Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Bread! Education! Freedom! (Ψωμί! Παιδεία! Ελευθερία!)

Teacher: Τι είναι η ελευθερία, η δημοκρατία και η δικτατορία?
Pupil: Η Ελευθερία ειναι η καλύτερη μου φίλη, η Δημοκρατία είναι η μαμά του Γιώργου και τη δικτατορία δε τη ξέρω γιατί δεν είναι στο τηλεφωνικό κατάλογο.

It was when I first started working in Greece, that I learnt about Greece's most recent struggle to restore democracy in the country. This took place on 17 November, 1973. It felt strange to discover this, after all those years of after-hours Greek school education in New Zealand; why hadn't I heard about this event before? In contrast to my ignorance over this event, I knew about the 25th of March and the 28th of October well enough, because the Greek school teachers went to great pains to explain the significance of these two dates to the New Zealand-born-children of the Greek immigrants.

Song title: Our Great Circus, sung Τζένη Καρέζη and Νίκος Ξυλούρης, of Cretan origin, which explains the dialectal twang in his accent as he sings; the first verse follows:
Μεγάλα νέα φέρνω από 'κει πάνω - I bring important news from up there
περίμενε μια στάλα ν' ανασάνω - give me a moment to catch my breath
και να σκεφτώ αν πρέπει να γελάσω - and l
et me think if I should laugh
να κλάψω, να φωνάξω, ή να σωπάσω - or cry, or shout or maybe just keep my mouth shut

For some idea of the scale of the uprising on the 17th of November, its youngest victim would have been younger than myself, were that five-year-old boy still alive today. This is probably the reason why I never learnt about this event in Greek history: the Greek school teachers in New Zealand were mainly immigrant Greeks who had been living in New Zealand for at least a decade before this event occurred, as recently as 1973. These teachers taught us what they knew, and this was one thing they didn't know about since they weren't there when it happened. Telephone calls and news from the home country did not come as frequently or as easily as they do now. Since the event of the 17th of November isn't associated with religion in any way, it was never mentioned in the Greek Orthodox church services, either.

"Αδέλφια μας, στρατιώτες!" the student pleads with the soldiers, calling them 'brothers', "πως είναι δυνατόν!" (how can you do this to us?) - an excerpt of what was being broadcast by the radio station in Athens Polytechnic the moment tanks broke down the gates and entered the campus where the students were demonstrating against the dictatorship by staging a sit-in (video found in

I was asking my boss about what coursework I should present to my students the next day, when he told me that it was the 17th of November, and there would be no school. Before I said 'Yippee!', I asked him what the holiday was commemorating. I had already calculated all the public holidays in the school year, and this one didn't figure. To cut a long story short, the 17th of November was a holiday only for education-related services (ie schools, frontistiria, the Ministry of Education employees); all other businesses would be open. That was when I said 'Yippee!' 

"I can take myself on a little shopping trip in downtown Athens," I said, delighted with the thought that I would be having a day off from work. "I haven't been to Ermou St in a long time."

"Don't even think of it," my boss replied.


"Because," he started, matter-of-factly, "it's a protest day, and there'll be marchers blocking most of the roads, they'll be setting fire to rubbish bins and walking from Sintagma (close to Ermou St) to the American Embassy where the protest will end, and on their way, they'll smash up cars or damage public buildings, and most shops in the centre won't open out of fear that they'll be looted, because there's only so much the police can do at such moments, so the shopkeepers will just keep their metal rollers down so that their properties don't suffer too much damage, and anyway, you won't even be able to get to the centre because the bus routes will be diverted, and even if you do manage to get into the town, you won't be able to avoid the protesters, and you might not be able to find a bus to take you back home."

I couldn't believe what he was telling me; it sounded to me like a plot from a 1960s American movie about the Vietnam War. I decided to take my boss' advice. I stayed home and watched the TV news that day, which showed exactly what my boss had warned me about: Greek demonstrations are that predictable (or at least they were two decades ago; things began to change after the events of the 5th of May, 2010).

The uprising of the Polytechnic (as the event is known in Greece) paved the way for the fall of the military rule that had been governing Greece since 1967. The dictatorship period in Greece (1967-1974) was responsible for the 'uglification' of Athens, tearing down old historic buildings (instead of renovating them) and replacing them with modern uniform concrete boxes, a design that was used to rebuild much of Greece. This explains why most mainland towns in Greece have a similar look to them - their schools, their town halls, their hospitals all look the same, and if you were thrown into one of those towns, you would only be able to work out where you were by the name of the town on the street signs. The junta tried to impose a level of uniformity in the life of the Greek people that, to date, was unprecedented: curfews, bans on people meeting on the street in groups of more than two and the denial of the right to the freedom of speech (anything said against the dictatorship was prohibited and punishable by imprisonment). These were all ways to force the Greek people to deny to themselves what they had been fighting for since the time of Ottoman rule: the right to freedom, the right to rule themselves. (Left: the emblem of the junta; this picture appeared as a stamp in all the state-issued Greek school books that I used in NZ - I still have some of them - but it was never explained in the lessons).

Society adapted to this regime by being obedient and saying little. Few people outside Greece realised what was happening because, despite the austerity of the dictatorship, the Greek film industry (a reflection of Greece to the outside world) was allowed to flourish. Some of the best Greek comedy movies were produced during this time; these films are still being shown on Greek television even now, and, melodrama aside, they produce the same laughs now as they did when they were first screened. Tourism also grew respectfully during the military regime, especially from the UK and Germany. It is hard to believe that one of the most productive periods in Greek history is associated with a governing regime so despised, that many of those involved in it were imprisoned after its downfall (the last person alive that was still in prison died in August of this year). 

I asked my husband (he was 17 when this happened and living in Hania) how he remembered that period:
"We had very little information about what had happened in Athens on that day. Not many people owned their own telephone - there was usually one that was shared among a neighbourhood - and the papers never mentioned the event because everything was censored. The news reports on the two or three state-owned radio stations didn't mention the events. Not many people owned televisions then either, but in any case, neither the TV or the radio had all-day programmes. They closed down at certain hours. Pirate radio stations existed, but few people were willing to listen to them out of fear of being accused of conspiracy.

My family didn't understand the severity of the situation until we had to travel to Athens at some point after the event. My father had to have some medical tests conducted at a hospital, and we were staying at a hotel in the centre. At one point, he was at the hospital while my mother and I were at the hotel. We wanted to go and visit him, so we left the hotel. As we were walking along the road, we noticed a lot of people congregating on one of the streets. I was curious. I had never seen a demonstration before. This sort of thing didn't happen in Hania. I took a turn into the street where the people were marching, just to watch them. My mother was understandably afraid. All of a sudden, I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. A policeman stopped me going down the street, and pulled me over. If it weren't for my mother, I'd have been arrested for disrupting the peace. We left the area and went to the hospital, and never talked about the event until a long long time had passed; people lived with fear then."
Like all unsustainable regimes, the junta began losing favour with the public, who were demanding "Κάτω η χούντα!" (Down with the junta). The uprising of the Athens Polytechnic was the beginning of the end, which came in 1974, after the mismanaged invasion by Turkey of the island of Cyprus. Freedom laws were then invented: educational establishments, with particular emphasis on the universities, were declared 'police-free zones'; little did people know that their wish for the freedom to express themselves would give way to laws that incited anarchy: nearly 40 years after the 17th of November, the police have absolutely no right to enter state-run universities, letting them become a safe haven for criminals, terrorists and drug dealers.

*** *** ***

One of the most significant slogans to come out of the uprising of the Polytechnic in 1973 is the following well-known rhyming chant, still used in modern times, especially in communist propaganda:

Ψωμί! Παιδεία! Ελευθερία!
 (psoMI! peTHIa! eleftheRIa!)
Bread! Education! Freedom!

(Marianna Tziantzi writes: "The slogan "Ψωμί! Παιδεία! Ελευθερία!" shows remarkable durability over time, comfortably passing from the last century to the present, still alive in the collective memory, something which is not due to its rhyme and meaning, but to the acts that it imposed on in the mythology it upholds.

In an attempt to explain the slogan,
Mariana goes on to say (as do other writers) that work (εργασία) binds the three elements of the slogan:

"The bread is not just the daily bread, but it identifies with a standard of living that evolves historically and in relation to other societies and generations. Today education is a reflection of both the thirst for knowledge and the longing for relief from the burden of private spending on education, which often shakes up the budget not only of the poor but also of the relatively affluent families. Today, work is the thread that connects, secretly and openly, the three components of the historic slogan of the Polytechnic uprising: work which is becoming more precarious, more temporary, more underpaid and more illusory, work which is not accompanied by the rights that were obvious to previous generations."

Hence, a decent standard of living and an educational system available to all pave the way for freedom; when 'education' has no 'bread', then 'freedom' becomes a reality show. And these days, that 'bread' is getting harder to secure, at the cost of both the other two elements of the slogan, as the cartoon on the right depicts. The most recent deaths from Greek demonstrations against the ruling authorities prove this: three well-educated young Greeks died while they were earning their daily bread in a fire that ensued from the pre-meditated razing of a building, a serious compromise to their freedom:

Και ποιος πληρώνει πάλι τα σπασμένα - And who pays for the damage again
και πώς να ξαναρχίσω πάλι απ' την αρχή - and how do I start over again from scratch
κι ας ήξερα τουλάχιστον γιατί... - I wish I knew why at least...
Λαέ, μη σφίξεις άλλο το ζωνάρι - People, don't tighten your belts any more
μην έχεις πια την πείνα για καμάρι - don't take pride in your hunger
Οι αγώνες που' χεις κάνει δεν 'φελάνε - The battles you have fought are of no use
το αίμα το χυμένο αν δεν ξοφλάνε - if they don't pay off the blood that has been spilt.
(Verse from Our Great Circus)

*** *** ***

The use of the word 'bread' in the slogan is metaphorical, but the cost of bread is real. Here's a breakdown of the cost (in euro) of Greece's daily bread in its literal sense:

the daily loaf1 (700g) fresh loaf of unsliced sourdough bread 1.62
(we need a loaf approx. every 1-2 days in my family)
1 fresh wholemeal baguette 0.92 (this will make three decent-sized sandwich rolls)
1 (130g) fresh wholemeal bun 0.40 (this is the size of a hearty burger bun)
paximadi400g dry rusk bread (paximathi) 2.53 
(this yields two large plates of dakos, ie serves 3-4 twice)
500g sliced wholemeal 'toast' bread 0.92
(this is mass-produced, machine-packed and long-lasting; it's often sold on special, unlike bakery bread)

linseed friganies100g friganies (dry bread slices) 1.12     
(this is often used as breakfast food - the slices look like toast bread in miniature, and are often spread with butter/margarine and jam)          

If you really want to make your own bread, you'll find that it costs almost the same price to make it as it would to buy a loaf of freshly baked bread from the bakery:
1 3-pk bread flour (1kg each) 0.80 (approximately - depending on the brand)
1 3-pk dried yeast sachets (7g each) 0.85
1kg wholemeal flour mix  2.03 
(this mix yields two small loaves of bread, or one big one)

plakopoulos bakery

The best bread I've had in Hania comes from Plakopoulos Bakery, near the Courts (Δικαστήρια). The baguettes are hand-crafted every morning by various family members. It costs slightly more than the prices stated above - but look at the quality (the large loaf was sliced on request). Those people who live/work in the area are very lucky; I too wish I had a good enough excuse to drive there every day for my daily bread needs.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.