Glezos, the Greek resistance hero who tore swastika from Acropolis

Athens (AFP) –


Manolis Glezos, who died Monday at the age of 97, was a Greek resistance hero who tore down the Nazi swastika flag from the Acropolis during World War II, survived two death sentences and remained an activist even in old age.

State TV ERT said the wartime icon, who had been hospitalised earlier this month with gastroenteritis and a urinary infection, had died in an Athens hospital of heart failure.

Glezos was a loud voice on the Greek left throughout a life that saw him participate in a Communist plot that almost killed Winston Churchill and also saw him become the European Parliament's oldest deputy at the age of 91.

He opposed his government's austerity measures in the wake of the country's financial crisis and campaigned for Germany to repay money it had forced Greece to loan it during the war.

Even as he approached 90, Glezos, with his bushy moustache and shock of white hair, was often on the front line of protests.

In 2012, he was tear-gassed by riot police during an anti-austerity demonstration outside parliament and had to receive medical treatment.

Glezos, who was elected a number of times with left-wing, Communist and socialist parties between 1951 and 2012, joined the assembly again the same year, this time under the banner of left-wing party Syriza in an honorific position reserved for people who have made a significant contribution to the country.

In 2014, he was elected to the European Parliament, becoming its oldest deputy.

- Nazi resistance -

Glezos was just 18 when, on May 30, 1941, he and friend Apostolos Santas, a 19-year-old law student, climbed onto the Acropolis in the middle of the night and tore down the swastika flag.

They were immediately sentenced to death in absentia by the Nazis.

Occupation forces managed to arrest the pair in March 1942, but released them a month later, unaware of their identity.

Santas died in 2011.

"Hitler had said in a speech that 'Europe is free'. We wanted to show him that the fight was just beginning," Glezos told AFP in a 2011 interview, recalling how he and Santas managed to steal the flag.

After the war, "Greece conquered its freedom, but not its independence," he said.

"On the dependency scale, we are now running close to 100 percent, with foreigners deciding everything," he added, referring to the conditions imposed on Athens by the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank in exchange for a bailout.

Glezos was also one of the leading campaigners for the return of loans forced on Greece by Nazi Germany during the war -- an issue which Berlin says was addressed in postwar settlements.

He estimated that Germany still owed Greece 162 billion euros ($181 billion).

- Churchill -

In November 2014, Glezos revealed that he had been part of a Communist guerrilla plot to blow up the British army headquarters in Athens, shortly before the start of the Greek civil war.

He told the Observer weekly that he helped lay explosives under the Grande Bretagne Hotel, where the British military mission was headquartered.

But the plan was called off at the last minute when the guerrillas learned that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was inside the building.

After the war, Glezos turned his attention to the military junta which ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974.

He was twice sentenced to death and ended up serving 12 years "in nearly all of the country's prisons," he said.

"Lots of people went mad there," he recalled.

His exploits had also made him something of a hero in the Soviet Union, which in 1959 issued a special stamp -- picturing him against a background of the Acropolis -- in his honour.

He had in more recent years turned his criticism toward the global economic heavyweights who he felt wielded too much power over other nations.

"The enemy is the G20, the union of imperialists," he said, speaking of the 20 richest countries which regularly meet to discuss economic and financial strategy.