02/23 – Respect Women or Die: The Amalgamation of the Greek Resistance

A collection of Greek resistance fighters of EAM during the mid 1940s. Like many communist-adjacent militant movements of the 20th century, men and women fought alongside one another. (Pinterest)

On this day in 1943, the United Panhellenic Organization of Youth (Ενιαία Πανελλαδική Οργάνωση Νέων, or EPON) was formed in Greece to combat Axis occupying forces in the country. EPON was an amalgamation of several other disparate resistance movements, unified under the umbrella of the National Liberation Front (EAM): the main resistance organization in Greece during WWII. The amalgamation came as Greeks were called upon to travel to Germany to support the Axis war effort; many fled to the mountains in defiance, and EAM recognized a need to diversify its newly-expanded repertoire of resistance organizations. From their “free state” in the mountains, the Greek guerillas set about terrorizing the occupiers and coordinating industrial strikes in Athens.

The confusing nature of Greece’s occupation during WWII – by forces of varying determination (the Italians generally suffered from low morale) – enabled EAM to carve out a territory for itself in the mountains. (Wikimedia Commons)

Backed by the Greek Communist Party (KKE), EAM enjoyed a majority of popular support and operated effectively throughout the entire country. This level of unity was enabled, arguably, by “radical” reforms in the free territories: women and youths were admitted into political leadership, and “popular courts” were opened to allow ordinary citizens to participate in governance. By 1944, it was even rumoured that EAM’s slogan was “Respect women or die!” because all who opposed the movement’s policy of gender equality were lined up and shot. In October of 1944, Greece was finally freed of Axis occupation and descended into a vicious civil conflict. EAM and its posse of resistance fighters were labeled symmorites (roughly, “rapists and hoodlums”) by the new government, and banned from public functions. By the 1980s, however, the Greek government finally began to acknowledge EAM’s controversial, but crucial, role in the WWII resistance movement.

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