Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Publication of the book

The cover of the book
My first book (largely based on my PhD research), on British foreign policy towards Greece in the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, has now been published.

Here’s the description of the book:

At the apex of international Cold War tension, an alliance of Greek military leaders seized power in Athens. Seven years of violent political repression followed in Greece, yet, as Cold War allies, the Greek colonels had continued international support – especially from Britain. Why did the Wilson and Heath governments choose to pursue an alliance with these military dictators? Alexandros Nafpliotis’ book examines British foreign policy towards Greece, exposing a guiding principle of pragmatism above all else. This is the first systematic study of Britain and the Junta to be based on newly-released National Archive documents, US and Greek sources and personal interviews with leading actors. Britain and the Greek Colonels is a comprehensive history of international diplomacy and realpolitik in the Cold War period.

You can order the book by visiting the I.B.Tauris website:

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Mario Modiano, former Times correspondent in Athens dies

Sad news as former Times correspondent in Athens, Mario Modiano, died at 86.

According to

'Modiano was a well-known chronicler of some of the key moments of Greek history, such as the military dictatorship, the restoration of democracy and the separation of Cyprus'.

He was not loved by the junta because he related in great detail cases of systematic torture of jailed opponents.

You can find an obituary written in The Times, here - and another one, published in the Daily Telegraph, here.

You can read a very interesting interview of his, where he recounts the story of his family's arrival to Greece, as well as his personal experience of the German occupation and the Greek Colonels' regime, here.

A more in depth account of the events immediately after the collapse of the regime can be found in this article he wrote a year ago.

Modiano in Greece -

In this excerpt from my forthcoming book, you can see how Modiano, talking to British officials well before the 1973 Greek republic referendum, predicted, with uncanny precision, the exact percentage of the people who would vote 'Yes' to the constitutional changes.

The fact that both foreign journalists and the British Embassy could so easily provide a accurate estimate of the result well in advance speaks volumes about the genuineness of the referendum.

The last important event of [1973's] ‘pretty gruelling summer’, as far as the domestic scene of Greece was concerned, was the referendum on the amended Greek constitution.

The junta had warned the British that they should not judge the referendum by British standards and members of the international press had expressed the certainty that it would be ‘a farce’. Mario Modiano [...] thought that the decision to abolish the monarchy had been taken a long time ago, told the British that the Colonels would not permit a repeat of the results of the 1968 plebiscite, in order to make them appear genuine: ‘If as seems likely they fudged the figures, they were likely to choose a more plausible percentage (like for example 78%)’ (emphasis added).

This was also the opinion of some FCO officials who had realized, as early as in June 1973, that there was ‘little doubt as to the outcome of the referendum, although the government, who were believed to be embarrassed by the very high yes-votes in 1968, might prefer a rather smaller percentage in their favour this time’.

The British conceded that it was ‘very easy’ to predict the outcome of the referendum, with the Colonels still controlling the levers of power and not being able to afford to lose.

[...] As [British official J F R] Martin admitted shortly before the referendum, ‘few observers doubt that the figure has been decided in advance to within a few per cent’.

Polling took place on 29 July to approve the new republican constitution and the appointment of Papadopoulos as president (reserving for him exclusive powers over defence, foreign affairs and internal security) and Angelis as vice-president.
The final results showed that ‘yes’ got the 78.4% of the vote, which was considered ‘a respectable looking percentage’ in London.
The British embassy’s own estimate had been 78% (emphasis added).

Thursday, 18 October 2012

UK and Human Rights abroad (continued)

Following up on yesterday's blog post on UK and Human Rights abroad, the Financial Times has published an editorial on the subject today, entitled 'Rights in Bahrain'.

The concluding paragraph shows how little things have changed since the 1970s, as Britain was also accused of double standards in its dealings with the Greek dictatorship.

According to the paper,

"The art of foreign relations for any open democracy is to balance defence of human rights with other national interests. Britain has been accused of getting the balance wrong in Bahrain, where repression is a daily presence.

The criticism, made in a parliamentary report, is valid – but only in part. When Bahrain’s government brutally cracked down on anti-regime demonstrators in 2011, leaving 35 dead, the UK was one of the first to protest publicly despite important trade and security links. It is also a behind-the-scenes player in efforts to promote dialogue between the ruling Sunni elite and Shia majority. The US, perhaps with one eye on its naval base in Bahrain, appears to be less involved than in the past, so Britain’s role has become key. Mediators are often more effective if criticism stays behind closed doors.

Nonetheless, parliamentarians are right to say that the UK needs to be more assertive. The softly-softly approach has not delivered results. The difficulty is that the Al Khalifa royal family is itself divided and hardliners have managed to stymie political reform. [...]

Britain, meanwhile, has to be more up front about the conflicts it faces in pursuing national interests. The criteria by which it judges the gravity of human rights failings in ally countries need to be more clearly explained. That is the only way to avoid being accused of double standards."

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

UK and Human Rights abroad

As you can see by reading this article that was published today on the BBC NEWS website,
The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has accused the UK government  of inconsistency in its dealings with other countries over human rights.

According to the BBC:

The committee accepted it was "inevitable" that there would be occasional conflicts between the UK's strategic, commercial or security-related interests and its human rights values and a "balance" had to be struck.

The report reads: "In our view, it would be in the government's interest for it to be more transparent in acknowledging that there will be contradictions in pursuing these interests while promoting human rights values.

The government's role should be publicly to set out and explain its judgements on how far to balance the two in particular cases, having taken into account the need to adapt policy according to local circumstances and developments."

You can find the full report (as well as FCO's response) here.

The 2011 report mentioned above focuses on the UK's (apparently inconsistent) dealings with Ukraine and Bahrain.

If you're interested in some historical context, the British government's 'inconsistency' in relation to the case of the Greek Colonels' regime is highlighted in my forthcoming book.

To give you an idea, this is from the conclusion of the first chapter (pp. 41-42):

"All in all, the British stance towards the dictatorship of the Colonels, during the first two years could be characterised as one of ambiguity.  

London hesitated in almost every decision it had to take, oscillating between the two poles of its policy: namely, (1) protecting its mainly commercial and strategic interests and its ‘special relationship’ with Washington, and (2) upholding human rights and promoting a return to democratic rule, basically through trying to influence the regime and sustaining some efforts of the opposition. The initial inertia of the Labour government soon changed to a pragmatic policy of establishing relations with the junta, without, however, appearing to be too close to Greece’s military dictators. The catalyst for this change were three events that took place in 1967; the Six Day War, the crisis in Cyprus, and the failed royal counter-coup. The first demonstrated Greece’s augmented significance as a NATO ally in a troubled region, the second proved to the British the value of keeping closer relations with the Greek leaders, and the third confirmed the consolidation of the regime. When 1968 came and Britain recognized the junta anew, it became clear that, despite some instances of criticism of the dictatorship -mainly for public consumption- London was willing to make use of ‘different tactics’ in order to safeguard its (chiefly commercial and strategic) interests vis-à-vis Greece. The impact of international events was once again decisive as the Prague Spring and increased Soviet naval activity in the Mediterranean were conducive to a reconsideration of British policy towards the Colonels and the adoption of a ‘business as usual’ approach, thus acting as a prelude to the new era of relations that was soon to follow."

Friday, 13 July 2012

UK Arms Export Policy- Now and then

The Committees on Arms Export Controls has published today a report saying that the UK government should apply significantly more cautious judgements on the export of arms to authoritarian regimes which might be used for internal repression.

Taken from
The Chairman of the Committees, Sir John Stanley (who firstly became an MP a few months before the junta's fall in 1974) said:
"This is a ground breaking Report in the depth and detail of the Committees on Arms Export Controls' scrutiny of the Government’s policies on arms exports.
The Foreign Secretary in his Oral evidence to the Committee confirmed that the British Government's policy on arms exports and internal repression was as follows:
The long-standing British position is clear: We will not issue licences where we judge there is a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression."

This reminded me of the situation vis-a-vis providing arms to the Greek dictatorship of the 1960s-1970s.

Recently released FCO documents reveal that during the discussions of the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee on 30 January 1969 on arms policy towards Greece, it was decided that Britain ‘should in principle permit the supply to Greece of arms which she could reasonably be expected to require in order to fulfil her NATO role’ and that only the supply of those arms intended to repress the civilian population should be prohibited.

But how exactly did Whitehall handle this conundrum?

Here's how I analyse it in my forthcoming book (pp. 246-7):

Arms sales to Greece was [a] highly controversial issue-no less so due to prior complications over trade with South Africa. The Wilson government drew a distinction (similar to the one employed vis-à-vis the apartheid regime), whereby large items which could be used for NATO purposes, such as tanks, could be exported, whereas ‘light’ items, like grenades and small rifles, which could be used for internal repression could not be sold to Athens. The Labour government tried to handle this delicate and potentially explosive question in strict confidence, thus exemplifying its twofold policy of keeping relations with the Colonels on a satisfactory level and at the same time avoiding hostile criticism, especially within parliament. This ‘combination of high-minded principle and arms sales’, as one member of the Cabinet termed it, provided an impetus for attacks on Whitehall (for the most part from its left wing), which defended its choices by returning to the Leitmotif of the dismal financial situation of Britain that was in desperate need of exports, and the importance of the arms industry with regard to the jobs it provided.

FCO photo taken from
Consequently, when the Conservatives came to power, a continuation of the status quo concerning arms sales was the minimum expected. In fact, the Heath government used its predecessor’s policy as a springboard for the active promotion of sales in order to boost its trade with Greece. London made its desire to sell arms to the junta more distinct, by arranging the exchange of visits of people involved, on a variety of levels, in arms sales. Most importantly, British ministers kept reiterating their willingness to provide frigates and, after an initial numbness, even tanks to the military dictatorship in Athens, in a policy that culminated in Lord Carrington’s visit to the Greek capital. Despite Whitehall’s active policy of attracting arms deals, sales seldom materialized. FCO documents reveal that the British attributed that to the ‘Byzantine style of negotiations’ of the Greeks and their unwillingness to appear to ‘go other than American’. Greek documents show that the junta was more interested in appearing to be in negotiations with the British (in order to enhance its international respectability) than proceed with sales, for the additional reason that, in the most significant cases (such as the frigates), Athens lacked the necessary funds. Therefore, while Britain was preoccupied with supporting its arms industry and generally improving its trade in a desperate effort to reverse its financial decline, the Greeks’ main concern was to use any contracts secured for political exploitation.

Friday, 15 June 2012

British press on Greek crisis refers to junta

As Greece continues to make headlines because of the financial and political crisis it is facing, references to the Greek Colonels' regime keep springing up.

The latest articles to mention the dictatorship appeared in the British press yesterday:

In this The Times article, a Greek expert is asked about the possibility of a repeat of the 1967 coup:

Dr Dokos - Photo taken from
One worst-case outcome does look so remote that it is all but excluded by experts: a military coup establishing a dictatorship like the junta that ended in 1974.
Mr Dokos of ELIAMEP has taught in military academies. “If you ask me if there will be any move by the military, I would tell you ‘no’,” he said. “I think they are too democratically indoctrinated for 38 years now.”
 While, in this article that appeared in The Guardian, a 29-year-old enterpreneur explains his decision to return to his native Greece to set up a consultancy:

"At the moment, we don't really see a light at the end of the tunnel," he says. "There should always be a light. Even during the [Nazi] occupation there was a light. During the [colonels'] dictatorship there was a light. Now there's not. That's why I'm staying here. To find a light."

Thursday, 14 June 2012

FT article on geopolitical ramifications of Greek election

In this article the Financial Times Europe editor claims that the stakes in Sunday's Greek election are 'geopolitical rather than financial'.

Both New Democracy and Syriza's flirting with Russia and other non-EU, non-NATO countries, as well as the 'disarray of Greece's foreign ministry', are highlighted.

Tony Barber - taken from
This proposed re-orientation (or 'diversification' if you like) of Greek foreign policy (to the extent it is put forward and to the degree it is possible) is reminiscent of an era, up until now considered long gone, when Greece was outside the EU and was facing isolation from the West.

Tony Barber points to the Greeks' disillusionment with the West by making a reference to the Greek junta:

Although younger Greeks are proud of their modern European identity, half of them today are unemployed and fearful for their future. Older Greeks, meanwhile, remember Nato’s decision to stay on the sidelines when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 – as well as what they recall as US support for the 1967-74 Greek military junta.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

ECHR President warns Britain could end up like Greece under the Colonels

This is an entry from a Guardian blog back in February 2011, drawing a parallel between respect for human rights in Britain today and the Greece of the Colonels.

The entry, entitled 'David Cameron warned Britain could end up like Greece under the colonels', was wrutten by Nicholas Watt and quotes the president of the European Court of Human Rights making the following reference to the Colonels' regime:

"So the president of the European Court of Human Rights found himself under fire tonight from Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans after suggesting that Britain will look like Greece under the rule of the colonels if it refuses to abide by the court's ruling on prisoners.

Photo taken from
Jean-Paul Costa drew the parallel with the colonels' dictatorship of 1967-74 when he was asked by the BBC what would happen if Britain withdrew from the court or refused to abide by its ruling on prisoners. The comments by the Tunisian-born French president came a week after MPs voted overwhelmingly to uphold the blanket ban which prevents prisoners from voting. The court ruled last October that Britain had to lift the ban.

This is what Costa said when he was asked what would happen if Britain abandoned the European Convention on Human Rights or refused to abide by the European Court of Human Rights ruling on prisoners. Costa told Shirin Wheeler, the presenter of the BBC Parliament programme The Record Europe:
I would say that it would be a disaster. A disaster certainly for the Council of Europe and the court but also a disaster for the United Kingdom. I say it respectfully. The UK was one of the states founding the convention, one of the founding states of the Council.
[The] UK has always been a supporter for the court and many times model for the legal systems of other countries. Many systems took advantage through the case law of our court of the legal traditions of Britain.
Wheeler asked why it would be a disaster for Britain. Costa said:
For the image of Britain I will say a simple things and again I hope this will not be considered as not respectful. The only country which denounced the convention actually was Greece in 1967 at the time of dictatorship of the Colonels. Of course after seven years, when democracy was restored in Greece, Greece returned to the Council of Europe and the convention.

I cannot imagine – even if I can understand some irritation that [the] UK which is a great country I admire the UK – could be in the same situation as the Colonels in 1967."

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Mazower article in FT

On the same day (25/05/2012), FT published another article that referred to the Greek junta.

This time it is an article by distinguished British historian Mark Mazower who has written extensively on Greece.

Professor Mazower won a Runciman Award in 2005 for his extremely interesting book 'Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews' at a ceremony where I was given the London Hellenic Society prize for my MA dissertation, which formed the basis of my research on Anglo-Greek relations in the late 1960s and mid 1970s.

In this article Prof Mazower wrote the following:

"Here, the fight against today’s perceived enemy – neoliberalism – evokes the struggle against the military junta 40 years ago, and the resistance to Nazi occupation during the second world war."

FT article mentions Greek fear of being 'thrown back to the time of the Colonels'

In this FT article about the rising numbers of Greek residents in Britain applying for UK citizenship, in light of a possible exit of Greece from the eurozone (see, for example, this Economist article), a reference to the Greek Colonels' regime was made.

It was Vicky Price, a Greek-born City economist and former senior adviser to the government, who, according to the newspaper, said the following:

"Greeks have a great wish to belong to Europe because they are surrounded by what was the former Soviet Union. The idea of being cast adrift is terrible for them because it would imply they would be thrown back to the time of the colonels in the 1970s."

The Times article on Wilson's Britain, 1967-1970

I've come across this interesting article by Fay Weldon, who gives a very vivid picture of life in Britain (ok, mostly London) under Harold Wilson.

She concentrates on the 1967-1970 period, when the Labour government coincided with the Greek Colonels' regime.

The title of the article that appeared in The Times (22/05/2012) is aptly called ‘The white heat of Wilson’s new technology proved too hot to handle’.

Here's a short clip of PM Wilson in 1967:

And here's a clip of London during the so-called 'Swinging Sixties' to give you a part of the atmosphere of the time:

Friday, 20 April 2012

BBC2 series on Britain in the 1970s

BBC2 has a new series on Britain in the 1970s.
The series is based on Dominic Sandbrook's research for his books, State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974 and Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979.

This is the series description from the BBC website:

"Historian Dominic Sandbrook presents the 1970s as a vital and exciting era in which the old Britain of the post-war years was transformed into the nation we see around us today.
Sandbrook is as interested in how ordinary people were changing Britain as he is in politicians. In this episode, he reveals a country brimming with aspiration as millions get on the property ladder, take their first foreign holidays and start to challenge the old class boundaries to their lives. It was a decade in which ordinary British people first felt the thrill of freedom and money, but Sandbrook shows us it was also a decade in which raging conflicts about the economy and Europe loomed large."

Here's a link to the first episode:
1. Get It On 70-72

Here's a link to the series' blog, where the historian and presenter of the tv series shares his experiences: