Nikos Beloyannis

Nikos Bellogiannis (Amaliada, 22 December 1915 – Goudi, Attica, 30 March 1952) was a Greek fighter of the National Resistance against the Germans, a leading member of the KKE and a member of the IOE. He was executed in 1952 on charges of espionage. His trial, which has gone down in history as the ”Bellogiannis case”, and his execution received a great deal of publicity and provoked international reactions, setting an example of the cruelty of post-Civil War anti-communist persecution. He is known in history as “The Man with the Carnation.”

Streets and settlements in Eastern European countriessuch as the village of Bellogianni in Hungary, were named in his honor.

Bellogiannis was born in Amalida in 1915, from a relatively wealthy family – his father was a hotel owner. From an early age he joined the KKE. He was an excellent student, and entered the Athens Law School with exams, but before he could graduate, he was arrested for his involvement with the illegal KKE and imprisoned in during the dictatorship of 4 August under Metaxas. The 1940 war found him incarcerated in Acronauplia, where he and 600 fellow communists asked to fight on the front line, but the Metaxas government refused. Instead, in April 1941 he was handed over by the regime to the German occupation authorities along with the other communist prisoners.

In 1943 he managed to escape from the Sotiria Hospital and joined ELAS Peloponnese as a political commissioner and enlightener of the prefecture of Achaia and later of the whole Peloponnese. When Aris Velouchiotis went to the Peloponnese in the spring of 1944, Belogiannis was one of his close associates.

In the spring of 1944, in response to the “family responsibility” introduced by the security battalions, Bellogiannis responded in the same way. As political commissar of the 9th Regiment, before the December attacks he forbade Colonel Vlassis Andrikopoulos to strike British troops.

During the Greek civil war that followed he was political commissar of the 10th Division of the IOE. After the defeat of the IDF he was one of the last to leave the country in August 1949 and settled as a political refugee in Poland.

In June 1950 he secretly returned to Greece via Argentina under the pseudonym Henry Panoz, in order to reconstruct the organisations of the then illegal KKE in Athens, which had been disbanded by the arrests and executions of many of its members. On 20 December 1950, he was arrested and tried for his involvement with the KKE under the Coercive Law 509/1947, according to which the KKE had been declared illegal and considered a criminal organisation. He was also accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union.

The first trial of Bellogiannis began in Athens on 19 October 1951, with 52 defendants in total, by the Extraordinary Military Court of Athens at the Arsakeio Court House. One of the members of the court was Georgios Papadopoulos, the later dictator of the regime of 21 April 1967, as an extraordinary military judge. He was the only military judge who did not vote to impose the death penalty on the defendants. The trial concluded on 16 November with twelve death sentences. After the international outcry that followed, Prime Minister Nikolaos Plastiras declared that the decision would not be carried out. It is decided, however, that Bellogiannis and some other defendants will be retried on the more serious charge of espionage, with the aim of undoing the promise he was forced to make.

Meanwhile, on 16 November 1951, illegal radios were discovered by the Suburban Security of the Greek Gendarmerie in the areas of Kallithea and Glyfada, thus giving the military judges the opportunity to invoke the espionage law. The man responsible for the radio in Kallithea was the veteran communist Nikos Vavoudis, who committed suicide in his crypt to avoid falling into the hands of the Security Service. So Bellogiannis and the other defendants are brought to a new trial. This second trial begins on 15 February 1952, under the metaxic law 375/1936 on espionage, before the Permanent Military Court of Athens. Bellogiannis denied all charges and put forward the patriotic actions of himself and the KKE during the occupation. His trial was highly publicized not only in Greece but also throughout the world. In many cities in Europe there were demonstrations of support. Nikos Bellogiannis became known as “the man with the carnation”, after a red carnation he held every day during the trial. Pablo Picasso inspired a sketch from the image of Bellogiannis with the carnation, which became famous.

Within a period of one week, the Plastira government received about 250,000 telegrams from all over the world, in which many famous and non-famous people asked that Bellogiannis not be executed. Among them, Charles de Gaulle and almost all the personalities of French political life, 159 members of the two major parties of Great Britain, Paul Elyard, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Nazim Hikmet, Pablo Picasso and Charlie Chaplin.

The then Archbishop of Athens, Spyridon, also intervened in favour of Bellogiannis, stating that: “I am shocked by the moral greatness of Bellogiannis. I consider it superior even to that of the early Christians, because Belogiannis does not believe that there is a future life.”

Despite the worldwide mobilization and emotion, the court, this time consisting of regular military judges, unanimously sentenced Bellogiannis and his comrades Elli Pappa, Nikos Kaloumenos, Dimitris Batsis, Ilias Argyriadis and Takis Lazaridis to death on 1 March 1952. Shortly afterwards, the letter of the leading member of the KKE, Nikos Plumbidis, in which he assumes all responsibility for the leadership of the illegal mechanism of the KKE and promises to present himself to the authorities on the condition that Bellogiannis not be executed. This is followed by a denial by Nikos Zachariadis from the radio station “Free Greece” in Bucharest, as well as from the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the KKE, who characterize the letter as a “Security fiction”, while on the contrary the Ministry of Interior announces that the handwriting of the letter and the signature are genuine.

However, when this became known, Belogiannis himself, who was awaiting a decision of the Hariton Council in prison, reportedly told his visiting lawyer Minas Galeos that “Nikos Ploubidis was in no way an instrument of Security.”

In the end, the letter had no effect and the government declared that it would not deal with Plumbides, who was wanted for communist activities.

The death sentence was never commuted, nor was it pardoned by King Paul, despite international appeals. Finally, on 30 March 1952, Sunday morning at 4:10 am, the four communists on death row, Bellogiannis, Nikos Kalouminos, Dimitis Batsis and Elias Argyriadis, were transferred from the Kallithea prison to the Goudi camp and executed by rifle fire by the headlights of the trucks carrying them. Elli Pappa was not executed because of his child Belogiannis who had recently given birth in prison and Takis Lazaridis because of his young age and because his father had been executed by the Bulgarian occupiers. It was also given thanks to Charalambos Touliatos and Miltiades Bisbano. The time and day of the execution was highly unusual (executions were always carried out at first light and never on a Sunday, even by the German Nazi occupiers) and was allegedly carried out at the time to prevent the execution”s proponents from granting any pardon.

The trial and execution of Bellogiannis occurred at a time when the then Prime Minister, General Nikolaos Plastiras, was attempting to impose a policy of national reconciliation. His programme included the liberation of displaced persons and political prisoners and possibly even the legitimisation of the KKE. However, the activation of the Espionage Law and the conviction of Bellogiannis pushed things to the extreme, thus revealing that the whole affair was instigated by senior officers, IDFs so that Plastira”s policy could be torpedoed. Plastira himself was reportedly opposed to the executions, but he was alone and ill, (the other two political leaders of the Centre, Sophocles Venizelos and Georgios Papandreou, were in favour of the executions, which soured their relations with the Left until the early 1960s and the declaration of the Anendotos Agon). Officially, however, he denied that he was not in charge of the situation and that the executions were carried out without his approval. Bellogianni”s execution dealt a blow to the credibility of the centrist government, which on one of its key slogans, pacification, appeared inconsistent. It recommended a “…sharp regression to the practices of the Civil War…” by a government that simultaneously promoted peace measures and a prime minister who had not hesitated to resign in August 1950, advocating the abolition of the death penalty

With his death, Bellogiannis became one of the greatest heroes of the Greek Left. A few days after his execution, his name was given to squares and streets in various socialist countries, as well as to a village in Hungary that housed Greek political refugees. The village of Bellogiannis exists to this day.

A very important aspect of his trial is that Belogiannis managed to turn it against his accusers with his historic apology. Among other things he said: “the reason why I am on trial is my status as a member of the Central Committee of the KKE” and that “the communists who condemn them as traitors gave their blood for the bread and freedoms of the people. We fought without knowing sleep to catch up with Dawn and Tomorrow, and to create new times and eras, in the soil of our dreams, in the soil of the people!”

In his last letter, from the death row cell, N. Bellogiannis refers to the existence of two of his own books, on the economic history of Greece and the history of Greek literature respectively.

Of these “lost books”, the first was published in 1998 on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the KKE, entitled “Foreign Capital in Greece”, which presents the recent history of Greece through its foreign borrowing. From the “Loans of Freedom” of 1824 and the coming of the Bavarians up to the time of the writing of the book, the history of Greece appears as a history of servitude to foreign powers that, often under the guise of philhellenism, lent the country on unfavourable, under-par terms, extracting multiples with the complicity of the Greek political elite.

The other has the title: “Draft for a History of New Greek Literature. A project for a history of the history of the Greek National History of Greek Literature. Nikos Bellogiannis wrote the “Plan for a History of New Greek Literature” in about two years, in the Asphalia detention centres and the prisons of Corfu. The manuscripts were secretly taken out of prison by the theatre critic Stathis Dromazos. His “History” has a clear ideological orientation, since it follows the Marxist methodology to approach literary works. The first edition of ”History” was published under the pseudonym M. Koulouriotis in 1952, at the expense of Bellogiannis” mother. The second was published a year later, in Romania, with a foreword by Nikos Zachariadis. The third edition was printed in 1976 by ”Poreia”. The work, which remained unfinished, was written because Bellogiannis ”found that a Marxist history of the conditions for the formation of the modern Greek nation was missing”, says Christina Dounia. It may today be scrutinized for its scientific adequacy, but it is evidence of an era and a political “enlightenment” of the Left

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