Daily Archives: 3 March 2023

Fate of 1968ers in Greece and Poland

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 39-40:

Student unrest, first marked in Italy in 1966, began to spread throughout Europe, including some countries in the Bloc, while in Greece a junta of colonels staged a coup d’etat against everything the students stood for and in support of traditional values. It was ironic that Greece, despite massive injections of American aid and sizeable income from Greeks working abroad, had failed to match even neighbouring Bulgaria’s increase in living standards since the war. What happened in Greece raised the question of how many Soviet Bloc countries, with their still largely traditional cultures, might have resorted to military government in the postwar era had they not been taken into the Soviet orbit. More immediately, however, it raised the question of how their governments would react to the imported Western phenomenon of student protest.

In Poland, one of the two countries most affected, there was a reaction analogous to that of the Colonels. Early in 1968 the production of a play by the nineteenth-century romantic, Mickiewicz (see Chapter 5), was banned because it included some anti-Russian remarks. This provoked fierce student calls for greater freedom and ‘national autonomy’. The students’ zeal found an echo among many intellectuals, not least among economists who had been pressing for reform. There was no echo, however, among the working classes. Nonetheless the Interior Minister, Mieczyslaw Moczar, reacted strongly.

Like the Colonels in Greece, Moczar was cast in the old, heroic mould, and he was motivated by two traditional values in particular: nationalism and antisemitism. By extension he also disliked intellectuals and economists who were threatening the position of so many loyal, bureaucratic place-men. Moczar saw a chance of defusing tension by exploiting long-standing popular prejudices. Accordingly he arranged for students to be beaten up and for many of them to be arrested. He set up a commission to ‘supervise’ the handful of Jews remaining in Poland after the Holocaust, and to coordinate antisemitic propaganda. But the experiment was short-lived. In December 1968 the commission was abolished and Moczar disappeared from the stage.

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