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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 Based on extensive personal interviews as well as published sources, Eudes’s work contains much hitherto unpublished information.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.

Democracy at Gunpoint, Andreas Papandreou’s autobiography, provides an interpretative account of the coming of the junta, while his book Man’s Freedom is a convincing analysis of the prospects for democracy and individual liberties in a world governed by technology and superpowers. In Nightmare in Athens, his wife Margaret provides a vivid and often eloquent account of the experience of her family as they became increasingly caught in the plots and counterplots of Greek and American officials. But beyond their factual information, all three books have implications transcending their Greek setting.

Both Greek and American observers have indulged themselves in speculation concerning the personality of Andreas—his “arrogance,” “verbal extremism,” and “unbridled ambition,” all of which supposedly played into the hands of reactionary elements in Greece and America, thereby facilitating the triumph of the colonels. These alleged personality defects may all be real, and yet they remain irrelevant. Even if Andreas combined the humility of Gandhi with the finesse of Talleyrand, his fate would in no way have been different. What determined his fate was not his personality, but his efforts to modernize his country. That was his unforgivable sin and the cause of his imprisonment and exile.

Andreas’s historical importance lies in his having been the latest of a long line of Westernized reformers seeking to modernize their native countries with Western ideologies and techniques. That line includes Nzinga Mbemba, Patrice Lumumba, and Kwame Nkrumah in Africa, the Taipings and Sun Yat-sen in China, the Constitutionalists of 1906 in Persia, and Ramon Grau San Martin, Jacobo Arbenz, and Juan Bosch in Latin America. All these Westernized reformers and revolutionaries became strongly opposed by the Western Powers, which judged their interests to lie with the native dynasties and oligarchies. Hence the paradox of the West as the historic enemy of the Westernizers.

The industrialized Western countries have been commonly interpreted as a revolutionary force in modern times, and it is true that their ideology and technology automatically disrupted pre-industrial societies. But this automatic revolutionary impact was accompanied by a purposeful counterrevolutionary political and military strategy designed to preserve traditional regimes considered indispensable to Western interests.

What happened to the Papandreous, then, is only the latest manifestation of a historical pattern. Their reaction is also significant, for their books also show how the Papandreous became increasingly radical. Margaret Papandreou is herself an American from the Middle West who repeatedly expresses her disillusionment with the discrepancy between the rhetoric and the reality of American foreign policy. When Andreas decided to enter Greek politics in 1964, he persuaded himself that he could become a kind of Greek Kennedy. He assumed that the liberals then in power in the United States, some of whom were old acquaintances from his teaching days, would support him.

Moreover, at that time his father’s Center Union had triumphed. Accordingly he set out to effect what was essentially a Keynesian updating of Greek economic and political institutions—a program which virtually all American economists and political scientists could have endorsed. Acceptance of such a program by Washington would have been much less a concession than was Khrushchev’s acceptance of the Tito regime. Yet the response of both Athens and Washington was one of implacable hostility. It is scarcely surprising that Andreas now concludes that his basic fault was not impetuousness or “extremism,” but rather vacillation and timidity.

When he arrived in Greece, Andreas was backed by the funds of American foundations and influenced by American academic liberalism. But today he thinks of himself as the champion of a Third World country besieged by forces of domestic and international reaction. He concedes the formidable strength of America and the Soviet Union cooperating to preserve the global status quo, but he also sees the potential power of the countries in the Third World: “The internal costs to the super-powers of maintaining and expanding their control over the world may in the end become unbearable.”3

To those who argue that he should have held back in order to placate his enemies, Andreas now responds:

I reject the argument in its entirety. For it is based on the premise that no reform should be undertaken if there is danger of a military takeover by a reactionary group; that men should accept their fate, whether they like it or not, lest they find themselves in an even worse situation…. The forces of progress, change, and reform should not be stifled by fear. They should only take care that their popular base is adequately organized for the confrontation with the forces of conservation and reaction if such a confrontation is likely to take place….

The revolutionary character of the Third World reflects the indisputable fact that change there can be brought about only through a prior alteration in the structure of power, in the make-up of the Establishment…. Thus in Greece a breakthrough on the political front, a liberation of the country from the strangle hold of its reactionary Establishment, was a necessary condition for its successful cultural, social, and economic development.4

The gradualist and middle-of-the-road position that Andreas now repudiates is skillfully propounded in Vérité sur la Grèce. The anonymous author is obviously a Centrist of what he terms “moderate” persuasion. He has little use for Andreas’s Centrism, which he labels “radical,” and which he condemns as even more “unrealistic” and “romantic” than the New Left. As proof, he points to the radical goal of a truly democratic and independent Greece—an obvious impossibility, he insists, in the face of the Athens-Washington axis. Equally impractical and frighteningly dangerous. in his view, is the willingness of the radicals to work with the peasants and working class—an alliance which he warns could lead to a new dictatorship, this time of the left. Hence the only way out is to accept “conservative liberation” under American auspices, meaning, specifically, the return of the King and of Caramanlis. This strategy alone might persuade Washington to dump the junta, and thus make possible a regime which, however conservative, would at least offer the hope for gradual reform and liberalization.

Unfortunately, since the publication of his book events have challenged the feasibility of this strategy. On September 22, 1970, Washington lifted the selective embargo on heavy military equipment to Greece which had been imposed immediately after the April, 1967, coup. The announcement justified the declaration on strategic considerations, but then added, “The trend toward a constitutional order is established…. Major sections of the constitution have been implemented….”5 This claim was so palpably at variance with the generally known facts of life under the junta that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent to Greece two investigators to review the situation at firsthand. Although snubbed by the top junta leaders and barred from visiting several US bases in Greece, the investigators submitted their report, Greece: February 1971, which demolishes the claim of any existing or impending democracy in Greece and exposes the US Embassy’s undeviating support for the dictatorship:

Certainly, the general attitude of the Embassy is defensive about the regime—quick to praise during the period before the embargo was lifted but slow to criticize now that the embargo has been ended and the regime in default on its assurances.

Many in the Embassy tend to rationalize the actions of the regime in terms similar to those the regime itself uses…. We noted that in Embassy meetings the coup and its aftermath was often referred to as the “revolution.” Those Greeks opposed to the regime in Athens refer not to the “revolution” but to the “junta” or the “Colonels.” Others, less partisan, refer to the “government,” or the “leadership” or the “regime.” It is only those who support the government who refer to the “revolution.” The term is certainly not neutral.

The Public Affairs Office of the Department of State, presumably on the basis of reporting from the Embassy in Athens, publishes an unclassified quick reference aid entitled “Greece: U.S. Policy. The latest version of that paper, published in January of this year, makes a number of statements [regarding the number of political prisoners, the status of the constitution, and the question of torture] that do not seem to be accurate.

During our visit to Athens, we were struck by the fact that while the Embassy does not question the desirability of a return to parliamentary government in Greece, it not only rationalizes the lack of progress but often appears to be more concerned with the regime’s “image” than with the substance of its actions.

The policy of friendly persuasion has clearly failed. The regime has accepted the friendship, and the military assistance, but has ignored the persuasion. Indeed, the regime seems to have been able to exert more leverage on us with regard to military assistance than we have been willing to exert on the regime with regard to political reform. We see no evidence that this will not continue to be the case. [Pp. 13-16]

It can be argued, of course, that outright support for the dictatorship is, in fact, paying rich dividends. Greece has become our leading espionage and counter-espionage base in the eastern Mediterranean, and there are today more CIA operatives in Athens than in Moscow. And during the Middle East crisis, more Greek bases were available than those of any other Mediterranean country. But to assume that this state of affairs will persist indefinitely is to be guilty of the same blindness to historical forces that brought on the Vietnam disaster.

Current American policy in Athens is similar to that of Palmerston and Disraeli, whose successes are reflected in the Pax Britannica that prevailed during most of the nineteenth century. But Pax Americana endured for scarcely a decade following World War II. One reason is that some underdeveloped nations, including Greece as well as Vietnam, are no longer politically inert or willing to accept dictation by the great powers. Hence in Greece today there is a growing movement of dissent not only among the Radical Centrist followers of Andreas, but also among the radical young.

The fate of the EAM resistance movement and of the Center Union political movement have left many of the politically conscious Greek youth profoundly distrustful and contemptuous of both Moscow and Washington. As a result, they are turning inward and drawing upon their own revolutionary traditions. They recall General Makriyiannes, hero of the Greek War of Independence of the 1820s, who wrote indignantly in his memoirs:

…we thank our foreign protectors, now that we have seen their disposition…because we, the Greeks, are not friendly to them, and do not act according to their whims, they, and those Greeks who govern us according to the advice of the ambassadors, persecute us, and do injustice to all of us…. And those who have the power, seize us, who fought for Greece, and according to their law they judge us and behead us with the guillotine, which the enlightened and tamed Europeans sent here to behead us, the wild Greeks. And there are many beheaded, and all prisons and jails are full. And who are all those beheaded and imprisoned? All those who fought for Greece….

The hero of the young Greek radicals is Ares Velouchiotes, revered as a martyr who fell because of the traitorous servility of the Communists to Moscow and of the rightists to the West. Typical is the following statement by “Pericles,” a Greek actor who was imprisoned by the junta for six months without trial and who is now an exile.

The coup of 21st April 1967 was simply the closing phase in a whole period of disturbances which began upon the death of Ares Velouchiotes, who was indisputably the leader of the People’s movement in Greece. Velouchiotes had reckoned that what had been won by force of arms (and by the thousands of dead) against the German invaders, should be preserved by force of arms. This was the only way of guaranteeing a steady political development. The legendary Ares declared that to surrender our weapons to the bourgeoisie and the British imperialists was to sign our own death-warrant.

History justified him. From the liberation [of Greece from the Nazis] until the coup, Greek society has been disturbed by deep contradictions which hold absolutely no hope of a solution within the structures of a class society. The natural road for Greece after the liberation was socialism. Only popular authority could presuppose a definite solution to the problem. Any solution which took place within the framework of the structures of a class society was damned from the start, and created a new, worse impasse….

This time the Greek people are determined to take up the sword where it fell on the death of Velouchiotes and not to let it go until the final victory has been won. It is certain that when a revolutionary vanguard is created in Greece and is working in original ways and using the people’s interests as a criterion, then the people will follow.6

The author of Vérité sur la Grèce dismisses such statements as meaningless and provocative—“Viet Cong rhetoric without a single Viet Cong.” This may be true. But then one might also ponder the possibility, if not the probability, that the fundamental global changes of the quarter century after World War II might be equaled or exceeded by the changes of the next quarter century. If that is so, Washington policy makers may well look back wistfully to Andreas Papandreou and his Keynesian dreams of a modernized Greece.

  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.

  3. 3

    Man’s Freedom, p. 64.

  4. 4

    Democracy at Gunpoint, pp. 347-49.

  5. 5

    More recently, Secretary Laird has commended the junta for its role in NATO; Secretary Stans has expressed satisfaction with “the welcome that is given to American companies”; and Martin Hillebrand of the State Department has informed the Council of Europe that “there is no extensive torture” in Greece, and that the junta is “fairly soundly based and has broad support among the public.” Citizens of Greece doubtless have welcomed the news that they are no longer “extensively tortured”; they may be puzzled why the colonels, enjoying “broad support,” do not confound their enemies by verifying that support with free elections.

  6. 6

    Black Dwarf, October 26-November 15, 1969.

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