November 17 commemorates the Athens Polytechnic Uprising in 1973, which was a massive demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta of 1967–1974.
The uprising actually began on November 14, 1973, and escalated to an open anti-junta revolt and ended in bloodshed in the early morning of November 17 after a series of events starting with a tank crashing through the gates of the Polytechnic.
Since April 21, 1967, Greece had been under the dictatorial rule of the military, a regime which abolished civil rights, dissolved political parties and exiled, imprisoned and tortured politicians and citizens based on their political beliefs.
The junta, trying to control every aspect of politics, had interfered with student syndicalism since 1967, by banning student elections in universities, forcibly drafting students and imposing non-elected student union leaders in the national student’s union. These actions eventually created anti-junta sentiments among students, such as geology student Kostas Georgakis who committed suicide in 1970 in Genoa, Italy as an act of protest against the junta. With that exception, the first massive public action against the junta came from students on February 21, 1973.
On February 21, 1973, law students went on strike and barricaded themselves inside the buildings of the Law School of the University of Athens in the centre of Athens, demanding repeal of the law that imposed forcible drafting of “subversive youths”, as 88 of their peers had been forcibly drafted. The police were ordered to intervene and many students were reportedly subjected to police brutality. The events at the Law School are often cited as the prelude to the Polytechnic uprising.
On November 14th of 1973 students began gathering at the Athens Polytechnic to demonstrate against the Junta. This demonstration which is coordinated with occupations of campuses in Patras and Thessaloniki turns into a student rebellion that gathers strength every day as more and more people join. On the 16th of November, the students and other demonstrators attempt to march from the Polytechnic to Syntagma square but they are halted by the police.
At 2am on November 17th, tanks are ordered to crush the student rebellion at the Polytechnic. At 2:15 a group of students come out to negotiate a surrender asking for half an hour to evacuate the campus. The officers in charge said they will only give them fifteen minutes but don’t even wait for ten. At 3am a tank crashes through the gate of the polytechnic and police and military storm the campus. As the gate crashes to the ground students rush out to escape and are beaten with clubs and arrested. At least 34 demonstrators were killed though many reports claim that the number is much higher.
November 17 is marked as a holiday in Greece for all educational establishments.