I met him late in his life, in 2017, in Exarchia, at the offices of his publisher—and mine as well—Loukas Axelos. His Stochastis publishing house has put out a monumental history of the Greek Resistance in two volumes, the life’s work of Manolis Glezos.
I remember the scene: I was just going out together with an Armenian author when the door opened and Glezos burst in, brandishing his cane. We canceled all our other engagements and sat down to talk all afternoon.
For Manolis Glezos, resistance was a life choice much more than a political choice. As I got to know him from up close, I could immediately see why on May 30, 1941, the day when the Nazis occupied the island of Crete, he, a 19-year-old student, hatched a plan and dragged his university friend Apostolos Santas along, climbing the Acropolis at night and lowering the swastika flag.
Only Glezos could think of such a mad gesture—it could only arise from his instinctive rebellion, as instinctive and spontaneous as his political thought was.
Glezos was in fact more of a rebel than a revolutionary. He was a man of resistance to everything that he saw—correctly—as harmful to the interests of the two cornerstones of his thinking: the people and the homeland. Until his very last breath, Glezos kept arguing with great tenacity for the complete identification of the two concepts: Greece and its people are one and the same, and whoever sets themselves against the people are harming the country, serving the interests of the foreign powers-that-be: the Nazis, the British in the civil war, the Americans later on, the Germans in the Eurozone.
He embraced an idea drawn from Marxist historiography: the notion that, over the centuries and millennia, the attitude of resistance has become an integral part of Greek popular culture. He saw the Greeks as partisan fighters by nature.
This belief led to major clashes with his colleagues in Syriza, from whom he had to fight off endless accusations of “ethnocentrism” and “nationalism.” His answer was that the Greek left had only come out of irrelevance when it decided to take hold of the national flag and urged the people to fight against Mussolini and Hitler. Syriza should have done the same against the masters of the Eurozone.
He broke with Tsipras well before the summer of 2015, when the “painful compromise” with the creditors was signed. Glezos had spent more than half of his life in prison or confinement. He never lost contact with his old friends, not only communist militants but also cellmates, ordinary people, punished because they had gone on strike, because they had quarreled with their employer, because they didn’t go to church, because they read subversive newspapers—but also petty thieves, prostitutes, ne’er-do-wells.
He would talk to all of them, and he would feel the anxiety, the anguish of the small people who wanted to redeem themselves right away, indifferent to the complications of politics. Glezos himself was to a large extent detached from institutional politics. He had seen up close the fundamental Stalinism widespread in every part of the Greek left, and he refused to submit his natural rebelliousness to party logic.
This explains the course his life took. Before the coup d’état by the colonels, he had been president of the Democratic Left. When the Communist Party split up in 1968, he created his own independent group called “Chaos” from prison. Later, he was elected deputy from Andreas Papandreou’s Socialists, and then from Syriza in the 21st century, until he finally broke with them.
He always declared himself pro-European, and as an elected MEP from Syriza he forcefully touted the “Greek heritage” of European culture, which “should not be given over to the markets and their priests.” But his stay in Strasbourg did not last long. The hero of the resistance, the first partisan of Europe, the rebel who was still young at age 98, had a fear of flying.
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