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Monday, 26 January 2015

Children of Marx, Coca Cola and the Greek colonels? Rethinking student resistance in the long 1960s

Eirini Karamouzi (The A. G. Leventis Fellow on Modern Greece, St Antony's College, Oxford)

On 22 January 2015, SEESOX hosted a seminar entitled ‘Children of Marx, Coca Cola and the Greek colonels? Rethinking student resistance in the long 1960s’ with speakers Kostis Kornetis (University of New York), Eirini Karamouzi (SEESOX) and chaired by Paul Betts (St Antony’s College). Kornetis presented the findings of his recently published book "Children of the Dictatorship: Student Resistance, Cultural Politics, and the 'Long 1960s' in Greece", which focuses on the political, social, and cultural history of youthful opposition to the Greek military dictatorship (1967-74). The culmination and the most spectacular of all resistance activities was the student occupation of the Athens Polytechnic in November 1973 - an occupation that lasted three days and came to a bloody conclusion as it was crushed by the regime’s tanks; at least twenty-four people were certified dead and another fifteen went “missing”. If the most emblematic moment in Western European recent protest culture remains 1968, the absolute vertex for later developments in Greece’s political activism were therefore the Polytechnic events of 1973 – paradoxically becoming later on a national “lieu de memoire”. The hegemonic role that this emblematic movement played and continues to play in Greece, renders its close study of paramount importance to understand both the events themselves and their afterlives. The book is innovative and original in the simple fact that is as not as much about the politics of protest, as about the cultural memory thereof, thus promoting a dialogue between private microhistory and public events. By exploring the subjective element in student discourse and action, it looks at the ways in which these identities have changed over time and how individuals look back at their past militancy almost forty years later. Kornetis explicitly underlined during his talk that the aim was not to look only at the facts, but to explore the psychological and symbolic dimension, the unconscious, the imaginary and the projections, the memory distortions and the memory losses of the actors in question.
Karamouzi placed Kornetis’ book in the recent historiographical effort to historicize and memorialize the events of the tumultuous year of 1968 and offer a more comprehensive picture of what transpired during the sixties in Europe while discovering the reductionist definition of the metaphorical shorthand of 1968. Kornetis’ account fits into attempts of recent historiography to establish a more nuanced image of pan-European developments – moving away from the well known capitals of Paris, Bonn and Rome to take into account the repressive regimes of southern Europe, utilizing fresh methodological approach of the oral history school of thought. The open discussion that followed raised, among others, issue on how currently the Polytechnic generation has moved from being completely idealized, to demystified, to being demonized for the ills of Greece.

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