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Democracy and Dictatorship in Greece

In the 1950s Greece developed economically. It had help from with the Marshall Plan and it had 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, but with elections in November, 1952, Papagos gained 239 out of 300 seats in parliament and formed a government friendly to the United States.

Papagos 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. He 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, Constantine II, age 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.

There was also a cultural conflict. 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 Rolling Stones disliked what they saw and were glad 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 Georgios Papadopoulos, appointed himself prime minister and regent to the king. Moderate and leftist politicians were arrested. Long hair was banned, along with the music of Mikis Theodorakis, of Zorba fame. 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."

Some in Greece saw Colonel Papadopoulos' coup as an imperialist CIA plot. Coup leaders were described as having had contacts with the CIA.

In Athens, tanks heading for the university

Heading for the university

students and supporters in the streets

Students and supporters demonstrating

Andreas Papandreou was released from prison eight months after the coup and he and his wife left Greece with the US ambassador, Phillips Talbot.

After Richard Nixon became president in 1969, his vice president, Spiro Agnew, of Greek heritage, openly supported military rule in Greece. The US formally recognized the Papadopoulos regime in 1970. Greece remained a NATO ally. Greece was supplying a home port for the US Navy's Sixth Fleet and doing business '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 US support for the Papadopoulos regime are said to have increased anti-Americanism in Greece. Animosity toward the military dictatorship was rising. 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.

In November, 1973, 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. In 1974 they restored democracy. 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 © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.