Cyprus Mail
Opinion

The continued legacy of the Greek Junta

Vassos Lyssarides was the only party leader not to attend the grand reception for the Junta's Colonel George Papadopoulos

By George Koumoullis

WRITING an article about political, economic issues every fortnight, I find it difficult not to comment on the anniversary of the fascist coup in Greece (April 21, 1967) considering that we are still experiencing its tragic consequences today. How could I forget this anniversary when every morning I see Pentadaktylos with the flag of partition carved into it?

In contrast to western European countries and to the dismay of liberal citizens, the Makarios government adopted total silence regarding the April 21 military coup. Initially, those who welcomed the coup were, as expected, General Grivas and his fellow travellers. Gradually, the Junta became popular with the Right. A contributory factor was Makarios’ dogma which considered the close cooperation Greece’s governments inviolable. The rationale for this dogma was based on the premise that all Greek governments, regardless of political ideology, were obliged to protect Cypriot Hellenism. The Greek invasion of July 15, 1974 (euphemistically referred to as a coup d’etat), debunked this myth for good.

In August 1967, just four months after the establishment of the military dictatorship in Greece, the Cyprus government and the political leaders welcomed Colonel George Papadopoulos, the minister of the Greek presidency at the time. The grand reception, hosted by Makarios in the presidential palace gardens in honour of the dictator, was attended by all the political leaders with the exception of Dr Vassos Lyssarides, the Edek leader. Many Greek and Cypriot democrats were not impressed that the Akel leadership were among those who had “politely accepted” the invitation to the reception.

Undoubtedly, the dictator would have been surprised by the hospitality and warmth of our leaders and returning to Greece would have uttered the slogan, “Cyprus has been seized.” And truly, after this visit, the Junta’s tentacles multiplied, become stronger and more toxic. Blackmailing, threatening, bribing and spending large amounts of money on propaganda, the Junta took control of all sectors of Cyprus. The first castle, the trade union federation SEK, fell immediately. After this control was taken of Rik (CyBC), most newspapers, teaching unions Oelmek and Poed, the Cyprus Football Federation KOP, nationalist clubs and almost all sports clubs, including the Akel-controlled Omonia.

The Junta’s darkness covered all of Cyprus where democracy, even incapacitated, was being, persecuted. Having taken control of everything and everyone, the Junta came to be identified by the average Cypriot as a national and patriotic government that was interested in Cyprus’ welfare. Even the communist supporters of Akel, who could have fought the Junta in a number of ways showed only apathy. Akel was not a pro-Junta party, but as the old Akelite Andreas Fantis pointed out, “the reaction of the leadership of the party to the Junta was almost non-existent as it was restricted to the issuing of announcements.”

Thankfully, there was one party, Edek, which fought the Junta and salvaged a little pride for the Cypriots. Today Edek might be in alignment with Elam (this incidentally is the reason for its big decline) but during the seven-year dictatorship in Greece it was operating to the Left of Akel. It was, however, a small party (about 8 per cent share of vote) with few resources and could not effectively repel the Junta’s black propaganda.

In a nutshell, the ways Cypriots faced the Junta ranged from dumb apathy to warm approval. To tell the whole truth and not, as is the practice, those parts of the truth we believe are acceptable or people want to hear, Greece’s tyrannical regime managed to turn Cypriots into spiritless, servile and mostly paranoid objects. How else can we explain that while in the 1950s Cypriots fought and sacrificed themselves for freedom, 10 years later they were supporting an intolerable, tyrannical, thieving, merciless, deluded regime? What a national degradation this was – if you dared make any criticism of the ‘National Government’, you were labelled a ‘communist’, an ‘anti-hellene’, an ‘extremist’ or a ‘traitor’. How could anyone not be disgusted by the reports of Rik and the newspapers that christened the Polytechnic students who revolted against the Junta in 1973 as ‘troublemakers and teddy-boys’?

Paranoia reached its peak after the reports of torture and gross violation of human rights which put the Junta in the dock at the Council of Europe in 1969. The Junta’s strawmen in Cyprus claimed that all these accusations were a “figment of the imagination” of the Europeans and that ‘envy’ was the real reason the latter were ‘fighting’ Greece. Faced with certain expulsion, Papadopoulos decided to take Greece out of the Council of Europe. At that time, Rik repeated ad nauseam the paranoid praise of then Greek foreign minister Panayiotis Pipinellis for his fascist leader. “You ensured Greece was respected by her friends and feared by her foes.” The type of fear Greece’s Junta inspired in its foes, we found out on July 20, 1974.

Why had Cypriots embraced a dictatorial regime? An answer is provided by Thucydides, who had written about similar situations 2,500 years ago, saying that it was “for personal interest, for personal security and for the increase of their wealth (Volume A.17).”

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

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