The man from the Acropolis

On the death of the Greek anti-fascist Manolis Glezos

Manolis Glezos
Manolis GlezosPhoto: AFP

The hour at which Manolis Glezos became a legend struck on the night of May 31, 1941. The swastika flag had been waving on the Acropolis for five weeks since the fascist army entered Athens. Glezos, 18 years old and active as a student in an anti-fascist resistance group, angry and fearless, climbed onto the landmark of the Greek capital with his friend Apostolos Sandas, tore down the Nazi flag in a cinematic handshake and hoisted the flag of Greece.

The young men fled; they became heroes and icons of the struggle against the occupiers. Those sentenced to death in absentia, arrested him a year later and tortured him. Glezos got away with life; his brother Nikos was executed. Manolis was later imprisoned by the Italian fascists, and finally by Greek collaborators.

This marked a permanent lifeline: to fight, to rebel, to endure hardship. The death penalty was imposed on him twice, and Glezos was imprisoned for eleven and a half years of his life – even during the postwar period marked by civil war, in the authoritarian 50s, during the military dictatorship in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Alongside the composer Mikis Theodorakis, he was one of the most prominent prisoners of the dictatorship – an international movement fought for her release. He also spent four and a half years in exile; in view of all of this, one might consider it a balancing justice that he reached a very old age.

Manolis Glezos has often campaigned for the unity of the left. The fact that he had to do this again and again also testifies to the fragmentation, persecution and hostility of the left. In the 1950s he was active for the unification of the Democratic Left, including MPs; in the 1970s, after the end of the military dictatorship, he started to rebuild the party. As a radical leftist he ran several times on the list of the social democratic Pasok, led the left list Synaspismos and played a key role in the formation of the Syriza alliance. He made politics in the European Parliament and in the local council of his home village Apiranthos.

Anger and fearlessness remain to him into old age. Glezos protested publicly against the anti-social austerity policies of the governments before Syriza, against the tough conditions imposed by the creditors of Greece and against the compromises of his comrades when they governed themselves. Disappointed by the government’s forced austerity policies under Alexis Tsipras, he ran in 2015 for an ultimately unsuccessful spin-off from Syriza.

Perhaps his most important concern, his life theme: reparation for Germany for the crimes and devastation committed by the Wehrmacht. It’s about mass murder, deportation, forced labor, the plundering of the whole country. Glezos wrote fire letters to federal presidents and was chairman of a committee to collect war debts.

Perhaps his most touching gesture: when the German ambassador was attacked by Distomo during the Second World War at a memorial ceremony in honor of the victims of the Nazi massacre in World War II, the 94-year-old Glezos jumped to the side of the diplomat. He took the ambassador by the hand and made sure that he could place his wreath at the memorial. “The child of a criminal, whatever the crimes of his father or mother, is not responsible,” said the anti-fascist. The fact that he, although almost a century old, did not receive any compensation from Germany for his country is a shameful testimony to German politics.

The great old man of the Greek left died on Monday.

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