The Colonels' Coup
During the night of 21st April 1967, soldiers arrested leading politicians, including Prime Minister Kannelopoulos in Kolonaki, George Papandreu in Kastri and Andreas Papandreu in Paleio Psychiko. Some 10,000 people were arrested before dawn on the orders of Colonel Yannis Ladas, director of Military Police in what he later called 'a simple, diabolical plan.'
Citizens of Athens awoke to the rumble of tanks in the streets. From the radio came a stream of orders, proclaiming a 'revolution', forbidding people to leave their houses, threatening to shoot any civilian seen on the streets, announcing that all homes could be searched with impunity, outlawing strikes and meetings. The telephones were out of action. The explanation was that the king had requested the army to intervene to 'protect' the state from imminent danger. The newspapers of that day appeared with identical headlines, leading articles and commentaries supplied by the military press service. Over the first night and the next few days, some six thousand people were arrested and interned in prisons and concentration camps.
The King was initially alarmed. The US Defence attache called on him at Tatoi and was told: 'lncredibly stupid ultra-right wing bastards, having gained control of tanks, have brought disaster to Greece.' He asked for a helicopter invasion of US marines from the Sixth Fleet to crush the Junta, but the State Department merely told Talbot that if the matter was raised again, he was To 'disabuse him of any hope on that score.' The king calmed down as his own arrest appeared increasingly unlikely. Soon the US embassy was able to reassure the State Department that the coup leaders 'declare themselves one thousand per cent pro-American.' The king duly swore in the ministers of the new government.
The Nature of the Coup
Blame for this turn of events has been scattered widely. C. M. Woodhouse, probably representing the 'official' British point of view, claimed that it was due to the 'irascible character and impetuosity of George Papandreu, exacerbated by the wrong judgments of the King.' It has also been attributed to the inept management of the political class (something which seems to be a permanent feature of Greek political life), and to strains set up by the Civil War.
The issue about US involvement in the coup is not whether the US Government was involved, but only how deeply and how intimately it was involved. Although the CIA probably did not actually organize and direct the overthrow of democracy, the plotters used American weapons and a plan which had been devised by ÍÁÔÏ To ensure US control of Greece, and the coup leader, a former member of the Security Battalions, had been in receipt of CIA pay since 1952, and was chief liaison officer between the Greek ÊÕÑ and the CIA. Moreover, the CIA knew of the plots of both the king and the generals and of the colonels a month beforehand. Moreover, they were in close contact with the colonels. In fact, Greece's most decorated solther, General George Koumanakos, had been approached as early as 1965 by a senior official of the US embassy why he was not 'coming in with us?' It looks as though the CIA wished to pre-empt a royalist coup by people under British influence with their own coup organized by people on their own payroll. lnitially, the Colonels found few respectable politicians prepared To collaborate with them, but they did find a compliant king To swear their government into office.
C. Ì. Woodhouse wrote in The Spectator (28 June, 1969): 'One of the distinctive things about the coup of Áñril 1967 was that it was launched by officers below the highest rank. Another distinctive thing about them was that they had almost no experience as fighting soldiers. Most of the generals whom they displaced had fought with distinction: in Albania, in the Greek Army of the Middle East, in the Civil War against the communists, in Korea. The ex-colonels had a different sort of career: one in the military police, another in the security battalions (which the Germans formed to counter the resistance), and so on. To most of my Greek friends it is discreditable that not one of them took any part in the resistance during the German occupation (when they were all in their twenties): To the ex-colonels themselves it is a matter of congratulation.'
Ét was claimed that the coup had taken place 'to ward off the imminent danger of a communist seizure of power.' Needless To say, no such plot has ever been uncovered, nor did anyone really expect that it would. Later, seeking legitimacy, the junta sought to present revo1utionary credentials, referring to their coup as 'the Glorious Revolution'. Ét was suggested, ludicrously, that the army acted on the mandate of the people, and were about the business of preparing the way for a new, "healthy" democracy in the future.
The Colonels' Regime
The slogan 'Greece of the Christian Greeks' embodied their ostensible claims to represent nationalism and Orthodoxy. Paradoxically, 'the Colonels', as they came to be known, regarded themselves as the guardians of the traditional values of Greek Christianity. They condemned long hair and short skirts, cutting the hair of male tourists whose locks were deemed long enough To offend Christian sensibility. Flag raising ceremonies were enforced in schools, with church parades on Sundays. Yet the real purpose of the Junta was the systematic subordination of Greece to US interests. Greece quickly became a spy HQ for the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near and Middle East.
Although the dictatorship of the Colonels had an absurd aspect, it was a genuine tyranny. The press was censored, many books and songs, such as the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes and Aristophanes, film Zorba the Greek, and the music of Mikis Theodorakis, were banned. Á powerful secret police under military control spied on citizens and thousands were arrested as 'Communists' and many imprisoned in concentration camps on islands
Torture became commonplace. Prisoners were beaten, hung suspended from their wrists. There was jumping on the stomach, pulling out finger nails, use of electric shock. In addition there was psychological torture. Prisoners were threatened with being maimed, raped and killed, and there were mock executions. People who had been tortured were told that it would be repeated at a certain time. Among the most feared places were the Security Police HQ, conveniently within hearing of the US embassy, and military hospital 401, where doctors continued the torture. Many more people simply lost their jobs, or their pensions were revoked.
Of course, those arrested included those arrested during the civil war. If they were old, the same people may have been arrested under the Metaxas dictatorship, the German Occupation, the Civil War and the dictatorship. Often their 'crime' was to have demanded of their government a minimum of social justice.
Foreign companies were allowed To operate in Greece free of all company taxation, their employees in Greece were immune from all Greek income tax. No audits were required for foreign companies operating in Greece, and there were no exchange controls on registered mail. Staff of foreign companies were allowed to import cars and furniture duty-free. US companies like Union Carbide and Ford rushed to take advantage of these conditions. Very soon, the same conditions were applied to Greek shipping companies if the owners were very rich, like Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos. The profits of all of them could be moved outside the country at will.
There was a mild show of disapproval by foreign governments. The US Government, anxious to distance itself in public from the military junta, suspended arms sales for a while, and asked for vague reassurances that democracy would at some point be re-established. Âõt they recognized the regime, and.- resumed arms sales. The U.S. vice-president visited Greece to express solidarity. Only the Scandinavian governments resolutely refused to countenance the over- throw of the façade of democracy in its original home. In December 1969 Greece was expelled from the Council of Europe
Çistïrian C. Ì. Woodhouse records that 'It was almost impossible to name any Greek of international reputation ...who did not regard them with contempt.' The first internal opposition was organized on the day following the coup Á group of about fifty young foreign educated academics and professionals gathered in Kolonaki under Vassilis Filias to form Democratic Defence. Ây December 1967, even the king was finding it difficult to work with the junta, and Planing a counter-coup. He announced to the US ambassador 'I have decided to take control of the nation.' Then he flew from Tatoi to Kavalla, where he checked in at a hotel. Local transmitters at Kavalla and Larissa called for a counter-coup, but the US did not relay the message via the Voice of America, so few heard it The broadcast was certainly not heard in Athens. There was little enthusiasm for the king in the armed forces, and what there was melted away at the first sign of opposition. The junta, who were aware of his every move, simply broadcast that the attempt had failed. The king fled into exile, a regent was appointed, and Papadopoulos made himself Prime Minister.
In June 1968, Andreas Papandreu, freed and exiled in Stockholm, founded the Panhellenic Liberation Movement (ÑÁÊ), but in a strange echo of the behaviour of the anti-Nazi resistance, immediately set about undermining all resistance movements other than his own.
In 1972 there was a coup in Libya, and the US Sixth Fleet was looking for a home elsewhere. The colonels dutifully offered home port facilities in Greece.
The Colonels Interfere in Cyprus
The US wanted Archbishop Makarios ïõt of Cyprus, since under his government Cyprus was pursuing a course of non-alignment, even occasionally voting on issues in the U.N. with the Soviet Union. Such unwelcome independence earned him the title 'Castro of the Mediterranean' in Washington circles. One of the first acts of the junta was dutifully to withdraw the Greek soldiers from Cyprus which were there to guarantee the security of the Greek community, leaving the country open to invasion from Turkey. On March 8th 1970, the Junta tried to assassinate Archbishop Makarios but failed. They then began to infiltrate Cypriït society in preparation for a coup.
Protest and Repression
When the Junta cancelled the routine deferments of eighty-eight students, and forcibly conscripted them into the army, students and staff occupied the Law School in protest. Outsiders provided the students with food and drink. After two days, police brutally suppressed the sit-in, chasing and beating students in nearby Solonos, Sinas, Akademias and Massalias streets. Public signs of opposition to the Colonels began to grow On the third anniversary of the death of George Papandreu, vast crowds assembled at the First Cemetery in what was clearly a political demonstration.
In summer 1973 units of the Greek Navy mutinied and sailed to Italy. Papdopoulos proclaimed a republic and was 'elected' president. It was an ßnglïriïus but fitting end to an imported dynasty which had shown itse1f over and over again contemptuous of both constitutional law, basic human rights and the interests of the Greek people.
In the autumn of 1973, large-scale student demonstrations, provoked by repression in the universities and a drastic increase in inflation, openly defied the regime's ban on public meetings. In November, students began a 'sit-in' in the Polytechnic University, and transmitted clandestine radio broadcasts calling upon the people To rise up against the tyranny. On the night of 16-17th tanks were sent in. They bulldozed the locked gates and, covered by sniper fire from buildings opposite, armed police swarmed into the grounds behind them. The students' radio station broadcast appeals for doctors and priests, but none turned up. At least twenty students were killed. [Read more about the massacre at the Athens Polytechnic University in Athens.]
Ironically, these events led to a worse state than before. Senior officers decided that Papadopoulos was incompetent, so the blame for the Polytechnic massacre was laid on him, and he was removed from power in what amounted to a second coup. He was replaced by the sinister Ârigadier Ioannides, head of the military security police, yet another CIA agent, who arrested Papadopoulos and installed a puppet of his own in his place. Under his leadership, repression increased in efficiency and ruthlessness.
The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus
Ioannidis wanted rapid action on Cyprus. He decided on a coup in which Archbishop Makarios would be assassinated and replaced by journalist Nikos Sampson, who would proclaim the õçßon of Cyprus with Greece. The US knew about the plan, Ioannides had made ßt clear To his CIA contacts, but for his own purposes Henry Kissinger wanted nothing done To prevent it, so he received a very mild half-warning not to go ahead, and a wink. Makarios escaped, but this gave the Turks the pretext to invade the island Kissinger was looking for, to carve out the north for themselves and appropriate twenty-five per cent of the island.
The Turkish invasion spelled the end for the junta in Athens. When the Greek government ordered mobilization, the result was a shambles. It was clear that the army commanders could not even organise their own forces efficiently. Three days after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Ioannides allowed himself to be sidelined as President Gizikis and senior officers of all three branches of the armed forces, appalled at the national disaster which the junta had brought upon Greece, invited Constantine Karamanlis to return to restore the rule of law and democracy. The French President, Giscard d'Estaing, placed a plane at his disposal, and he flew into Athens, landing at Athens Airport at 2.00 am on 24th July.
Among the lasting effects of this episode was a deep, widespread scepticism in Greece about US claims to moral leadership of the Free World. The police, as agents of the junta, were also discredited. This led to a strengthening of traditional Greek dislike for the authorities and lack of respect for the law.
© John L. Tomkinson