Gregoris Lambrakis marching alone in the banned Marathon - Athens Peace Rally on Sunday April the 21st 1963, one month before his assassination
Gregoris Lambrakis (Γρηγόρης Λαμπράκης) (born April 3, 1912 - May 27, 1963), a politician, physician and member of the faculty of the School of Medicine in the University of Athens, was born in 1912 in the village Kerasitsa of ths district of Tegea (Arkadia, Peloponnese, Greece), where he finished the high-school before moving to Athens to enter the School of Medicine and qualify as a doctor.
Lambrakis was a great athlete since his youth. He was the holder of the Greek record in long jump for 23 years (1936-1959). He was also several times gold-medalist in the Balkan athletic games which took place annually with the participation of Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.
During the Nazi-Fascist occupation of Greece (1941-1944) Lambrakis participated actively in the national resistance. In 1943 he set up the Union of Greek Athletes ("Ένωση των Ελλήνων Αθλητών") and organised games from the revenues of which he funded public messes for the starving population.
After World War II he completed his medical studies (University of Athens) and worked as a lecturer in its School of Medicine (Department of Gynaecology). Being a very active person, he maintained in parallel a small private clinic where poor people were freely accepted.
Lambrakis, not beeing a communist, had a political and ideological orientation towards the left. He was very actively involved in the Pacifist Movement of his time, which among other opposed 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 military dictatorship (1967-1974). He was elected in the Parliament (1961 elections) as a Piraeus MP.
The same year (1961), under his initiative, the Commission for International Recession and Peace (Eπιτροπή για την Διεθνή Ύφεση και Ειρήνη - Epitropi gia ti Diethni Ifesi kai Irini - EDYE) was established in Greece. Under his capacity as Vice-President of this Commission (EDYE) Lambrakis participated in international pacifist meetings and demonstrations, though he was aware of frequent threats againt his life. In April 21st 1963 the pacifist movement in Greece organised the 1st Pacifist Rally from Marathon to Athens. The police intervened, banned the rally and arrested many demonstrators, among which Mikis Theodorakis. Lambrakis, protected by his parliamentary immunity, marched alone and arrived to the end of the rally holding the banner with the peace symbol (photo), the one he holded earlier in the same year during the Aldermaston rally in Britain, in the vicinity of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE). Soon afterwards he too was arrested by the police.
Grigoris Lambrakis , Greek Stamp
On May 22 1963, after the ending of a pacifist meeting in Thessaloniki (northern Greece) where Lambrakis was the main speaker, he was run down by a delivery truck driven by two right-wing extremists (E. Emmanouilidis and S. Gotzamanis). He suffered brain injuries and died in the hospital on May the 27th.
The next day his funeral in Athens was converted to a massive demonstartion participated by 500.000 people protesting against the right-wing government and the royal court behind the activities of the right-wing extremists. The assassination of Gregoris Lambrakis initiated an enormous popular reaction. It also unvealed the coverage offered by the Government and the authorities to the activities of the right-wing extremist gangs. A central role in unvealing both the above activities and coverage was played by Investigator Christos Sartzetakis (who later in the 1980s was elected as President of the Republic) and Attorney-General P. Delaportas both of whom resisted the pressures from the government and the royal court and were subsequently replaced.
The events that followed the assassination of Lambrakis lead to rapid political developments. Prime-minister Constantine Karamanlis resigned and left to Paris (July 1963), expressing implicitly his disapproval. The Marathon Peace Rally became an annual event in the memory of Gregoris Lambrakis. The Neolaia Lambraki (Νεολαία Λαμπράκη - Lambrakis Youth), a new political organisation was established, in which thousands of young people participated. The first secretary of Neolaia Lambraki was Mikis Theodorakis. This left-oriented political organisation played a decisive role within the Greek left-wing democratic movement of the 1960s.
Gregoris Lambrakis in the hearts of a big part of the Greek people stands as a symbol of the struggle against political backwardedness, royal court intrigues and national dependence. He stands as a national symbol of democracy and social justice.
The life and death of Gregoris Lambrakis inspired the writer Vassilis Vassilikos in producing the political novel "Z". The title "Z" stands for the first letter of the Greek word "Zei" ("he is alive !"), a frequent logo on the walls of the buildings of the Greek cities in the 1960s, illustrating the popular protest against the prevailing conditions that lead to the assassination of Gregoris Lambrakis.
In 1969 the Greek director Costa-Gavras (Κώστας Γαβράς) filmed the Z (movie) after the novel. The movie became a great success. Yves Montand performed as Lambrakis, Jean-Louis Trintignant as investigator Sartzetakis and Irene Papas as Lambrakis's widow. Z (movie) was nominated for a large number of top awards, including an Oscar for Best Picture and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Languge Picture, and was named best picture by the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and National Society of Film Critics Awards. The film also was also nominated for a Golden Palm award at the Cannes film festival. It won the Oscars in the editing and foreign film categories. The soundtrack, by Mikis Theodorakis, was also a hit.
After the fall of the military dictatorship (1974), numerous streets and squares in Greek cities as well as a street north of Piraeus and a football stadium in Kallithea have been named after Gregoris Lambrakis.