When preventive censorship was lifted last October after a two-and-a-half-year blackout, the newspapers of Athens (not including the organs of the military regime) began once more to report the news. They did so carefully, still refusing to make editorial comment so long as this new liberty was qualified by countless taboo subjects and forbidden attitudes, and vitiated by the martial law under which Greece has been living since 1967.

Instead of editorials, front-page cartoons expressed in capsule form, daringly at first, the paradox of press freedom in a land overshadowed by Law 509, which provides savage prison sentences for whatever the military court (on the evidence of soldiers, informers, and police spies) interprets as subversion—in a police state supported, not to say enforced, by a world alliance of free and not-so-free nations. The newspapers reprinted speeches and documents from the Council of Europe when Greece withdrew last December. Every day people were able to read the frightening exchanges in the courts martial and the defense speeches of students given eighteen years to life for passing out leaflets, or possessing explosives, or making some remark against the regime that was overheard, perhaps, at the next table in a restaurant.

Just as the most insidious enemy of truth is a half-truth, so the subtlest mockery of freedom is a controlled freedom. But give Greeks one grain of liberty and they will use it to advantage, until the mechanism of that mockery works itself out and brings on the retribution that was only in the wings.

Indeed only six weeks after censorship was lifted, the regime published a new press law decreeing sentences ranging from a few months to life imprisonment for defamation, obscenity, distortion of debates, quotation out of context from documents, insult to the royal family, reporting legal cases sub judice, articles inciting to sedition or undermining confidence in the national economy, reporting crimes and suicides, inaccuracy, negligence, and other offenses minutely listed in 101 articles, for which publisher, editor, and journalist are now held collectively responsible. In addition to laying out this minefield, the new law (which begins, “We, Constantine, King of the Hellenes, by the proposal of our Council of Ministers, have decided and do command: Article 1, The Press is free…”) struck at the newspapers by abolishing the franchise on imported newsprint. This concession—granted in 1938 to facilitate freedom of expression in the press—remains in force however for those recently founded journals which are the mouthpieces of the regime, but whose circulation is still less than half that of the older papers.

Foreign observers have asked about this seemingly passive and peaceful, if perhaps exhausted, country: Why—if Greeks don’t like being spied on, denounced, held indefinitely without trial, tortured, pressured to betray friends, imprisoned for their opinions, deported, forced into exile, forced out of work, censored, having their books and music and art work banned, or being made to acquiesce in the blunting and darkening of their children’s minds in school—why don’t they do something about it, instead of waiting for the Americans? Yet the prisons and concentration camps and guarded villages are full of Greeks who did do something because they knew the Americans would not. For the rest of the population, if they get too activist, there are NATO tanks and the American Sixth Fleet. Which is almost to say that for them there is silence.

To prevent them from becoming too active there is the terror. Not guillotines nor SS troops nor kangaroo courts—these are unnecessary: only pervasive economic pressure, which affects everybody’s actions from morning till night, but which tourists don’t see and Greeks for very good reasons don’t talk about to foreigners. One false move, one indiscretion and not only a job is lost but also—because of close supervision by the police—the possibility of applying for other regular work. Not only is a university career cut short but entrance to any other advanced school in Greece is forbidden. And not only may a pension be lost but the relatives of the former pensioner may lose their jobs as well.

The phrase in the US Constitution, “…no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood,” reminds us that two centuries ago the medieval hangover of guilt by kinship was still something to be guarded against by law. As regards many civil liberties, the Greece of 1970 is more primitive than the Thirteen Colonies of two hundred years ago, with the added danger that today the state possesses eyes, ears, and methods of control unimaginable in previous centuries. What is being tried out in Greece is not the mere brute oppression of a Vietnam war but a new and subtler form of oppression, something technologically organized, which seems to be working very well indeed.

In spite of this a few have spoken. Before censorship is re-established or worse, one paper in particular, Ethnos,1 has staked its existence on the issue of press freedom. Theater and film reviews, articles on the youth revolution abroad and education at home, on the international press and the integrity of the Greek judiciary (heavily violated last spring), serialized historical studies of foreign interference during the last century and of Venizelos’ fight against the Greek oligarchy and monarchy in the early years of this one, have all provided a medium for discussion of some of today’s more burning issues.


Even the proceedings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the appointment of the new ambassador to Greece were translated verbatim from the Congressional Record of last December 19—with dotted lines profusely interspersed wherever Senators Pell, Goodell, Fulbright, or McGovern spoke of the Colonels’ regime in words that cannot be printed in Greece under the Colonels’ press law. A series of brief interviews and letters called “If I were Dictator” has been giving a number of public and private figures the chance to let off steam and anathematize tyranny. Finally on February 2 Ethnos began a significant inquiry into the present state of cultural life in Greece. Leading figures in the intellectual and artistic world answered two questions: Was the past decade in Greece creative? Is the new decade likely to see a flowering or a decline?

Significant for what was said, and for what wasn’t. Many of the artists and thinkers questioned kept silent despite strong convictions; silent about the real condition, not of politics or economics, of which it might be disastrous to speak openly, but of the arts themselves in Greece during the present critical years. Still, a few spoke; these are years when the brave stand up and are counted.

The public responded and joined forces as only Greeks will do when someone takes risks on their behalf. Though the cost of newspapers has risen twice since the New Year (the organs of the regime again excepted) and though the sale of Ethnos is forbidden in provincial towns by the army and gendarmerie despite a supposed guarantee in the press law; and though on three days in February news vendors in Athens itself were told by the police not to sell their copies of the paper—a sinister hint of what may yet happen—Ethnos’s circulation has nearly tripled in the city. “We can’t do without it now,” one reader said. “We have to read what people dare to say. We need it every day now, it’s like bread.”

Alexander Xydis, art historian, critic, and Greek Ambassador to Syria until the Colonels dismissed him, was the first to give a precise reply to Ethnos’s question about the past decade, contrasting the state of things before the coup d’état with their condition ever since. Does one have to be a Greek living in the Greece of Colonel Papadopoulos to sense the full implications of a statement ostensibly about graphic arts?

“I do not see one decade 1960-70 but a seven-year period 60-66 and a three-year period 67-69. During the first, notable young painters, sculptors, and engravers appeared on the scene, while the older established figures showed a renewal of their talent.

“There was more work and better quality. More exhibitions inside Greece, in Salonica, Volos, Patras, Heraklion, Hydra, and Mykonos, and more exhibitions of Greeks abroad, where some won prizes. A wide circulation of artists and their works within the country so that many more than just the inhabitants of central Athens became familiar with the living art of today. More artists commissioned to decorate public and private buildings. A homecoming of expatriate artists in great number. Newer and freer channels of communication with the outside world for artists, for their works, for art books and for a whole public eager to educate itself in the artistic field.

“This continuous movement and exchange between artists and their unhindered dialogue with the public, which are the vital needs of art, took place quite freely, and a fertilizing pollen was thus transmitted in all directions, regardless of schools or political alignments.

“Today the artists, like all intellectual and creative people in Greece, are living in isolation, inside hermetically sealed aesthetic and political compartments, whose channels of communication with the outer world are suffocatingly controlled by ill-digested moral and aesthetic dogmas or else by calculations of expediency. Art has nothing to do with a dubious ephemeral expediency, and dogma drives out art—together with the artists—as bad money drives out good.

“Three years we have seen this axiom progressively confirmed. A slowing down or complete stoppage of exhibitions; the movement of artists and their works obstructed, both in Greece and on their way to other countries; prohibition of works, sometimes even names of certain artists; mediocre figures chosen to represent Greek art abroad; the mediocre selected or made to participate by Diktat in the Panhellenic Exhibition of 1969. Meanwhile the squares and gardens of our towns and villages are being filled with products by ‘workers of art’ in the most Soviet sense. [Last five words eliminated from printed text, in accordance with Greek press law.] Discrimination against and attacks upon the most valid currents in modern art are increasing. In competitions, exhibitions, and public commissions the reward goes every time to mediocrity. Mediocrity alone is recognized because it alone is harmless, poses no problems, lacks impetus, looks backward, does not overflow with that quality of which André Breton writes, ‘La beauté sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera pas.’


“My reply to the second question: decline. But flowering (and consequently decline) cannot be forecast or artificially produced. Where the creative spirit is degraded, art dies and no administrative measure can revive it. Where it still lives but is pressed down, it will burst out sometime, somewhere. The artistic or creative spirit is, of all human activities, the most imponderable and explosive. It cannot be compressed or statistically recorded or mobilized or controlled or directed. If it withers in one country because of the environment, it may flower—perhaps through the same practitioners—in another. But woe to the country that has lost it.”

The last sentence has a special poignancy for Greeks. Twenty-five years ago their country suffered its first bloodletting in art, thought, and literature. After the Fascist dictatorship of the late Thirties, there had been great hopes, during the subsequent four years of Nazi occupation, famine, and resistance, that after the war Greece would be able to liberalize its social structure and allow light into its educational system. Throughout the Forties a large proportion of the flower of the country’s youth was systematically killed off; before the war was even at an end in Europe, Athens in December 1944 was the first testing ground of that world of wars in which we have been living ever since.

In one form or another the Resistance was betrayed by the foreign belligerents who tried variously to adopt it, and the old Establishment came back over its dead body. The Civil War was in the interest of a few and it lasted until 1950. But intellectuals and artists left Greece by the hundreds, many to make names and careers abroad; Greece was impoverished. Yet many came home again, especially in the years 1963-4, encouraged back by the progressive tendencies of George Papandreou’s liberal government which they had not seen in Greece before. The second national bloodletting of youth, energy, and genius has taken place during the last three years.

The artist or intellectual in Greece today faces the choice of staying and being wiped out or going abroad and losing touch with everything that sustains him: to go is to stifle the overwhelming (and in the Greek case vital) parochial instinct—to go into the thin air and heavy earth of a foreign land where the exile will live perhaps a lifetime of yearning to return and thinking that those who stayed behind were luckier.

Luckier today? Unluckier tomorrow? In any case the writers, artists, and thinkers still in Greece have tightened ranks. Those of opposing political convictions have fused together under the oppression that makes them Greeks, creative artists, and thinkers first, leftists or rightists second. One of them has said, “As a race, as a society, we are still primitive enough to feel connected.”

Such is the message of those voices that have made themselves heard in the loaded silence of Greece today. Perhaps only a small step has been made; others who were as outspoken last year are now in prison, whereas today such men are lucky enough to benefit by a slight relaxation of censorship and are able to reach a wider audience. What they are attempting is a stand against the generalized fear that has settled on the country and seeped into all aspects of national life. Others will take courage from their statements and from the many protests they have signed at considerable personal risk, just as they themselves took courage from the lone voice of their Nobel Prize winner George Seferis when he spoke out in March last year.

Rodis Roufos, the historian and novelist, on the morning of the coup d’état three years ago resigned from a high position in the diplomatic service; he is one of the writers who have repeatedly and openly protested against the dictatorship and refused to publish under the conditions it imposes. Winner of the two highest Greek literary awards, he was among the forty finally selected out of five hundred candidates from countries throughout the world to attend the Harvard International Seminar last year. But he was unable to represent Greece: the Colonels took away his passport. The following is his reply to Ethnos’s inquiry. The words in square brackets were vetoed by the paper’s legal adviser as being too dangerous for publication under the press law.

“I am surprised that distinguished personalities have discussed the level of our cultural life without relating it to cultural freedom. Perhaps they see the connection, but pass over it in silence for reasons of expediency? That in itself shows to what depths our cultural life has sunk. Total silence would have been preferable to such self-censorship.

“Personally I do not think a sincere and responsible statement can be made about the Sixties, culturally, in Greece without dividing the period into two very dissimilar parts.

“Throughout the first our cultural life gave hopeful signs. I refer with nostalgia to the general intellectual, moral, and artistic atmosphere which was still developing around the middle of the decade: an atmosphere of free and civilized dialogue, exemplified and stimulated by such forward steps as the review Epoches, the introduction of our spoken language into official and academic spheres, and the spread of interest in a more serious and up-to-date educational system.

“Then came the split…. [Then came, if it is not sacrilegious to quote Seferis’s beautiful line in this context, “the double-edged day when everything was changed.”] Most of the leading intellectuals chose silence [rather than submit to censorship]. (I am not speaking of members of the Academy, most of whom seem to live in a roseate, beatific world of their own, quite unrelated to ours.) Others were deprived of all possibility of communication with the public [or even of their personal freedom]. No matter how much I may have disagreed with some of the latter, I believe that cultural life can only become fruitful through fearless discussion, criticism, and disagreement. One need only remember Germany’s cultural achievements under the Weimar Republic as compared to what followed, or consider what happens today in the Soviet Union where writers are persecuted in the name of an official ideology.

“For sole consolation we are assured officially that we don’t have dictatorship in Greece. What it would be like if we did is something I don’t dare think about, since already under present conditions what is at stake is not the level of our cultural life but its very existence.

“As to the future, it depends on whether these conditions change or remain fixed that we shall either have once again a genuine—that is, free—cultural life, or else sink into the intellectual and artistic decay of those peoples whom History, in its onward march, has forgotten.”

Hard and heavy words for a Greek to say, for Greeks to have to hear. Forgotten? The Greek race forgotten? Numbered among the tribes or nations that have had no history, have left no record of themselves?

Quite possible. It has already happened once. As far as territorial Greece is concerned, the limbo period commonly equated with 400 years of Turkish occupation lasted in reality closer to a thousand and a half, beginning around the fourth century A.D., or even earlier. And yet, in spite of backwardness and oppression, Greece has caught up in the last 150 years with the major social and political—advances made in the Western world since the Reformation. Foreign strategists and geopoliticians who say Greeks are not ready for democracy, or bleat that there is no one to take over from the Colonels, should remember that, for all its sometimes creaking or ferocious imperfections, parliamentary life has functioned longer and more steadily in Greece than in any other continental European country. England acquired universal male suffrage in 1885, Greece had it in 1864. And Greece preserved a strong and active parliamentary regime throughout a civil war when the country was gravely threatened from both within and without. Greeks have reason to be proud, and it is an insult to their capacities and achievements to be told that now a Communist threat, which has never been proved and which almost nobody believes, justified the destruction of their democratic liberties. To have lost all their hard-gained ground, to have all momentum stopped, and to contemplate the menace of a dark and still clinging past—such things for Greeks are immediate and desperate.

Most difficult to grasp outside Greece is the question of language. The ordinary speech of daily life, which is also the language of Modern Greek poetry and literature, is now forbidden in the schools from the fourth grade. Nine-year-olds, who would normally have to cope with an extremely complex but still coherent syntax, now, in addition, have to make sense out of the life around them in a language invented by Greek scholars of the late eighteenth century to translate the philosophes of the Enlightenment: a grammatically centrifugal macaronic put together out of the Byzantine liturgy, New Testament koinê, ancient Attic, and some Modern Greek, with centuries of Turkish, Latin, Italian, and French, and with many technological accretions replaced by what their equivalents might have been in the fifth century before Christ.

Originally designed to equip Greek with an intellectual apparatus and to inspire a subject people with an awareness of past glory, this “purifying” katharevousa became the salon speech of the rich, Europeanized Greeks of Constantinople who managed affairs of state under the Ottoman Empire. But when the subject nation rose up and won its territorial independence from that empire, katharevousa was turned into an effective instrument for keeping them subject and for reserving political independence, together with advancement and learning, exclusively for the rapacious oligarchy that replaced the Turks as rulers: a weapon aimed against a people at the ground level of childhood and the subterranean level of speech.

A hundred years ago however there began a strong counter-movement in favor of the spoken language, or dimotiki. This has paralleled every trend toward social, political, or educational reform, just as the reintroduction of katharevousa has accompanied every victory of reaction. In Greece the word, whether written or spoken, is an integral, dynamic part of the country’s social and economic, let alone political and cultural, history. It is characteristic of the present state of things for instance that the two languages have received different names: katharevousa is now called “Greek” officially in the schools, and dimotiki “mother-tongue”; characteristic too the oversight that, as a result, this people’s mother-tongue is now not Greek!

Such is the background to the following statement made by Anastasios Peponis, Director-General of the Greek Broadcasting Service under the Liberal-Center Government in 1964-5 imprisoned by the Colonels after the coup d’état and deported again in 1968. Last November, in the course of a lecture at the British Council in Athens on mass media, he quoted a dangerous sentence by the director of the BBC—“Television must be free”—and also mentioned, more dangerously, the benefit accuring to a country when poems by its Nobel Prize winner are made into songs by “a musician of genius.” Peponis was referring to the collaboration of George Seferis and Mikis Theodorakis. George Seferis’s warning of a year ago is still echoing through the country and Theodorakis has been in prison or under heavy guard for almost three years,2 his music forbidden and his records destroyed.

“We are moving backward. The root of the evil probably lies in the educational system. By the time they finish high school the young have still had no contact whatever with contemporary Greek writing, and know nothing of Greek literature. Any who are interested in the arts have made the discovery themselves and must cultivate it on their own. The educational reforms attempted in 1964 and 1965 faced the problem squarely for the first time.

“In the past decade the crucial issue of the culture—and the survival—of our nation has reached a state of total anarchy and chaos. I refer to the language question. The centuries-old language of Greek literature is still kept away from schoolrooms and treated as an enemy. Five years ago an attempt was made to promote it, first in education, then in broadcasting. But from 1965 on there has been only confusion and regression. Our children realize that the Anglo-Saxons, French, and Germans have one language each; they ask us how many ar the languages of the Greeks, and there is no clear answer. How can any true culture flourish or have far-reaching influence when we haven’t yet decided which is the nation’s tongue!

“As to the next decade, a single look around the world shows up the ordeal threatening freedom, peace, mutual respect. Everywhere discouragement assails us. Speeches are full of promises, facts bloody and inhuman: violence, oppression, restriction—all in the name of ideals disproved by actual events.

“We cannot be hopeful, yet nor can we give up hope. Thought can still function, and under any circumstances the mind, in order to survive, must find outlets toward freedom and claim its responsibilities. We cannot accept art pressed into the service of this or that political expediency. As long ago as 1945 Seferis wrote: “The sound craftsman is one of the most responsible begins on earth. He bears the responsibility of a struggle between life and death. Out of the human experience that rages or lies still around him what shall he save? What can he save? What must he reject out of the shapeless human material which is frighteningly alive and follows him even into his dreams. In dreams begins responsibility.’ ”

Self-evident? Sentiments with which we would all agree, and certainly harmless? In Greece such words are dynamite. And though there are many who agree, there are some—with guns—who don’t want to hear them spoken out loud; and just in case they should be, a number of special listeners are always interspersed through the audience of every lecture hall, who report to the Security Police immediately.

Education in particular is something one can’t talk about in detail, because if one does one is dealing in facts—facts over which the press law keeps its watch: the expulsion and imprisonment of teachers; schoolbooks rewritten in an incomprehensible and self-contradictory syntax; compulsory speeches and compositions inspired by ultra-nationalistic, chauvinistic hatred of other creeds and countries; a special university code by which any student convicted of behavior incompatible with “national ideals” can be expelled for life from all Greek universities and higher schools; secondary schooling in some cases made impossible for children of political prisoners; and as an example of the scientific information purveyed to fifth graders in their experimental physics reader:

The creations of God, which exist around us and which we apprehend with our senses, constitute nature [opening sentence]…. Water at 4 degrees C has more density and less weight whereas at 0 degrees it has less density and more weight. This strange phenomenon is worthy of marvel and proves yet once again the infinite wisdom of the Lord Creator. It has great meaning for man and for life in general. Imagine what would happen if water continued to contract at a lower temperature than 4 degrees! Ice would be heavier than the equal volume of water and would sink as soon as formed down to the lower levels of rivers, lakes and seas. The water’s new surface would become ice as well, and that would sink and little by little all the water of lakes and seas would turn to ice. The fish and other aquatic creatures and plants would be destroyed because the sun would be incapable of melting the tremendous masses of ice that would accumulate. The zones of the earth would be uninhabitable, and cold and drought would prevail over the whole world.

In the year of moon-landings Colonel Papadopoulos’s so-called “modern” educational system is like a time machine charging in the opposite direction.

After liberty and hope there is little left to lose. It has often been like this in Greece, which is poor in material things, and where a kind of sparseness has been traditionally, classically, the rule. When their country has been turned into a prison, some Greeks will always dare to walk a tightrope. Whatever may happen to them individually, it is their example which fertilizes and gives heart to others. It is not surprising that the statement by Nikos Hadjimichalis which follows should have been altered by Ethnos’s legal adviser before the issue went to press. Like Roufos a Resistance-fighter at the age of seventeen, Hadjimichalis took part in the first exodus of intellectuals and artists in 1945; after fifteen years in France, practicing and studying architecture under Corbusier, he was one of the first to return. Square brackets indicate where material was substituted or deleted.

“When I came home at the beginning of the last decade, a general upward turn was just beginning to take shape in Greece. Many artists and scientists who had worked and studied abroad began to see horizons broadening and conditions improving here for new, modern, and creative work where their capacities would find fruitful soil. The dreadful gaps left by the crucial decade of the Forties were being gradually covered over and the hard immediate-necessities of life ceasing to be so oppressive. In architecture the purely commercial sort of building that works to the detriment of the architect, of our country’s interests even more so, was being abandoned in favor of solutions dictated by research. In the new prevailing climate we felt we were leaving the ‘Balkan’ period behind and creating works that belonged in a European context.

“I speak of a climate because no renewal can be fruitful if it is deprived of a surrounding atmosphere which strengthens, nourishes, affects and is in turn affected by it. Without such an environment the creative artist is cut off from his roots and remains suspended. And the more that people are deprived of intellectual and artistic nourishment, the more they fall into inertia, out of touch with the currents of life, until in the end they play no more part in history. Ruinous are the consequences of several generations of artists failing to express themselves; it is not that art or culture disappears but that life itself turns into a vegetable state—to be dearly paid for in our time of lightning evolution.

“The creative climate of the first six or seven years of the past decade encouraged all intellectuals, artists, and scientists to work enthusiastically. And if I should be thought to have a personal prejudice, I would only call to witness the foreign and expatriate artists who came here then in respectful recognition of that favorable atmosphere. An example was the modern sculpture exhibition on Philopappos Hill. Inconceivable at any other period, it showed that we had already taken our place in an international movement; this was true of our artists and of our public too. Such events would have been repeated, with Greece finally becoming a steady pole of attraction and a bright focal center.

“This [creative] climate was unfortunately stopped short in the last years of the decade. Now the fever, the urge to create has collapsed. The homecoming movement has turned into a drain of talent away from the country. Isolated, exiled both inwardly and out, our artists cannot work. The loss of the urge [substituted: “ease”] and the breaking of the communication have brought both the creators and the public to the verge of extinction: the artists because they have lost heart and ceased to play a [leading] part in the formation of ideas and standards, and the public which, having reached a certain level that is now no longer renewed out of contemporary Greek problems [substituted: “an inquiring Greek art”], is being steadily degraded, and now risks losing everything it gained from its tradition and from the few years’ experience of renewal.

[“Let us not forget the harm done to our youth, to their education and their general upbringing. That damage has gone so deep that it will take years to heal it. As a result, now all our young people are turning to purely expedient careers, or else those who still hold to their ideals are leaving Greece.]

“These last years our cultural life has lost its reflexes. As for the new decade, I am very pessimistic. The people who made our country [inserted: “from Antiquity onward”] made their dreams into programs. [Today dreams are either persecuted or transformed into a nightmare.]

“Our one hope left: may the[se] mute [and lost disastrous] years pass quickly before inflicting deeper wounds on the artists, the public, and the young, so that the exodus may turn into a creative starting point for [dynamic] development without interruptions or collapses, and with full knowledge that the lost time will only be made up with redoubled energy and effort.”

A sample of reasoned and civilized opinion from different ways of life by men in their forties. Today the young in Greece, cut off from the youth revolution in the rest of the world, are reasoned and civilized in their own way; let one of them provide his short, fierce epilogue. A student, answering by letter the popular questionnaire in Ethnos, writes:

If I were a dictator I would have concentration camps, I would have deportees, I would keep the prisons filled with my opponents, so that everyone outside, at home, would be terrified and lose courage.

I would let you do this harmless journalism because it would be my policy to try and be as little provocative as possible. That way I would sugar-coat the pill, and little by little I would force Ethnos to stop publishing and you personally either to shut up or bow down. As for the cultural and intellectual leaders, my dictatorship wouldn’t bother them too much once I had put them through a purge (I’d be keeping them in their jobs)—and let them write you their letters! But at least I’d have the honesty to say, Yes, I and my buddies are dictators. As for the democracy you were waiting for, I’d give it any form I liked—“modern” of course. Do you think I’d be interested in your opinion?

This Issue

May 21, 1970