Few places in Greece conjure the spirit of resistance as much as the war memorial in Kaisariani. It stands on the spot where 200 political activists – mostly communists – were executed by Nazi forces on May Day 1944.
The monument in a rifle range in one of Athens’ “red” suburbs, is redolent of defiance but, perhaps more than that, the battle against tyranny. That Greece’s new prime minister Alexis Tsipras, Europe’s first radical left leader, should elect to visit the monument minutes after being sworn in, is rich with symbolism – and defiance too. Red roses in hand, resistance veterans looking on, the young firebrand paid homage to the victims in his first act in office. “It represents national resistance to German occupation,” says Panos Skourletis, spokesman of Syriza, an alliance of far-left groups ranging from Maoists to greens. “But also the desire of Greeks for freedom, for liberty from German occupation.”
If explanation were needed, he adds: “It was purely symbolic.”
Tsipras, who at 40 becomes Greece’s youngest post-war leader, is a deft communicator with an army of (mostly) US-trained advisers. For a nation battered by German-inspired austerity and humiliated by international focus, standing up to Europe’s paymaster by whatever means plays well with the gallery.
As the TV cameras rolled, Greek commentators couldn’t help themselves: “It’s another ‘up yours’ to the Germans,” one said.
Tsipras told thousands of supporters in a victory speech on Sunday that he would seek to restore “their lost dignity”. For Greek leftists, widely persecuted after their defeat in the bloody civil war that followed the Wehrmacht’s withdrawal from Greece, such gestures are hugely significant.
The men and women who were shot dead at dawn that day were killed in reprisal for the guerrilla ambush of a German general, Franz Krech, and three of his aides at Molaos, near Sparti, in the Peloponnese.
Famously they began to sing – giving an uproarious rendition of the Greek national anthem – as they were lead to their deaths from the notorious SS-run camp at Haidari, then a suburb on the outskirts of Athens. German soldiers looked on astonished as the Greeks broke into song. Once at the range, the hostages refused to undress – insisting that they go dressed with dignity. It was an act of resistance that in austerity-whipped Greece resonates greatly today.
By courtesy of the Guardian (from the original title: “Tsipras declares end to ‘vicious cycle of austerity’ after Syriza wins Greek election”)