Grigoris Lambrakis (Γρηγόρης Λαμπράκης): Politician, Athlet, Physician, Pacifist (1912 – 1963)
Greek politician, physician, track and field athlete, activist, pacifist.
Lambrakis was born in the village of Kerasitsa in the district of Tegea (Arcadia, the Peloponnese). After finishing high school in his home town, he moved to Athens to enter the School of Medicine at the University of Athens.
Lambrakis was a champion athlete throughout his life. He held the Greek record for long jump for twenty-three years (1936–1959). He also earned several gold medals in the Balkan Athletic Games, which took place annually, featuring competitors from Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey.
During the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II (1941–1944), Lambrakis participated actively in the Greek Resistance. In 1943 he set up the Union of Greek Athletes (Ένωση των Ελλήνων Αθλητών, Enosi ton Ellínon Athlitón) and organized regular competitions. He used the revenue from these games to fund public food-banks for the starving population.
He had been elected to the Greek parliament in 1961 as a candidate of the Pan-democratic Agrarian Movement of Greece on the ticket of the Eniaia Dimokratiki Aristera (EDA) which was Greece's farthest left party besides the outlawed communists.
Lambrakis was a pacifist who used his Parliamentry immunity to march unmolested in a walk for peace, from Marathon to central Athens after it had been banned by the police who had beaten up the other marchers. It was this march that brought him to the forefront of Greek politics, making him a hero of the left and an enemy of the right. Lambrakis' ideals captured the imagination of the Greek left who after a quarter a century of opression by the right in the name of fighting communism, were ready to embrace his goals of peace and a nuclear-free world. Unfortunately these ideals and Lambrakis' speeches incited the right-wing to hysteria, believing him to be a communist and a danger to pro-America Greece.
A plot was hatched to set him up and murder him after a speech in Thessaloniki in 1963. Using two hired thugs in a three wheeled vehicle, one drove and the other in the back with a club knocked him over the head in plain view of the police and a large number of people.
A young magistrate by the name of Christos Sartzetakis was given the task of investigating the incident and give proof that his death was an accident. But Sartzetakis courageously implicated the leaders of the police in a conspiracy to murder Lambrakis and uncovered a secret organization of right-wing thugs used for dirty work, controlled by the police and perhaps higher. The Lambrakis murder eventually brings down premier Constantine Karamanlis and his pro-American government. Though never implicated in the murder, the perception was that even if Karamanlis was not a part of it, he should have had more control over the police.
Lambrakis funeral was massively attended and just hours after his death composer Mikis Theodorakis founded the Lambrakis Youth Movement, the first mass-movement of its kind in Greece.
The letter Z, which means zei, or in English 'he lives' became the rallying cry of the Greek youth who found their voice following the Lambrakis murder, a voice that would move the country towards the left, or at least to the center when Georgios Papandreou's Center Union won the next election. But 4 years later when the government was overthrown by the military Junta of April 21 1967 one of the many things they banned was the letter Z.
In 1969 Costa-Gavras released the movie Z, about the Lambrakis murder and investigation. It won numerous awards including best foreign film and was nominated for an oscar for best picture. Still on the list of many critic's best movies of all time, Z is a must see for anyone who wants to understand Greece of the fifties and early sixties and the man who might have become a great leader instead of a martyr. The Athens Classic Marathon, run every year in November and gaining popularity, is dedicated to Grigoris Lambrakis.
The Image: MP and Greek anti-fascist resistance icon Grigoris Lambrakis marching alone in the banned Marathon–Athens Peace Rally on Sunday April 21 1963, one month before his assassination