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E. III.1. Greece, Resisting the Colonels 1967-74

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.

Athenian’, ‘, Inside the Colonels’ Greece, Translated and introduced by Richard Clogg, London, Chatto and Windus, 1972, pp. 215

The author, writing from inside Greece, covers the background to the coup, going back to the 1930s, and analyses the nature of the regime. See especially chapter 8 ‘The Great Fear’, pp. 123-31; and chapter 9, ‘The Resistance’, pp. 132-44.

Clogg, Richard ; Yannopoulos, George, Greece under Military Rule, London, Secker and Warburg, 1972, pp. 272

See especially: chapter 3.’The Ideology of the Revolution of 21 April 1967’, pp. 36-58; chapter 4 ‘The Colonels and the Press’. pp.59-74; chapter 8 ‘Culture and the Military’, pp. 148-62, which includes materials on censorship and repression and on forms of intellectual resistance, such as circulating ‘samizdat’, and liberal protests and manifestos; and chapter 9 ‘The State of the Opposition Forces since the Military coup’, pp. 163-90.

McDonald, Robert, The Greek Press under the Colonels, Index on Censorship, Vol. 3, issue 4, 1974, pp. 27-44

Papandreou, Andreas, Democracy at Gunpoint: The Greek Front, [1970], London, Andre Deutsch, 1971, pp. 338

Part 3 focuses on ‘The Struggle for Freedom’, including international pressure on the regime.

Theodorakis, Mikis, Journals of Resistance, Translated from the French, London, Hart-Davis Mac Gibbon, 1973, pp. 334

Theodorakis, whose music was banned by the Colonels, was a prominent member of the broad-based Patriotic-Front Movement created in May 1967 to oppose the junta. Like hundreds of other members, he was imprisoned. This book recounts his successive arrests, internment and imprisonment, until external intervention secured his release from a prison hospital in 1970.

Vlachos, Helen, Free Greek Voice, London, Doric Publications, 1971, pp. 168

Vlachos, who refused to publish her right wing paper Kathimerini after the coup, was arrested for publishing an article abroad critical of the regime. She also wrote an account of her experience in Vlachos, Helen , House Arrest London, Andre Deutsch, , 1970, pp. 158 .

Woodhouse, C.M., The Rise and Fall of the Greek Colonels, London, Granada, 1985, pp. 192

Chapter 3 ‘Resistance and Reaction: April-December 1967, pp. 33-48, covers early opposition to the regime. Chapter 10 gives detail on ‘The Students’ Revolt: November 1973’, pp. 126-41.

See also:

Chris Harman, The Fire Last Time: 1968 and After, (E. III.2. Portugal, Resisting the Salazar Regime and the 1974 Revolution of the Carnations), pp. 305-10, which gives some weight to the Polytechnic rebellion.