There is one thing that is constant in the annual march marking the November 1973 student revolt against the junta: extra police measures. About 5,000 police officers were deployed in 2018 and around the same number will be on duty again this year.
However, such security measures to contain the violent ritual are not the only thing to recur every year on November 17. This year is the 46th anniversary of the revolt. Will it be different, in any substantial manner, from the 45th, the 44th or the 43rd? Furthermore, the statements by official figures can hardly be described as original. Being original is impossible, perhaps. Elevating an incident into an anniversary inevitably entails a certain degree of stereotyping.
Ahead of the commemoration, the heart of the capital comes to a halt. Athens turns into a battlefield: helicopters scan the city from the sky to prevent attacks from rooftops, the smell of tear gas chokes the air, troublemakers animated by an urge for destruction attack their targets, and fear spreads like a disease.
What of respect and what of memory? And why does that particular memory, as it were, require so much protection; why does it almost never fail to provoke such an outburst of violence?
The squat evacuations in downtown Athens and the abolition of the so-called asylum law which made universities a no-go area for police have this year accentuated concern about possible violence. Last year, then prime minister Alexis Tsipras and other high-ranking leftist officials were heckled as they laid a wreath on a memorial for the student uprising. Officials then blamed the incident on “extreme minorities with a totalitarian mind-set.”
This year, we might witness similar protests. The problem basically lies with the hypocrisy which magnifies the distance between the historical event and its dismantled symbolism. Debunking an anniversary is one thing; trivializing it is quite another. In the first case, everyone can have their own opinion, they can question or deconstruct the legacy of the so-called “Polytechnic generation,” and refer to the 1973 events in a melodramatic, cynical or sarcastic manner.
Disagreements are natural when discussing or revisiting a historical event. Such perspectivism allows room even for different accounts from people with first-hand experience of the 1973 events. On the contrary, the impunity which is the result of trivializing the event leaves no space for nuance. It is dangerous, not because it is violent, but rather because it spreads fast and it is solely targeted at democracy itself.