Saturday, April 4, 2020

Two Very Different Greek Heroes for Their Times


Two very different men facing different times, crises, and politics, but each sharing a common motivation: to inspire their embattled nation.

Hero Number One:
Manolis Glezos

How many of us can think of a single act of valor so symbolic to a nation that it defines the rest of the actor’s life?  I’m talking on the scale of Hans Brinker’s little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke sort of stuff.

One such act occurred on the night of May 30, 1941 in Athens when two Greek young men, 18 year-old Manolis Glezos and 19 year-old Apostolos “Lakis” Santas, climbed to the top of the Acropolis and, under the noses of the occupying Nazi forces, tore down a huge Nazi flag flying there since the Nazis first entered Athens thirty-three days before.

Santas & Glezos

Their action is credited as the seminal act inspiring Greek resistance to Nazi occupation and turned the two men into folk heroes.

Santas died in 2011 at the age of 89, but his colleague, Glezos (a subject of this post), remained an active, outspoken member of the left, serving in the Greek parliament at 90, in the European Parliament as its oldest member at 91, and leading demonstrations pressing his political convictions well into his 90s—exposing himself not to just the risk but realization of injury.  This hero to so many passed away last week at age 97.  God rest his soul.

There are many who disagreed with Manolis Glezos decidedly leftist politics, but he clung to his beliefs all of his life, enduring nearly a dozen years in prison and several death sentences, including one shared with Santas issued in absentia by the Nazis for their daring nighttime attack on the Nazi flag.   He’s also received international recognition for his commitment to his beliefs, including the Lenin Peace Prize. 

For a more detailed discussion of this remarkable patriot’s life, here is a link to his obituary in The New York Times.

Hero Number Two:

Greece Prime Minister Kyriakis Mitsotakis

Occupying a decidedly different position on the political spectrum is Greece’s 52-year-old Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Harvard and Stanford educated scion of a prominent political family.  As different as their backgrounds, is their politics, yet each in his particular moment in history faced an existential threat to their nation and found a way to inspire his nation to persevere.

To be sure, the Prime Minister has his critics, but in a nation still debilitated by a more than decade long financial crisis, forced to fend for itself as the European Union’s utterly neglected primary filter trap for refugees, and under siege by a pandemic threatening to devastate Greece’s tourist season, he is receiving high marks for demonstrating the sort of leadership qualities that inspire confidence in his fellow citizens there’s a steady hand on the tiller navigating them through difficult straits.

As for what those qualities are, I fear describing them might be construed as if I’m tossing barbs at other nations’ leaders. So, I shall take the easy way out, and respectfully suggest that you take a look at his interview conducted three days ago by CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour to make up your own mind as to whether Greece’s Prime Minister is a hero for his time.

There is a third hero I must mention, one over whom I’m certain there’s little dispute. I’m talking about my granddaughter who turns seven today. She’s seen her school year end abruptly, her play dates disappear, and her long planned birthday party cancel. What hasn’t changed at all is her loving, confident, curious, and optimistic approach to mastering all in her life…including her Zayde and Yaya. Happy Birthday, Miss R, we love you...and shall sing to you soon on FaceTime.



  1. Happy Birthday to Miss R, and thank you, Jeff, for telling us about these three heroes. My best to Zayde and Yaya.

    1. Thanks, Dave. Zayde and Yaya salute you, our friend. We miss you. Stay safe.

  2. Very impressive, Jeff. Thanks for sharing it with us. I must say, some of his ideas are very far fetched by international standards. Telling people the truth? Ridiculous!

    1. I'd have to agree that truth-telling seems to be generally out of fashion among the international set these days.

  3. We in the US like to think of ourselves as the only people who can be heroes. It's a good reminder that there are others who are heroic. Great post - thanks! And Happiest of Birthdays to your granddaughter.

    1. Much appreciated, Ellen. You reminded me of a quote attributed Winston Churchill around the time of Glezos and Santos defiance of the Nazis. "Greeks don't fight like heroes, heroes fight like Greeks."

    2. That's a great quote - I hadn't heard it before!

  4. We need all the heroes we can get!

  5. My Bro, what Stan said. AND Lefties in their nineties are some of my favorite people on earth.

    All my best to my grandniece on her birthday. She would, however, not want to hear me sing.

  6. You mean like Sandy Koufax? Though he's only in his 80s. How about righties, liked Don Larson who made it to 90?

    Your grandniece would find your voice a complementary accompanist to her grandfather's. Thanks, sis.

  7. Ditto, Annamaria, and also heroes in their 80s, too. What wonderful heroes were Santas and Glezos; I'm sure they're remembered throughout Greece.
    And happy birthday to the third hero. Sounds like she's taking the pandemic better than many adults. Many more happy, healthy birthdays to her.