Tuesday, 20 July 2010

When Greece won the World Cup

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus on the 20th of July served as the final catalyst
for the events set in motion by the coup against Makarios, inasmuch as it spelled
disaster for the objectives of the Greek junta regarding the island, and it marked the
end of the military dictatorship in Greece. Only a couple of days
later, while the British were preoccupied with the Geneva conference on Cyprus,
reports reached London that the junta was about to fall and that Gizikis had
summoned ‘old’ politicians (Mavros, Canellopoulos, Markezinis, Stephanopoulos,
Zolotas, Averoff, Palamas, and Garoufalias were mentioned) to discuss the formation
of a civilian government.

The scenes of ‘extraordinary jubilation’ in the centre of Athens
(which, according to British ambassador Hooper, was reacting ‘very much as though Greece had won the World Cup’)
intensified even further after the announcement that the military junta would hand
power over to a political administration, and euphoria culminated upon Karamanlis’
arrival in the wee hours of the following day, with the crowd calling on him to ‘save
Greece’. Shortly before that pro-Enosis demonstrators had smashed the windows
of the British embassy in Athens.

Karamanlis was immediately sworn in as prime minister and, as a result, the
British ambassador was instructed to deliver him a message (highly indicative of London’s satisfaction over the change in Athens and its concern and sense of urgency
over Cyprus) from Wilson:

'I am delighted at the news that you have taken office as Prime Minister. Please
accept my warmest congratulations. I have no doubt that your high reputation as an
international statesman and your long experience will make an invaluable contribution
at this critical time. I am sure that you will agree that it is of paramount importance that talks between the parties concerned in the Cyprus dispute should start as quickly as possible. I hope that you will be able to send a member of your government to Geneva tomorrow.'

The new Greek prime minister’s reply was in the same spirit:
'[…] In the difficult task of restoring and consolidating democracy in Greece the
eradication of the unfavourable consequences for Cyprus of the recent crisis shall play
a vital role. I am sure that I can rely on your personal understanding and assistance in
this respect. Sharing your feelings about the importance of the talks, the
implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution on Cyprus should
start as soon as possible, I am sending Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Mavros to
Geneva where he will be arriving tomorrow afternoon'.

Callaghan thought that with the arrival of a democratic government in Greece,
‘British policy acquired a new element’, as ‘it was important for the Greek people and
for international relations that Greek democracy should be strengthened’. The
British thought they should ‘certainly welcome’ the return of Karamanlis, but not become ‘over
committed’ at that stage to his government, as it was considered able to stay in power only if it could ‘deliver the goods’. The British were content to see that the new
government had ‘a strong pro-NATO pro-Western Europe bias’ and had been greeted
with relief by supporters of the two major parties. As Hooper reported to FCO:

‘[t]he present Government is as good as we are likely to get but it is far from being
the “ecumenical” Government which some hoped for after the return of Karamanlis’.

What troubled him, though, were the negative aspects of Greek
political life:
‘The bickering and factionalism endemic in Greek politics has alas
begun to reappear, and it is much to be feared that even in the present critical situation
the politicians inside the Government will soon start squabbling. Those outside are
unlikely to refrain from destructive criticism’.

The foreign secretary commenting
on the events on Cyprus in his memoirs wrote the following:

‘Nevertheless, when I look back on that fateful and absorbing period there were some
rewards. Democratic government in Greece was an uncovenanted bonus and I believe
Britain did a great deal to assist its consolidation in those first days of uncertainty’.

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