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Tuesday, July 26, 2005


July 1965: The Royal Road to Dictatorship

If deposed kings pause to reflect on anniversaries of those actions they’ve committed that have subsequently contributed to their demise, former king Constantine of the Hellenes would have surely been in a pensive mood a few days ago, on July 15. The date marked the fortieth anniversary of the Iouliana, the “July events” that precipitated a historic political crisis in Greece and led directly to the colonels’ coup of 1967 and, soon after, to the then-king’s ultimately permanent exile from Greece. While we can’t be sure of the strength of Constantine’s historical memory, there’s no question about the relevance of the Iouliana to Greece’s political present. Much of the rhetoric of contemporary partisan politics owes its inspiration to the impassioned exchanges of July 1965, which changed the course of Greece’s postwar history.

The early 1960s witnessed a shift of power in Greek politics away from the right and toward the center. Geôrgios Papandreou (the grandfather and namesake of PASOK’s current leader) had led the Center Union party to victory in 1963, ending the right’s near-monopoly of power, which it had enjoyed since the end of the Civil War in 1949. This did not sit well with the three-cornered Greek establishment comprising the conservative politicians, the armed forces, and—last but not least—King Constantine, who had ascended to the throne in 1964 at the age of 24.

As the Center Union victory had also occurred in the midst of the Cold War, the Americans were even less amused. As was the case nearly everywhere else in the world, state department officials suspected politicians who were not explicitly anticommunist of being “soft on communism,” if not fellow-travelers. It is a measure of Cold War paranoia that Papandreou—who, upon Athens’s wartime liberation, had spearheaded the return of the exiled government that, with the help of the British, suppressed the communist-backed left-wing resistance movement—was, 20 years later, suspected of pro-leftist leanings. Now, battling the formidable US-backed Greek right, Papandreou had made every effort to turn his Center Union into a big-tent party that included an array of center-rightists and center-leftists. His son, Andreas, was a leader of the more radical tendency in the party. Unlike the center-rightists, however, many of whom had ties to the palace, the center-leftists had nothing to do with the proscribed and enfeebled communist party.

The July 1965 crisis was the result of Constantine’s determination—bolstered by Queen Mother Frederika’s interference in the country’s public life—to prevent Papandreou from consolidating the Center Union’s power. In view of the army’s sway over Greek society, the Center Union’s victory at the ballot box—narrowly in elections in 1963 and more handily in 1964—was meaningless without the ability to assert some sort of control over the armed forces, which had been under US tutelage since the Civil War. At the time, the military—which, through the covert Pericles Plan exposed by Papandreou, had secured a right-wing victory in the notorious 1961 elections of “via kai notheia” (“violence and fraud”)—was roiled by two ongoing investigations. The more significant one was the so-called ASPIDA affair, an alleged conspiracy of young officers supposedly aligned politically with Andreas Papandreou. The second probed the alleged involvement of Greek officers in Cypriot president Makarios’s attempts to procure Soviet missiles.

Prime Minister Papandreou sought to assert control over the armed forces by replacing the pro-royalist head of the army, Iôannês Gennêmatas, a plan that stumbled on the refusal of the defense minister, Petros Garoufalias, to cooperate. Papandreou’s appointment of Garoufalias, a beer magnate who was close to the royal family and whose presence in the Center Union’s leadership embodied Papandreou’s big-tent policy, was an obvious peace offering to the palace. Inevitably, Garoufalias’s refusal to accede to Gennêmatas’s dismissal received the king’s full backing. A dramatic standoff between king and prime minister ensued for several weeks.

Papandreou had a constitutional right to implement any changes he wished in the military, but his timing was not good. In 1964, he had roared into power with an impressive 53 percent of the national vote, which gave him 171 out of the 300 seats in parliament. By early 1965, however, disunity in the face of pressures from the royalist establishment had already chipped away at his solid parliamentary majority. A group of Center Union deputies had threatened to declare their independence in early 1965. Moreover, many potential party leaders saw Andreas as a rival and suspected that his father’s moves against the royalist army were motivated by paternal rather than political concerns. In the event, Garoufalias and other government leaders close to the king, such as banker Stauros Kôstopoulos, the foreign minister, deserted Papandreou. Ambitious strongmen in the Center Union, among them center-leftist Êlias Tsirimôkos and center-rightist (and future prime minister) Kônstantinos Mêtsotakês, also saw an opportunity to further their own careers at the expense of the 77-year old prime minister and refused to support him.

The depth of political betrayal felt by Papandreou was summarized in his accusation that the Center Union deputies who abandoned him were “apostates,” or renegades. Papandreou was well aware of the deeply religious connotations that the term apostatê has in Greek Orthodoxy. It is used to describe those who do not believe in God, and is also, of course, the word used to describe fourth-century Byzantine emperor Julian (the Apostate), who unsuccessfully attempted to restore paganism. As part of the abiding legacy of the Iouliana, a political turncoat is routinely described as an apostatê in Greece.

The American element was naturally present in the political mix. The state department’s records made public a few years ago indicate that Athens embassy chargé d’affaires Norbert Anschuetz—Ambassador Henry Labouisse was in the process of being appointed to UNICEF—placed himself at the center of proceedings by maintaining close contact with the king, the Center Union dissidents, and Papandreou. Anschuetz, a Harvard law-school graduate who would retire from the foreign service after 22 years in 1968 and become a Citibank vice-president, freely dispensed advice to those seeking to undermine the prime minister. He believed that Papandreou should not “interfere” with the army, and his only concerns were the timing and manner in which the prime minister’s plans were to be stymied.

The crisis culminated with Papandreou resigning on July 15. Looking back on that event on its thirty-fifth anniversary, five years ago, Mêtsotakês conceded that Papandreou had been right and the king wrong, but he also believed that the prime minister should have made a tactical retreat, appointed another pro-royalist as minister of defense, and not resigned and escalated the conflict. Speaking from a different perspective, composer Mikês Theodôrakês, who was then head of the left-wing Lambrakês youth movement, has said that the resignation was a calculated exit strategy by the embattled prime minister, who balked at ratcheting up the pressure on the king by calling upon “the people” to support him at a time when the combined support of the center and left was 65 percent of the electorate.

Papandreou may have resigned assuming that the king would ask him to form a new government, as he was still the leader of the party with the majority in parliament. If so, he underestimated the king’s determination to take charge. Constantine had a puppet prime minister waiting in the wings, 72-year-old Geôrgios Athanasiadês Novas, the speaker of parliament. Novas had been elected to parliament for the first time as a member of a right-wing party headed by General Iôannês Metaxas, the man whose coup d’etat in 1936 suspended both the legislature and the constitution, and initiated the Fourth of August dictatorship that lasted until Greece was occupied by the Axis in 1941. Upon hearing of Novas’s appointment, Center Union supporters streamed into the street to protest what they considered a new coup, this time the work of the palace.

Pandemonium broke out in parliament itself when it met to ratify the king’s appointment. Mêtsotakês worked hard to persuade enough Center Union deputies to join the pro-royalist, conservative minority to ensure that the Novas administration received the required 50-percent-plus-one majority in the chamber. While Papandreou’s party would eventually fragment, it would not be over Novas. In their effort to ridicule the king’s choice, the Center Union faithful were helped by a pro-Papandreou journalist who falsely claimed that one of the many poems written by Novas—a prolific author who celebrated the purity of Greek rural life—included the lines, “Your breasts/Were milky white/And you told me/Tickle them.” The jeers that greeted Novas included cries of “Gargala ta! Gargala ta!” (“Tickle them! Tickle them!”).

The king’s first attempt to get his own prime minister approved thus ended in a fiasco, as did his second, with the former leftist Tsirimôkos as the candidate. On the third try, however, conservative politician Stefanos Stefanopoulos, who had joined the Center Union in 1963, managed to muster enough votes—a narrow margin of 152 to 148—in September. This was all due to Mêtsotakês’s orchestration of the defection of the requisite number of Center Union deputies, who had been induced to abandon Papandreou with promises of ministerial posts and, allegedly, large sums of money. The bribe offers have never been proven, but it is known that the state department turned down Greek requests for additional funds to help secure the parliamentary approval of the king’s appointee.

This was the nadir of post-Civil War Greek politics, but things would get even worse. With the royalist government lacking legitimacy and public support, the country’s political life spiraled out of control. When conservative leader Panagiôtês Kanellopoulos and Papandreou finally agreed to elections in 1967, two groups of officers began plotting a military coup. The first was made up of generals close to the king, while the second was a group of junior officers—colonels—who were operating independently of their superiors but, allegedly, in coordination with the CIA. The colonels were quicker off the mark, and they imposed their dictatorship on April 21, 1967. The king went along with them until December and then attempted a failed countercoup that landed him in exile. When democracy was restored in 1974, the raw memories of July 1965 persuaded almost 70 percent of the electorate to vote for a republic over a monarchy in a referendum.

The Iouliana remain a watershed in Greek politics, not only because the king’s clash with the democratically elected prime minister triggered a domino effect that resulted in the 1967 coup d’etat and ultimately the end of the monarchy. They also constituted the most divisive event in Greek politics after the Civil War, pitting the center and center-left against the center-right and right. The communist left—decimated by years of persecution—was conspicuously absent, no matter what the Cold Warriors in the US embassy in Athens stated. The two sides that lined up against each other in 1965 may have been inchoate and hastily assembled, but their politics presaged the ideological divide between conservatives and social democrats, New Democracy and PASOK, that would dominate Greek politics after the restoration of democracy.

Indeed, the legacy of the Iouliana can help explain the crudeness of the exchanges between New Democracy and PASOK over the past three decades. The opposition between these two parties is notable for its lack of engagement with the ideological content of the opponent. New Democracy has often resorted to painting PASOK with a pro-communist brush rather than critically judging the party’s social democratic policies. This is especially convenient since, given Greek society’s demands for a social safety net, New Democracy has tiptoed around the prospect of implementing a neo-liberal economic agenda. By the same token, PASOK prefers to talk about the specter of the anti-democratic right; indeed, when Mêtsotakês headed New Democracy, the stain of “apostasy” was invoked on a daily basis by PASOK’s partisans. An anti-democratic right with skeletons of apostates in its closet is a much easier target than a pro-European and otherwise standard conservative party. Finally, as far as former king Constantine is concerned, the Iouliana will have to fade completely from public memory before he can begin to contemplate his permanent return to Greece, even as a private citizen.

Alexander Kitroeff teaches history at Haverford College and is a contributing editor to, which published his most recent book, Wrestling With the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics.
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