Britain and the USA intervened to ensure the Communist defeat in the civil war, and supported the creation of a political system in which – behind a facade of parliamentary democracy – the monarchy, the security services and the military had significant influence, suppressed dissent and upheld right wing values. The Communist Party was banned. By 1963 liberal and left wing groupings began to gain ground both through popular protest and parliamentary elections. In April 1963 a nonaligned peace group, the Bertrand Russell Committee, called a march from Marathon to Athens. The Karamanlis government banned it and arrested the organizers, and police beat up those who nevertheless tried to demonstrate. The Democratic Leftist MP Grigoris Lambrakis, enjoying parliamentary immunity, completed the march alone. A month later, he was assassinated by right wing thugs. His funeral turned into a mass peaceful demonstration. When it was eventually revealed that the Thessaloniki police had assisted the assassination, the Palace forced Karamanlis out of office. The subsequent elections in November 1963 brought George Papandreou’s Centre Left government to power. In April 1964, half a million people gathered at Marathon to commemorate Lambrakis, and the march has become an annual event. The Greek left and peace movement had transnational links, for instance Lambrakis came to Britain for the Aldermaston nuclear disarmament march, and a group from the British Committee of 100 tried to take part in the first Marathon march, and the Committee later organised protests against the Greek royal visit to London in June 1963 (and after the 1967 coup, the occupation of the Greek embassy in London).
In July 1965, the Palace again intervened in Greek politics, dismissing Papandreou in response to rightwing fears of neutralist tendencies in his government. This provoked a wave of popular protest. To forestall new elections and the possible re-election of George Papandreou, sections of the military organized a coup in April 1967. The Colonels, led by George Papadopoulos, dissolved all political parties and imposed censorship. The King, after an abortive counter-coup attempt, fled abroad in December 1987.
The Colonels’ dictatorship brought intense pressure on people to conform, for example by displaying portraits of Papadopoulos, and savagely repressed dissent. Suspected opponents were routinely tortured, and even distributing leaflets carried a prison sentence of several years. Some opponents responded by trying to assassinate leaders of the coup and by planting bombs. However, most resistance was either ‘hidden’, for example go-slows by civil servants, or at the level of writing up slogans and distributing leaflets. Underground political organization, including an underground press, rapidly developed. The coup united intellectuals from the left and the right for the first time since the civil war. The first major public demonstration occurred at the funeral for George Papandreou in November 1968, when up to 500,000 people defied martial law and shouted slogans. The 1971 funeral of Nobel Prize winning poet George Sefiris was the occasion for another mass demonstration.
International pressure resulted in some relaxation of censorship from 1970, but harassment of suspected opponents continued. Students were particularly active in resisting the regime and in November 1973 their sustained agitation culminated in the occupation of the Athens Polytechnic. They broadcast appeals for public support and thousands, including workers, demonstrated in response. The Colonels then turned tanks and guns on the students, killings scores, wounding hundreds and arresting about 7,000. This confrontation was followed by an internal coup ousting Papadopoulos. Soon afterwards the new regime brought Greece to the verge of war over Cyprus, and sections of the military stepped in to oust the junta. They recalled Karamanlis to become prime minister and set in train the revival of parliamentary democracy.
The literature on the opposition to the Colonels includes both analyses by academic experts on Greece and accounts by key individuals. Much was published before the events of 1973, but later accounts cover the student resistance.