Athens Under the British
The Civil War I (1944-1947)
In retrospect, it is clear that the leaders of the West, already anticipating the end of the war, had their eyes set upon a new confrontation between the capitalist and communist powers, and were engaged, while the war was still going on, in manoeuvring for advantage. Churchill, on a visit to Moscow, had proposed a secret share out of the Balkan states: with Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary To fall within the Soviet sphere of influence, while Britain would control Greece. Stalin had accepted what became known as the ‘Percentages Agreement’.
Churchill had no doubt that King George, when restored to his throne, would prove a reliable friend, i.e. an obedient puppet. But the communists, and the other patriots in ΕΑΜ and ELAS, together with the vast majority of the Greek people, did not want the restoration of a monarchy which before the war had connived in the establishment of an oppressive authoritarian dictatorship. Only the right wing, many of whom had actively collaborated with the Nazis during the Occupation, were royalist. The attitude of the British Government was soon evident when, as early as August 1944, Churchill had ordered the BBC not to give ‘any credit of any kind’ To the resistance fighters when reporting on developments in Greece.
Soon after the German army pulled out, the British army arrived under General Scobie, to be greeted by an enthusiastic welcome. They set up their HQ in the former German quarters in the Hotel Grande Bretagne. On 18th October, George Papandreu and the government in exile were brought in on a British warship. This was a government of national unity, in which the ΚΚΕ, ΕΑΜ and ELAS were represented. The ΚΚΕ placed the fighters of ELAS under British military authority.
The British brought in the Royalist Mountain Brigade, armed the collaborationist anti-left forces, and demanded the disarmament of ELAS. This would have left EAM-ELAS at the mercy of the collaborators, so ELAS refused To disarm unless the Mountain Brigade was removed from the city.
On the evening of Saturday, 2nd there was a meeting of the Greek cabinet in the building of the Foreign Ministry. The chief of the Athens police, Colonel Evert, informed the government that ΕΑΜ- ELAS was planning a demonstration on the coming Sunday and a general strike for the day after. The Prime Minster argued that it could not possibly go ahead at that time, since General Scobie, together with the British Ambassador, would be attending a reception at the Parnassos Club. Police chief Evert doubted whether EAM-ELAS would agree to postpone their demonstration for a social engagement for the British Ambassador, so Papandreu decided To forbid it altogether. The intention of the people To defy the ban soon became apparent.
At about 10.50, a small crowd several hundred strong, the vanguard of some 60,000 who were following some way behind, delayed by police road blocks, were fired upon from the police station by po1lce and collaborators. Twenty-five were killed and nearly one hundred and fifty wounded. Prime Minister Papandreu tried to calm things down with a broadcast to the nation, but it was too late. He could not be heard, since by that time, the power had already been cut to most of the city. Extremists on both sides began to seek out their enemies and settle old scores incurred during the Occupation. ELAS began taking over police stations.
Αt first the partisans did not fire on British soldiers, but, Churchill ordered General Scobie to treat Athens ‘as a captured city where a local rebellion is in progress.’ Artillery shelled, and Spitfires strafed, the working class suburbs of Athens. After suffering the horrors of the Nazi occupation, the Athenians found themselves under fire from the very ‘Allies’ who had supposedly come to liberate them. Ironically, a city which had not been bombed during the war because of its historic associations came under fire from its own ‘allies’ when the common enemy had departed. Αt the same time, following their previous tactic of blockade, the British denied food to areas under ΕΑΜ control.
Contradicting those who chose to depict the fighting as a Soviet inspired attempted coup, the Soviet Military Mission look refuge in the Grande Bretagne, the British military Headquarters. Equally significantly, the defence perimeter established by the British was extended to include the wealthy area of Kolonaki. The British chose to participate in a class struggle against the mass of the working people. Churchill visited on 26th-28th December in person. [Read more about Churchill’s Christmas visit to Athens in Athens: The City.] Fighting was fiercest in the suburbs of Ambelokipoi and Kaisariani. Despite the surrender of the RAF HQ in Κefalari, the British and security battalions forced the resistance fighters to evacuate Athens on 6th January, but before they left the latter had conducted sporadic reprisals against collaborators.
Thousands were killed in what became known as the Dekemvrlana. Paradoxically, more damage to buildings and infrastructure was done to Athens in three months of British “liberation” than less than four years of Nazi occupation. Moreover, small-scale conflict was to continue for some time.
On 12th February 1945, General Scobie signed a truce with the partisans at Varkiza, arranged by Archbishop Damaskinos, and fighting in and around Athens came to an end. ΕΑΜ agreed to disband ELAS, and in return there would be an amnesty for ELAS guerrillas, legalization of the ΚΚΕ and a referendum on the monarchy.
Although some collaborators were all arrested, only twenty-nine were executed The police were much more interested in rounding up members of EAM and in persecuting the left. Many prominent collaborators held office in the army and police with impunity, while participation in the anti-fascist resistance during the Occupation came to be seen as evidence of being a danger to the stale. Even in Central Athens, gunfire could be heard almost every night until December 1945 as the former collaborators look advantage of their position to settle scores with the resistance. By the end of 1945 about 50,000 members of EAM had been imprisoned. In the Army the Sacred Union of Greek Officers (LDΕΑ) ensured the sidelining or retirement of all army officers who were not monarchists. ΕΑΜ sympathizers were purged from the civil service. Under these conditions, ELAS refused to disarm.
The distribution of food relief sent by UNRRA was made by Greek officials, mostly former collaborators, and was characterized by gross corruption; most going to merchants friendly to the distributors to be resold on the black market to those who had the money to buy.
The British chose five prime ministers in succession, each of whom failed to gain any authority. In April 1946 elections were held in a show of democracy which was no more convincing than those held in Eastern European stales under the shadow of the Soviet Union. Naturally, the conservative Peoples’ Party won. In September 1946, under conditions of extreme duress and fraud, no one was surprised when the monarchy received the support of a majority in a rigged referendum. King George promptly returned To Greece, but died in March 1947, to be succeeded by King Paul.
It soon became clear to the left that the British were another occupying power, rather than liberators. They had no intention of allowing any regime in Greece except one which could be relied upon to be accommodating to themselves and hostile to their Soviet rivals. Greece was to be a pawn in the strategy of Cold War. The hold of the royalists and former Nazi collaborators on the forces of law and order was strengthened, enabling them to launch a sustained campaign of terror against the forces of the Left.
Arbitrary police searches of private houses were authorised, and courts martial set up to try people for security offences. Several thousand were executed, and tens of thousands sent to the reopened island prison camps of the Metaxas dictatorship. Some of these, such as that on the island of Makronisos, off the south-eastern coast of Attica, were as bad as anything the Germans had run. Arbitrary assassinations of Leftists were frequent. Since the police controlled the issuing of permits for anything from a driving licence to university entry to running a restaurant, they required the applicants to sign retractions of unacceptable opinions. The Trade Unions were emasculated by legal restraints and police persecution of members.
During this period the ΚΚΕ and ΕΑΜ lost much of its membership. Some had been alienated by the reprisals, others were afraid of losing aid, others reacted against the new discipline imposed upon the party by its Leader, returned from the Soviet Union, Nikos Zachariadis, others simply Left the country. In response to their perception of the situation, and frequently as a matter of personal safety, many members of the Left nevertheless ‘went to the mountain’. Α general civil war had begun. Most of the rebels support in Athens was unable to join them: they were dead, imprisoned, or under close police surveillance.
Athens Under the Americans I
The Civil War II (1947-1948)
Early in 1947, the British government, finding itself overstretched and in dire straits, withdrew from three theatres of foreign affairs: India, Palestine and Greece, leaving behind intractable problems in each place. In Greece it was the end of a partial hegemony which had lasted since the 1820s. The USA rushed in to take its place. The Greek representative in Washington was summoned to the State Department and peremptorily ordered to ‘request US aid’. In a speech full of the of Manichean dichotomies of Cold War propaganda on 12th March US President Truman vowed to defend Greece, and all other ‘freedom loving peoples’ attacked by ‘totalitarian communism.’
Greece became a client state of the USA. Dwight Griswοld boasted: ‘Ι have just to make up my mind what Ι think is best for Greece.’ US control was systematically institutionalized. For example, from 1948 a US citizen had to be Governor of Social Security (IΚΑ). The Managing Director of the Department of Foreign Trade of the Ministry of the National Economy, who approved applications by individuals and companies to import and export goods was to be an American. The board of the Thessaloniki Radio Station had to have three Greek and three US members.
At the same time, the army, heavily controlled by former collaborators and monarchists, became ‘a state within a state’. In 1949 General Papagos was empowered to determine the composition of the army, to create and dissolve units, and to decide upon operations without consulting ministers, whereas the ministers were bound by his decisions.
What US domination meant for the ‘free peoples’ they were ‘defending’ soon became evident. Four months after the declaration of the Truman Doctrine more than 36,000 people were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps. Some 37,000 were given courts martial, and 20,000 convicted. During the next three years, nearly 8,000 were sentenced to death. ‘Aid’ largely took the form of hundreds of military advisers, military supplies such as bombers, and reconstruction of the infrastructure to enable the military to deploy around the country. For the next two years the civil war waged outside Athens was under the firm control of the Americans and their agents in Athens, who did not stop at chemical warfare. Napalm was supplied by the Americans to be dropped on northern villages Torture, courts martial, firing squads, concentration camps if anything more brutal than those set up by the Nazis, and police supervision and harassment were the instruments of oppression, and felt no less in Athens than elsewhere. Such was Greece’s fortune to be part of the ‘democratic free world’. [Read about the prison camp on the island of Makronissos, and one famous inmate, Mikis Thodorakis, in Attica.]
In one sense, the civil war was a struggle between Athens and Greece, the Westernised capital and the traditional provinces. Athenians feared the traditional Greece of the villages. C.M. Woodhouse points out that ‘… almost no native Athenian, and certainly no Athenian politician, knows any more about life in the wilds of Greece than the inhabitants of Paris or London. The Greek provinces are to them as much a foreign country as Tibet. Those who ever did know anything of them do their best to forget it. Their slogan, consciously or unconsciously, (and often explicitly) is: ‘Athens is Greece.” There is every reason to suppose that at this time, the army tried to make this slogan a reality.
The army evacuated many mountain villages of their inhabitants, destroyed their homes, and forced them into the towns, including the greater Athens area, the better to supervise and control them. For those who could, emigration was obviously an attractive proposition. Many went to Australia, Canada and the USA. About 15,000 children were forcibly evacuated from the area threatened by the rebels. When the rebels began to do the same thing, Karl Rankin called it ‘a major psychological blunder’ which could be employed as ‘useful anti-communist propaganda.’ The CIA spread the story that they were kidnapping children and having them indoctrinated in Communist countries, so that they could return and set up a Communist dictatorship.
Even though US propaganda asserted that Stalin actively supported the rebels, in fact he stood by the Percentages Agreement. Some 100,000 rebels escaped across the Albanian border.
By the end of the civil war, the countryside had been devastated. By 1948, over 60,000 had been killed, over 5,000 villages had been completely destroyed; two thirds of the country people suffered from malaria. Over a third of the country’s forests had been razed. Habitable homes, seed, animals, and indeed food, was in very short supply.
Athens Under the Americans II
The Fake Democracy (1948-1967)
In March 1950 elections were held to demonstrate to the UN that Greece was a functioning democracy. Previously governments had effectively been appointed. Intimidation was not resorted to in the towns, with the result that the Liberal Party and the centre won the elections Plastiras became prime minister. This mattered less than it seemed, since the centres of real power lay in the American Embassy, CIA Headquarters, the royal palace at Tatoi and the Greek Pentagon. The forms of parliamentary democracy were a sham. The dominant figure in Greek politics, until his death in 1955, was General Papagos. In 1952 the Greek Ambassador insisted upon changes to the electoral system to enable Papagos and his Greek Rally to win the election, which he did in November 1952, when he became prime minister.
At the end of the civil war Greece could hardly claim To be an independent country. Between 1951 and 1957 Greece received $1,491,000,000 in aid, of which $1,150,000,000 was in military aid. Although corruption was rife, and there was no doubt some ‘trickle down effect’, little remained for any kind of aid which would directly benefit ordinary people.
In 1955 Greece became a member of NATO, as much an empire as the Delian League had been more than two millennia previously. The Hellenic Raiding Force was set up as a crack commando unit
To suppress any opposition, its officers were trained in the USA, and in many cases actually paid by the CIA. Tom Keramessines built up the CIA operations so that Athens became an American espionage hub for the entire Balkans and Middle East. Α Greek espionage agency, the ΚΥΡ, was set up and funded by the CIA. In addition to spying on Eastern bloc radio traffic, it was employed against the population, being used to detect “subversive elements” in Greece. Many of its members were also paid by the CIA. By 1961, when the ΚΥΡ had files on twenty per cent of the population, the CIA kindly provided computer facilities to enable better handling of their ‘intelligence’ – no doubt the better to preserve their ‘freedom.’
In 1953 foreign companies and wealthy Greek ship-owners were given extraordinary tax exemptions. Police control ensured low wages and industrial peace. This ‘crony capitalism’ ensured that wealth came to be even more concentrated in the hands of a few businessmen.
Greece participated in the economic recovery which followed the Second World War, and having entered later from a lower position, the results seemed more impressive. Roads were built, the water supply improved, etc. Some of these ‘improvements’, such as the replacement of trams with buses, were not. Mass tourism first made its appearance during the 1950s. The area on the north side of the Acropolis was landscaped. Glyfada was developed as a tourist resort. 1n the area around the centre, apartment blocks began to replace houses.
The person most associated with this ‘economic miracle’ was the Macedonian politician, Constantine Karamanlis. Α hitherto obscure Macedonian politician, he was promoted above senior colleagues at the insistence of Alan Dulles, US Secretary of State. Andreas Papandreou described him as ‘an American product.’ From 1952-55 he was Minister of Public Works, and on the death of General Papagos became Prime Minister. Refoundίng Papagos’ Greek Rally as the National Radical Union, he held power until 1963. His style was autocratic, and in general he bypassed parliamentary forms.
However, the benefit to Greece of the ‘economic miracle’ was limited. It was designed to snit the needs of the often foreign entrepreneurs, and not the long term development of the country. Significant profits were confined to a few very wealthy people and their dependants. Much of it was exploitative, by companies which, like the wealthy Greek ship-owners, promptly moved their profits abroad. Education was under funded, and based upon rote learning to foster uncritical acceptance of authority. There was rise in the standard of living, but after war, occupation and civil war, that was only to be expected.
Once again, Athens benefited proportionally more than the rest of the country. Between 1951 and 1961 net immigration was nearly 331,000. Not only was ί! the seat of the highly centralized bureaucracy, industry, banking and shipping, but the services were far superior to anything outside the capital. In 1961, 70% of all students in higher education studied in Athens, while the Greater Athens area held 85% of the medical specialists of the entire country.
During this period the government made great attempts to ensure that all those traces of the traditional Greece which were still to be found in Athens were eradicated, and in doing so, they destroyed something of the traditional life of the city. In 1961 the milkmen of Athens were forbidden to hold their usual festival at the Temple of Olympian Zeus. In 1964 the traditional carnival figure of the gaitanaki was banned from the streets. At the same time, Athenians were forbidden to fly kites on Clean Monday on the Mouseion Hill. Perhaps such manifestations of popular culture reminded the ruling class too much of that other Greece which was being so assiduously suppressed.
In 1961 the CIA and army officers conducted extensive enqυiries about voting intentions, and when they had digested the results, they put into operation the ironically-named ‘Pericles Plan’ to ensure a conservative victory. They located the key marginal constituencies, and organised the systematic intimidation of the voters. The leader of this plot, General Dovas, was then appointed by the king caretaker Prime minister during the voting to ensure fair play. They were assisted in their work by TOΕΑ, a group of right-wing officers, mostly former Nazi collaborators, who regarded all non- conservatism as communism. Support for the Karamanlis’ right-wing National Radical Union (ERE) in the election was exactly one hundred per cent in the army, while 200,000 fictional voters were conjured into existence to support the right in Athens. Some polling stations did not have voting papers with the names of non-ERE candidates on them. In one village in Crete the ERE candidate received more votes than there were citizens eligible to vote. It is hardly surprising that on 29th October, the ERE won a clear majority of seats in the parliament
The plan backfired. Both centre and left rejected the legitimacy of the resulting government, and criticised the right’s subservience to the Americans, its favouritism towards big capitalists, its support for social inequalities, employment of wartime collaborators and repression of dissent.
In 1963 Queen Frederika visited to London. Although the civil war had ended fourteen years before, there were still almost a thousand political prisoners in jail, and nearly a thousand languishing in internal exile. The Welsh wife of prisoner Antonios Ambatielos led demonstrations against her. The ‘doughty’ Frederika was reduced to bolting into a citizen’s house to call the police to rescue her. When Mrs. Ambatielos’ cause was taken up by Piraeus ΜΡ Dr. Gregory Lambrakis, back in the safety of Athens, the humiliated Frederika demanded that someone do something about him. Lieutenant General Μίtsου arranged that when Lambrakis was in Thessaloniki for a Nuclear Disarmament rally, a bunch of thugs would attack him and the police would see nothing. Lambrakis was killed, but embarrassingly, some of his supporters caught one of his attackers. The funeral in Athens was attended by over 100,000 people. Α Thessaloniki magistrate, Christos Sartzetakis, later president, tried To get at the truth but he was impeded by the authorities, while several key witnesses ‘died in mysterious circumstances.’ The major significance of this affair was that it demonstrated to anyone with an open mind that behind the forms of democracy there existed an extreme right-wing ‘parastate’ of former Νazi collaborators who were prepared To use illegal means, including murder, against all those who threatened the dominance of the court, the army officers and the USA. It revealed the Greek democracy as a Mafia state. It also inspired the foundation of the Lambrakis youth movement under Mikis Theodorakis.
King Paul and Queen Frederika unwisely decided to return To the UK in 1963, against the advice of Prime Minister Karamanlis. Frustrated at the endless interference of the royal family, Karamanlis resigned and went into exile. Not unexpectedly, the royal visitors were harassed by demonstrators everywhere they went. The leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party boycotted the state dinner in their honour and joined the demonstrators. This convinced many lower rank army officers that while the monarchy was a useful symbol, this weak king and his interfering mother were a liability.
Elections in November 1963 were not generally rigged, and Papandreu won the largest number of seats. In February 1964, after a new election, he won a majority. The normal US interference had been reined in by a new ambassador appointed by President Kennedy, Henry Labouisse. He soon transferred CIA station chief Laughlin Campbell out of Greece. When approached by a group of generals asking how he would react to a coup to prevent a Papandreu government, he replied that he was against it. This new ‘hands off’ approach did not last long.
At Christmas 1963 communal fighting had broken out between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The British had spying facilities in the Troodos Mountains, and were unwilling to see them threatened. The Johnson administration proposed partition, rejected by Greece on behalf of the majority Greek population. In mid-1964 a proposal was made that Greece give up Kastellorizo. When the Greek ambassador said that the Greek parliament and constitution had not authorised to him to give away parts of his country, President Johnson let the customary cover of diplomacy slip, revealing the realities of US power politics, and yelled: ‘Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked good …We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitution, he, his parliament and his constitution may not last long… Don’t forget to tell old Papa-what’s-his-name what Ι told you.’ When Athens complained, Johnson rang up the ambassador and threatened him: ‘You had no call putting in all them words Ι used on you. Watch your step.’
King Paul died in 1964, and was replaced by his son, Constantine II. The accession of the young, impressionable king increased the real influence and power of his mother, Queen Frederika. An arrogant woman who was a grand-daughter of the Kaiser and a member of the Hitler Youth, she tended to believe whatever was in her own interests, such as that the Greek royal family was descended from the emperors of Byzantium. Already criticised for her administration of tax money for her own ‘charitable purposes’ without any public accounting, i.e. as a source of patronage, she was clearly quite deficient in her understanding of the role of a constitutional monarch in a modern state, and managed to pass this disability on to her son.
Early in 1965 a military report on the subversion of the 1961 elections revealed the Pericles Plan, and the part played in the e1ection by army officers. The king accused Papandreu of aiding the communists and sought the dismissal of the investigating officers. As a diversionary tactic, a counter-accusation was launched that there was a conspiratorial left-wing group of army officers, known as Aspida, which sought to take over the country for the communists. The claim was made by right-wing Nazi collaborator General George Grivas, supported by allegations and manufactured evidence from a certain Colonel Papadopoulos. An investigation into the Aspida affair by members of IDΕΑ led to the arrest of twenty-eight officers, including the officer who had led the investigation into the Pericles affair.
The final breach between Papandreu and the king centred upon the desire of George Papandreu to dismiss General Gennimatas. The king was stiffened by his mother and CIA station chief Jack Maury. He insisted that he, and not the elected Ρrime minister, decide who shou1d control the Ministry of Defence and the anned forces. This left the Prime minister with no option but To resign. The king replaced him with George Novas without calling for elections.
The streets of Athens resounded to mass protests, known as the ‘July Days’. Hundreds were injured and dozens killed, as the disturbances continued. Some Centre Union politicians, including Constantine Mitsotakis, moved over to the king to give Novas’ government a slim vote of confidence, but that did not help secure legitimacy. In February 1966, 700,000 people demonstrated in support of George Papandreu.
In March 1967 fifteen of the accused in the Aspida trial were given prison sentences. An army officer who called it ‘a witch hunt’ was promptly dismissed. The defence lawyer was later murdered.
Pressure for elections proved overwhelming, and they were set for the next spring. Everyone expected an overwhelming victory for George Papandreu. The key marginal constituencies were identified, as had happened in the Pelicles Plan, and a scheme drawn up by CIA station chief Maury for the character assassination of Andreas Papandreu, and the funding of politicians opposed To him. Ambassador Talbot was against such interference in the democratic process. Historian Peter Murtagh has shown that when Talbot reported To Washington on the preparations, he had originally stated that a Centre Union victory would be preferable to a coup, but Maury had secured the removal of this passage.
The CIA knew that the generals had no intention of allowing elections to go forward and had long been planning a coup. The chief of the General Staff, Spandidakis, had decided to ask the king to implement a ΝΑΤΟ plan To seize power, but the king vacillated. They wavered only about the date. The 16th April had been chosen to coincide with a left-wing rally, but it was cancelled. The 24th May was then chosen, but postponed on 20th April. Α cabal of middle-ranking army officers led by CIA employee Colonel George Ρapadopοulοs, Nicholas Makarezos and Βrigadίer Stylianos Pattakos, decided to go anyway, acquiring the patronage of Spandidakis, and implementing the ΝΑΤΟ Prometheus Plan, officially originally devised to counter ‘communist insurgency’.
In the early hours of the morning of 21st April 1967, they seized control of the state. The CIA trained Hellenic Raiding Force took over the Pentagon in Holargos, and Colonel Pattakos’ tanks left Goudi barracks for central Athens. The cover of democratic forms was to be removed. This was the first time that a Western country in Europe had fallen to a dictatorship since the Second World War.
Athens under the Americans III
The Military Junta (1967-1974)
During the night of 21st April 1967, soldiers arrested leading politicians, including Prime Minister Kannelopoulos in Kolonaki, George Papandreu in Kastri and Andreas Papandreu in Paleio Psychiko. Some 10,000 people were arrested before dawn on the orders of Colonel Yannis Ladas, director of Military Police in what he later called ‘a simple, diabolical plan.’
Citizens of Athens awoke to the rumble of tanks in the streets. From the radio came a stream of orders, proclaiming a ‘revolution’, forbidding people to leave their houses, threatening to shoot any civilian seen on the streets, announcing that all homes could be searched with impunity, outlawing strikes and meetings. The telephones were out of action. The explanation was that the king had requested the army to intervene to ‘protect’ the state from imminent danger. The newspapers of that day appeared with identical headlines, leading articles and commentaries supplied by the military press service. Over the first night and the next few days, some six thousand people were arrested and interned in prisons and concentration camps.
The King was initially alarmed. The US Defence attache called on him at Tatoi and was told: ‘lncredibly stupid ultra-right wing bastards, having gained control of tanks, have brought disaster to Greece.’ He asked for a helicopter invasion of US marines from the Sixth Fleet to crush the Junta, but the State Department merely told Talbot that if the matter was raised again, he was To ‘disabuse him of any hope on that score.’ The king calmed down as his own arrest appeared increasingly unlikely. Soon the US embassy was able to reassure the State Department that the coup leaders ‘declare themselves one thousand per cent pro-American.’ The king duly swore in the ministers of the new government.
Blame for this turn of events has been scattered widely. C. M. Woodhouse, probably representing the ‘official’ British point of view, claimed that it was due to the ‘irascible character and impetuosity of George Papandreu, exacerbated by the wrong judgments of the King.’ It has also been attributed to the inept management of the political class, and to strains set up by the Civil War.
The issue about US involvement in the coup is not whether the US Government was involved, but only how deeply and how intimately it was involved. Although the CIA probably did not actually organize and direct the overthrow of democracy, the plotters used American weapons and a plan which had been devised by ΝΑΤΟ To ensure US control of Greece, and the coup leader, a former member of the Security Battalions, had been in receipt of CIA pay since 1952, and was chief liaison officer between the Greek ΚΥΡ and the CIA. Moreover, the CIA knew of the plots of both the king and the generals and of the colonels a month beforehand. Moreover, they were in close contact with the colonels. In fact, Greece’s most decorated solther, General George Koumanakos, had been approached as early as 1965 by a senior official of the US embassy why he was not ‘coming in with us?’ It looks as though the CIA wished to pre-empt a royalist coup by people under British influence with their own coup organized by people on their own payroll. lnitially, the Colonels found few respectable politicians prepared To collaborate with them, but they did find a compliant king To swear their government into office.
C. Μ. Woodhouse wrote in The Spectator (28 June, 1969): ‘One of the distinctive things about the coup of Αρril 1967 was that it was launched by officers below the highest rank. Another distinctive thing about them was that they had almost no experience as fighting soldiers. Most of the generals whom they displaced had fought with distinction: in Albania, in the Greek Army of the Middle East, in the Civil War against the communists, in Korea. The ex-colonels had a different sort of career: one in the military police, another in the security battalions (which the Germans formed to counter the resistance), and so on. To most of my Greek friends it is discreditable that not one of them took any part in the resistance during the German occupation (when they were all in their twenties): To the ex-colonels themselves it is a matter of congratulation.’
Ιt was claimed that the coup had taken place ‘to ward off the imminent danger of a communist seizure of power.’ Needless To say, no such plot has ever been uncovered, nor did anyone really expect that it would. Later, seeking legitimacy, the junta sought to present revo1utionary credentials, referring to their coup as ‘the Glorious Revolution’. Ιt was suggested, ludicrously, that the army acted on the mandate of the people, and were about the business of preparing the way for a new, “healthy” democracy in the future.
The slogan ‘Greece of the Christian Greeks’ embodied their ostensible claims to represent nationalism and Orthodoxy. Paradoxically, ‘the Colonels’, as they came to be known, regarded themselves as the guardians of the traditional values of Greek Christianity. They condemned long hair and short skirts, cutting the hair of male tourists whose locks were deemed long enough To offend Christian sensibility. Flag raising ceremonies were enforced in schools, with church parades on Sundays. Yet the real purpose of the Junta was the systematic subordination of Greece to US interests. Greece quickly became a spy HQ for the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near and Middle East.
Although the dictatorship of the Colonels had an absurd aspect, it was a genuine tyranny. The press was censored, many books and songs, such as the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes and Aristophanes, film Zorba the Greek, and the music of Mikis Theodorakis, were banned. Α powerful secret police under military control spied on citizens and thousands were arrested as ‘Communists’ and many imprisoned in concentration camps on islands
Torture became commonplace. Prisoners were beaten, hung suspended from their wrists. There was jumping on the stomach, pulling out finger nails, use of electric shock. In addition there was psychological torture. Prisoners were threatened with being maimed, raped and killed, and there were mock executions. People who had been tortured were told that it would be repeated at a certain time. Among the most feared places were the Security Police HQ, conveniently within hearing of the US embassy, and military hospital 401, where doctors continued the torture. Many more people simply lost their jobs, or their pensions were revoked.
Of course, those arrested inc1uded those arrested during the civil war. If they were old, the same people may have been arrested under the Metaxas dictatorship, the German Occupation, the Civil War and the dictatorship. Often their ‘crime’ was to have demanded of their government a minimum of social justice.
Foreign companies were allowed To operate in Greece free of all company taxation, their employees in Greece were immune from all Greek income tax. No audits were required for foreign companies operating in Greece, and there were no exchange controls on registered mail. Staff of foreign companies were allowed to import cars and furniture duty-free. US companies like Union Carbide and Ford rushed to take advantage of these conditions. Very soon, the same conditions were applied to Greek shipping companies if the owners were very rich, like Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos. The profits of all of them could be moved outside the country at will.
There was a mild show of disapproval by foreign governments. The US Government, anxious to distance itself in public from the military junta, suspended arms sales for a while, and asked for vague reassurances that democracy would at some point be re-established. Βυt they recognized the regime, and.- resumed arms sales. The U.S. vice-president visited Greece to express solidarity. Only the Scandinavian governments resolutely refused to countenance the over- throw of the façade of democracy in its original home. In December 1969 Greece was expelled from the Council of Europe
Ηistοrian C. Μ. Woodhouse records that ‘It was almost impossible to name any Greek of international reputation …who did not regard them with contempt.’ The first internal opposition was organized on the day following the coup Α group of about fifty young foreign educated academics and professionals gathered in Kolonaki under Vassilis Filias to form Democratic Defence. Βy December 1967, even the king was finding it difficult to work with the junta, and Planing a counter-coup. He announced to the US ambassador ‘I have decided to take control of the nation.’ Then he flew from Tatoi to Kavalla, where he checked in at a hotel. Local transmitters at Kavalla and Larissa called for a counter-coup, but the US did not relay the message via the Voice of America, so few heard it The broadcast was certainly not heard in Athens. There was little enthusiasm for the king in the armed forces, and what there was melted away at the first sign of opposition. The junta, who were aware of his every move, simply broadcast that the attempt had failed. The king fled into exile, a regent was appointed, and Papadopoulos made himself Prime Minister.
In June 1968, Andreas Papandreu, freed and exiled in Stockholm, founded the Panhellenic Liberation Movement (ΡΑΚ), but in a strange echo of the behaviour of the anti-Nazi resistance, immediately set about undermining all resistance movements other than his own.
In 1972 there was a coup in Libya, and the US Sixth Fleet was looking for a home elsewhere. The colonels dutifully offered home port facilities in Greece.
The US wanted Archbishop Makarios ουt of Cyprus, since under his government Cyprus was pursuing a course of non-alignment, even occasionally voting on issues in the U.N. with the Soviet Union. Such unwelcome independence earned him the title ‘Castro of the Mediterranean’ in Washington circles. One of the first acts of the junta was dutifully to withdraw the Greek soldiers from Cyprus which were there to guarantee the security of the Greek community, leaving the country open to invasion from Turkey. On March 8th 1970, the Junta tried to assassinate Archbishop Makarios but failed. They then began to infiltrate Cypriοt society in preparation for a coup.
When the Junta cancelled the routine deferments of eighty-eight students, and forcibly conscripted them into the army, students and staff occupied the Law School in protest. Outsiders provided the students with food and drink. After two days, police brutally suppressed the sit-in, chasing and beating students in nearby Solonos, Sinas, Akademias and Massalias streets. Public signs of opposition to the Colonels began to grow On the third anniversary of the death of George Papandreu, vast crowds assembled at the First Cemetery in what was clearly a political demonstration.
In summer 1973 units of the Greek Navy mutinied and sailed to Italy. Papdopoulos proclaimed a republic and was ‘elected’ president. It was an ίnglοriοus but fitting end to an imported dynasty which had shown itse1f over and over again contemptuous of both constitutional law, basic human rights and the interests of the Greek people.
In the autumn of 1973, large-scale student demonstrations, provoked by repression in the universities and a drastic increase in inflation, openly defied the regime’s ban on public meetings. In November, students began a ‘sit-in’ in the Polytechnic University, and transmitted clandestine radio broadcasts calling upon the people To rise up against the tyranny. On the night of 16-17th tanks were sent in. They bulldozed the locked gates and, covered by sniper fire from buildings opposite, armed police swarmed into the grounds behind them. The students’ radio station broadcast appeals for doctors and priests, but none turned up. At least twenty students were killed. [Read more about the massacre at the Athens Polytechnic University in Athens: The City.]
Ironically, these events led to a worse state than before. Senior officers decided that Papadopoulos was incompetent, so the blame for the Polytechnic massacre was laid on him, and he was removed from power in what amounted to a second coup. He was replaced by the sinister Βrigadier Ioannides, head of the military security police, yet another CIA agent, who arrested Papadopoulos and installed a puppet of his own in his place. Under his leadership, repression increased in efficiency and ruthlessness.
Ioannidis wanted rapid action on Cyprus. He decided on a coup in which Archbishop Makarios would be assassinated and replaced by journalist Nikos Sampson, who would proclaim the υηίon of Cyprus with Greece. The US knew about the plan, Ioannides had made ίt clear To his CIA contacts, but for his own purposes Henry Kissinger wanted nothing done To prevent it, so he received a very mild half-warning not to go ahead, and a wink. Makarios escaped, but this gave the Turks the pretext to invade the island Kissinger was looking for, to carve out the north for themselves and appropriate twenty-five per cent of the island.
The Turkish invasion spelled the end for the junta in Athens. When the Greek government ordered mobilization, the result was a shambles. It was clear that the army commanders could not even organise their own forces efficiently. Three days after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Ioannides allowed himself to be sidelined as President Gizikis and senior officers of all three branches of the armed forces, appalled at the national disaster which the junta had brought upon Greece, invited Constantine Karamanlis to return to restore the rule of law and democracy. The French President, Giscard d’Estaing, placed a plane at his disposal, and he flew into Athens, landing at Athens Airport at 2.00 am on 24th July.
Among the lasting effects of this episode was a deep, widespread scepticism in Greece about US claims to moral leadership of the Free World. The police, as agents of the junta, were also discredited. This led to a strengthening of traditional Greek dislike for the authorities and lack of respect for the law.