Farewell to Manolis Glezos
Updated: Apr 10
Dimitra Kyrillou remembers the Greek anti-fascist activist and politician who died recently
Second World War Resistance fighter and left-wing Greek politician Manolis Glezos (1922-2020) passed away on Monday 30th April at the age of 98.
On the same evening around 9 pm, residents of Athens could hear people standing at their balconies in many neighborhoods and clapping their hands. The clapping was followed by old partisans’ songs from the time of anti-nazi resistance. It was a strong coordinated political farewell to Manolis Glezos, as Covid-19 restrictions made it impossible for attending his funeral – and turning it to a mass demonstration, as everyone wished.
Glezos is broadly remembered for his heroic act together with fellow militant Lakis Santas, when on the night of May 30th to 31st 1941, a couple of days after German troops took control of Athens, they climbed the city’s Acropolis Hill at night and took down the Nazi swastika flag flying there. This symbolic defiance of the all-powerful occupying forces proved to be only the beginning of the resistance to the Nazis. At the same time, it demonstrated the indomitable power of the human spirit against the power of guns.
To no surprise, the entire political spectrum of the country (excluding the neo-Nazis) rushed to make announcements. From the right-wing Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the liberal president, Mrs. Sakellaropoulou, to the social-democrat and left-wing parties, everyone spoke of the “national” loss and Glezos’s patriotic heroism.
For the political elite, it was an act of necessity because of Glezos’s great popularity but it was also pure hypocrisy. Their political predecessors -rightwing parties and military governments, which served in office in the post-war years- arrested, tortured and sentenced Glezos multiple times for his political activity. He was brought to trial 28 times and was sentenced to serve a total (prison and exile) of 16 years, in addition to 3 death penalty verdicts, which were not executed following international solidarity campaigns!
Who was Manolis Glezos?
Manolis Glezos was born in the village of Apiranthos on Naxos island in 1922 and moved to Athens in 1935 with his family. He was soon involved in an anti-fascist youth group, organizing against the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas and the Italian occupation of the Dodecanese. His deed of taking down the nazi flag was only one chapter of his long commitment to the anti-fascist struggle.
During the years of the Nazi occupation, he participated actively in the resistance through the lines of the youth organizations of the National Liberation Front and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). He was arrested and imprisoned first by the German, later by the Italian occupation troops and in 1944 by collaborators of the occupation authorities.
After the liberation he started working for the daily newspaper of KKE, "Rizospastis" but then Civil War broke out which meant hard prosecutions for the leaders and spokespersons of the left simply on the ground of being leftwingers. It was during that period that Manolis Glezos would be condemned to death penalty twice. Fortunately his death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment in 1950.
He would be released in 1954 only to be arrested again in 1958 on an unbelievable case of espionage, allegedly on behalf of the USSR! An international solidarity movement including personalities of the left and of the art scene like Pablo Picasso mobilized - but finally he stayed in prison until 1962. That year he was honored by in USSR with the Lenin Prize for his role in the Greek resistance, the struggle for peace and the fight against fascism.
He was elected several times MP with the United Democratic Left, namely EDA (the legitimate political party of the left, as the communist party was illegal).
Following the colonels’ coup in 1967, Greece entered a 7 years dictatorship. Manolis Glezos was arrested along with other political leaders and was detained until 1971. In the meantime, USSR invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, an action which sparked the split in the Communist Party of Greece. Glezos condemned the Soviet invasion, which signaled his leaving the Stalinist KKE but he did not join the Eurocommunist fraction.
After the fall of the military regime, he tried to rebuild EDA, but the new focus in the left was PASOK. EDA stood with PASOK in the 1980s and Glezos was elected MP. However he soon distanced himself from PASOK and returned to his birthplace island, where he was elected mayor of Apiranthos in 1986, initiating a direct democracy experiment.
All these years he remained active in the social movements and in the debates inside the radical left. In 2002, I watched him on the podium in the Greek “Marxism” festival, debating the prospects of a left alliance in the coming local elections. In these elections he finally stood as head of the ballot of Synaspismos (the predecessor of Syriza) in the greater region of Athens and Pireus, getting 11% of the vote, which at that time was considered a great success. For a while, he was involved in similar local coalitions back at his birthplace.
When Greece entered the crisis and austerity programs were introduced, Glezos was naturally on the side of the thousands of people who struck and demonstrated against austerity and memoranda. In a demo in 2010, he was sprayed by riot police forces, causing public outrage against the government. In the following elections, he supported SYRIZA and was elected MP in 2014 and MEP in 2014.
After SYRIZA’s capitulation in the aftermath of the 2015 referendum, he didn’t hesitate to break with SYRIZA and apologized for having trusted the government that negotiated the shameful “third financial bailout” (a.k.a. third memorandum). As he would comment “I’m not disappointed, I’m furious!”
Glezos was involved actively in various political and cultural projects, in initiatives like the campaign to demand German reparations for WWII, in local struggles and movements of international solidarity. During the military dictatorship he founded a publishing house, he wrote a bulky history in defense of the Greek resistance during WWII. But he also wrote about geology and water resources, on which he studied extensively during his exile years.
He was always willing to attend public political and educational meetings and was present in demonstrations and protests like the Squares’ movement of 2011. He supported the public prosecution at the court case against the neo-nazis of Golden Dawn. He would always listen to different opinions and respond in an open-minded spirit.
It looks like he refused to become a “symbol”, although his deeds allowed him to do so under the condition that he would step back from direct political activity. On the contrary, he took risks by engaging in political endeavors and exposed himself to public criticism, but he was always there!
Manolis Glezos went through the entire trajectory (great and tragic) and all the contradictions of the left. One could have various disagreements with his political choices, but there was always something deeper in his attitude that was acknowledged and admired by the people. His fighting spirit, his honesty, his popularity, his indomitable spirit has indelibly stamped the collective memory of so many people from so many different generations.
Dimitra Kryillou is a Greek socialist, living in Berlin. She was an elected member of ANTARYSYA's National Council. She is currently an active member of the LINKE Berlin Internationals.