The Colonels 1963 - 1974

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The Junta

A number of developments between 1963 and 1967 led to a successful military coup. Social conditions declined despite economic growth. Crowding into cities gave rise to renewed demands for social welfare and better income distribution. The emigration that had commenced in the late 1950s continued into the 1960s (about 452,300 Greeks left between 1963 and 1967). And labor groups were much more militant than they had been at any other time in the postwar period.


Conditions for Overthrow

Another development centered on Cyprus. In 1963 Makarios's demand for reduction in the powers of the Turkish minority caused fighting to break out on the island, and all-out war loomed when Turkey threatened an invasion to defend Cypriot Turks. Only the forceful intervention of the United States president, Lyndon B. Johnson, prevented an invasion in early 1964. The United Nations peacekeeping forces that entered Cyprus to prevent war at that point have remained on the island since that time. The Cyprus conflict convinced many in the military of the need to step up war readiness.

The third event was the succession of the inexperienced twentyfour -year-old Constantine II to the throne upon the death of his father Paul in March 1964. Just one month before, the Center Union had won a resounding victory, garnering 52.7 percent of the popular vote and a majority 173 seats in parliament to push the right out of power. Thus the military was deprived of both its royal patron and its connection with the majority party. In the eyes of the right, such changes meant that public order was deteriorating at the same time that war with Turkey seemed imminent.


Instability in the Papandreou Regime

Papandreou's Center Union government enacted a number of farreaching social and political reforms. Prominent among them was the release of all political prisoners. To deal with the economic crises, Georgios Papandreou appointed his son Andreas, the former chairman of the Economics Department at the University of California at Berkeley, as minister of the economy. Many in the Center Union resented this move. Rising stars in the party such as Konstantinos Mitsotakis felt especially slighted by the appointment. The younger Papandreou, who held far more radical views than his father, soon became involved with a group of leftleaning military officers known as Aspida. The right viewed these developments suspiciously. Cabals formed in the army as once again rightist military men assumed the role of "protectors" of the nation. To regain control of the armed forces, Georgios Papandreou forced the resignation of his minister of defense and sought the king's approval to name himself minister of defense. The constitutional question again came to forefront when Constantine refused the request. In this case, the question was who controlled the military, the king or the prime minister, and the clash of personalities between the two men exacerbated the conflict.

Papandreou resigned in disgust in July 1965. In the succeeding months, a series of caretaker governments came and went, leaving the ship of state adrift. Constantine eventually called for elections in May 1967, and an overwhelming Center Union victory seemed certain. Fearing a purge of hard-line right-wingers from the military, a group of junior officers put Operation Prometheus into action in April 1967, and the government of Greece fell into the hands of the junta of the colonels.


The Accession of the Colonels, 1967

The leaders of the self-styled "Glorious Revolution" were two colonels and a brigadier general, whose regime came to be known simply as "the junta," or "the colonels." Supporters of the coup were predominantly officers from lower-class backgrounds who had achieved status through career advancement in the armed forces. Fearful of losing their posts because of their involvement in right-wing conspiracies, they acted out of self-preservation, under the flimsy pretense of forestalling a communist takeover and defending Helleno-Christian civilization in general. The junta succeeded because of the political leadership vacuum at the time and because they were able to strike quickly and effectively. By seizing the main lines of communication, they presented an unsuspecting nation with a fait accompli.

Initially the colonels tried to rule through the king and the existing political system. But, gaining the cooperation of very few politicians, they soon began to arrest all those who showed signs of resisting the takeover, consolidating as much power as possible in their own hands. Andreas Papandreou, for example, was arrested for his connection to the Aspida group; he was released only under intense international pressure. As the methods of the colonels began to resemble those of the Metaxas dictatorship, Constantine organized a countercoup in December 1967 then fled into exile when his plan failed.

Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos, one of three officers who led the coup, rose to the top of the regime and remained there until November 1973. The junta's aims and policies were a curious mixture of populist reforms and paternalistic authoritarianism backed by propaganda and terror. The overarching, proclaimed intent of the military government was to purge Greek society of the moral sickness that had developed since the war. Their more frivolous social policies included the banning of miniskirts and the mandatory short hair for men. The regime lacked a base of popular support and remained in power through terror. A formidable secret police apparatus monitored society, using torture and committing other human rights violations that were widely reported by international organizations. In the first three years, the main targets of this policy were known supporters of the communists, but many centrist figures also were arrested.

The regime's brutality made it an international pariah. The only foreign dignitary of note to visit Greece during this period was the Greek-American United States vice president, Spiro Agnew. Greece withdrew from the EC in 1969 to avoid suspension of its association agreement. Nevertheless, Greece's NATO allies confined themselves to verbal condemnation because the regime fulfilled every geopolitical requirement, anchoring the alliance's defenses in the unstable eastern Mediterranean. The United States broke off full diplomatic relations only briefly after Constantine's exile; although military aid to Greece decreased between 1967 and 1973, in 1972 the United States negotiated permanent access to Greek port facilities for its Sixth Fleet.





The Junta Falls

Because the reign of terror was effective in Greece, resistance to the colonels formed mainly abroad. Prominent among the antijunta groups was the Panhellenic Liberation Movement led by Andreas Papandreou. Such organizations kept international attention focused on the actions of the junta, but it was the regime's own ineptitude and lack of legitimacy that led eventually to its downfall.

The two immediate causes of the fall of the colonels were the Greek student movement and events in Cyprus. In the autumn of 1973, large-scale student demonstrations, motivated by repression at universities, deterioration of the economy, and a drastic increase in inflation, began open defiance of the junta's ban on public assemblies. When the students occupied the National Polytechnic University of Athens and began clandestine radio broadcasts calling for the people of Athens to rise up against the tyranny, the junta responded by calling in the army in November 1973. Tanks crushed the gathering brutally. The incident exposed the regime's lack of control over society and showed the public that resistance was not futile. The junta lurched even farther to the right when Dimitrios Ioannides, former head of the secret police, toppled Papodopoulos and replaced him at the head of the government.

Believing that a major nationalist cause would rally the people behind him, in 1974 Ioannides induced a confrontation with Turkey over control of recently discovered oil deposits in the Aegean Sea. He also attempted to undermine Makarios by supporting Greek Cypriot terrorist activity. In July, when junta-inspired Cypriots engineered a coup against Makarios, Turkey immediately invaded Cyprus under its rights as a guarantor of the security of the republic established in 1960. Ioannides received little response when he called for full mobilization of the Greek military, which had already shown disaffection by scattered revolts. Thus the Cyprus crisis made clear that the regime's most fundamental base of support was crumbling. At this point, Greek military leaders and politicians collectively decided that only former Prime Minister Karamanlis possessed the ability and the level of popular support needed to dismantle the dictatorship and restore democracy to Greece. Four days after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Karamanlis arrived from Paris and took up the task.


Karamanlis and Restoration of Democracy

Karamanlis faced the formidable task of clearing the wreckage left by the seven years of military rule. There were two major domestic missions: the restoration of a full range of political parties and reestablishing the military as a positive force. A new constitution and a legitimate referendum on the monarchy were the main legislative priorities, but the new role of the military remained more controversial in the 1970s.

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