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The Pnyx


Nikos Raptis

Pnyx

is the name of a low (357 feet high) hill about 450 yards to the west of the

Acropolis in Athens. The word "Pnyx" means "tightly crowded

together." The "crowding" refers to the male citizens (also known

and as "demos") of classical Athens, who assembled, in the open, on

the northern side of the hill of Pnyx to discuss politics and make political

decisions; kind of a contemporary Parliament or Congress. The "crowd"

was usually around 5,000 citizens, out of a population of 18,000 and the

assembly was held early in the morning to avoid the rather "strong"

Athenian sunshine. The word "demos’ is the first part of the word

"demo-cracy", the second being "cratos," which means

"power," that is "power of the people." In practice the

latter was achieved by having each citizen represent ONLY himself. There were no

representatives, senators, etc. The "trick" of representatives was

contrived later by the Romans to marginalize the rabble, that is the

"demos."

During

the Pericles period, 5th century BC, the citizens were standing or sitting on

the gently sloping side of the hill. The speaker, or orator, was standing at the

foot of the slope, where a level area was formed through the construction of a

retaining wall, the area back of which was filled with soil. This arrangement

held up to the 2nd century after Christ when it was reversed by having the

orator at the top of the hill by chiselling a platform and a podium out of the

limestone rock at the top of the Pnyx hill. It seems that that became necessary

because the retaining wall failed either during a very heavy rain or during an

earthquake. Among the people that spoke during the period of the original

arrangement, with the orator at the foot of the hill, were, Demosthenes (the

famous orator), Aristides (the Just), Pericles (of the Golden Age), et al. One

should note that St. Paul preferred to address the Council of the Areopagos, an

aristocratic legal body, on another low hill about 200 yards east of the Pnyx,

and not address the "rabble" at the Pnyx, when he visited Athens to

propagandize the religious system he had constructed.

Clinton,

inspired by democratic ideals, decided to speak at the Pnyx, from the chiselled

platform at the top of the hill, or so the Greek media inform us. The occasion

will be Clinton’s visit to Athens on November 13-15, 1999. Also the media inform

us that Clinton, according to reliable sources, intends to announce to the world

from the Pnyx the toppling of Milosevic. But it is doubtful that he will

accomplish that, as there are only 14 days left to the 13th. However, that is

not the only problem that Clinton is facing in relation to his imminent Grecian

visit. It seems that his big problem will be the "Polytechnic."

The

"Polytechnic," or the National Metsovion Polytechnion, is the most

important technical University of Greece. A significant number of its graduates

are teaching in the most important technical Universities in the US, As a matter

of fact, one of its graduates, a guy named Theofilos (I do not remember his

first name) a mechanical engineer who turned to physics, was the originator of

the Star Wars idea through an electromagnetic shield (or something) around the

earth. Big stuff (mostly top secret) some of which one can read in the US press

(e.g. Time) in the late fifties. No mention of him after that, as far as I know.

On

November 14, 1973, during the US imposed dictatorship in Greece, there was a

spontaneous uprising of the Greek students at the Polytechnic campus. (Not much

of a campus, 7 buldings crowded in a rather small court in downtown Athens). The

rebelling students, not only from the Polytechnic but also from the other

Universities in Athens, were quite a few thousands. An equal number of citizens

were around the Polytechnic in solidarity to the students. On Friday, November

17, the army with its tanks and the police invaded the Polytechnic complex. To

this day the number of the dead is unknown. The official number is 34 dead and

1,103 wounded, mostly citizens. Also, there were 2,061 people arrested, mostly

students.

Personal

testimony (made public for the first time): A few weeks after the end of the

dictatorship, in 1974, and while things were still in a flux, I took my car to a

mechanic’s, where during a conversation with another customer about the number

of dead at the "Polytechnic" I was told with emphasis by him that the

dead wrere not in the hundreds, as people were saying, but they were only 46.

When the man left, the mechanic told me that the man was a policeman in civilian

cloths and that he was the personal driver of the infamous Giannis Lambrou, the

head of the Security Police and master torturer for the dictatorhip. That was

before the announcement of the official number.

For

25 years the Greeks every November 17 honor the dead of the 1973 student

uprising and protest the US imposed dictatorship by marching from the

Polytechnic to the US embassy, a distance of a little less than 2 miles. During

the first march, in 1974, there were more than a million people that marched and

demonstrated. After a couple of years the facade of the embassy was splashed

with red paint (there was no protective fence at the time). During the years

that followed, a huge high security fence, almost 15 feet high, was erected

around the embassy and the Greek government, then under Karamanlis, was assigned

the job by the US to put an end to what by then was known as the

"Polytechnic March" to the US embassy. The most effective way was to

scare people away from participating in the march through the presence of

violence during the march. The next few years during the march the police beat

to death a young man and a young woman and shot dead a 16-year old boy. Thus,

the government succeded to have a march of tens of thousands of people instead

of the hundreds of thousands of the first years. The march lasts for hours and

the main slogan shouted is: "The Americans are murderers of peoples."

Back

to Clinton and his problems. Immediately after the anouncement of the Clinton

visit, the media ridiculed the whole project and protested about the cost of

mobilizing 12,000 (twelve thousand) policemen for Clinton’s protection, to be

paid by the tax-payers. However, things took a more serious turn. A great number

of political and social organizations demanded that the 17th of November march

should be moved to November 13 or 14 to coincide with the presence of Clinton in

Athens. A rather "difficult" situation, with hundreds of thousands of

very angry people demanding punishment of Clinton for his

"humanitarian" bombing of Kosovo and Serbia. Actually, the reaction

against Clinton will start on November 8 with a public "trial" of

Clinton in Syntagma Square, the historic center of Athens. The charges against

him have been compiled by prominent Greek jurists and lawyers. Also, some of the

students of the Polytechnic uprising (now in their late 40s) prepared a

"speech," in the spirit of Aristophanes, to be delivered at the Pnyx.

In the speech Clinton is referred to as the "Caesar of Kosovo." (Eleftherotypia,

Oct. 31, 1999, p. 16)

A

couple of days ago there was a rumor that Clinton decided to cancel or postpone

the visit. Yesterday (October 30), there were reports from Washington that

Clifton will visit Athens no matter what. The Greek government declares that the

US is a friend and an ally and its President should be respected and received as

a head of state. Also, today, some conservative papers make an effort to support

the position of the government.

Following

the developments of the Pnyx- "Polytechnic March" story, during the

next 15 days, will be an interesting and instructive engagement.

 

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