By Fred A. Reed
Ever since the letter Z was spotted on some Russian armoured vehicles in the Ukraine conflict, a hue and cry has broken out throughout the civilized (i.e. Western) world to ban, forbid, proscribe and penalize its use and to cancel and dismiss those who would dare to use it.
That won’t easily include me. And I sincerely hope that means you, dear inquisitive-and-dissatisfied-with-the-MSM-master-narrative reader.
But let’s not stop there.
For “Z” has a rich and precious heritage, one that far antedates the mass hysteria now threatening to swamp our frail craft. How excellent was my good fortune in witnessing at close proximity the events that founded and fashioned that heritage into a legacy that cannot easily be ignored or obliterated.
Here’s what happened and when.
The date: May 22 1963; the place, Salonica, Greece. At the time I was living in Athens, 400 kilometers to the south. A few weeks before, I’d been served induction notice by registered mail from the American draft board in my hometown of Pasadena, California.
“Report to the US military base just outside of Athens,” the notice read, “for immediate induction into the armed forces.” (Note the presence of a US military base literally down the street from the Greek capital.)
Though they did not say as much, what they meant was quick dispatch to Vietnam, where the war was already underway.
I was planning on doing no such thing. In the company of a select group of confidants and anti-American supporters, I burned all my US documents except my passport and with it would soon set sail for Halifax, and thence by train to Toronto where my wife-to-be Ingeborg awaited me.
But, back to our story.
On that fateful night Grigoris Lambrakis, a left-wing member of the Greek parliament, had just delivered a speech at an anti-nuclear rally. As he was leaving the hall and walking down one of the city’s main streets, two men on a three-wheeled merchandise transport motorcycle assaulted him. One of the assailants struck him on the head with an iron bar. He died four days later from massive cranial injuries.
Large crowds took to the streets in Salonica, and hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Athens. Among them was the writer of these lines.
A Greek novelist, who had been in Salonica at the time of the murder in 1966, published a ‘documentary novel’ entitled “Z”, which in Modern Greek means, “he lives.”
And in 1969 the Franco-Greek filmmaker Kostas Gavras released a film based on the book, starring Yves Montand with a musical score by Mikis Theodorakis. The film, as thrilling as it was accurate in its depiction of the involvement of the Greek government of the day, drew international attention and acclaim.
Thus did the letter “Z” come to be recognized by millions worldwide as a symbol of resistance to the US-backed military junta then ruling Greece. Its message was one of life-affirmation, justice and hope: all qualities opposed to the current campaign to smear the letter ‘Z’.
When I returned to Salonica in 1990 to begin work on a book project, I made it a point of honour to visit the downtown intersection where Lambrakis had been attacked. There, on the sidewalk lay bunches of fresh red roses, daily replenished, which a few years later would be replaced by a sculpture.
Like many, I preferred the immediacy—the urgency—of the fresh, blood red flowers.
Lambrakis’ body was best seen an exquisite corpse. Hardly had the crusader for peace breathed his last, than did the connection between his killers and the Greek government begin to bubble, like swamp gas, to the surface. The plot to exterminate him reached to the highest levels, to the Prime Minister’s office and, ultimately, to the Royal Palace. For “democratic” Greece was still the monarchy—under a German ruling dynasty—it had been since the country’s nominal independence in 1829.
Meanwhile, the independent prosecutor charged with investigating the case rapidly issued summons that reached the command centers of the Greek police. Officers with chestfulls of medals and brocaded shoulders were called to testify. The government fell; the regime now faced the possibility of a left-wing government led by Andreas Papandreou.
To make a long story sort, on April 21, 1967, les than three years after the assassination in Salonica, a military junta seized power and instituted seven years of fascist rule.
Who were these colonels and whence did they come? Well, they were part of the NATO ‘stay behind’ command whose job was to continue the fight for liberty and democracy (sic) when communist or left-wing parties reached power through legitimate elections, as they earlier threatened to do in Italy and, in the early 1960s, in Greece.
Please note the abbreviation “NATO” and ask what connections link it to the tragedy now unfolding in Ukraine.
A few years after the junta collapsed, the prosecutor who had brought Lambrakis’s killers to justice became President of the Hellenic Republic. That is, of Greece at last released from its monarchical straightjacket.
Looking back, the blow delivered to Lambrakis can be seen as a symbolic precursor to the concussive assault upon public judgement in our cultured and refined European West. Ours not to question why, to paraphrase Tennyson; ours but to do, and quite possibly die.
But just as the murder of Lambrakis touched off the “Z” campaign, so the attempt to cast that noble letter into oblivion is likely to rebound against its perpetrators.