A peaceful weapon for democracy

A peaceful weapon for democracy

Politics

The military coup of 1967

A small group of conspirators led by colonel Georgios Papadopoulos, lieutenant-general Stylianos Pattakos and general Georgios Zoitakis executed a coup d'etat late on April 21, 1967. That night, the first wave of arrests swept Greece. An estimated 8,000 people were detained, among them sitting ministers, countless journalists, lawyers, writers and artists.

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Seven years of junta rule

The parliament was disempowered, tens of thousands of people - in particular those leaning to the political left - were jailed and banished to island prisons. The seven years of the military regime were marked by despotism, extensive censorship, torture and murder. Thousands were killed.

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Broadcasting from Cologne to Greece

DW started broadcasting its Greek-language program from its then-headquarters in Cologne in 1964. After the military seized control in Greece, the program gave a voice to critics of the new regime. DW was one of the few outlets available to Greek citizens that provided unrestricted information, making it a thorn in the junta's side.

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Dissident news and banned music

Every day from 9:40 to 10:40 p.m., DW broadcasted news, opinion pieces, press reviews, features on the events in Greece and interviews with anti-regime activists. Greek music was also part of the program. This included tunes that had been banned by the military dictators, such as the songs of composer and famous opposition supporter Mikis Theodorakis.

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United against the junta

People from all walks of life with widely different political views were part of DW's Greek department. The one thing they could all agree upon: A military dictatorship was not acceptable. Pictured here: G. Heyer, A. Maropoulos, G. Kladakis, D. Koulmas, K. Nikolaou (from left to right).

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A protest tour against the regime

When she arrived in Berlin, Melina Mercouri was greeted by German novelist Günter Grass. Merkouri was a successful Greek actress, singer and politician who had left her home country for exile in France in 1967. "The military junta is a disgrace for a democratic Europe," Merkouri said when she visited Germany's biggest city on an international protest tour against the regime.

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Counterattacks from the regime

The regime systemically disrupted DW's shortwave signal. Newspaper "Nea Politeia" - a mouthpiece for the Athens regime - tried but failed to damage the reputation of the DW editorial team. "The rodents of the Cologne radio broadcaster;" read the title page of their June 8, 1969 issue. But 3 million Greeks still followed the broadcast every night.

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A concert turned demonstration

"When Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis conducted the performance of his own songs in the sold-out concert hall yesterday, the concert was spontaneously turned into a demonstration after the intermission by the many Greeks attending the event," newspaper "Hamburger Abendblatt" wrote after Theodorakis' performance in Hamburg on Februar 2, 1972.

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The voice of the Athens Polytechnic

On November 14, 1973, students of the Polytechnic in Athens went on strike to protest against the regime. They barricaded the campus and opened a radio station. Their voices were broadcast across Greece by DW. The student boycott marked the beginning of the end for the dictatorship, which ultimately collapsed in Mid-1974. The myth of DW as the "voice of freedom" lasts to this day.

Fifty years ago, a military coup was staged in Greece. The violent government takeover was followed by a ruthless regime that lasted seven years. Back then, DW played a key role for the resistance.

On the morning of April 21, 1967, tanks rolled into the center of Athens. A small group of conspirators led by colonel Georgios Papadopoulos took over the Greek kingdom, bringing about seven years of ruthless military dictatorship. The putschists violently seized control because they feared the upcoming re-election, initiated by the Center Union party in their struggle for power against the king. On the day of the coup, thousands of left-wing opposition members were arrested. Later, the king fled into exile.

The regime set out to take absolute control of the country, censoring the media and harassing and killing opposition activists. Fear dominated everyday Greek life as the government urged its spies to identify all people linked to the resistance. The only sources of information not controlled by the so-called "Regime of the Colonels" were foreign broadcasters - initially the BBC, Radio France and Radio Bucharest primarily.

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DW seizes the moment

DW - or "Deutsche Welle," as it was referred to back then - was not well known in Greece when the coup happened. DW's shortwave radio program had only been broadcasting in the Mediterranean country for three years. Their newscast, started in 1964, initially tried to abstain from meddling in domestic Greek politics. But in 1969, two years into the regime, newly-appointed DW director Walter Steigner, together with a small team of dedicated Greek journalists, decided to radically change the course of the broadcaster's Greek division, choosing to give a voice to dissident opinions and siding with those fighting for democracy and freedom in Greece.

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DW's role during Greece's dictatorship

DW's political media experiment in Greece succeeded. From the country that initiated the destruction of World War II, of all places, hailed the broadcast that became the "voice of freedom" during the Greek regime - a broadcast that took over Greek households in spite of being banned by the junta.

"I was a little boy back then," popular satirist Lakis Lazopoulos remembers. "The whole neighborhood went to an old barber that worked at his apartment. One evening, I went over there to get my hair cut. But the old man sent me away, saying 'I don't have time right now, I need to listen to DW.' 'What is DW?,' I asked him. 'DW, those are the ones who tell us the truth,' he told me." On that evening, Lazopoulos said he understood that the colonels were in power. From that day on, he turned his radio to DW at 9:40 p.m. every night to listen to the broadcast from Germany - just like an estimated 3 million other Greeks.

No holds barred via shortwave

DW's Greek program extensively covered the activities of the resistance movement forming abroad. People first heard of what happened to resistance fighters in Greece - the mass arrests and torture - on the broadcast. Through a wide-spanning network of informants, editors collected and distributed all the important news withheld by the regime's censors. The team had to constantly strike a balance between independent coverage and Germany's economic interests in Greece.

Griechenland Militärdiktatur Dimitrios Joannides und Georgios Papadopoulos

Dimitrios Ioannidis and Georgios Papadopoulos led the 1967 coup in Greece

Unlike the politically neutral wording employed by the BBC, DW's pugnacious opinion pieces were a thorn in the regime's side, giving wings to the opposition. "I listened to the broadcast every evening with my wife and my kids during the two years when I was banished to [the mountain village of] Zatouna, and I still remember how the show strengthened our morale and conviction," famous composer Mikis Theodorakis said. "The center of the Greek-German relationship back then was DW." The program developed into a peaceful weapon used by pro-democracy forces. After the dark years of brutal occupation during World War II, Germany invested morally and politically in a brighter Greek future.

A lasting influence

In June 1974, the regime in Athens collapsed after a failed coup in Nicosia aimed at unifying Greece and Cyprus. Democracy was restored in Greece. And when some of the members of the DW team returned to Athens after a seven-year absence, their taxi drivers refused to charge them when they recognized the voices that brought them uncensored information on Greek politics from the broadcaster's then-headquarters in Cologne.

Among the people working for DW back then was Karolos Papoulias, who would go on to serve as president of Greece from 2005 to 2015. "That broadcast was a historic symbol in the fight for democracy and human rights," he later said. The name "Deutsche Welle" still moved Greeks, even those who were not yet born during that time, Papoulias added.

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This chapter in the shared history of DW and Greece has lost little of its symbolic power. If there is the smallest indication that civil liberties are under threat or the truth is censored in the southern European state, that journalistic resistance is recalled as a precedent. When the current government of Alexis Tsipras released reports that sugarcoated the country's state of affairs, a well regarded online outlet published an article criticizing the government. The headline of the piece? "Maybe it is the time of Deutsche Welle again."