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Greece’s Other History

Les Kapetanios: La guerre civile grecque 1943-1949

by Dominique Eudes
Fayard (Paris), 493 pp., 30 Fr.

Democracy at Gunpoint: the Greek Front

by Andreas Papandreou
Doubleday, 365 pp., $7.95

Man’s Freedom

by Andreas Papandreou
Carnegie-Mellon (distributed by Columbia University Press), 72 pp., $4.00

Nightmare in Athens

by Margaret Papandreou
Prentice-Hall, 390 pp., $8.95

Vérité sur la Grèce

by Anonymous
La Cité (Lausanne), 252 pp., 21 Fr.

Greece: February 1971 Relations, United States Senate

A Staff Report Prepared for the Use of the Committee on Foreign
U.S. Government Printing Office, 16 pp.

Imagine what would be the common belief today if General Westmoreland had won the war in Vietnam several years ago. Ho Chi Minh would be remembered as a bloodthirsty communist traitor, while Emperor Bao Dai, Diem, Ky, and Thieu would be hailed as the saviors of their country. We would know nothing of My Lai, and we would have forgotten about napalm, defoliants, “free fire zones,” and mass “relocation” of peasants. Instead we would be treated to tales (which ultimately we would accept as the full story) of wholesale atrocities in POW camps and of mass graves which would be exposed and publicized, as they were when the My Lai story first broke.

Such transformation of fact into myth, and myth into fact, has happened in the case of Greece. Unlike Westmoreland, who failed in Vietnam, the British General Scobie and the American General Van Fleet won their wars in Greece. As a result, few people now realize that Greece entered the postwar period with a state apparatus pervaded from top to bottom with quislings.1 Few people also know that in Greece no resistance fighter ever received a medal for his services to his country; instead these men were hounded down and imprisoned and shot. This, and much more, remains largely unknown outside Greece, because no revisionist historian has so far refuted the cold war mythology about Greece.

How great the need for a reappraisal of the history of the Greek resistance and how useful such a reappraisal would be are evident in Les Kapetanios, the pioneering study by the French journalist Dominique Eudes. Based on extensive personal interviews as well as published sources, Eudes’s work contains much hitherto unpublished information. Certainly it should be translated into many other languages.

The hero of Les Kapetanios is Ares Velouchiotes, who might be described as a Greek Tito who failed. Like his Yugoslav counterpart, Ares was a Communist leader who, during the Occupation, sought to ensure Partisan hegemony against both native oligarchs and foreign powers. But Ares was a tragic figure, doomed both by flaws in his own personality and by a Stalinist party leadership slavishly committed to the Kremlin line. Against this leadership Ares had no chance because he lacked Tito’s ability to formulate a nationalist communist doctrine, and to organize and lead a nationalist communist party.

Rather Ares was a typical guerrilla chieftain—a fearless, commanding figure, a brilliant tactician in mountain fighting, but far too impetuous and undisciplined to work with the plodding mediocrities of the Communist Party hierarchy. Accordingly he was always an outsider. This was especially so after he signed under mysterious circumstances a “declaration of repentance” which freed him from incarceration during the Metaxas dictatorship of the late 1930s. But unlike other signatories, Ares promptly resumed the struggle against the dictatorship after his release.

With the Axis occupation of Greece in 1941, Ares finally came into his own. In the mountains of Roumele he became a folk hero—the leading resistance fighter in all Greece, a glamorous figure who, with his mounted bodyguard in their black berets, became legendary. True, he was feared for his violence and harsh discipline. “Your rods are only for pissing,” he warned his men, and if any of his followers molested women or stole peasant produce they were summarily executed. He did establish unprecedented security in his domain, but in the process became the object of fear and vilification on the part of the old politicians and intellectuals of Athens.

Ares’s success in organizing resistance bands accentuated his differences with George Siantos, Secretary of the Communist Central Committee which controlled the mass resistance organization, the EAM or National Liberation Front. Siantos was determined to follow to the letter the current Soviet line of national and international unity against the Axis. He summoned Ares to Athens and lectured him on the need to cooperate with the old prewar political leaders, with Zervas and his “nationalist” guerrilla bands, and with the British agents led by Christopher Woodhouse. Ares protested that the Central Committee was unaware of deliberate and coordinated intrigues against the Partisans by Zervas and Woodhouse, and he urged the Central Committee to move from occupied Athens to the liberated areas of Free Greece in order to build an uncompromised resistance movement.

Siantos’s firm refusal even to consider such a move reflected another serious disagreement: the gross under-estimation of the Partisan bands by the Party leaders. Many Party officials were graduates of the KUTV—the Comintern’s Communist University of the Toilers of the East. These “Kutvistes,” as they were called in Greece, were thoroughly indoctrinated in Party orthodoxy and blindly loyal to Stalinist Russia. As a consequence, they adhered rigidly to the traditional Marxist belief in the primacy of the urban proletariat in revolutionary struggle, and, conversely, to the assumption that the peasant Partisan bands were mere auxiliaries to the crucial urban conflict.

In view of conditions in occupied Greece, this was a critically erroneous assumption, which was to end in catastrophe. By contrast, the partisans in Yugoslavia and China grew in strength, for Tito and Mao had the resources and independence of mind to resist the Kremlin. Siantos and his lieutenants remained in Athens, not only ignorant of but hostile to the burgeoning Partisan forces. To Siantos, Partisans were from an entirely different world. They had different leaders, different songs and legends, they even looked different: Siantos once remarked angrily that beards were contrary to socialist hygiene.

When Tito suggested that a joint headquarters be established to coordinate Greek and Yugoslav resistance against the Germans, the Central Committee’s response was prophetic. Because British agents strenuously opposed Tito’s proposal, Siantos ultimately rejected it, in favor of a pact with the British Middle East Command—in spite of the blatant anti-EAM policies of the British. Siantos’s reasons for this fateful decision help to explain much of what has happened in Greece since.

The objective of Communist strategy, Siantos repeatedly declared, was not revolution but national unity against the Axis. After liberation the Party would seek to establish a “people’s democracy,” but only by peaceful means. Even in June, 1945, when the catastrophic consequences of this policy were apparent, Nikos Zachariades, the revered head of the Party who had spent the war in a German concentration camp, declared, “The Communist Party of Greece never did stand for social revolution. The Communist Party of Greece has always striven, as it does today, to gain the support of the majority of the nation.”2

In accordance with this strategy of legalism as opposed to one of revolution, the Communist-led EAM joined George Papandreou’s powerless and patently hostile exile government in September, 1944; permitted the landing of a handful of British troops in early October, when it could have ordered them to keep out as Tito had done; refrained from seizing Athens during the three days between the departure of the Germans and the arrival of the British; was completely unprepared for the Battle of Athens that erupted in December, 1944, when Papandreou and the British ordered the EAM resistance forces to hand over their weapons; and finally accepted the disarmament terms of the Varkiza Pact of February 12, 1945, although circumstances were reasonably favorable for continuing the struggle against the British.

The Communists chose not to continue fighting for control because they still clung to their legalist illusions: they announced that Varkiza had cleared the way for “the unhindered democratic development of the country.” Ares, however, opposed the pact, particularly its clause calling for unilateral disarmament, and was denounced by Zachariades as an “adventurer whose crimes against democracy threatened the peace.” And so Ares was hunted down, killed, and beheaded. His severed head was displayed in the Thessalian town of Trikkala, a revival of a practice that was common in the Turkish era, and that was to be frequently repeated during the terror of the following months.

For the Varkiza Pact brought not the promised peace but a chain of events that have culminated in the present dictatorship. First there was brutal terrorism from the right against resistance forces who gave up their arms. This was followed by the restoration of the discredited monarchy, a succession of reactionary governments propped up by Britain and the United States, control of the military and intelligence services by the crown and its American protectors. And when this rightist hegemony was for the first time threatened by the impending electoral victory of the Centrist Papandreous, an outright military dictatorship was imposed on the country.

One important contribution of Eudes’ book is that it demolishes the myth of an EAM plot to seize power by force and terror. This myth was first propagated by Churchill and was carefully kept alive by the Americans, at first to reinforce the Truman Doctrine and lately to justify the current policy of support for the junta. If it seems subversive or traumatic to abandon this myth, one can look to contemporary accounts by Western newsmen for supporting evidence.

Here again a parallel can be found between Vietnam and Greece. Without the independent newspapermen and TV crews reporting from Vietnam Americans would be forced to rely on official government sources, and would know appallingly little about what is going on there. Bernard Fall, David Halberstam, David Schoenbrun, and other courageous independent journalists who did so much to tell the truth about Vietnam had their counterparts twenty years ago, when such correspondents as Leland Stowe, M.W. Fodor, and Frank Gervasi sent their dispatches from Greece which described clearly what was happening. It is instructive to compare their reports, which were widely praised at the time, with the conflicting official mythology that has since been accepted as the truth. Indeed, it would be useful if the accounts of these distinguished journalists were resurrected and studied in the light of recent Greek history.

There are those who argue that regardless of the popularity of the Greek resistance movement, the triumph of a Velouchiotes-led EAM would have resulted in a bloody postwar Communist dictatorship that would have crushed cherished Greek traditions and institutions. This suggests another parallel between Greece and Vietnam, for American officials, while conceding Ho Chi Minh’s popular following, have similarly stressed the horrors that inevitably would follow a North Vietnam-Viet Cong victory. The obvious rejoinder is to point to the consequences in both Indochina and Greece of salvation through American intervention. But a deeper reply is that, however unpleasant the aftermath of Communist triumph in either region might have been, the unpleasantness would have been homemade; both countries would have brought it on themselves. The right to make their own mistakes has been a demand of revolutionary nationalists throughout modern history.

In the case of Greece the “mistakes” made doubtless would have been terrible ones. A postwar regime roughly along Titoist lines would have had to contend with combined British-Soviet pressure from the outside as well as with savage internal conflict between assorted Communist factions and between right and left extremists. The history of the northern Balkans after World War II suggests how far from an egalitarian paradise the result would have been. Still, to repeat, it would have been a Greek imbroglio—unless one accepts the fantasies of those who labeled the EAM as “un-Greek” and “Bulgarian.” But those who did so are the Greek counterparts of those Americans who have branded the VC as “foreign agents,” and who referred to Communist China as “Slavic Manchukuo.” It should be apparent by now how out of touch with reality are such interpretations of the contemporary world.

  1. 1

    One of these quislings is head of the current junta, George Papadopoulos, according to the well-informed Le Monde Diplomatique (May, 1969): “The president of the Government, Papadopoulos, during the occupation served under Major Koukoulacos (rewarded after the junta’s coup with the governorship of Greece’s Agricultural Bank), commander of a battalion armed and equipped by the Germans—like all the other so-called Security Battalions (Tagmata Asphalias)—which conscientiously played its role as a security unit…against the ‘Communist’ resistance fighters!”

  2. 2

    Eudes, Les Kapetanios, pp. 98-104; S. Vukmanović, How and Why the People’s Liberation Struggle of Greece Met With Defeat (London, 1950), pp. 32-36.

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