Barbarism in Greece
Democracy at Gunpoint: The Greek Front
The Greek Tragedy
Philhellenes have never liked Greeks very much, not real Greeks. They worship Greeks as once they were, or as they might soon become, but as they are—well, it’s so different from the home life of our own dear Perikles. So Alexander the Great showed his love of Pindar by destroying every other house in Thebes but his. So Flamininus announced that all Greeks should be free, but had to put away quite a few Greeks who happened not to share his view of freedom. So Britain, France, Russia, and the United States over the last century and a half have taken it upon themselves—but that part of the story belongs later.
What about the philhellene now, when he looks at the ridiculous little soldiers who set themselves up as dictators of Greece in April, 1967? Either he says that it’s a scandal in Perikles’ own country, and doesn’t ask why it happened. Or he says that it’s all that Perikles’ decadent descendants deserve, and doesn’t ask why it happened. Either way, the real Greek in Greece gets scant attention, be he happy or sad, in office or in prison.
So let us ask why. Dictatorship in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. A case can be made for Castro, for Franco, for Nkrumah, for the CP in Russia. Even of ancient Greece it can be argued that Peisistratos and his sons, autocrats though they were, did more good than harm. Can a case be made for this dictatorship today? It is brutal or benevolent? Unnecessarily brutal? Does it have a program that will solve problems which democratic politicians either failed to see or failed to solve? What are the long-term results likely to be?
In his answer to the question whether the regime is brutal or benevolent Mr. Becket leaves no doubt. The present Greek government practices torture. Some American troops in Vietnam have been brutal; so were some British troops in Cyprus; so, perhaps, were some Russians in Czechoslovakia. But this is not the brutality of a single officer or platoon or company—it is Nazi-style brutality, systematic government policy. In a harrowing account of his own experiences at Security Police Headquarters and at Military Hospital 401, a young artist, Perikles Korovessis (The Method, 1970), has told us what treatment like this means to the victim. One may come away from Korovessis with the feeling that he has overdramatized what happened to him (overdramatized does not mean exaggerated), but when one looks at James Becket’s cool, clinical account of how the agony of Korovessis was shared by at least 426 others, at the consistency of the stories, at the care Becket has taken to check them (uncheckable though many of them must be), it becomes impossible to believe that the present tyranny is benevolent. Torture is deliberate.
But perhaps, some will say, Korovessis and the others who suffer are communists, such a threat to civilization as to deserve torture. No one, of course, deserves to be tortured, however great a a threat he may be. In any case, most of the victims are not communists—Gerassimos Notaras, a political scientist, George Mangakis, a lawyer, and Dionysios Karageorgas, an economist; distinguished scholars, recognized scholars all three, in a society where academic distinction was rare and recognition impossible for anyone with a whiff of communism about him. They were completely conventional in their politics: in England they might have served with Wilson or with Heath, in the United States with Johnson or with Nixon—but they too have been tortured and are now in prison, their sentences between eight years and life.
Still, these are lesser men. The prominent have not been tortured, not in a technical sense. That is not to say that they have not suffered—Theodorakis, Mercouri, Pappas, Papathanassiou, Seferis, the catalogue can go on, but let us ignore the artists, lawyers, poets, novelists, scholars (even if they include a Nobel Prize winner) and stick to the politicians. Only one of any note (a pretty muted note) has supported the regime, the former foreign minister, Pipinelis. Only one of any serious stature has stayed neutral, Markezinis. Of the rest, the impeccably right-wing prime minister on the eve of the coup, Panayiotis Kanellopoulos, was imprisoned; George Papandreou, who as prime minister from April to December, 1944, was party to the destruction of more communists than most men have been in a lifetime, was put under house arrest. Perhaps most strikingly, Eleni Vlachou, who as owner of the two great right-wing newspapers, Kathemerini and Messembrini, did as much as anyone to foment the anticommunist crisis of 1965, the crisis which ultimately gave the Colonels their excuse—she too resisted and was arrested.
In a very crude and ham-fisted way the Colonels were doing what her newspapers had been recommending for some time, they were dedicating themselves to the removal of communists from under the bed, and they expected her to approve, or at any rate to tolerate, their campaign and their methods. But she did not. One could be unkind and suggest that for Mme. Vlachou the Colonels produced the wrong coup at the wrong time; that with a little warning and with a general on the doorstep in place of a colonel, Mme. Vlachou would have toed the line. But I am sure that she would not. Of course the reason for some of the resentment against the Colonels among the Greek political elite is that they intervened to produce a coup which more respectable officers were intending to produce at a more respectable moment. Some of the resentment is simply snobbish. The political elite is narrow and exclusive—consisting mainly of families who have played politics since the War of Independence, with some later recruits from the top levels of the army and business and the inner circles of the Palace. The Colonels are far outside of it, vulgar petit bourgeois provincial upstarts. But although Mme. Vlachou is of the heart of the elite (her grandfather was a minister before the turn of the century), her reaction was not only one of snobbery and pique, but mainly one of honest horror.
Sadly, her book does not bring out the horror as well as it might. It is the story of how she nobly refused to publish her papers under censorship; of how, elegantly and gaily, she dared, teased, and infuriated the Colonels; of her long arrest and dramatic escape to England. But throughout, she was so determined to keep her upper lip both stiff and smiling that the careless reader might be forgiven if he felt that he had been through no more than a witty gossip column, an essay in how to ride out a revolution, not how to understand it. There is a story that an elderly aristocratic lady was knitting when she was brought the news that there had been a coup. “Who,” she asked, “are the dictators?” The list was recited. “Dear, dear,” she said, “I don’t think I know any of them,” and resumed her knitting. There is a touch of the same attitude in Mme. Vlachou’s account. “While the foreign correspondents were learning who these people [my italics] were, so were we….”
At first sight the story told by her chief political target in pre-Junta days, Andreas Papandreou, is a much more serious one. His 350-odd pages are mainly concerned with the political issues and maneuvers of the years following his return to Greece from success as an academic economist in the United States, through controversy as a practical economist and politician in Greece, to failure at gunpoint, to exile—1960-1968. They are a politician’s apologia and in some respects rather less than fair. For example, I cannot believe nor do I think Andreas has any evidence for believing that Kanellopoulos accepted the premiership on April 3, 1967, for any other reason than to conduct elections in May, although Andreas suggests that it was part of a plot to avoid elections. But politicians must be allowed their apologies and their bias, and Andreas more than most.
First, he had turned from scholarship to politics, and the story of Emperor Claudius shows what a dangerous turn that often is. The scholar may not deal in facts but he tends to think that he does, and he expects others to accept them or, at worst, to discuss them in a scholarly way. Time and again we see Andreas shocked by what are, for him, the intellectual failings of his opponents (and of his friends, including even his father, George Papandreou), and are given hints of the way in which his professorial approach lost him sympathy or support, even though it was his intellectual ability and expertise that made, and still makes him, Greece’s most popular politician.
Secondly, from the start he was picked out by the right wing as the villain of the center (they called it the left). He was an outsider, in that he had come back from abroad; he was his father’s son; he was far too clever. Worst of all, he wanted to ask questions about things which in Greece could not be asked about—the army the Palace, NATO. Andreas was being victimized, felt that he was being victimized, and reacted accordingly.
So, an apologia. But behind it, there is a mass of information in his book for anyone concerned with the immediate issues that were worrying Greeks in these vital years. After a decade of cautious conservative expansion, a decade which the history books will rightly see as one of the most profitable that Greece has had, George Papandreou and his Center Union Party came to power in 1963 with a program for extensive social and educational reform (how badly they were needed!) and with the belief that rather less cautious economic expansion could pay for it.
These plans and hopes were at the core of the debate between the democratic center and the democratic right, that part of the right to which Andreas is a little unkind. But the less democratic right had other, less worthy, preoccupations. Some old bogeys were revived: communism, the sanctity of the army, the authority of the monarchy. Some new ones were thrown in to help—the safety of the American alliance. Finally, young King Constantine, cutting the knot, as he thought, but in fact tying a noose for himself, sacked George Papandreou in July, 1965, and so committed one of the grossest political howlers in the history of a royal house not noted for its political finesse. The eighteen months of chaos which followed established only one thing: that there would either have to be elections in May, 1967 (which would probably put Papandreou back in power), or a dictatorship. What came in April was a dictatorship; one that was not expected even by Constantine.
It would be silly to pretend that many Greeks were not relieved to have a government at last. But what kind of government? It takes us back to the question whether this unnecessarily brutal regime has an answer to Greece’s problems. After a fashion it has. The Colonels have solved the educational problem by cutting back on education; they have solved the problem of foreign investment by admitting it on terms that no responsible Greek would have contemplated before 1967; they have solved the problem of the army in politics by deleting politics (and decimating the army); they have solved the problem of the monarchy by preserving it with an absent monarch. Above all, they have seen to it that decisions in Greece over the next generation will be taken by less qualified men. This they have done by firing or alienating the best diplomats, economists, judges, teachers, and civil servants.
So the Papandreous tried and failed, and Andreas gives an absorbing and often moving account of how and why. But they are not the first Greek democrats to have failed. Trikoupis, who was repeatedly prime minister between 1875 and 1895, could have told the same kind of story as Andreas. So could Venizelos, who was in and out of office between 1910 and 1933. What Andreas does not explain is why his and his father’s failure was the saddest so far, nor why it is not enough to dismiss it as just another installment in the long, monotonous saga of Greek political instability. To understand that, we have to go back to Greece’s liberation from Turkish rule in 1830 and ask how Greeks have changed.
Constantine Tsoucalas sets out to show how they have changed, and consequently his is the most important of the books here reviewed. It would be a waste of space to quarrel with him on points of detail. The moral, which even he does not press as much as he might, is as clear as possible. Greece was capable of producing effective parliamentary government in July, 1965, and in May, 1967, in a way that it had never been before, because behind the squalid and repetitive story of crisis, intrigue, electoral chicanery, coup and counter-coup that seemed to be the stuff of Greek politics, Greece had slowly been growing up. It was robbed of the chance of showing that it was capable on both occasions by forces which, for reasons occasionally honest but largely dishonest and dishonorable, decided that real democracy was dangerous.
It is easy to forget that Greece was neither democratic nor fit for democracy in 1830. Nor was the rest of Europe. But Greece was infinitely less fit than most. Some 2,000 years of foreign domination had been more than enough to blot out the political sophistication of Aristotle’s Athens or Polybios’ Achaia. People were back to the primitive dependence on a local boss that they had known three or four hundred years before Perikles. Now he was the local landlord or the local brigand or the local priest (not always distinguishable from each other) and his authority, God-given or Turk-given or just given (or taken), was all that mattered. Greeks looked up or down according to their station; they were incapable of looking across to others like them in the next valley or of looking toward and respecting a central government.
The story of independent Greece is the story of how a central government, sometimes with very artificial parliamentary forms, sometimes impatiently dictatorial, always in some measure unreal, gradually persuaded Greeks that its authority mattered, that local and personal loyalties were secondary. There have been all sorts of false alarms and red herrings. With no national organization, no national political life to speak of, but with a degree of national ethnic consciousness, it has always been easy to play on the “national ideal,” on a jingoist Hellenism, and, from the start, campaigns for the reunification of the race have been an easy recourse for any Greek government which found itself in domestic trouble.
In a precarious but at the same time important strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece could always pretend that armed forces mattered more than armed forces usually do or should. Depending always on outside support, not only in its installations but even in its restorations, the monarchy has easily been used as an immediate political weapon. With Britain, Russia, France, or the United States as the strategic guarantor or as competitor for the role, outside influence has easily been blamed, and not always wrongly, for domestic crisis. It has been easy, too, for the Greek parties to exploit the concern of one or another of the great powers (neither left nor right has a monopoly on this score) and for the great powers themselves to ignore the real interests of Greece if their own positions seemed threatened—as the United States certainly condoned the coup of 1967, if it did not instigate it.
As a result, the three great problems that should have been at center stage in Greek politics since independence, land reform, industrialization, and education (all three excellently assessed by Tsoucalas), have largely made only haphazard and usually inconsequential appearances. Trikoupis, Venizelos, Karamanlis, and finally the Papandreous have all tried to face one or more of them, but in different measure have failed.
Nevertheless, in the background, the centralization of power in Athens has gone on, and with it, Greeks have been coming to see that the central government, democratic or totalitarian, must be stable. To be successfully democratic it must forget the old personal, local, factional loyalties and the patronage and corruption that went with them, and produce the kind of policy debate on which workable party government can be based. To be successfully totalitarian, the dictators must have a policy.
On the surface, between 1960 and 1967 the old-style political game was still being played, much in the spirit of that past master of the art, Kolletis, prime minister in the 1840s, who promised posts to everyone but filled as few as he could because, he said, “in making any appointment I make one friend and twenty enemies.” The older generation of politicians was slow to give up its old ways, and even George Papandreou, sensitive though he was to the new atmosphere and committed to exploiting it, could never quite shake off the role of traditional manipulator.
But, unmistakably, there was a new atmosphere, admirably illustrated by one simple fact. The forty-four parties which contested the elections of 1950 had reduced themselves to three (of which only two mattered) by 1964. Moreover the two leaders, Kanellopoulos and Papandreou, were holding their parties together in a way that would have been inconceivable even a decade before. The electorate of May, 1967, would have had two (or three) real choices, right, center (or left). As for the dictators, as we have seen, they have had no policy except to destroy all three options.
The result of their success is regression, economic and, to my mind in the long run more damaging, political. The prime minister, Papadopoulos, is more concerned with coining medical metaphors than with modernizing Greece; his deputy, Pattakos, with seeing that Greeks don’t drop cigarette ends in the street. The economics minister, Makarezos, in Mme. Vlachou’s words, “could have been the original invisible man.” The chief distinction of one of their leading economists is that he is alleged to have stolen material for his thesis from someone else. But the setback to political progress is still more wicked, and the longer they last, the more wicked it becomes.
The younger generation of experts, the technocrats who could have saved Greece, are in prison, in exile, in hiding, or silent. The majority of them were supporters of Andreas and most of them keep their faith in a democratic answer. But resistance breeds extremism and, particularly when the great democratic nations show no interest or, worse, support the Colonels, it may become tempting to answer dictatorship with dictatorship. The leftwing vote fell from 24 percent in 1958 to 11 percent in 1964 and would have been smaller still in 1967; it will be substantially higher when (and if) elections are held again.
Will there be elections? Can the Colonels be removed? In the conclusion of his book Andreas offers six solutions to the problem, solutions which involve three elements in varying combinations. First is the United States, which might use some face-saving device to get rid of this most embarrassing blot on its democratic façade; e.g., by arranging for a “respectable” coalition of right-wing politicians to take over (it would be too much to hope for that it would include some of the center), a coalition which might even admit Papadopoulos himself, who, though mad, is clearly unhappy in his present company, and King Constantine, who might like to return to “his country” if only briefly. The hope then would be that, as with the right-wing governments fostered by Britain and the United States after the last war, public opinion might slowly pull them toward genuine elections and a popular government.
The second element is Europe. There can be no doubt about the strength of European feeling. We can be upset by Guatemala, but Greece is on the doorstep—it upsets and frightens. Equally, Europe is on Greece’s doorstep and the Colonels too are frightened by the idea of European ostracism—witness their hysterical reaction to Greece’s expulsion from the Council of Europe (to be pedantic, Greece’s “resignation”). In moments of optimism one wonders whether further political pressure of this kind, together with economic pressure (the level of European investment in Greece is considerable enough to matter), might not force some liberalization. After all, if one politician, M. Servan-Schreiber, can persuade Papadopoulos to release Mikis Theodorakis (one longs to know how), what could a half-dozen countries do? But, more realistically, it would again probably be through pressure on the United States that European influence could be effective. It would be small gain for the Pentagon to have a Greece that was “safe for NATO” at the price of unrest in the rest of the alliance.
The third element is the Greek resistance. Hitherto it has not been very effective. From outside it is hard to guess at the strength or competence of the various resistance groups, but one gets the impression that the absence of substantial moral and material support from abroad (both from eastern bloc countries and from the west), their lack of preparedness for and skill in resistance techniques (natural enough and commendable in men who were only preparing for an election), and the efficiency of the Colonels’ intelligence services have together left them without much sting. There is, besides, little cohesion among the groups. Quite early on there was a vague agreement between the two main forces, the Patriotic Front (left wing) and Democratic Defense (center). Andreas has founded his Pan-Hellenic Liberation Front as an umbrella for all the forces of the center. But neither of these moves has been an unqualified success, though Andreas has made a little more progress in coordinating anti-Junta activities abroad.
But most important perhaps is the lack of a clear aim. It is just possible that the Navy, the Air Force, and some sections of the Army might revolt, but, short of that, overthrow of the regime by force is out of the question. An alternative would be to cause such disruption inside Greece that, yet again, the United States would realize that the Colonels have failed. But what disruption, and how to cause it?
In other words, the outlook is gloomy. The United States is not prepared to act; Europeans may be distressed but European governments are hesitant; organized internal resistance is weak. Nevertheless one thing is certain. The Colonels cannot last. This is because they do not make sense in the story of Greece’s development, whether the development is totalitarian or democratic. For a second time Greeks have been pulling themselves out of the ninth century B.C. and it is not only an optimistic observer who knows that this time around they will succeed, short of cataclysm. It would be a rash observer who guessed at the method or the timetable.
Greece and Its Future October 8, 1970