Monday, 29 July 2013

The British and the 1973 Greek republic referendum

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Greek republic referendum.

In this excerpt from my book on Britain and the Colonels, you can see how journalist Mario Modiano, talking to British officials well before the 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 votewhich was considered ‘a respectable looking percentage’ in London.
The British embassy’s own estimate had been 78% (emphasis added).
The British, however, were in no doubt that there had been ‘a good deal of malpractice’, as they were aware that before the referendum the junta had ‘used all its very considerable influence to ensure the desired result’. 
They also did not fail to notice that ‘something perhaps ha[d] changed’, as the regime had been taken by surprise by the strength of feeling against it, and that could result in the toughening of its attitude to palliate the hardliners. 
The British representative concluded his report on the events by writing that ‘one [could] not have much confidence that Greece [was] yet firmly on the road leading back to anything that Western Europe would recognise as democracy’ [pp. 185-186].

Monday, 22 July 2013

Britain and Karamanlis: British reaction to the restoration of democracy in Greece in 1974

It has now been thirty-nine years since the fall of the Junta and the restoration of democracy in Greece (triggered by the Turkish invasion of Cyprus). 

In an effort to help shed some more light on the events that transpired during the transition period, I present here a small excerpt from my research on the British reaction to the return of Konstantinos Karmanlis and his swearing-in as prime minister (as it appears on my latest book, Britain and the Greek Colonels).

Ίδρυμα Kωνσταντίνος Γ. Kαραμανλής © Copyright 2013
"[British foreign secretary, James] 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 (‘a politician of real status with popular following in the country’), 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 [British ambassador in Athens, Sir Robin] Hooper reported to the Foreign Office: ‘[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’ (emphasis added).
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’ (emphasis added)."

For more information on how Whitehall viewed Karamanlis, visit the pages of the Karamanlis Foundation, where quotes from two British PMs are given:

Ίδρυμα Kωνσταντίνος Γ. Kαραμανλής © Copyright 2013
“The British people welcomed and with profound admiration followed the personal achievement of Mr. Karamanlis and his government in restoring democracy to Greece. If there were a Nobel Prize for Democracy, he who should receive it is Konstantinos Karamanlis.“

Harold Wilson
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

 "He became prime minister at a critical moment in his country’s history, and under his wise and steady leadership democracy was re-established and peace was preserved despite the considerable provocations threatening them. He rendered exceptional services to his homeland and to Europe.” 

James Callaghan
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Op-ed article in NY Times refers to Greek junta

In this op-ed article published a few days ago, The Nation's Maria Margaronis uses a couple of references to the Greek Colonels' regime to demonstrate that Greece has reached a boiling point. The author maintains that, while Europe was viewed as a 'source of hope' in the 1960s and 1970s, it is now perceived as 'turning up the heat' in Greece.

Here's the relevant extract from the article:

"The coalition government of New Democracy’s Antonis Samaras is becoming more and more authoritarian, passing laws by decree and pandering to the agenda of the far-right party, Golden Dawn. References to the junta of 1967-1974 are no longer the sole province of left-wing rhetoric.
The sudden closure of the state TV and radio broadcaster ERT last month, without any debate or vote in Parliament, brought back memories of tanks and martial music for many who would normally reject such crude comparisons.
In the seven years of the colonels’ dictatorship, many Greeks looked to Europe as a source of hope. Some of Europe’s civil bodies have indeed come to democracy’s defense. But the European Union’s political and financial institutions and their partners in the International Monetary Fund are interested only in the bottom line, piling on pressure to plug holes in the balance sheet regardless of the cost to human life and civil liberties.
[...]  During the dictatorship, Europe appeared to be a safe place outside the pot.
Now, Europe itself is turning up the heat."

1974 Cypriot coup d'état

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of the 1974 Cypriot coup d'état.

What follow are small excerpts (taken from my recently published book on Britain and the Greek Colonels) which examines the British reaction to the coup and Whitehall's immediate actions on that day:
"[...] The first reports about outbreaks of fighting in Nicosia reached London on 15 July. According to information gained during the first hours, it was looking ‘increasingly like a coup organised by Greek contingent/Greek-officered elements of National Guard’. The most shocking news appeared to be the alleged death of Archbishop Makarios, broadcast by the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and conveyed to London by the British high commissioner, Olver.


[...] Callaghan admitted that the treaty gave Britain rights but appeared less urgent to suggest any concrete action as it was too early to judge the situation fully.
[As he told the House of Commons:] We are in the very early hours of this event. It happened only this morning. A declaration has been put out by those who led the coup saying that foreign policy will not change and that Cyprus will maintain friendly relations with all nations while pursuing a policy of non-alignment as happened in the past. I do not know how much reliance at this stage we should attach to any of the declarations that are forthcoming.

[...] In order to help defuse the crisis the foreign secretary prepared a telegram detailing directions to British representatives in Athens, Ankara, Washington, Brussels, and New York. His message to his Greek counterpart expressed his ‘grave concern’ over the situation: ‘[. . . ] it is undoubtedly very dangerous with serious implications for the stability of the Eastern Mediterranean and for the cohesion of the Atlantic Alliance. I am sure you share my concern that the independence, territorial integrity and security of Cyprus should be maintained.
I should be grateful to have urgently your comments on the situation as the Greek Government sees it’.
A similar message was to be delivered to the Turkish capital as well, with the hope that the Turks would avoid ‘any kind of precipitate action or intervention’ at that stage, as it was ‘clearly essential’, if the conflict was not to spread, for the Turkish government to display ‘exemplary patience’ in those circumstances. Washington was to be informed about the content of the two messages, and Dr Kissinger to be approached with an oral message from Callaghan asking his view, any information on action which he might contemplate, and any information on events on the island itself. The British delegation to NATO was asked to invite Dr Luns himself to consider sending messages to the Turks and the Greeks, and the British mission at the UN was told to suggest to Dr Waldheim the convening of an emergency meeting of the contributors to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP)."