Lambrakis is gone, but his legacy lives on!

May 20, 2009 by Mottas

46 years since the assasination of Gregoris Lambrakis. May 22 has left its stamp on modern day Greek politics. Lambrakis is gone, but his legacy lives on!

Gregoris LambrakisThe 22nd of May is not an inconsequential day for modern Greek politics. It was in 1963 when the Left-wing parliamentarian Gregoris Lambrakis was assassinated in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, during an anti-war rally. Lambrakis, a doctor by profession but also a significant long jump athlete, had been a prominent independent MP co-operating with the then United Democratic Left party. But, most significantly, his name has been strongly and indissolubly connected with his vigorous political activism towards Peace, making him a symbol of anti-fascism throughout Greece.

Gregoris Lambrakis became a member of the Hellenic Parliament for the Piraeus district in 1961. On the same year, Lambrakis' pacifist initiatives had as a result the establishment of the 'Commission for International Detente and Peace' (EDYE). Being EDYE's Vice-president the Greek politician participated in numerous meetings and demonstrations for world peace, expressing a strong voice against the Vietnam War. On April 21, 1963, Athens hosted a Pacifist Rally which had its symbolic starting point the town of Marathon. The demonstration was attacked by the Greek Police and many of the rioters were arrested - among them was the then promising composer Mikis Theodorakis. But Gregoris Lambrakis, protected by his parliamentary immunity, marched alone holding a anti-war banner writing 'Ellas' (Greece). The photo of Lambrakis marching in the banned Athens rally became soon a popular icon of the left-wing politician who was cowardly assassinated a month later.

But even after the attack on the Athens-Marathon rally, the Greek parastate mechanisms continued to prepare Lambrakis' political and natural liquidation. On May 22, 1963 Gregoris Lambrakis was participating in an anti-war meeting in Thessaloniki, where he delivered a keynote address. Meanwhile, the Greek Committee for Peace had been informed that Police proteges were out to get Lambrakis. These information were finally proved true, as long as he was murdered by two right-wing devotees in the center of the city. The extremists, driving a three-wheeled vehicle, whacked Lambrakis over the head with a club - in presence of the police forces and hundreds of astonished passing people. Suffering brain injuries Dr.Lambrakis died in hospital five days later, at age 51. Democracy in Greece was, once again, injured.

The death of Lambrakis opened the Pandora's box in the Greek political scene. Half a million protesters attended his funeral in Athens shouting against the government and its far-right parastate organizations which were regarded as responsible for his assassination. While Greece was vibrating by the slogan "Lambrakis lives!", the government of Karamanlis and Georgios Papandreou's major opposition were exchanging accusations over the murder of the left politician; a condition that finally forced the Prime Minister to quit from office on June 1963.

The trial for Lambrakis' assassination was one of the most thrilling in Greece's modern history; the accused for homicide, Emannouel Emannouilides and Spyro Gotzamanis, were took into custody while a number of state police officers (alleged members of the Greek Parastate) were kept in prison awaiting their trial. However, two years later, in December 1966, with a unanimous decision the jurors decided to disculpate the vast majority of the accused, convicting only three of them with mild sentences (maximum of 11 years in prison). The decision had provoked an angry reaction of the then Attorney General Pavlos Delaportas.

Lambrakis' murder was one of the two assassinations which stigmatized the post-World War political period in Greece; the other one was the murder of the American journalist George Polk in 1948. According to doctor and researcher Kleanthis Grivas, the Polk assassination "signaled the start of a process which established a US-incited, post-civil War status of state terrorism", while the Lambrakis' death signified "the start of the end" of that condition, featuring a new generation of a Radical, Progressive and Patriotic Greek Left.

In 1964, a group of Lambrakis' supporters created the known as "Lambrakis Youth", the first President of which was the world-renowned composer Mikis Theodorakis. It was perhaps the most significant Greek youth movement of the century, creating a pioneer spirit within Greece's political stage, especially between the years 1963-1967. As Eleftherotypia daily wrote four years ago, the so-called "Lambrakides" (supporters of the Lambrakis Youth) expressed the needs, the agony and the visions of the then young democrats and thus created the context within which Greece's center-Left was politically constructed. The youth organization was arbitrarily abolished in 1967, soon after the coup d'etat of the Colonels who led the country into a seven-years dictatorship, until 1974. Nonetheless, Lambrakis' legacy proved to be 'immortal' and thus was an inspiration for the Greek Youth during the uprising of 1973 and the notorious Polytechnic events.

Quite before these events, in 1966, the "Lambrakis' case" was the inspiring idea behind the political novel "Z", written by author Vassilis Vassilikos. The title of the novel wasn't an accidental choice; it stands for the Greek verb "Zei" which means "he lives", being part of the slogan {"O Lambrakis Zei"} (Lambrakis lives). But the story of Vassilikos passed to the film industry, through the successful homonym movie of director Costa-Gavras - starring Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Irene Pappas.

Today, 46 years since the assassination of Gregoris Lambrakis, a monument in the city-center of Thessaloniki remains to remind what was happened. Furthermore, the annual Athens Classical Marathon is devoted to "Lambrakis memory", as a reminder of the 1961 anti-War rally. But, apart from monuments, reminders and tributes, Gregoris Lambrakis left his mark on modern Greek politics, being a symbol of Democracy, Peace and Social Justice. His assassination - like Martin Luther King in the United States, Yitzhak Rabin in Israel and Mahatma Gandhi in India - changed the way people view politics and inspired new ideals and visions.

Author's Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the site.

Published in the American Chronicle; May 18, 2009.

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