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 …

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