Becoming a Subject: Political Prisoners in the Greek Civil War

Becoming a Subject: Political Prisoners in the Greek Civil War

Becoming a Subject: Political Prisoners in the Greek Civil War

Becoming a Subject: Political Prisoners in the Greek Civil War


Focusing on the Greek Civil War (1946-1949), the last major conflict in Europe before the end of the Cold War, this study examines the political prisoners whose fate encapsulates the dramatic conflicts and contradictions of that dark era. New sources such as prisoners' letters, memoirs, and official reports, the author describes the life of the prisoners and the effect the prison administration and the prisoners' collective had on their personality. Drawing comparisons to political prisoners in Germany and Spain, the author sheds new light on our understanding of the ideologies and policies and their effect on individuals, which marked European history in the 20th century.


This is a study of political prisoners in Greece in the Civil War that is, the relation between a specific subject, political prisoners, and certain practices of punishment in the context of a polarization that led to a civil war (1946– 1949). The book addresses a number of questions: What is the impact of an exceptional situation, such as a civil war, on practices of punishment? How is the category of political prisoners constructed? How is a social and political subject made? How did political prisoners experience their internment?

The literature on prisons is voluminous and has flourished since the 1970s in particular. A wave of revisionist studies in the 1970s challenged the established ideas in the literature on prison, namely that the birth of prison was a result of the initiatives of enlightened philanthropists and reformers who fought against the brutality of the ancien regime for more humane punishment or that the history of prisons was a history of successive failures of well-intended prison reforms. Instead of reviewing the arguments and new perspectives that these studies put forward, I shall discuss some questions in relation to the book at hand. I shall begin this introductory chapter with a discussion of the practices of punishment, in order to argue that cutting-edge events such as wars and civil wars have a grave impact on the realm of punishment. Then I shall turn to the discussion of the political prisoner as a subject to argue that the concept of subjectivity can enrich the analysis of agents in the fields of social and cultural history.

Practices of Punishment

One may write the history of punishment starting from the spectacle of the scaffold (the hanging, mutilation, whipping, branding of the convict), then moving to the penitentiary, and finally arriving at the development after the Second World War of non custodial forms of punishment (fines, probation,

Notes for this section can be found on page 14.

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