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A Greek Tragedy

The Death of a Democracy: Greece and the American Conscience

by Stephen Rousseas. and Others
Grove, 268 pp., $6.50

King Constantine’s abortive counter-coup last December was one of the most rapid and humiliating fiascos in the history of mutiny—or of monarchy. It should have shattered many tenacious illusions about the Greek political situation. One was the King’s claim to command either popular support or military loyalty. Another was the Right’s hope of preserving the Army as its political instrument without abdicating its own civilized control over its more uncouth military agents. Yet another was the Allies’ belief that, whatever the wishes of her electorate, they could keep Greece a stable, conservative, client state without paying the price: prolonged toleration of military fascism in Europe. Greek and foreign conservatives calculated that they could depend on the King for valuable help toward attaining these objectives. All these illusions had a part in the persistent attempt to govern the country without openly repudiating democratic forms while resisting any demand from the Greek voters for radical change by cheating just enough to ensure that the voice of the people uttered no thoroughly unacceptable sounds. The policy has lasted a long time. Now the bills are coming in.

The roots of this situation lie far back in the past. Greece has been internally divided and abnormally dependent on foreign protectors for many reasons: the still unfinished struggle, against the power of a stronger neighbor, to unite all Greeks under the national flag; the poverty of a Balkan country with little industry, very poor soil, and (until recently) severe population pressure; the glaring contrast between the sophisticated capital and the primitive peasants of the mountains; the inability to organize an effective civilian State which has, especially since the bitter civil wars of twenty years ago, allowed the Army to play a Latin-American or Levantine role behind the elaborate Western-European stage on which Greek politicians were performing.

These deeper causes of the crisis are not discussed at all in Rousseas’s book, which is concerned only with the immediate circumstances of the downfall of Greek democracy. Yet this does not make his analysis negligible. For before the crisis of the last three years, Greece seemed far better placed than other countries at her stage of development to retain a civilized and liberal form of government: in how many such nations would one major party have peacefully yielded power to its rival after honest elections in which freedom of speech and association were respected—as was the case following George Papandreou’s victory in 1963? Rousseas’s purpose is to bring out the strength of the surviving obstacles to democratic progress in Greece, and the way in which the favorable prospects of 1963-64 were dimmed by the errors of the liberals—and undermined by the monarchy, the Army, the reactionary Right, and, unhappily, some agencies of the United States.

The book is a rather disjointed collection, plainly compiled in haste, of four narrative chapters and four essays by separate hands, in which personal recollection and political analysis are almost haphazardly mingled; there are also four documentary appendices occupying 100 pages. The authors make no pretense of impartiality; Professor Rouseas (an economist at NYU) is a personal and political friend of Andreas Papandreou, to whom he has dedicated the volume. But though it states an avowedly partisan case, the book is honest in its approach and generally reasonable in tone; and it raises, although in disconnected form, most of the crucial issues arising from the immediate situation.

THE CENTRAL THEME is the American reaction to the challenge posed by Andreas Papandreou. It is therefore valuable to have the thirty-five pages of the first Appendix in which Papandreou himself sets out his domestic and foreign policies, which, although they may not be welcome in Washington, in themselves offer little cause for alarm. It is rather the tone (“We do not raise the question concerning…NATO. But at the same time…Greece refuses the status of a poor relative or of a satellite…above all, Greece insists that its allies cease interfering in its internal political affairs”) that has shocked some spokesmen of what he calls “a military, bureaucratic, intelligence-oriented, and business-dominated foreign policy.”

In a subject so bedeviled by rumor and controversy, a close look at the evidence is desirable. Several themes can be detected in the discussion of this “first serious threat to the Greek establishment in over thirty years”: the conventional political party conflict; the para-political role of the armed forces; the influence of the United States; and the activities of the Greek opposition parties themselves. In the first quarter of the book, Professor Rousseas traces the course of Greek politics and the rise of Andreas (as he is called throughout), beginning with his entry into his father’s government in the spring of 1964, and, in greater detail, from its ouster by the King in July, 1965 to the colonels’ putsch of April, 1967. He argues persuasively that Andreas, at first merely “the much resented son of an ageing politician who…did whatever he was told,” was built up into “the major political force in the country” by the desperate efforts of his opponents to eliminate him.

The fall of George Papandreou in the summer of 1965 led Andreas to take the lead in stimulating the nation-wide agitation against the puppet governments that clung precariously to office for the next eighteen months. The attempt to discredit him through a sensational political trial rebounded, on its authors, and, when elections became inevitable, the plan to drive a wedge between him and his father—in policy, though not always in rhetoric, a much more traditional and moderate figure—provoked an open struggle between them in which the son proved far stronger than his enemies had expected, and emerged as “de facto leader of the party.”

In these chapters the author’s partisanship sometimes shows: by no means all observers, even from the Left, were as confident as he that the Center would have won a huge victory in an election last spring; his interpretation of American acts and motives often relies on gossip and coincidence rather than on serious evidence; and he is ungenerous to the leader of the constitutional Right, Kanellopoulos. (Similarly, in the chapter which he has contributed to this volume, Herman Starobin says that Karamanlis, who had maintained a growth rate of 8 per cent p.a. for seven years, left the “economy in no better shape” than he found it.) Still, the account of political intrigue, in which the King and the conservative politicians are the chief figures, is informative and generally fair.

The King and the Right could play their active political roles only because behind them stood a para-political force on which they believed they could rely: the Army. The book does not mention the long tradition of military intervention in Greek politics (on different sides), but it does refer to the responsibility of Britain and the United States for the postwar Army’s reactionary bias. At the heart of the clash between the King and the elected ministers of 1963-64 was the monarch’s determination to keep the armed forces under (what he then believed to be) his personal control, and the politicians’ refusal to live under the perpetual threat of a military veto. George Papandreou was ousted by the King in July 1965 after he had proposed to take over the defense ministry from Garoufalias, the King’s man, and to replace some senior officers. Constantine’s reason, or pretext, was the alleged involvement of Andreas in ASPIDA, a conspiracy of officers to establish a neutralist, “Nasserite” republic (or regency) in Greece. It was the trial of these accused officers late in 1966 which brought the tension to a new peak, and helped to alarm the major party leaders into making a compromise by which the existing puppet government was brought down and replaced by a caretaker cabinet pledged to hold new elections within five months. This cabinet in turn collapsed over the question of extending Andreas’s parliamentary immunity to cover the election campaign. The next premier, Kanellopoulos, decided not to prosecute Andreas after all, and may thereby have precipitated the April putsch.

THUS the Aspida affair recurs at every turning point of the long crisis. Perhaps the most valuable part of this book, therefore, is the forty-page Appendix giving the almost unreadable English-language text of the report of the colonel investigating the case. This extraordinary document is compounded of dubious confessions, ancient police records, informers’ reports, worthless gossip, and loose arguments. Throughout it is pervaded by unconcealed political bias, solemnly citing as proof of treasonable conspiracy a letter from Andreas’s (American) wife before July 15, 1965, predicting “with mathematical exactness” that the ouster of the Centre Union government would lead to “strikes, disturbances and marches.”

The report gives a lamentable impression of Greek military justice. Nevertheless, it does not convince me that the whole case was, as the text maintains, nothing but a frame-up by the Right. Instead it suggests that a thoroughly amateurish and barely secret officers’ club for mutual protection and promotion—a traditional enterprise in the Greek Army—was used for an attempt by the Greek CIA (then a Papandreou stronghold) to organize the government’s military sympathizers. Then an effort was made to implicate Andreas Papandreou in Aspida through an agent provocateur, probably at the instigation of the nation’s most experienced military conspirator, General Grivas; and finally the examining colonel assumed, without supporting evidence, that an organization set up to counteract the professional intrigues of his own political friends was ipso facto committed to rebellion, republicanism, neutralism, and high treason.

But the link between military conspiracy and political intrigue, between the struggle for power and disputes over policy, between developments in Greece and crises in the wider world, was provided by the Cyprus problem. Cyprus was the center, perhaps of Aspida’s activities, certainly of the counter-attack by the right-wing conspirators. It was the focus of nationalist resentment against the country’s weakness, not least in the armed forces. It inspired what Andreas called “the great No of George Papandreou” to a solution for Cyprus that would have satisfied Turkey but would have been fatal to any Greek government. When the American Embassy exerted pressure for such a solution, George Papandreou replied by accepting an invitation to visit Moscow. Indeed Andreas seems to have intended to exploit the allies by using them to impose on Turkey a settlement which Greece was far too weak to win for herself. It is not altogether surprising that at the end of 1966, when the puppet government of Stephanopoulos was plainly too feeble to tackle the Cyprus problem, the United States supported a compromise between the big parties and a caretaker government for elections to be five months later. When Andreas refused, demanding an immediate dissolution of Parliament, his one friend in the American Embassy exploded at last, “Damn it, Andreas, I’ve tried so hard to get a solution to this problem but you haven’t given me any help; you insist on making things tough for me.” Whatever the rights and wrongs of both questions—elections and Cyprus—it is plain in retrospect that Andreas was overestimating both his own real strength and his country’s, and it is hard not to feel some sympathy for Norbert Anschuetz, his friend at the Embassy.

ON THE OTHER HAND, Andreas might have acted differently had men like Anschuetz really been in control of American policy. For the third theme of Rousseas’s book is the immense but incoherent influence wielded by the United States. Herman Starobin’s chapter on postwar American influence shows more indulgence toward the US than to the British who had made so many of the same mistakes before it. Gertrud Lenzer’s irritable but careful dissection of the dispatches of C. L. Sulzberger to the New York Times provides some damaging evidence for her charge that they have often reproduced the views of the Palace. Mr. Rousseas criticizes the acts and views of many named American diplomats and agents in Athens and Washington, rarely conceding much to the role of coincidence, and usually preferring a conspiratorial interpretation to an innocent one. But there seems no reason to doubt his major argument: that, as over Cuba, biased and incompetent intelligence led to a misleading analysis of the Greek situation and of Andreas Papandreou’s role in particular.

Nevertheless, as the author explains in detail, when Andreas’s life was in danger after the putsch, appeals from the academic community persuaded President Johnson to place him “virtually under the protective custody of the US government.” It is more significant that, according to Rousseas, no attempt was made in Athens to carry out the President’s instructions to ensure the safety of Andreas’s family (who are American citizens), while in Washington someone was still, ten days later, giving the Defense Department instructions directly contradicting the President’s orders.

The impression of confusion and contradiction dominates the sympathetic treatment of the Greek opposition in this book no less than the critical discussion of American policy. Incoherence seems to have been a conspicious feature of both. The author candidly admits the weaknesses of Andreas Papandreou: “Initial appointments…disastrous…unable to resist the flattery…performance as a politician was rather bad—about a grade of c.” He recognizes that his party contributed to political instability by constantly raising the temperature, denouncing the Army, and warning against a military putsch without making the slightest practical preparation to meet it. Nor were the extreme Left in much better shape, in spite of the ruthless discipline and superb efficiency with which they are so often flatteringly credited by their enemies: In a chapter on exile politics after the putsch (strangely entitled “Greece and the American conscience”), Rousseas shows the fellow-travelers of the Communist front EDA working actively with the right wing of the Center, against Andreas’s partisans, in an effort to prevent criticism of the King. But in an Appendix Rousseas prints three “fiery resistance manifestos” from the pro-Communist Patriotic Front (none front the Center resistance) which concentrate on violent denunciations of “the out-rageous violation of the undeniable rights…of man perpetrated by the CIA and King Constantine,” “the new crime of the dictators, of the Palace, and of the CIA,” “the fascist coup in Greece, conceived and made through the CIA,” “the complete surrender…to the American monopolies.” Their tone alone may not make them effective appeals to the American liberals for whom the book is written.

The conflicts within American policy emerge in all their confusion throughout this book. In spite of the suspicions of the Left at home and abroad, it seems fairly clear that it was not sympathy for the Greek oligarchy which damaged Andreas Papandreou among the policy-makers in Washington so much as exasperation with his and his father’s stubbornness over Cyprus. (With some American business and military men it was perhaps a different story.) When the Papandreous both visited Lyndon Johnson in 1964, the President is supposed to have commented, “One De Gaulle on my hands is enough. I don’t want another.” The remark was revealing—and understandable. The President of the United States might have recalled the way the President of France came to power, for there are some similarities between the recent Greek crisis and the disintegration of the Fourth French Republic ten years before.

Like Andreas, Mendès-France was a progressive political leader who wanted his country to stay within NATO yet to assert her own point of view more strongly—which to some circles in Washington seemed insufferable impertinence in a weaker ally. Both men were democrats expressing the nationalist feelings which were also being exploited by the enemies of democracy on the extreme Right. Both were smeared with charges of treason in sensational political trials provoked by fascists with connivance from some reputedly respectable quarters. The existing regime in each country was discredited by its supposed champions—most of the conservatives and some from the Centre-Left—who were blinded by hatred of the progressive forces and leaders to the real danger from the far Right. When the old politicians were overthrown by well-planned action from the Army, they found they had worn out their welcome and could call on no popular support.

With only the King in the wings instead of a De Gaulle, the Greek colonels openly assumed power themselves. But they too are ardent nationalists; and while their repression at home is recreating the communist threat they falsely claim to have averted, abroad there are already signs that they are not unwilling to blackmail Washington by threatening to come to terms with Moscow. The history of recent years is full of the deals between enemies of democracy on Right and Left by which respectable conservatives and idealistic revolutionaries are always surprised.

There is no serious evidence that many, if indeed any, Americans were implicated in the colonels’ putsch. But it is all too clear that their acceptance or encouragement of the infringements against Greek democracy had helped create the climate in which military intervention became likely. In fact, it was the familiar and respectable generals, not the unknown colonels, who were generally expected to ward off the menace of an electoral victory for the “new politics” of Andreas Papandreou. Yet his movement was only an attempt to organize for the first time a disciplined party with a coherent reforming policy to replace the traditional cliques of spoils-minded politicians. His program was no more than a proposal to introduce “a mixture of the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society” into a poor country which is growing somewhat more prosperous; a backward country where literacy is spreading; a peasant country which is becoming increasingly urbanized; a dependent country which is becoming more assertive. It provoked exaggerated fears among the privileged classes, and many of them were willing to use fraud, and some force, to avert the threat—though more far-sighted conservatives were well aware that the remedy might prove far worse than the disease. To Greece’s allies the advent to power of Andreas would unquestionably have proved awkward and tiresome; there is little reason—as the diplomats knew, and some agencies did not—to think it would have proved dangerous. But the ponderous and disjointed machinery of American and NATO policy rolls on with its own momentum, adjusting only slowly and with difficulty to new circumstances.

BEFORE THE PUTSCH King Constantine, who had ousted an elected government in order to preserve right-wing power in the Army, was presented by the respectable experts as the best bulwark of democracy. By his ouster of the Papandreous in 1965, he secured a tame conservative government, but paid the price of tension and instability in the country. Two years later he was thrust rudely aside by the officer corps he had thought devoted to him, who installed the “little junta” of colonels—with the reassuring presence in the foreground of the King, the “big junta” of generals, and six elderly judges turned ministers. Again the monarch was presented to the public as the one man who could counter-balance the influence of Colonel Papadopoulos and gradually lead his country back to constitutional rule. But now that the royal facade has been torn away, a new candidate has had to be found for Constantine’s old role: and it is Mr. Papadopoulos himself who, shorn of his rank, is now cast as the supposed champion of statesmanlike restraint to be supported against extremist pressures from such shadowy figures as Colonel Ladas.

For, as the world now knows, the monarch’s ineptitude shattered the hopes placed in him by a strange assortment of optimists: Greek conservatives at home and crypto-communists in exile, American republicans and British socialists. He refused to act in April, when he still retained much military support, and while he frittered away his opportunities the junta consolidated their precarious power. When he finally made up his mind in December (in the aftermath of a grave humiliation over Cyprus), he provided a textbook example of how not to do it. The Navy—which had offered to defy the colonels in April—was now unable to act, the air force bases were occupied by troops, the generals on whom he relied were arrested by subordinates who had been carefully placed in order to protect the junta’s control of the Army. To rally the Greek people, he chose as premier Garoufalias, a rich brewer whose sole claim to political fame was that he had acted as the King’s man in bringing down Papandreou in 1965. Even Constantine’s broadcast was inaudible to his subjects because the royal conspirators had failed to secure a radio station. Now he has followed the three kings of his family who have gone into exile this century. They returned in triumph, but this time it is hard to believe that the fourth will go back, except perhaps as a captive of the junta.

Greek right-wingers have drawn conflicting conclusions from his failure. Their hopeless split is aptly symbolized by the flight from Athens of that doughty constitutionalist Mrs. Vlachou while the supposedly loyalist Pipinelis was flying in to be resworn as foreign minister. At the same time, the archbishop of Athens (the most popular of recent military appointments) was shuttling back and forth in the hope of reconciling those two pillars of conservatism, the monarchy and the tank corps. The colonels are confident enough that the Center is broken to amnesty its political prisoners and the Aspida officers, and even to allow Andreas Papandreou to withdraw into exile—while known Communists stay behind bars, and unknown ones move into the political vacuum.

Thus polarization has moved a long way in three years. In July 1965 the allies and the Greek establishment connived at an infringement of the rules of the democratic game: it shook the moderate party leaders, and undermined confidence in the constitutional system. In April 1967 the colonels abolished the game altogether; they were tolerated when they might have been toppled, and now they have shattered the old parties and given the Communists a long-term opportunity they could never have won for themselves. By December, when the hope of a gradual return to respectable conservative dominance was finally destroyed, the risks of action were far greater. Allied recognition was indeed withheld for over a month, but the junta soon extorted it by threatening a realignment of Greek foreign policy. As their own authoritarianism strengthens the rival authoritarianism of the Communists, so their power of blackmail will grow and no doubt the token disapproval from abroad will diminish. Before long we may expect Mr. Papadopoulos to join Dr. Salazar as a respected ornament of the “free world,” and Europe’s first military dictators since the war will be welcomed as full partners in an alliance founded “to safeguard…the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.” But to Europeans at least, Europe is an area of higher visibility than Asia or Latin America. Already the Scandinavian and Benelux countries have protested vigorously at the supposedly temporary tolerance extended to the colonels. Is Washington really confident that NATO’s popularity stands so high that the alliance can stand the extra strain of blatant contempt for the principles set forth in its preamble? Will not others, too, begin to ask, like the six Italian economists quoted by Rousseas: “How is it possible for any army which is part of NATO…to suppress the very freedom it is supposed to defend, without as much as losing its good standing within the structure of NATO?… We have always believed that NATO was designed to defend us from tyranny, but episodes such as this…cannot fail to erode our trust in NATO and…the United States.” Western as well as royal chickens are coming home to roost.

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