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Athens under the British

Athens Under the British

The Civil War I (1944-1947)

The Origins of the Greek Civil War

In retrospect, it is clear that the leaders of the West, already anticipating the end of the war, had their eyes set upon a new confrontation between the capitalist and communist powers, and were engaged, while the war was still going on, in manoeuvring for advantage. Churchill, on a visit to Moscow, had proposed a secret share out of the Balkan states: with Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary To fall within the Soviet sphere of influence, while Britain would control Greece. Stalin had accepted what became known as the 'Percentages Agreement'.

Churchill had no doubt that King George, when restored to his throne, would prove a reliable friend, i.e. an obedient puppet. But the communists, and the other patriots in ┼┴╠ and ELAS, together with the vast majority of the Greek people, did not want the restoration of a monarchy which before the war had connived in the establishment of an oppressive authoritarian dictatorship. Only the right wing, many of whom had actively collaborated with the Nazis during the Occupation, were royalist. The attitude of the British Government was soon evident when, as early as August 1944, Churchill had ordered the BBC not to give 'any credit of any kind' To the resistance fighters when reporting on developments in Greece.

The Dekemvriana

Soon after the German army pulled out, the British army arrived under General Scobie, to be greeted by an enthusiastic welcome. They set up their HQ in the former German quarters in the Hotel Grande Bretagne. On 18th October, George Papandreu and the government in exile were brought in on a British warship. This was a government of national unity, in which the ╩╩┼, ┼┴╠ and ELAS were represented. The ╩╩┼ placed the fighters of ELAS under British military authority.

The British brought in the Royalist Mountain Brigade, armed the collaborationist anti-left forces, and demanded the disarmament of ELAS. This would have left EAM-ELAS at the mercy of the collaborators, so ELAS refused To disarm unless the Mountain Brigade was removed from the city.

On the evening of Saturday, 2nd there was a meeting of the Greek cabinet in the building of the Foreign Ministry. The chief of the Athens police, Colonel Evert, informed the government that ┼┴╠- ELAS was planning a demonstration on the coming Sunday and a general strike for the day after. The Prime Minster argued that it could not possibly go ahead at that time, since General Scobie, together with the British Ambassador, would be attending a reception at the Parnassos Club. Police chief Evert doubted whether EAM-ELAS would agree to postpone their demonstration for a social engagement for the British Ambassador, so Papandreu decided To forbid it altogether. The intention of the people To defy the ban soon became apparent.

At about 10.50, a small crowd several hundred strong, the vanguard of some 60,000 who were following some way behind, delayed by police road blocks, were fired upon from the police station by po1lce and collaborators. Twenty-five were killed and nearly one hundred and fifty wounded. Prime Minister Papandreu tried to calm things down with a broadcast to the nation, but it was too late. He could not be heard, since by that time, the power had already been cut to most of the city. Extremists on both sides began to seek out their enemies and settle old scores incurred during the Occupation. ELAS began taking over police stations.

┴t first the partisans did not fire on British soldiers, but, Churchill ordered General Scobie to treat Athens 'as a captured city where a local rebellion is in progress.' Artillery shelled, and Spitfires strafed, the working class suburbs of Athens. After suffering the horrors of the Nazi occupation, the Athenians found themselves under fire from the very 'Allies' who had supposedly come to liberate them. Ironically, a city which had not been bombed during the war because of its historic associations came under fire from its own 'allies' when the common enemy had departed. ┴t the same time, following their previous tactic of blockade, the British denied food to areas under ┼┴╠ control. [Read more about the outbreak of the Civil War in Athens.]

Contradicting those who chose to depict the fighting as a Soviet inspired attempted coup, the Soviet Military Mission look refuge in the Grande Bretagne, the British military Headquarters. Equally significantly, the defence perimeter established by the British was extended to include the wealthy area of Kolonaki. The British chose to participate in a class struggle against the mass of the working people. Churchill visited on 26th-28th December in person. [Read more about Churchill's Christmas visit to Athens in Athens.] Fighting was fiercest in the suburbs of Ambelokipoi and Kaisariani. Despite the surrender of the RAF HQ in ╩efalari, the British and security battalions forced the resistance fighters to evacuate Athens on 6th January, but before they left the latter had conducted sporadic reprisals against collaborators. [Read about the siege of Kefalari in Athens.]

Thousands were killed in what became known as the Dekemvrlana. Paradoxically, more damage to buildings and infrastructure was done to Athens in three months of British "liberation" than less than four years of Nazi occupation. Moreover, small-scale conflict was to continue for some time.

On 12th February 1945, General Scobie signed a truce with the partisans at Varkiza, arranged by Archbishop Damaskinos, and fighting in and around Athens came to an end. ┼┴╠ agreed to disband ELAS, and in return there would be an amnesty for ELAS guerrillas, legalization of the ╩╩┼ and a referendum on the monarchy.

The White Terror

Although some collaborators were all arrested, only twenty-nine were executed The police were much more interested in rounding up members of EAM and in persecuting the left. Many prominent collaborators held office in the army and police with impunity, while participation in the anti-fascist resistance during the Occupation came to be seen as evidence of being a danger to the stale. Even in Central Athens, gunfire could be heard almost every night until December 1945 as the former collaborators look advantage of their position to settle scores with the resistance. By the end of 1945 about 50,000 members of EAM had been imprisoned. In the Army the Sacred Union of Greek Officers (LD┼┴) ensured the sidelining or retirement of all army officers who were not monarchists. ┼┴╠ sympathizers were purged from the civil service. Under these conditions, ELAS refused to disarm.

The distribution of food relief sent by UNRRA was made by Greek officials, mostly former collaborators, and was characterized by gross corruption; most going to merchants friendly to the distributors to be resold on the black market to those who had the money to buy.

The British chose five prime ministers in succession, each of whom failed to gain any authority. In April 1946 elections were held in a show of democracy which was no more convincing than those held in Eastern European stales under the shadow of the Soviet Union. Naturally, the conservative Peoples' Party won. In September 1946, under conditions of extreme duress and fraud, no one was surprised when the monarchy received the support of a majority in a rigged referendum. King George promptly returned To Greece, but died in March 1947, to be succeeded by King Paul.

It soon became clear to the left that the British were another occupying power, rather than liberators. They had no intention of allowing any regime in Greece except one which could be relied upon to be accommodating to themselves and hostile to their Soviet rivals. Greece was to be a pawn in the strategy of Cold War. The hold of the royalists and former Nazi collaborators on the forces of law and order was strengthened, enabling them to launch a sustained campaign of terror against the forces of the Left.

Arbitrary police searches of private houses were authorised, and courts martial set up to try people for security offences. Several thousand were executed, and tens of thousands sent to the reopened island prison camps of the Metaxas dictatorship. Some of these, such as that on the island of Makronisos, off the south-eastern coast of Attica, were as bad as anything the Germans had run. Arbitrary assassinations of Leftists were frequent. Since the police controlled the issuing of permits for anything from a driving licence to university entry to running a restaurant, they required the applicants to sign retractions of unacceptable opinions. The Trade Unions were emasculated by legal restraints and police persecution of members.

During this period the ╩╩┼ and ┼┴╠ lost much of its membership. Some had been alienated by the reprisals, others were afraid of losing aid, others reacted against the new discipline imposed upon the party by its Leader, returned from the Soviet Union, Nikos Zachariadis, others simply Left the country. In response to their perception of the situation, and frequently as a matter of personal safety, many members of the Left nevertheless 'went to the mountain'. ┴ general civil war had begun. Most of the rebels support in Athens was unable to join them: they were dead, imprisoned, or under close police surveillance.

ę John L. Tomkinson


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