Heading for the university
Students and supporters demonstrating
In the 1950s Greece developed economically, with the Marshall Plan and close ties with the United States. In 1951 Greece joined NATO. And that year Field Marshall Alexander Papagos resigned from the Army and founded the Greek Rally Party, modeled after the politics of Charles de Gaulle. Papagos won the elections of September 1951 but with only 35 percent of the vote. He was unable to form a government. The U.S. Ambassador threatened to cut aid if elections were not changed from proportional representation to majority rule. This was done, and with the elections in November, 1952, Papagos gained 239 out of 300 seats in parliament and formed a government friendly to the United States.
Papagos worked at developing Greece economically. He died in 1955 and Greece's King Paul chose as his successor the relatively unknown Konstantinos Karamanlis. Karamanlis joined Greece to the European Community in 1962. Allegations that his 1961 election victory was unfair created tensions, and Georgios Papandreou, who led the Center Union party, fought to have the elections reversed, exploiting resentment against autocratic policies in place since the civil war.
The autocratic ways of authority continued. In April, 1963, pacifists organized a rally that was to march from Marathon to Athens. Police banned the rally and arrested many of the demonstrators. A member of parliament, Grigoris Lambrakis, protected by his parliamentary immunity, marched alone and arrived at the end of the rally holding the banner with the peace symbol. After delivering the keynote speech at a pacifist meeting in Thessaloniki he was run down by a delivery truck driven by rightists. He suffered brain injuries and died in the hospital five days later. At his funeral more than 500,000 people rallied. Prime Minister Karamanlis resigned and went into exile in Paris. The Marathon Peace Rally became an annual event in Lambrakis's memory, and thousands of Greek youths formed a new political organization called the Lambrakis Youth. In November, 1963, Papandreou's Center Party won elections, and Papandreaou became prime minister.
Conservatives took offense. Some on the right did not want to tolerate strikes
by labor and leftist demonstrations. Papandreaou's son had been an economist
at the University of California at Berkeley and had returned to Greece, and
there were allegations that he was involved with an organization of left-wing
radical army officers known as Aspida (Shield). When his father, the
prime minister, moved to assume control of the Ministry of Defense, he was accused
of seeking to protect his son. The king, Paul's son, Constantine II, 25, refused
to sanction the move. Papandreou resigned. Many on the center and the left resented
the king’s action, and demonstrations followed. Members of the Aspida
movement were put on trial, but not Andreas Papandreou, who by now was a member
of parliament and enjoyed parliamentary immunity. This angered some rightists,
who continued to view Andreas Panadreaou as a dangerous radical.
A cultural conflict was also happening. Rock and roll and long hair was becoming popular among Greece's youth. On April 17, 1967, the Rolling Stones played in the Panathinaikos Stadium in Athens. They received a tumultuous welcome, with the police active in crowd control and demonstrating their hostility. The Stones disliked what they saw and were happy to leave Greece.
Meanwhile, the new prime minister dissolved parliament and had scheduled elections for the following month. Some rightists did not trust new elections to produce the kind of government they wanted, and on April 21 (four days after the Stone's concert), four colonels led a military coup, starting late at night and without firing a single shot. They declared martial law, and the leader of the coup, Colonel George Papadopoulos, appointed himself prime minister and regent to the crown. Moderate and leftist politicians were arrested. Long hair was banned, along with the music of Mikis Theodorakis, of Zorba fame, and western music. King Constantine refused to support the military, and he was sent into exile. Civil liberties were suppressed. Censorship was instituted. Special military courts were established, and political parties were dissolved. Several thousand suspected Communists and political opponents were imprisoned or exiled to remote Greek islands. Papadopoulos described his moves as saving Greece from a "Communist takeover."
However much or little the plotters had been encouraged by the United States, they were men with strong wills responding to what was happening in Greece. But there were some who saw the coup as an imperialist CIA plot. It was when the CIA was enjoying a lot of freedom of action. The CIA has been described as reporting on January 23, 1967, that a group that included Andreas Papandreou was plotting a coup. The coup leaders were described as having had contacts with the CIA. It alleged that Lyndon Johnson, prior to the coup, said to Greece's ambassador to the United States regarding Cyprus:
We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks. If your Prime Minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitutions, he, his parliament and his constitution, may not last very long.
Andreas Papandreou was released from prison eight months after the coup and he and his wife left Greece with the U.S. ambassador, Phillips Talbot. Asked what the United States would have done had there been a Communist coup in Athens, Talbot responded that the U.S. "would have intervened, and they would have crushed the coup."
The Johnson administration was not inclined to back a force to crush a coup from the right. And after Richard Nixon became president in 1969, his vice president, Spiro Agnew, of Greek heritage, was openly pro-junta. The U.S. formally recognized the Greek junta in 1970. Greece remained a NATO ally. Greece was supplying a home port for the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet and doing business with the U.S., such as buying its Phantom jet aircraft, rather than buying France's Mirage jet fighters.
Papadopoulos won support from the pious rural poor, attracted by his opposition to atheism, his anti-Communism, dislike for 'hippies," his unpolished manner and simple way of speaking. Papadopoulos presented himself as a friend of common people and promoted economic development in rural areas, neglected by previous governments. And some middle class urbanites welcomed what they saw as stable government.
Descriptions of U.S. support for the Papadopoulos regime are said to have increased anti-Americanism in Greece. Among the Greeks, animosity toward the military dictatorship increased. In May, 1973, military officers of the largely pro-monarchy Navy staged a coup, without involvement by the king, and the coup failed. Papadopoulos retaliated by declaring Greece a republic, and a plebiscite was held to uphold the ruling, widely presumed to be rigged. Then in November, students at the National Technical University of Athens went on strike and built a radio station that broadcast across Athens. Thousands of workers and young people joined their protest. Papadopoulos sent the army to crush the student strike. At least 34 protesters were killed. Several hundred were wounded and almost a thousand arrested.
More military men turned against Papadopoulos. On November 25, army, navy and airforce men overthrew the Papadopoulos regime. Democracy was restored in 1974. Papadopoulos was tried along with his colleagues for treason and insurrection. He was sentenced to death, which was later commuted to a life sentence.
DVD of Interest
The movie Z, a barely fictionalized account of the murder of Grigoris Lambrakis, staring Yves Montand, with music by Mikis Theodorakis, produced in 1969.
Copyright © 2006-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.