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    Remembering Manolis Glezos

    BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES
    Weekly analysis and untold stories
    With SAMUEL STOLTON

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    Remembering Manolis Glezos

    Take a seat in one of the many empty European Parliament committee rooms at the moment and in the dry, abandoned silence, you can almost hear the play of impassioned voices that has animated this political echo chamber over recent decades.

    The words that abound between the walls of these rooms come from the lips of a mixed tapestry of eccentrics, megalomaniacs, and outcasts. There are those however that will forever stand out for their incorruptible and virtuous class. One such character was Manolis Glezos.


    Sent out every Friday afternoon, BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels.

    If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every Friday, subscribe to the newsletter here.


    Earlier this week in Parliament’s Culture Committee, the obligatory preamble noted several deaths of former committee members – a trend becoming tragically more common as Europe writhes from the aftershocks of being exposed to the coronavirus. On a week in which the continent celebrates its Victory in Europe day, there are few more rousing and formidable names to appear on lists such as these, than Greek leftist Manolis Glezos.

    During the Nazi invasion of Greece in 1941 the Germans had charged into Athens on 27 April, stealing copious amounts of ammunition, medical supplies, fuel and food from allied forces. For most part, the populace of Athens had confined themselves to their homes a few days prior to the invasion, having received the following radio warning, imploring Greeks to hold firm amid the incoming invasion:

    Friends! Have Greece in your hearts, live inspired with the fire of her latest triumph and the glory of our army. Greece will live again and will be great, because she fought honestly for a just cause and for freedom. Brothers! Have courage and patience.

    It is not known whether Glezos himself had tuned into this particular broadcast, but just days later his own courage would be laid bare in an extraordinary act of political resistance.

    On securing Athens towards the end of April 1941, one of the first things the Germans did was to raise the Nazi flag high above the Athens skyline – suspended in the hot and bitter Mediterranean air.

    Meanwhile, somewhere down below in the urban sprawl of the city, a plot was being contrived between two young resistance fighters to undermine the Nazis’ self-aggrandizing thirst for power.

    It fell to Apostolos Santas, a 19-year-old student, and his 18-year-old counterpart Glezos, to record perhaps the most audacious act of opposition as part of Greece’s Nazi occupation. On the night of May 30, 1941, armed with no more than a pocket knife and a lantern, the two teenagers crept into a cave underneath the Acropolis and scaled the insides of the hollow until they found their way to the exposed air above.

    With an air of grace and stealth normally reserved for the most covert of special forces operators, the two boys clambered up the flagpole and cut down the Nazi flag, while German officers stood to a half-guard down below – inebriated and lackadaisical. Santas and Glezos tore the Swastika-emblazoned flag into pieces, stuffing the remnants into their trouser pockets.

    Confronted by his mother on arriving home later that evening, Glezos had pulled out the frayed material. In the cold of the Athens night, saying not a word to one another, Glezos and his mother embraced.

    Speaking to the New York Times many years later, Glezos said that both he and Santas “had absolute consciousness that it was a historic moment…That was my first act of resistance, and I knew there would be others.”

    After the flag debacle, the Gestapo had put out a death warrant for Glezos. He was captured in 1942 but his death sentence was commuted. He was imprisoned again in 1943 by Italian occupation forces and then in 1944 by Greek collaborators. It wasn’t until the end of the War that he found his freedom, which was in itself short-lived.

    The Greek Civil War that ensued between the government and Communist Revolutionary forces saw Glezos handed two more death sentences for his political convictions. However, following international outcry, these were reduced to life imprisonment judgments. He eventually found his freedom in 1954, despite later facing a series of other charges related to espionage.

    In 1984, Glezos was elected to the European Parliament, representing the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). He returned in 2014 as a SYRIZA candidate, obtaining more than 430,000 votes, making him the most popular Greek candidate as well as the oldest, at the age of 91.

    Having survived multiple death sentences, over a decade of political imprisonment, and nearly 5 years in exile, on 30 March this year, Glezos died of heart failure. It was 79 years to the day that he had scaled the Nazi flagpole on the Acropolis.

    “He will remain for all eternity the symbol of a fighter who knew how to sacrifice himself for people,” Former Greek prime minister Alexis Tspiras said on hearing the news of Glezos’ passing. “The Left, all of us, today feel like orphans, but also lucky to have walked with him.”

    There are many ghosts of yesteryear that patrol the corridors of the European Parliament. As time goes on and the list of the deceased expands, it is the names of characters such as Glezos and his insatiable quest for liberty that ablaze as bright and burning beacons of democracy, in the modern cloak-and-dagger theatre of subterfuge politics. May your lessons live on, Manolis.


    Sent out every Friday afternoon, BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels.

    If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every Friday, subscribe to the newsletter here.