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Greece was battered, but Makarios was relentless on the Cyprus issue

comment leontis archbishop makarios
Archbishop Makarios
The second in a series of articles by Leontios Ierodiakonou looks at how Archbishop Makarios persistently badgered the Greek leadership into internationalising the Cyprus problem

Makarios appears to have never taken seriously into account the views or advice of the Greek governments, nor did he study the shaping of British interests in the Middle East.

Instead, he constantly intensified his activities in Greece, exerting unbearable pressure on the government of the day.

To understand the determination and obduracy with which he exerted pressure on the Greek governments, it is worth mentioning a few incidents.

In May 1950 (as Bishop of Kition), seeing off the members of the delegation going to Athens to deliver the results of the recent Enosis referendum to the Greek government, he urged them: “Transmit the pulses of the soul in all Greece… we nurse the hope that the motherly government will fully adopt our issue…”. He also warned the Greek leadership: “If reasons of ill-intentioned expediency do not place our issue as a panhellenic demand before the competent authorities, the Greek people [will] have their say.”

When the delegation arrived in Athens, its members must have realised how much distance separated Makarios’ romantic and naive visions from the real experiences of Greece. The government of General Plastiras refused to receive the volumes of the referendum vote, “because it feared that such an action would create misunderstandings and coldness in relations between Britain and Greece”. (M Christodoulou, The Course of an Era, p. 62).

In a later meeting Makarios had with the then Prime Minister General Plastiras told him:

“Listen, your beatitude, if you came to my poor shack and asked me to go and fight for Cyprus, I would gladly do so, for I am a soldier. But you come to the office of the Prime Minister of Greece and ask me to destroy Greece, without being able to benefit Cyprus. So, sit still” (Ibid., p. 71).

Sophocles Venizelos in 1956 stated in the Greek parliament: “I do not hesitate to admit that in 1951, as head of the government, I refused to appeal to the United Nations. In 1952, after strong pressure from ethnarch Makarios, I refused again to appeal, and Makarios then, in my office at the foreign ministry, said to me: ‘I will denounce you to the Greek people for refusing to appeal to the United Nations.’ I replied: ‘You can do what you like, you can denounce me wherever you like, but you are not going to direct the foreign policy of Greece” (Minutes of the Greek Parliament, April 25, 1956).

Of particular interest is the archbishop’s conversation with Evangelos Averoff when he was deputy foreign minister in 1951-52. In that meeting, Averoff explained to him: “That Greece had not yet recovered from the disasters of a whole decade, that neither the well-being nor the national status of the Greek Cypriots was in danger, nor could the ethnic composition of the population be altered. Therefore, at that time two things were priorities: First, how to better feed the many hungry people, how to house the homeless, generally, how to improve the very low standard of living of Greeks. Second, that we do nothing that would jeopardise the precious Hellenism of Constantinople, which faced many threats. Calmly but coldly the Archbishop replied that he agreed in principle but: First, matters concerning the freedom of the Greeks take precedence over matters of living standards. Secondly, that the Hellenism of Constantinople, indeed precious, was for many reasons doomed to extinction.”

Upon hearing these answers Averoff must have been left speechless, for he adds: “I felt, if that expression is appropriate, pain in my soul. More so because he said these things, certain that his position was absolutely justified. That is why, moreover, what is mentioned above was not the only answer of the determined fighter. The answer to the government was given in a speech on Athens radio, in which there were strong critical complications and in which – it must be pointed out – he spoke, in the name of the nation. Here are examples: ‘I am obliged to speak to you in the language of truth and to denounce both the government and the opposition. They have not risen to the occasion. They showed neither courage nor boldness. To the Nation’s demand for a recourse (to the UN), they replied with hesitation and drowsiness, that they were following the matter vigilantly’“ (E Averoff, History of Lost Opportunities, volume 1, pp.35-36).

It should be noted here that Makarios, while in the capital of Hellenism – speaking on behalf of the nation – accused the entire elected political leadership (government and opposition), as well as the non-elected (all political parties within or outside the government and parliament) of not living up demands of the nation. All the political leaders of Greece (elected and unelected) were not in a position to know and interpret the interests of the Greek nation. Only he interpreted them correctly.

Similar statements, both in tone and content, were regularly made by the archbishop.

In the summer of 1953, he organised a mass rally at the church of Phaneromeni in Nicosia and “delivered a fiery patriotic speech in front of the delirious crowd”. As Averoff writes: “The ethnarch of Cyprus did not limit himself to heavy accusations – which were also in his speech – against the Greek government…he went much further, and for the first time he was forging an independent and dynamic Cypriot policy.” He declared: “What the Greek government hesitates to do, we ourselves will do…we will go to them (to the United Nations) asking for the implementation of the principle of self-determination for Cyprus…Besides, we do not rely entirely on the Greek government, nor do we rely entirely on the United Nations. We rely, above all, on our own powers and rely in particular on the struggle at home. United under the ethnarchic flag, we shall fight consistently and continuously, day and night, with all the means and all the ways, towards one end, with our sights always set on one goal: freedom and union with the motherland” (ibid., volume 1, pp. 39-40)

In other words, the comparison of powers (means and ends) at the time, both locally and regionally was:

  1.  A Greece very weakened in all areas, as described by Angelos Vlachos: “Greece, at that time, apart from the promotion of its right, did not have (nor was envisaged to have) any means whatsoever. On the contrary, it would have been permanently at a clear disadvantage, as it depended, for everything, on its allies. This Greece was being pushed unendurably by Makarios to turn against its own interests.”
  2. A Great Britain (which also had the diplomatic support of the Americans and had full administrative and military control over Cypriot territory), determined for a total and full-on clash and with a clear inclination to involve and promote the interests of Ankara and domestically to encourage the uprising of the Turkish Cypriots against the Greek Cypriots.
  3. The Greek Cypriots: to be guided by the archbishop with promises of unattainable and fairytale national goals and dreams, such as the above-mentioned speech, delivered from the pulpit of the church of Phaneromeni, and in which, with his usual patriotic nebulousness, emphasised among other things that “we will fight consistently and continuously, day and night, with all the means and all the ways….” He never mentioned any means or any way.

Leontios Ierodiakonou is a former Disy deputy who also served as minister of communications in the Clerides government. He is author of books on the Cyprus problem, including Fatal Leadership (1948-2021): Makarios and his Continuers

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