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Athens in the European Union I

Athens in the European Union I

The Return of Democracy (1973-2004)

The Restoration of Representative Democracy

The return of Constantine Karamanlis did not immediately restore the rule of law or end US hegemony. Army officers, not popular pressure, had brought about the restoration of democracy, although they withdrew from active intervention in politics, perhaps partly due to the Turkish threat. The coup leaders were put on trial, but when the evidence approached the Americans the trial was abruptly stopped. US hegemony had not ended. Although Karamanlis removed the ban on Communist parties, such as the KKE, it remained difficult for left-wingers to obtain unemployment, while conscripts were still spied upon and their political loyalties recorded.

In September 1974 two mass parties emerged: New Democracy and PASOK. New Democracy was the vehicle for Karamanlis and the social and business establishment. PASOK was a left wing populist party headed by Andreas Papandreou, the son of George Papandreou. Reasonably fair democratic elections were held in November 1974, confirming Karamanlis in office. The general feeling was that it was 'Karamanlis or the tanks.' A referendum a month later established that the monarchy would not be restored. In 1975 a new constitution was enacted under a president with extensive powers.

The governing party retained firm control over education as well as the broadcast media, although a left wing press developed.

Young people initiated an annual commemoration of the massacre at the Athens Polytechnic on November 17th. This expressed strong anti-American and anti-capitalist feeling and culminated in a march through Athens to the US Embassy. Gradually the event was to some extent accommodated and taken over by the authorities. Similar feelings led to the rise of several terrorist organizations, of which November 17th was the most prominent. They specialized in targeted killings of foreign agents of various kinds, particularly socially irresponsible capitalists, and agents of a state seen as repressive.

Karamanlis sought Greek entry into the EEC to assist in the establishment of political stability, modernize the economy, which would benefit from the open markets which union offered, and dilute US hegemony with European oversight. He was successful, and Greece joined the European economic Community (EEC) in 1981.

The Triumph of PASOK

In the autumn of 1981 PASOK, led by the charismatic populist, Andreas Papandreou, was swept to power with a mandate to redistribute the national wealth, withdraw from NATO, kick out US bases from Greek soil, and hold a referendum on membership of the EEC. Although he had promised to pull Greece out of the EEC and NATO, Papandreou did neither. He did not even close the unpopular US bases, giving a little credibility to the frequently heard charge that his former member of the US Navy was in fact working for the CIA. Nevertheless, he irritated the USA by continuing and extending Karamanlis' independent foreign policy. He often associated himself with the non-aligned countries.

Papandreou continued the policy of national reconciliation. The annual celebration of the victory of the US sponsored Royalists over the Resistance in the Civil War in 1949 was ended. Instead he substituted a commemoration of the destruction of the Gorgopotamos Bridge by united resistance forces.

Andreas Papandreou did have the intention of turning Greece into a modern, secular state and correcting the social injustices of the past. What followed was nothing less than a social revolution. Rural areas received much improved state services. Civil marriage and divorce by consent were introduced. Adultery was decriminalized. Refugees living in exile from persecution, whose crime was that there were on the losing side in the Civil War, were allowed to return with impunity.

The professional middle classes, hitherto immune from most forms of taxation, were brought into the tax system, at least, officially. A national health service was introduced. The rights and income of low paid workers were significantly improved. In addition, an abortion law was passed.

The Reemergence of Corruption

Unfortunately, the mentality of most Greeks was not modernized. Far from welcoming social justice and developing a healthy civil society, the traditional attitudes of selfishness, croneyism and irresponsibility of the traditional ruling and privileged classes was adopted by the newly enfranchised middle and working classes, on the principle 'It's our turn now.' This resulted in a large inefficient civil service bloated by a new generation of political appointees from the other side of the political spectrum, who adopted the same old practices of making croney appointments, and demanding bribes and rousfeti. This was very much resented by those who had previously considered such practices as exclusively their own inherited privileges. The trades unions of the state utility companies, together with other powerful groups, won wages and pension rights for their own members which could not in the long run be sustained.

Rich Greeks, facing the possibility of having to pay significant taxes like everyone else for the first time, moved their immense capital abroad. This, together with PASOK's social programmes, led to Greece's permanent balance of payments crisis worsening. The EEC assisted, but the price was an austerity programme, which brought the reforms to a gradual halt.

Then the failure to shed the old Ottoman outlook even at the top became evident in a series of scandals. There was a scandal when officials conspired to allow businessmen to import Yugoslav wheat and then pass it off as Greek to obtain EEC subsidies, and arms procurement scandals. The most important concerned George Koskotas, who was employed by the Bank of Crete in 1979 as an accountant. Somehow, he was able to buy the Bank in 1984, and then built an empire that included three daily newspapers, a radio station and a soccer team. When 132 million dollars was found to be missing from his bank, he fled to the United States. There he claimed that Andreas Papandreou had ordered state companies to deposit funds with the bank, and helped himself to them. In the middle of this crisis, Papandreou went to the UK for heart surgery and announced that he was divorcing his wife and marrying a much younger air hostess.

These allegations resulted in the fall of the government, but since Papandreou had changed the election system a few months earlier so that a party needed to win an unlikely 50% of the vote in order to govern alone, Mitsotakis was unable to form a government even though ND was the clear first-place party. So an unlikely New Democracy-Communist Party coalition was formed and with two aims': cleansing the corruption and finally ending the divisions of the Civil War. Andreas Papandreou and three ministers went to trial. One minister had a heart attack in court and died. One minister was acquitted and one went to prison for a few of years. Andreas Papandreou was acquitted by a majority vote, presumably in the interests of avoiding social strife. The other main measure of the coalition was the destruction of the police records of political leanings.

New elections in 1990 resulted in another large victory for New Democracy, but with a one seat majority in Parliament. His policy was unashamedly deferential to the Americans, pro-business, and cut public spending. He reversed the croneyism and corruption of the Papandreou years, but only by making New Democracy and its supporters (the formerly traditional beneficiaries) the beneficiaries once again.

Chauvinistic Nationalism

With the collapse of the Communist regime in Albania in 1991 a wave of economic refugees entered Greece. Tolerated by the middle class as a source of cheap labour, particularly in the Northern suburbs, they were often resented by workers as undermining their recently-acquired rights, and were used as scapegoats by all for crime. Unfortunately, most were not employed legally, so that not only were they unable to benefit from legal protections and social security, they were unable to contribute to the latter through tax and social security payments, to the profit only of their employers.

Foreign Minister Antonis Samaras sought to gain support by appealing to chauvinistic nationalism over the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, whether the people of that new state had the right to the name 'Macedonia'. In 1992 he was removed from his post for embarrassing the government by his extremism, since the issue was making Greece a laughing stock in Europe. When he left the government of Mitsotakis, which had a tiny majority, in the next year it led to the return of Andreas Papandreou and PASOK. Samaras started his own party Politiki Anoixi (Political Spring), which attracted some temporary support before fading out. By this time, Papandreou was old and in poor health. As prime minister he was inactive, and rarely bothered to appear in Parliament.

Managerial Leadership

In 1996 Kostas Simitis became Prime Minister when Papandreou resigned due to ill-health, and later in the year led the party to victory in elections. A technocrat, Simitis tried to change the style of Greek politics, leading attention away from personalities to policies. He adopted a low-key constructive approach towards foreign policy issues. During this period EU subsidies enabled many infrastructure projects to be initiated, including the Rio-Antirio Bridge, the Egnatia Odos, the modernization of the telecommunications system, and in Athens the building a sewage treatment plant, the metro, and the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport. New regulations helped clear the atmosphere of the city from its infamous nefos, or pollution cloud. In addition, the infrastructure for the 2004 Olympic Games was constructed. Pedestrianization of areas of the city and the improvement of the city environment in preparation for the Olympic Games went on apace, although these new projects and renovations made life difficult for the citizens at the time. In 2001 Greece entered the European Monetary Union (EMU) and the drachma was replaced by the euro.

During these years Athens gave the outward appearance of some prosperity. The building of new luxury villas and apartments proceeded apace, and the built-up area of the Lekanopedia burst through the confines of the mountains and spread over the Mesogeion, over the lower slopes of Mount Pendeli and to the north. The middle classes in the Northern suburbs began to derive around in gas-guzzling SUVs, although many were financed on debt, most were probably paid for by rampant tax evasion. Once more, most of the beneficiaries of corruption changed, but corruption did not. At the same time, there was a marked loosening of traditional moral restraints, corresponding to the changes in North America and much of Western Europe during the 1960s.

Kostas Simitis had previously declared that he would only serve as prime minister for two terms, and before the 2004 national elections, he stood down in favour of George A. Papandreou, son of prime minister Andreas Papandreou and grandson of prime minister George Papandreou. He was opposed by Kostas Karamanlis, nephew of prime minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. In March 2004 Karamanlis and New Democracy came to power, and thus were able to preside over the Second Olympic Games to be held in Athens.

John L. Tomkinson


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