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  • Introduction:The Colonels' Dictatorship and Its Afterlives
  • Dimitris Antoniou, Kostis Kornetis, Anna-Maria Sichani, and Katerina Stefatos

A half century after the coup d'état of 21 April 1967, the art exhibition documenta 14 launched its public programs in Athens by revisiting the Colonels' dictatorship. The organizers chose the former headquarters of the infamous military police (EAT/ESA) to host the "exercises of freedom,"1 a series of walking tours, lectures, screenings, and performances that examined resistance, torture, trauma, and displacement in a comparative perspective. The initiative was met with mixed feelings, and its public discussion raised important questions about the past. Why is it urgent today to revisit the junta as a period of acute trauma? Can we trace the roots of Greece's current predicament to its non-democratic past? What remains unsaid and unsayable about the dictatorship and its enduring legacies?2

While the junta has been a favorite subject for public history (broadly understood here to include literature, film, personal testimonies, and so on), research on it has remained on the margins. Initially, it was marked by sporadic attempts to respond to the pressing public interest to understand the dictatorship as a contemporary phenomenon (Tsoucalas 1969; Clogg and Yannopoulos 1972; Poulantzas 1976; Mouzelis 1978) and, most importantly, to explain how the Colonels came to power and why they managed to govern Greece for seven years. Subsequently, while historians of Greece started focusing on World War II, the Axis Occupation, and the Greek Civil War, literature on the junta remained fragmented and introspective, never coalescing into a coherent body of work capable of building on collective insights and speaking to broader scholarly debates. Unlike the books of the previous decade, the few scholarly works of the 1980s and 1990s (for example, Alivizatos 1983; Diamandouros 1983; Charalambis 1985; Woodhouse 1985; Bermeo 1995; Meletopoulos 1996; Dafermos 1999; Regos, Athanasatou, and Sepheriades 1999) largely assumed a Greek audience that was both interested in macrohistorical narratives and indifferent to the possibility that the Greek 1960s and 1970s might constitute a [End Page 281] productive period from which to consider issues of global and theoretical significance. For the most part, oral history, archival research, and ethnography are largely absent—a telling void if we take into account the great availability of materials in municipalities and cultural and professional associations (not to mention flea markets!), as well as the opportunity that scholars had to engage the former dictators or even lesser junta officials in a comprehensive study of the military regime (Figure 1).

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Figure 1.

"From the Flea Market," newsletter published by an Anglophone news agency created by the junta's supporters to cover the protaitioi trials (left) and propaganda brochure depicting tourists "enjoying the Athenian sun" on the day of the coup d'état (right). Source: Dimitris Antoniou's personal collection.

How long does it take for a period to be studied? How simple is it to inquire into the past of a living generation and to document accounts that may depart from canonized narratives? What happens when those who opposed the junta as students become narrators of history? Only recently have scholars begun to address these issues, reflect on the production of history and intergenerational tensions, and consider the period of the junta as a defining moment in recent Greek history and thus crucial to an understanding of the continuities and ruptures with postwar legacies and the entire period from the Metapolitefsi to the present (Van Dyck 1998; Rizas 2002; Papanikolaou 2007; Panourgiá 2009; Walden 2009; Karamanolakis 2010; Van Steen 2010; Stefatos 2012; Kornetis 2013; Nafpliotis 2013; Van Steen 2014; Avgeridis, Gazi, and Kornetis 2015; Papadogiannis 2015; Antoniou 2016; Kallivretakis 2017).3

This special section, "The Colonels' Dictatorship and Its Afterlives," builds on this momentum and presents an ongoing conversation among emerging scholars of the period. It draws on research initially presented at a workshop under the same title organized by Columbia University's Program in Hellenic Studies in April 2015. The workshop took as a point of departure the regime's emblem, the phoenix, the magical bird that sets itself on fire only to reemerge from its ashes, to ask how the regime...


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