Becoming a Subject: Political Prisoners in the Greek Civil War

By Polymeris Voglis | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
“Everything Comes to an End”

Aformer political prisoner recalled in his memoirs a phrase written on the wall of a cell at the Athens Security Department: “Everything comes to an end.”1 Another arrested activist had written the message to encourage the tormented detainees to endure the tortures. However, the notion of the end is an ambiguous one, evoking not only the end of torture and imprisonment, but also the end of life, the death of the political detainee.

Dying in prison is seldom an accident, the political prisoners knew that. While in prison they might die from disease or a lethal attack by the guards; those condemned to death might face the firing squad. If these different forms of dying shared anything in common, from the point of view of political prisoners’ experience, it was the fear of death, as it was spawned by the administration’s action or inaction. Yet, it is difficult, even wrong, to attempt to homogenize people’s experience of death. Instead it is more interesting to explore the various subject-positions in relation to death. The dead and the living ones, victim and hero, fear and pride, individual and collectivity are different subject-positions with respective experiences. In that relation between subject-position and experience, neither has a priority or determines the other. They are interlaced in, and constitute, the political prisoner’s subjectivity. Moreover, these different positions and experiences are not juxtaposed but interwoven with one another. The same prisoner who sick or terrorized may present himself as a victim, might later, facing the firing squad, present himself as a hero who sacrifices his own life. But in neither case he is just a victim or a hero; rather, such frames are attempts to make sense of one’s experience of dying.

Notes for this section begin on page 157.

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