Belogiannis, Nikos, the man with the carnation

Nikos Belogiannis and Elli Pappa in trial

A biography of Nikos Belogiannis, communist militant executed in 1952 by the Athens court-marshall, whose trials caused mass protest marches across the world.

Nikos Belogiannis was born in Amaliada in 1915 and was expelled from school for his anti-establishment activities. In 1934 he joined the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). During the fascist dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-1941), he was tortured and imprisoned for his Communist conviction in Akronafplia under the “idionimo” law (a law ruling the internal exile into camps for communists and anarchists – the law was introduced by the liberal government of Eleftherios Venizelos). As with all the imprisoned communists of Akronafplia, he was turned over to the Nazi occupying forces in 1941. In 1943 Nikos Belogiannis escaped from prison and went underground within the ranks of ELAS, the People’s Liberation Army of EAM. He acted in the armed units of ELAS in Peloponnisos under the orders of the legendary Captain Aris Velouhiotis. With the decision of the EAM leadership to lay down weapons after the failure of the December 1944 Revolt in Athens, Belogiannis followed the Party line in isolating Captain Aris and all other guerrilla leaders who believed that a decomissioning without a general amnesty would lead to an anti-communist massacre, as it in fact did.

During the Civil War (1946-1949) he acted as a political commissar of the 10th Platoon of the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE). During the Civil War he will fight hard but also write a series of critical articles regarding the organisation of the guerrilla, such as “Guerilla warfare in the Pelloponese” (June 1948; He escaped to Yugoslavia along with the rest 300,000 DSE guerrillas during the mass retreat from Mt Grammos at the end of August 1949.

In June 1950, while the KKE had declared a policy of “arms loaded and ready” for the never to be realised “third round”, Nikos Belogiannis entered Greece in secret, with the goal of restructuring the underground organisations of KKE in self-defense to the mass purges, executions and exiles to island torture camps. On December 20 1950, he was arrested under yet unclear conditions and accused under the notorious anti-communist law N.509/1947 which rephrased the “idionimo” in the post-war era (the law was to last until the end of 1974 and the collapse of the colonels’ junta).

The first trial of Belogiannis began in Athens on October 19 1951. Nikos Belogiannis was tried alongside 94 more communists by the Emergency Court Marshall of Athens, which included, amongst other Nazi-collaborators and monarchists, the future dictator of the April 21 1967, Giorgios Papadopoulos. In a weird twist of history the future dictator was the only of the judges to rule against the death penalty for Belogiannis. The trial immediately caused world-wide attention and uproar with mass protest marches demanding that Belogiannis be allowed to live across the globe. In the midst of the international controversy, the greek PM, Mr Plastiras, declared the death penalty decision not to be applied. A new trial was thus set for Belogiannis and several of the other people accused with a new charge against them aimed to cancel the amnesty given to them by Plastiras: espionage. In November 14 1951 wireless apparatuses were discovered in the Athens neighborhoods of Faliro and Kallithea, providing the military judges with an opportunity to use the espionage law against the accused. The second trial began on February 15 1952, under the authority of the Permanent Court Marshall of Athens. During the trial, Belogiannis denied all charges against him and accused the judges and the government as Nazi-collaborators and sold out quislings. The trial caused an even greater uproar in the rest of Europe, with Pablo Picasso painting a famous drawing of the emblimatic photo of Belogiannis in trial holding a red carnation (a symbol of communism carried daily in his trial by Belogiannis). Despite the international disdain, the Court Marshall ruled the death penalty for Belogiannis and three of his comrades.

A fifth accused was Elli Pappa, Belogiannis’ partner and sister of Dido Sotiriou, one of the country’s leading novelists whose book “The Order” decribes the trials and tribulations of Elli and Nikos. Elli Pappa had been arrested together with Belogiannis and kept in solitary confinement ever since her arrest, giving birth to their son in prison. Despite her demand to be executed along with the others, her sentence was reduced to life imprisonment by the PM because she was a mother of a young boy. Elli Pappa will spend the next 12 years in prison and in camps. She was released with the general amnesty of 1964 and worked as a journalist for the semi-legal left press until her new arrest by the colonels’ junta in 1967 and her exile in the torture camp of Giaros island. She was released in 1968 due to serious illness and international pressure but refused to flee to the USSR having adopted a fierce anti-Stalinist stance. She was a symbol of the communist and anti-Stalinist struggle in the years to come. Her translation of Das Kapital will never be allowed to be published by the KKE, while her writings on the Paris Commune, on Stalinist populism and on the Presocratics continue to be published after her death in 2009.

Before the execution of 37 year old Belogiannis and his comrades (Batsis, Kaloumenos and Argiriadis), the leader of the KKE underground organisation in Greece, Nikos Ploubidis, offered himself to the authorities via a letter in exchange for Belogiannis’s life. However the KKE denounced the letter as a police ploy, spreading a rumour in the grassroots that Ploubidis was a “snitch”. The letter had no effect as the government declared it will not conduct dialogue with communists, indicating a hardline policy by the Palace and the military, the true double-power in the country.

On March 30 1952 before dawn the Royal Commissar Col. Athanasoulas announces to the four convicted communists that their pardon appeal has been denied. The four will be shot at 4.10 a.m in the military base of Goudi in Athens, the day (Sunday) and time of the execution being an anomaly even by monarcho-fascist standards, as all executions were performed with the first light of dawn allowing the possibility of a pardon. Upon hearing the news of the execution, imprisoned in the exile camp of Ai Stratis island, Yannis Ritsos, the great communist poet wrote a poem that would be translated across the world, “The man with the carnation”:
Today the camp falls silent.
Today the sun trembles, hooked in silence
like the vest of the executed trembles on barbed wire.
Today the world grieves.
They took down a great bell and placed it on the ground.
In its copper beats the heart of peace. Silence.
Listen to this bell. Silence.
The people lift on their shoulders the great coffin of Belogiannis.
As for Nikos Ploubidis, he will be arrested later on, defending KKE’s positions in court despite the fact of the KKE openly and officially denouncing him as a police agent. Ploubidis will be executed, refusing to denounce his communist beliefs, while the KKE will claim he was given a comfortable living in the USA.

Nikos Belogiannis became one of the greatest martyrs of the greek left. Days after his execution a village built by 1,500 greek communist exiles in Hungary was named after him and is still in place. During the 1970s a rather melodramatic film about his trial (the man with the carnation) will become an instant blockbuster. Nikos Belogiannis remains a symbol of communist integrity and the anniversary of his execution is widely covered by reviews even in bourgeois media of the country. Recently two books of his written in prison, one on the history of modern greek literature and the other on the influence of foreign capital in modern greek politics, were published in Athens.


Apr 2 2010 21:43

Note: this is a a first biography in a line of similar history articles on communist and anarchist historical figures (and their historical and social context) in modern greece. The series aims to provide some context to help readers understand better the ongoing struggles in the country.

Apr 3 2010 16:24

this is very interesting, thank you for posting. Did you write his biography, or have you translated one written by somebody else? Because it would be good to credit the author in the text, and give any sources used.

(By the way, I made a couple of small corrections to English and spelling)

Apr 3 2010 23:50

Thanks for the corrections Steven. I wrote the biography after researching on several articles posted on the anniversary of his execution a few days ago. I will try to provide some sources from the next time on, though I am afraid it will all be in greek. Please let me know if anybody has any particular issue or era needed covered more urgently. My general plan is to provide one such article every week.

mikail firtinaci
Apr 4 2010 01:59


This is a question that is totally out of the context;

Do you know anything about the activities of the greek communist-anarchist internationalists in the 1WW and the following greek-turkish war. I remember reading in the memories of Agis Stinas that the soldiers rejecting fighting in the greek army were sent the most dangerous fronts in Anatolia. So it means they existed. But did they have any connection with revolutionaries in the turkish side of the front? What was the extent of their activities? these would be interesting to know. Do you have any idea or source about these in Greek?

Apr 4 2010 17:20

hi mikail

This is a very little studied issue of greek-turkish relations indeed! Tassos Kostopoulos has recently written a book about the Asia Minor war from a very heretical viewpoint but I dont think there is any translation of the book in English. Otherwise if I am not mistaken the only document on the issue is a 1975 pamphlet published by the Diethnis Vivliothiki called "War against War, decisions of the first pan-greek congress of old warriors and military victims. Generally be a bit cautious when reading Stinas. He was certainly a beacon of libertarian communism in his time, but his memoirs are very debatable in terms of their factuality. I will try to do a little research on what you ask and if I find anything I will post a relevant article here. Thanks for the interesting question!

Note: the memoirs of a turkish communist who left Turkey and joined the guerrillas during the greek civil war has been recently published - it makes a very interesting read.

mikail firtinaci
Apr 4 2010 20:15

Thanks for the info taxipali.

Is the one you wrote about Mihri Belli's memories? He is an interesting personality but unfortunately a stalinist. But I will also check his memories it might still be interesting.

Apr 4 2010 20:57

Yes "Captain Kemal" was his war name. Thanks about the info that he was a stalinist, of course the publishers here only portray him as an internationalist...

Apr 5 2010 16:02

It's sad to see the heroic cult cultivated by the stalinists (KKE) being reproduced in LibCom. There were hundreds of people executed by the court-martials during and after the civil war but none of them is mentioned because they were not stalinist cadres like Belogiannis. Even Nikos Ploubidis, another KKE cadre, who was executed by the court-martial and slandered by his former comrades as a collaborator is hardly mentioned.

Needless to say that there were many dissident communists (troskyites, archeio-marxists and others) that were executed by ELAS, OPLA (the equivalent of GPU and NKVD) and DSE. There were even officers of DSE who were executed by the court-martials of DSE because of military failures in order to cover up the responsibilities of the leadership.

And, I am not sure that I understand what is "very debatable" about the factuality of the memoirs of Stinas (whom I would not call a "libertarian communist" but a true internationalist communist) ? That he brought into light the murders and the crimes of the stalinists? That he alone and his group remained a true adversary of the nationalist poison of KKE?

Considering now the factuality of this article:

- Elli Pappa have never translated "Das Kapital". She had just translated some excerpts to use in her book "Ancient Greek Writers in Marx's 'Capital". She had a conflict with the "ideological commision" of the party because of differences with the officially approved translation by Mavromatis which she rated as "unacceptable". She finally agreed to revise her book which was published by "Sighroni Epohi", the official publishing house of KKE, in August of 1983, answering very mildly in the hard criticisms she received back then.
- She had rejoined KKE after the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, only to leave in the 80s (and of course after 1983). Even if she denounced stalinism, she did it from the viewpoint of Leninism. In other words, she viewd stalinism as a perversion of Leninism.

If you consider the above, it's totally wrong to say that she have adopted a "fierce anti-stalinist stance" after 1968 because she refused to flee to the USSR when even the brezhnevist soviet state was openly "anti-stalinist". We have to be cautious how to use the concept of "anti-stalinism"!

For me (and I think is not just my personal opinion), KKE remained a stalinist party even in its "revisionist" period after the "dethronement" of Zachariadis in 1956. The fact that she rejoined the KKE after the fall of dictatorship, only to leave in the 80s, does not make her at all a "fierce anti-stalinist".

I think that it's equally wrong to portray even the euro-communists of KKE esoterikou (the split of KKE in 1968) as "anti-stalinists" . Only Stinas' group and other dissident communists deserve this label.

Apr 5 2010 17:48

Thanks for your notes on the article.

I am not trying to reproduce any personality-cult let alone a Stalinist one. Although of course Belogiannis was only one amongst thousands of executed, he became a symbol of the post-civil war left and not only of the stalinists in times that no one can deny that symbols of resistance were vital for people rotting in the concentration camps. Of course if you believe these people were fine rotting there because they were "stalinist" (i.e. fought for their lives against the monarcho-fascist death squads under the only existing alternative) then I pass. As for OPLA, given that our only information come from its enemies, and that there are absolutely no reliable historical archives on its action, I would hold my judgement till more material become available. We do not even know if it was controlled by the KKE or had an independent power and agency over things. Historians till recently even doubted it existed...

As for Stinas, historically speaking his memoirs and his ELAS, EAM OPLA book are rife with misleading out of context information and gross distortions of the existing reality in the greek countryside. I am an anarchist myself but one cannot be so blinded by his ideology to take such monolithic propaganda for the actually vastly complex reality. His writing was very important as anti-stalinist propaganda at the time of writing, but can in no way be considered today as an adequate history of his times.

Third, you are mistaken about Elli Pappa who actually produced a scrap translation of Das Kapital which was never published. Her archives are now in ELIA and contain the lost document. Otherwise I will agree with you that her criticism of stalinism was a leninist one, but so is the trotskyist/ archeomarxist criticism of stalinism. Her company with the party was always a difficult one, and the symbolic repayment for that were the ridiculous white flowers by the KKE at her funeral...

Last, I am not going to apologise every time I offer a biography of a not pure-anarchist or the story of a non-anarchist uprising here. I wish anarchy in greece had monopolised the struggle in the last two centuries, but it has not and this has not always been so because it has been repressed as today's high priests of anarcho-orthodoxy want to portray. In short, I am not ready to hide all struggles outside anarchism (which is the vast majority of struggles in greece) as anathema just for the sake of orthodoxy. People need to have more information on different contradictory currents of the struggle, not "the anarchist truth about everything", and these include everything from illegalist bank robbery to the Salonica Federation, and from 1980s autonomous feminism to peasant uprisings. Complexity and contradiction is not the enemy of the struggle, it is its wealth and vigor, at least that's what my anarchist perspective dictates... Of course everyone is free to provide posts here with their side of the story, just take the time and do it. That would be the best rectification of my point of view inevitably offered here by the sheer choice of subject, let alone its presentation.

Apr 5 2010 21:52

Some necessary comments:

1. The question of the existence or the non-existence of OPLA is ridiculous. Not only have many historians wrote about it, but there are also plenty of written and oral accounts about it. And the executions of dissident communists and of party members and cadres who either disagreed or were used as scapegoats by OPLA or ELAS and DSE is well documented. How one judges their GPUist practices has to do with his/her political sympathies and affiliations. But to question their reality is even worse and has disturbing connotations!

2. It's really strange for an anarchist to avoid these issues through the use of sentimentalist arguments. Unfortunately, this is common for many greek anarchists who have not managed to cut their links with KKE "heroic" legacy. Not matter how honourable were the motives of people who fought in the lines of KKE believing that they were fighting for a better world, this does not mean that they were right and that we shouldn't criticize the stalinist politics. Many people really believed in the soviet regime, fought and died for it. This does not mean that they were not deceived (in the best case scenario). Furthermore, I am sure that you have at least read Missios books and his accounts of how the stalinist leadership created a "prison inside the prison" for the dissidents in the prisons and the concetration camps.

3. As for the other argument, i.e. that "there was no alternative", it's completely misleading. There were many other dissident communist groups, leaning to trotskism. If we take this argument and project it in the present times we should be led to the conclusion that we should support KKE or Synaspismos since they are by far the strongest organizations in Greece with a mass base and having together the 12% of the voters.

4. The stalinist tradition of creating "symbols of resistance" that you describe is EXACTLY the cultivation of the "heroic cult" I mentioned in my first comment. Martyrdom and self-sacrifice ideology have nothing to do with social emancipation.

5. I wonder in what you're exactly refering when you say that EAM, ELAS, OPLA and Stinas memoirs are "rife with out of context information and gross distortions of the existing reality in the greek countryside". Do you call into question his reports about the murders of trotskyites and other militants by ELAS and OPLA? In any case, I prefer people influenced by the ideas of Stinas than people unable to break their bonds with the stalinist ideology which was and still is dominant in Greece as far as historical memory about the national resistance movement and the civil war is concerned. By the way, I never claimed that Stinas memoirs can be considered as an "adequate history of his times".

6. About Elli Pappa I have found no reference about a "scrap translation of Das Kapital" by her. On the contrary, all accounts of her conflict with KKE are refering to what I described in my previous comment. It would be enlightening for me if you could indicate your source.

7. The difference of Pappa's criticism of stalinism and of the criticism of trotskyites/archeomarxists is the historical background of their "timing". When Pappa rejoined KKE in 1974, Stinas was cooperating with "Diethni Vivliothiki", the first anarchist group in Greece after WWII, having broken his links with leninism. The critique made by Stinas and others on stalinism was done in a period when it dominated the left all around the world. On the contrary, criticism by Pappa and other cadres of the "euro-communist" type came too late after its official pseudo-denunciation by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union!

8. Finally, I have to say that the issue here is not that of a supposed "anarchist purity" as you imply. I do not question the fact that back in the 40s and the 50s there was a real conflict between the communist party and the extreme right-wing greek state. But it's another thing to provide a critical historical account, even if it's not as aggressive or as politically motivated as Stinas' accounts, and another thing to reproduce uncritical left obituaries with references to "legendary captains" such as Velouhiotis. It would be really interesting (and disillusioning) for comrades out of greece to translate the "legendary" speech of Velouhiotis in Lamia city, full of nationalism, conservatism concerning religion and family values and even racism... In this sense, we are not discussing here about abstract complexities and contradictions, but of the absence of any critique! When you are writing a piece you should be ready to receive a negative criticism.What would be the best rectification of your point of view you should let others to judge.

(I must also note that uprisings are not "anarchist" or "communist", uprisings are social conflicts where many different political tendencies exist. Of course, it's a truism that the "anarchist tendency" was non-existent till the 70s)

Apr 5 2010 23:22

I am very sorry to turn libcom into a classic greek anarchist confrontation forum recycling decades-long discussions with no end...I dont disagree with you on the relative merit of Stinas over Pappas of course! The one was the closest thing to anarchy one could hope for in his time, the latter a by-product of KKE and its discontents (I believe parts of her forgotten translation will be published by ASKI soon). And again I never doubted the lethal efficiency of the KKE and company against its enemies. Besides Missios there are all too many testimonies of it. I am however doubting Stinas' story on OPLA. And there you are mistaken. Apart from his book there has only been one more limited-edition publication on the issue with researchers in Panteios only now managing to separate legend from reality on the issue (a first presentation was made earlier this year in the Prytaneia conference on the resistance). As for the trots being an alternative to rescuing oneself from the nazi collaborators, well I doubt that their good-willing internationalism would suffice...again that old argument about the lesser evil: impotent trots or ruthless stalinists, pick and choose. At any rate, nobody was deceived into the civil war, it was a simple struggle for survival not an ideological battle game. Placing one's head under the stalinist sword was a price many people chose to pay to save themselves from the monarcho-fascist bullet. I am not going to judge their choice, but I will not give them the excuse of being deceived either, especially after December 1944! Now about Velouhiotis, like it or not (and I wonder why his picture decorates anarchist cafes and bedrooms so often) he is still a legend and dont tell me its because of the stalinists...remember they abandoned him to die by the sword like a dog. You might dislike heroics and I do too, but this does not mean that there are not imageries of heroism that affect even today's struggle immensely. If you want me to shut up about what influences revolutionary imaginary in greece because it does not agree with your export of the greek situation, I am sorry but the sad reality is that more anarchists identify with Velouhiotis than with Stinas etc. Especially today with all the armed struggle/ social banditry fashion revival...Someday we must face reality in its complexity which you want to whitewash with your acussatory practice so well rehearsed in anarchist correctness (nicely equivalent to KNE techniques in fact). Now why is it a truism for people abroad that the anarchist tendency appeared in greece in the 1970s, is a puzzle to me! The real question is why anarchism dissappeared in the 1920s after being the strongest social antagonistic tendency, and why it reappeared in the mid 1970s. And I would not be blissfully content to blame it all again on the stalinists, lets face facts for once, anarchism had long declined before 1926. All in all I guess people here are more interested in hearing the whole story than the preachings of some church or another. If not I will fade into the shadows allowing the anarchist orthodox church to speak.

Apr 6 2010 09:24

don't apologise! It's very interesting to see the debates in your country, because apart from your reports and discussion here there is not much connection with the anarchist movement in Greece and English speakers

Apr 6 2010 17:44

Very interesting stuff. I'd particularly like to hear more about the pre-1920s Greek anarchist movement.. but I suppose that's another thread..

Apr 6 2010 17:58
Apr 6 2010 17:59

taxikipali: you are a legend.. wink

Apr 6 2010 18:15

we should have that stuff in the library...

Apr 6 2010 18:42

lol thanks Ed! I guess you already know of the Kate Sharpley publications like "The Early Days of Greek Anarchism : ‘The Democratic Club of Patras’ & ‘Social Radicalism in Greece’" and "Konstantinos Speras : the life and activities of a Greek anarcho-syndicalist".

Apr 6 2010 19:22

I have never heard of them, so I'm not sure if Ed will have. We have asked if we can put more KSL materials online, but they are quite reluctant to let them be posted on the Internet, which is very unfortunate, as their materials could reach a much wider audience

Apr 6 2010 19:57

This is very unfortunate indeed! The Serifos uprising is a very interesting story and the fate of Speras at the hands of the KKE a particularly cruel one...There is a long article on him in english here:

(oops I hope I am not condoning heroics again by proposing his biography...)

The wiki entry on the Boatmen of Salonica (a notorious armed group) is also worth taking a look. A book on them was recently published by the Daimon toy Typografeiou (Demon of the Printhouse) publications in Athens.