from the government of the time, also known as the apostates. By then he had served sentences in Kalami, in Crete, in Acronafplia, on Aegina and on Lefkada. He was arrested again on the first day of the colonels’ coup, on April 21, 1967, and was held at the Ippodromos jail, where he witnessed the murder of Panayiotis Elis. He was then transferred, together with thousands of fellow inmates, men and women, to the island of Gavdos and later to Leros. There, on August 21, 1968, he heard the news of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet and other Warsaw Treaty forces (except Romania). Karkayiannis, a member of the Chaos movement, co-signed, along with other communists who had been exiled by the junta, a condemnation of the invasion. Antonis Karkayiannis returned from exile to Athens in 1973 and became involved in publishing as a means of forwarding the country’s political and cultural rebirth. He was co-founder of the Olkos publishing company and the magazines Anti, Synhronos Kinimatografos and Politis, while he also worked as a proofreader at the sports daily Fos ton Spor. Karkayiannis became a copy editor at Kathimerini in 1983 and so began a brilliant career in journalism that saw him become the executive editor and publisher of Aristides Alafouzos’s new newspaper. This seasoned communist made his presence felt at what is the par excellence medium of the bourgeoisie and overcame the serious and strong doubts that others had about him. Antonis Karkayiannis left his mark on Kathimerini, with his qualities of a renaissance man: deep intellect, strong negotiation skills and challenging writing. A fighter to the end, his last published piece brought him – in one of the ironies of history – into public conflict with Manolis Glezos. Later, his old comrade visited him on his deathbed. Now this committed atheist leaves behind his ashes and the evidence of his true worth to stand the judgment of history.

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