“The military has taken over the governance of the country,” stated an early morning radio announcement in the year 1967. Themis Karapanagiotis was only nine years old when these words transformed the political scene of Greece and the lives of the whole nation. The 21st of April would be a day he would never forget.
On that day the people of Athens came across a bizarre sight: military tanks were positioned all around the city and in the perimeter of the parliament. Uniformed men carrying guns were on the streets and it was clear for every passer-by that democracy was now a thing from the past.
In fact, that was the beginning of the Greek military junta, the dictatorship that would last seven years and polarize the nation. The regime aimed to crush communism and bring back the traditional values that would make the country the “Greece of Greek Christians” (ΕλλάςΕλλήνωνΧριστιανών) once again.
During those years human rights were violated, suspected communists were jailed, tortured and exiled, while people all around the country lived in constant fear of a possible arrest.
This situation was obvious since the first day of the dictatorship, as Themis recalls.
“I was only nine back then so I couldn’t understand much. I remember that I went to school and they told us to go back home,” Themis says. “We were just happy not to be at school, we didn’t know how serious the situations was.”
But after going home he soon found out that something was wrong. The radio, the main source of information for rural Greece at the time, kept playing military marching music instead of the usual songs, while official state announcements kept being broadcasted every few minutes.
“Those announcements were scary and confusing. They listed all the laws and articles that were no longer valid, I couldn’t understand a thing. They kept saying all the things that were forbidden. No more than three people in a group, no going out at night, no this and no that – nothing was allowed anymore!” he exclaims with frustration.
Kimmeria however, was not just an ordinary Greek village. Known as the home of the communists and nicknamed among the locals as “Little Moscow”, the village immediately became the target of arrests.
“The police came and arrested people that were known to be communists. They didn’t say where they were taking them, not even their families knew where they were. We only found out about the exiles and all the other atrocities when the dictatorship was over, years later.”
These arrests were truly traumatizing for the young boy as many of his friends’ parents and his neighbours disappeared, but they also created a fear that was more personal.
“I lived with my grandparents back then. My grandfather was a communist, he fought during the civil war. He used to have trouble with the law and was even in exile for years before the dictatorship, so he just stayed quiet, he didn’t want to get arrested and leave us alone,” Themis says.
What he distinctly remembers from the 21st of April is the quiet. “People were numb. No one said a word, they were all afraid that someone will tell on them if they said something negative. I now understand that they must have been terrified.”
Today, Themis can still remember everything that happened during the seven years of the Greek military junta. “Growing up during that time, it changes you,” he says bitterly. “But these experiences made me believe in democracy and freedom. I could never support such a regime.”
Although the Regime of the Colonels, as it was known, ended by the year 1974, the wounds it left behind remain. “That period changed my country, it divided the people and it still does.”
In fact, the regime has supporters even today. With the economic crisis and the current political state of the country, many people idealize the regime as the only way for the country to truly recover.
Although such authoritarian beliefs are widespread across the country, Themis remains optimistic that the dark times of the dictatorship will never come to be again. “I can’t imagine how this could happen again. Things are very different now.”