June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Sat Nov 15 18:11:02 PST 2014


On the occasion of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising against the Greek Junta,
Leslie Absher, the daughter of a CIA operative stationed in Greece during
the military dictatorship, remembers the events that brought down the
regime forty one years ago Monday. Leslie arrived in Athens as a baby
before the coup, brought there by her father, a young spy on his first
mission. “There is much I’ll never know about his work in Greece but my
love for him and Greece calls me to never forget this historic day,” she
wrote to Greek Reporter, describing her complicated relationship with
Greece and her CIA dad.

*By Leslie Absher

Forty one years ago today, the Greek military bulldozed the main university
gate in Athens, killing students and signaling the end of the seven-year
dictatorship. The students’ decision to barricade themselves inside the
university, even when the tanks showed up, was a brave one, and led to the
dismantling of the junta. We don’t mark this day in the U.S., even though
our country played a role in supporting that dictatorship and most
Americans don’t even know this happened. And it’s true that even in Greece,
where this day and its significance is well-known, the acts of remembrance
— leaving carnations at the university — is slowing down, and has been for

Every November, a Greek American friend who’s lived in Athens for decades,
goes to the site and leaves a flower. Then she posts on Facebook about the
low turnout. When I saw the bulldozed gate a few years ago, I didn’t
recognize it at first. I had gone to the university to honor the uprising
when I noticed a heap of metal resting askew on the ground. I thought it
was a pile of debris. It took a second for it to hit me: I was staring at
the original gate. I was there because I was an American, a citizen of the
country that had been complicit in tolerating the dictatorship. I was also
there because my father had been a part of the U.S. presence in Greece back
then, a spy on his first field assignment. I was two when the dictators
took over.

Four years later, my father’s tour ended and we left. .At that point, I was
supposed to resume my American childhood. But that’s not what happened. On
some level, I stayed Greek, not Greek Greek, but quasi Greek. The country
and its culture never fully left me. I’ve talked to other kids of spies and
it’s the same for them. We grow up in other countries, our parent gets
reassigned and even though we leave, the culture we left behind stays
buried in our bones. I spent five years living in Athens, spoke Greek, and
have vivid memories of going to the laiki, the market, or the beach at
Glyfada. But what’s stayed with me most is a feeling, the recognition of a
culture I had once known, and had grown to love. I’ve since been back to
Greece many times, strengthening my feelings of connection. When I try to
pinpoint exactly what it is about Greek culture that makes me feel so
connected, I come up with generalities – a self-deprecating wit, a penchant
for emotional intensity. But the country and people are far more complex
than this and I can never really answer this question. I just know that
every time I go to Greece or hear or speak Greek, a part of me feels home.

This home feeling is why I’ve spent a good part of my life writing about my
connection to Greece, and what it’s like having a CIA dad who was stationed
there during the dictatorship. Ours is a complicated relationship. For
decades, I struggled with our differences – I was the liberal gay daughter
and he was the conservative spy. And I carried shame for years, my whole
life it seems, about whatever he did or didn’t know about the coup and
dictatorship. I love my father and although we had numerous conversations
about the junta, I’ll never fully know what his work there entailed. He was
no proponent of dictatorships, yet for me, he was still part of a U.S.
government that tolerated the dictators, which is why, on this day every
year, I make it a point to simply stop and remember.

*Leslie Absher is a writer and essayist based in Oakland, CA. - See more
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