King Constantine of Greece faces his Colonels – archive, 1967

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  • April 26, 2019
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The Government Of Greek Colonels: left to right, Colonel George Papadopoulos, Vice-Prime Minister, Christos Kollias Prime Minister, King Constantin II, Gregorios Spendidakis Minister of National Defence and on the far right, the Minister Of Coordination, Colonel Makanezos, April 26th 1967.

 The government Of Greek Colonels with King Constantin II (centre), 26 April 1967. Photograph: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Athens, April 25 
King Constantine and the military members of the Government are still negotiating the terms on which the King will declare his acceptance of the new regime.

There seems little doubt that Constantine will eventually have to commit himself by telling the people to support the Government, but he still plays for time, hoping that the longer he delays the more anxious the Colonels will become to gain his support and, through it, some measure of acceptance in the country and the world.

Although the Government spokesman bravely maintains that the King has been in agreement with the Colonels from the first moment, I have today had it confirmed by one close to the Colonels that that is not so. Even after persuading the Colonels to have a civilian as Prime Minister and to include two judges in the Government during the day-long confrontation at the Ministry of Defence on Saturday, the King is still trying to gain further concessions.

Mood changes

Ironically, this delay was beginning to turn public opinion against the King. For the first 24 hours they believed it to have been organised by the King and the Services. “Perhaps it is for the best,” they thought. Then, with only rumours to supplement the arid bulletins, they began to doubt that the King was involved. Could he manage to reverse the situation? Could he be the pole around whom resistance could centre?

Today, with still no word from the King and the announcement last night that he will preside over a Cabinet meeting this week, the mood has changed again. Of course, the King must have been involved; after all, everything for which he had been striving has been achieved.

The Papandreou family has been eliminated, the Communists are being rounded up and exiled, the Army is preserved from democratic influences, and the monarchy is secure again. So run the arguments in the houses of Athens; politics in the coffee shops are, of course, forbidden.

King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie in Athens, 26 March 1967.
 King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie in Athens, 26 March 1967. Photograph: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

The other question that is being passed from lip to lip is: What will be the attitude of the American Government? So firmly do the Greeks believe that American aid and influence have dictated the actions of the King and the Right-wing politicians that they cannot now believe that somehow the Americans were not supporting the Colonels. Even if this were not so, they argue, will the American Government use its power to break the new regime?

The American aid to the Greek defence budget amounts to some $100 millions a year. This, the Democrats argue, could be used as a weapon against the regime – without it they could not hope to maintain power, and their action in suppressing the extreme Left has placed them, whatever their protestations, in the anti-Communist Western camp.

Vast problems

There is no doubt that the four Army officers who virtually rule the country are already facing vast and complex problems. If they are to make any progress at all with their programme of national change, they will need the support not only of the Americans and the Western Powers but also of the Greek financiers, shipowners, business men, and foreign tourists. The economy rests on these and could be brought rapidly to chaos if any of these pillars crumbled.

A senior Army officer explained to me their hopes. Greece, he said, was being brought to ruin by the politicians who used their offices to feather their own nests, who let rivalries, jealousies, and personal ambitions become more important than the fate of the country. The Civil Service was corrupt and the poor were not being treated fairly. “I hope we can do better – we at least will work for Greece.”

King’s urging

He said they had accepted civilians into the Government on the insistence of the King. “If they do their jobs well, they can stay. If they do not, they will go.” He believed that the take-over had the approval of the simple working people who were fed up with the political wrangles and with being exploited. The emergency restrictions, he said, would soon be relaxed.

He believed Mr Andrea Papandreou would be brought to trial for his part in the ASPIDA affair. All other non-Communist political figures would be released. He said there would be no executions, and in this respect the officers’ coup differed from the takeover by Turkish officers in 1960. The Army was now fully behind the colonels, and the Air Force had collaborated from the beginning. The Navy was raising no objections.

Orders had been given, he said, that foreign correspondents should not have their messages censored.

The latest Government decree says that all children must attend church regularly, that young men should have their hair cut, and that girls should not wear mini-skirts (I wonder whether the Royal Guards will have to lengthen their skirts).

On Saturday night the Greeks go to their churches to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. By tradition the King, his family and his Government lead the celebration at midnight in Athens Cathedral. It will be difficult for a Government which lays so much stress on religious observance to forbid this occasion, and everyone is waiting to see whether the curfew will be lifted, the people will be allowed to assemble, and the King and his Ministers will be able to attend.

Meanwhile, this is a sad Holy Week in Athens. There is little joy in the coming Easter celebrations.