Letter from Greece

We went to bed like men,” the bartender said, glancing to see whether any of his customers might be listening, “and we woke up like sheep. That’s what happened to us Greeks.” The scene was a sun-baked island in the Aegean, a mecca for pale tourists in search of a fast tan, picturesque peasants, and a wine-dark sea. But it could have been anywhere in this wounded land which overnight was transformed from a parliamentary democracy into a military dictatorship.

More than six months have passed since the lightning coup of April 21, when a handful of obscure colonels seized control of the Greek state—confounding not only the napping politicians, but the King and their own army superiors as well. During those six months the ruling junta—a brigadier, two colonels, and a council of nine—has tightened its grip on the nation and ruthlessly moved to crush potential sources of resistance. To make its dictatorial rule more palatable, it has enacted some economic and administrative reforms, but it has yet to show any serious interest in relinquishing power to the politicians it overthrew so easily and views with such contempt.

The junta, composed largely of politically unsophisticated provincials, has behaved in ways that are crude, nasty, and occasionally comic. It is obsessively worried about its image, yet given to the promulgation of decrees—such as the banning (never enforced) of beards and mini-skirts, and obligatory church attendance for civil servants—that make it appear ludicrous. It declares that it has saved Greece from the clutches of international communism, yet by its own repressive measures is making the once discredited Greek Communist Party (KKP) seem a fount of patriotic resistance. It declares its allegiance to NATO, with seemingly little interest in the democratic principles that organization is supposed to defend. And it blithely jails its own citizens for listening to the music of Communist composers or making unfavorable comments about members of the royal family.

Yet whatever its nastiness, or its inconsistencies, or the foreign opposition it faces, the military junta is unflinching in its determination to remake Greek society along authoritarian lines, and to form, in the words of Brigadier Stylianos Patakos, Minister of Interior in the ruling triumvirate, “a new Christian society in which man will approach near-perfection.” To help its citizens achieve this near-perfection, the junta has imposed the most severe restrictions on political liberties this side of the Iron Curtain. It has now become clear that the assumption of many Western liberals that the regime would soon collapse of its own incompetence, or that it would retire in shame because of the barbs of its foreign critics, is mere wishful thinking. The colonels are solidly entrenched, and every passing day solidifies their control over a restless and dissatisfied, but basically acquiescent, nation.

Ever since last April the Greeks have been under martial law: their parliament closed down, their Constitution suspended, and their political parties proscribed. The press has been gagged, most youth organizations disbanded …

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Letters

Greece February 15, 1968

Greece February 15, 1968