The English poet “Alexander Pope once said, “Monuments like men submit to fate.” For the Harry Truman statue in Athens, this includes being pulled down, set alight, shot at, painted with graffiti, bombed, and almost everything in between.
Since its unveiling on the 29th of May 1963, the Harry Truman statue in central Athens has seen more than its fair share of incidents from locals, who voice an anti-American sentiment that dates back further than the construction on this particular landmark.
About the Harry Truman Statue in Athens
Just a few minutes’ walk from the Panathenaic Stadium, the Harry Truman Statue in Athens is a tribute to the 33rd president of the United States, who was instrumental in founding the state of Israel. The statue was dedicated on the 26th of October, 1992, on the University of Athens campus.
Truman served as president from 1945 to 1953. He is best known for his role in developing the atomic bomb and his efforts to contain communism during the Cold War. He was also a strong supporter of the state of Israel and recognized its independence in 1948.
The Harry Truman Statue in Athens was erected to honour his contributions to both the United States and Greece.
The 12-foot golden bronze statue was donated by the American Hellenic Educational Association in commemoration of the aid Truman rendered to Greece in the late 1940s.
It stands nearly 10 feet tall. It depicts Truman standing with his arms outstretched as if greeting visitors to the University of Athens. The inscription on the statue reads, “Harry S. Truman 33rd President of the United States of America, 1945-1953.”
Notable dates of the statue being bullied
During Greece’s military dictatorship between 1967 – 1974, there were two bombings. One of them, in 1971, killed an on-duty policeman.
In 1986, perhaps the most memorable episode occurred when a leftist group protesting “American imperialism” in Greece bombed the monument. In a follow-up on 15th January 1987, The New York Times published the article “Athens Said to Agree to Put Truman Statue Back.” The Times called the matter a “deeply symbolic issue” while recounting what took place nearly one year before when protestors attacked it.
It took more than a year and a half before the statue was restored, but not after a few roadblocks. The Socialist Party-dominated Athens City Council voted against restoring the statue, saying that Athenians were still bitter after the U.S. involvement in the Greek civil war.
Finally, however, Socialist Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou agreed to put the statue back in the central Athens park where it originally stood, citing improving relations between the U.S. and Greece at the time. Previously, Papandreou was elected on the promise to significantly cut ties with the U.S. and to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Community.
In May 1999, vandals sawed the feet of the statue and forced it to collapse from its pedestal.
In 2003, members of left-wing organizations covered the statue with wrapping paper as if to pack it for shipping and wrote: “return to sender.”
In July 2006, Greeks protesting U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East pulled down the statue following American and Israeli embassies demonstrations.
And in May 2013, unknown vandals splattered Truman’s likeness with red and pink paint, adding to the list of ways the statue had been “bullied.” Graffiti as a sign of protest is not foreign in Athens. Just a short walk away from the Acropolis, streets are lined with spray paint on buildings, shops, and signs.
In April 2018, communist-affiliated union PAME tried removing the statue during a protest against American and French airstrikes in Syria. The protesters used metal grinders to cut off the statue’s feet and tug it down with ropes. Still, riot police intervention drove them back into their lines, where they were finally dispersed by pepper spray canisters fired at close range.