Internal exile in Greece

Internal exile was used to punish political dissidents by various Greek governments, including the Metaxas dictatorship, the government during the Greek Civil War, and the Greek junta. Those targeted were typically sent to smaller Greek islands.[2] Over 100 locations were used for exile at various times in the 20th century.[3]

20,000 political prisoners were banished to Gyaros during and after the Greek Civil War.[1]
Makronisos from a ferry
Thousands of people were banished to Leros during the Greek junta
Democracy Museum in Ai Stratis


Internal exile has a long history of use by rulers of Greece, and in the early twentieth century was used for opponents of Venizelism, such as monarchists, conservatives or communists.[4] During the National Schism and after the coming of Venizelos in power, in summer 1917, many political opponents (such as the former PM Spyridon Lambros) were put in internal exile.[5]

Exile was preferred to imprisonment on the mainland because the mainland prisons were overcrowded and exile made it easier to monitor the prisoners' correspondence and limit their political influence.[4] The 1929 Idionymon law criminalized subversive ideas as well as actions, leading to an increase in the number of prisoners. The island of Ai Stratis was used from 1929 and was not shut down until 1974. Until 1943, there were no camps and the exiles rented houses from the local residents.[3]

Metaxas regimeEdit

Prison camps for political dissidents on barren islands were established by the Metaxas regime (1936–1941).[4][6] Under Metaxas about 1,000 were sentenced to internal exile, including members of the Communist Party of Greece, socialists, trade union organizers, and others who opposed the government. Most of those imprisoned were working-class, but others were intellectuals. Prisoners sentenced to internal exile were taken to barren islands where they had to organize their own food and shelter.[4]

Greek Civil WarEdit

During and after the Greek Civil War (1946–1949), thousands of left-wing combatants and suspected sympathizers were arrested and imprisoned. After the civil war, political prisoners continued to be held throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The island of Makronisos was used from 1947 to 1955 and became something of a "model camp" for the Greek junta.[6] In Ai Stratis, where 5,500 people including women and children were sent between 1946 and 1947, camps were established for the first time.[3] Twenty thousand were sent to a concentration camp on the uninhabited island of Gyaros, dubbed "Dachau of the Mediterranean".[1] The prisoners had to work building the prison, but as soon as it was completed, the island was shut down in 1952 due to condemnation from the United Nations of the poor conditions there.[1] Ai Stratis, designated for "unrepentant" prisoners, remained open until 1963, although the number of prisoners gradually decreased.[3]

Greek juntaEdit

Following the coup of 21 April 1967, the junta expanded the arrest of political dissidents and the use of prison islands. Around 6,000 people were sent to Gyaros, now called the "Greek Gulag".[6] The junta denied that political prisoners were held there, but the lie was exposed when German journalists for Stern rented a plane and photographed the island from the air, revealing the truth.[1] Gyaros was shut down in November 1968 following international protest of its poor conditions and criticism from the Red Cross.[6] Ai Stratis, reopened by the junta and used for individual cases, was devastated by a 1968 earthquake that destroyed much of the camp where prisoners were forced to live.[3]

In October 1974 just before the 1974 Greek legislative election, five leaders of the junta including Georgios Papadopoulos were temporarily exiled to Kea.[7]


The practice of internal exile was abolished in 1974, during the Metapolitefsi.[8] The island of Makronisos has been protected since 1989.[9] Greece is trying to have the island recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, to "preserv[e] the island of exile and its remaining ruins as symbols of the struggle against fascism, and of the human spirits and democracy’s triumph against oppression and dehumanization".[10]


  1. ^ a b c d Papadimitriou, Yanis (11 June 2017). "Yaros, the forgotten prison island". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 14 September 2020.
  2. ^ Mamoulaki, e (9 March 2016). "Pictures of Exile, Memories of Cohabitation: Photography, Space and Social Interaction in the Island of Ikaria". In Carabott, Philip; Hamilakis, Yannis; Papargyriou, Eleni (eds.). Camera Graeca: Photographs, Narratives, Materialities. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-17005-1.; Papaeti, Anna (2013). "Music, Torture, Testimony: Reopening the Case of the Greek Junta (1967–1974)". The World of Music. 2 (1): 67–89. ISSN 0043-8774. JSTOR 24318197.; Michou, Maria (27 March 2017). "Inhabiting the memory of political incarceration in Greece: two women's narratives from the Civil War and the Junta". In Karakatsanis, Leonidas; Papadogiannis, Nikolaos (eds.). The Politics of Culture in Turkey, Greece & Cyprus: Performing the Left Since the Sixties. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-317-42821-3.; Asimakoulas, Dimitris (2005). "Brecht in dark times: Translations of his works under the Greek junta (1967–1974)". Target. 17 (1): 93–110. doi:10.1075/target.17.1.06asi.; Pantzou, Nota (2015). "War remnants of the Greek archipelago". In Carr, Gilly; Reeves, Keir (eds.). Heritage and Memory of War: Responses from Small Islands. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-56698-4.; Kenna, Margaret E. (2008). "Conformity and Subversion: Handwritten Newspapers from an Exiles' Commune, 1938–1943". Journal of Modern Greek Studies. 26 (1): 115–157. doi:10.1353/mgs.0.0006. S2CID 144654989.
  3. ^ a b c d e Pantzou, Nota (2011). "Materialities and Traumatic Memories of a Twentieth-Century Greek Exile Island". Archaeologies of Internment. Springer. pp. 191–205. ISBN 978-1-4419-9666-4.
  4. ^ a b c d Kenna, Margaret E. (2013). "introduction". The Social Organization of Exile: Greek Political Detainees in the 1930s. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-43682-8.
  5. ^ Διλήματα της ελληνικής συνταγματικής ιστορίας:20ος αιώνας, Σπύρος Βλαχόπουλος, Ευάνθης Χατζηβασιλείου
  6. ^ a b c d Papaeti, Anna (2013). "Music and 're-education' in Greek prison camps: from Makronisos (1947-1955) to Giaros (1967-1968)" (PDF). Torture: Quarterly Journal on Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Prevention of Torture. 23 (2): 34–43. ISSN 1997-3322.
  7. ^ Times, Steven V. Roberts Special to The New York (24 October 1974). "Papadopoulos Sent Into Island Exile With 4 From Junta". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  8. ^ "'Exiles in the Aegean': a year after the EU–Turkey deal". openDemocracy. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  9. ^ Giacheia, Assil (4 July 2019). "Makronissos Exile Island Declared an Archaeological Site". AMNA. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  10. ^ "Greece to submit bid to UNESCO for 'exile island'". Balkans Post. April 2020. Retrieved 17 September 2020.