Grigoris Lambrakis (Greek: Γρηγόρης Λαμπράκης) (April 3, 1912–May 27, 1963) was a Greek politician, physician, track and field athlete, and member of the faculty of the School of Medicine at the University of Athens.
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 great 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") and organised regular competitions. He used the revenue from these games to fund public food-banks for the starving population.
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
After World War II, Lambrakis completed his medical studies and worked as a lecturer in the Department of gynaecology. He continued to help the poor by running a small private clinic for patients who were unable to afford medical care.
While not a Communist, Lambrakis's political and ideological orientation did lean towards the left. He was actively involved in the Pacifist Movement of his time, which voiced strong opposition to the Vietnam War. Lambrakis acted politically from within the United Democratic Left (Eniaia Democratiki Aristera — EDA), the only legal left-wing political party in the country after the Greek Civil War 1946–1949 and until the fall of the Greek military junta of 1967-1974. He was elected to the Hellenic Parliament in the Greek legislative election, 1961 as a Piraeus MP.
The same year (1961), under his initiative, the Commission for International Détente and Peace (Eπιτροπή για την Διεθνή Ύφεση και Ειρήνη — Epitropi gia ti Diethni Yfesi kai Eirini — EDYE) was established in Greece. In his capacity as Vice President of EDYE, Lambrakis participated in international pacifist meetings and demonstrations, despite frequent threats against his life. On 21 April 1963, the pacifist movement in Greece organised the First Pacifist Rally from Marathon to Athens. The police intervened, banned the rally and arrested many demonstrators (Mikis Theodorakis among them). Lambrakis, protected by his parliamentary immunity, marched alone and arrived at the end of the rally holding the banner with the peace symbol (photo), the one he had previously held up during the Aldermaston rally in the United Kingdom while protesting near the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE). Soon afterwards he, too, was arrested by the police.
Poster of the legendary film Z by Costa Gavras which presents the events surrounding the assassination of Grigoris Lambrakis. "He is alive!" can be seen in the poster caption under the large Z, written in French, referring to the popular Greek protest slogan "Ζει" meaning "he (Lambrakis) is alive".
On 22 May 1963, shortly after he had delivered the keynote speech at an anti-war meeting in Thessaloniki, two far-right extremists, Emannouel Emannouilides and Spyro Gotzamanis, driving a three wheeled vehicle, struck Lambrakis with a club over the head in plain view of a large number of people and (allegedly) some police officers. He suffered brain injuries and died in the hospital five days later, on 27 May.
The next day, in Athens, his funeral became a massive demonstration. More than 500,000 people rallied to protest against the right-wing government and the Royal Court, seen by many to support the activities of the right-wing extremists. The assassination of Lambrakis initiated an enormous popular reaction, and soon after, investigator Christos Sartzetakis and Attorney General P. Delaportas uncovered connections of the police and army to far-right extremists. Both men lost their jobs during the military dictatorship of 1967. Christos Sartzetakis was also imprisoned for a year during the dictatorship. Sartzetakis became a symbol of integrity for his handling of the investigation.
The events that followed the assassination of Lambrakis led to rapid political developments. Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis resigned and left for Paris in July 1963. The Marathon Peace Rally became an annual event in Lambrakis's memory. Thousands of Greek youths formed a new political organisation called The Neolaia Lambraki (Νεολαία Λαμπράκη - Lambrakis Youth); the first secretary of Neolaia Lambraki was Mikis Theodorakis, one of Lambrakis's friends and fellow activists. This leftist political organisation played a decisive role in Greece's progressive movement of the 1960s.
The life and death of Grigoris Lambrakis inspired the author Vassilis Vassilikos to write the political novel "Z". The title stands for the first letter of the Greek word "Zei" ("[He] Lives!"), a popular graffito which began to appear on the walls of the buildings of the Greek cities in the 1960s, illustrating the growing protest against the conditions that led to the assassination of Lambrakis. In 1969, the Greek-French film director Costa-Gavras (Κώστας Γαβράς) made the film Z, which was a great success. Yves Montand starred as Lambrakis, Jean-Louis Trintignant as investigator Sartzetakis and Irene Papas as Lambrakis's widow.
Lambrakis remains in the hearts of the Greek people as a national symbol of democracy, representing the struggle against political repression, Royal Court scandal, and international dependence. After the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, numerous places, including a football stadium in Kallithea and streets and squares throughout the country, have been named in honor of Grigoris Lambrakis.
The Athens Classic Marathon is run in memory of Grigoris Lambrakis every November.
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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