Saturday, February 17, 2007

Reflections on Greek democracy

As I grew up, I heard a lot on the news about the "Greek colonels". This was a junta which tookover Greece in 1967 and, as Wikipedia describes:

In the ensuing years, a number of sympathisers of the left, as well as a number of politicians and communists, were arrested and brutally tortured by the regime. Many politicians evaded capture and found political refuge in other European countries such as France and Sweden, but the then head of state, King Constantine, officially acknowledged the new regime, which was also then duly recognized by the international community and diplomatic relations continued.

This was a shameful period in international history. Mercifully, the military regime collapsed in 1974:

Ex-Premier Constantine Karamanlis was immediately invited back from Paris, where he had resided since 1963. Marking the beginning of the Metapolitefsi era of modern Greek history, the plane carrying Constantine Karamanlis landed in Athens in the early hours of July 24, amidst massive celebrations and enormous crowds, extending from the capital's Ellinikon International Airport to Syntagma Square; Karamanlis was immediately appointed as the interim prime minister under President Gizikis and founded the conservative New Democracy party, going on to win the ensuing elections by a large margin. Democratic rule was finally restored in its birthplace and a democratic republican constitution activated in 1975.

Meanwhile, another prominent figure of the past, Andreas Papandreou, had also returned from the United States and had already founded the Panhellenic Socialist Party, or PASOK.

I am very grateful to Madame Tussaud's for reminding me of these events in Greece, through their display of models of Constantine Karamanlis and Andreas Papandreou. It is important that we remember the struggles which have resulted in the current free democracy in Greece. Madame Tussaud's also display a model of Elefthetios Venizelos, who was the Greek Prime Minister who defined his era at the beginning of the 20th Century:

As a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Crete, Chios, Samos, most of Epirus and southern Macedonia, including Thessaloniki, were incorporated into Greece. King George I, monarch for five decades, was assassinated in Thessaloniki in 1913, succeeded by his Germanophile son, King Constantine I. His struggle with Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos resulted in Greece's joining the Entente against Germany and Austria and the abdication of King Constantine in favour of his son, Alexander.

Many thanks to Barry Stocker for, quite rightly, pointing out to me the significance of the Madame Tussaud's display after I made a hasty and undoubtedly stupid late Friday evening posting about this. I am very sorry about that. Barry Stocker writes:

Venizelos was one of the major liberals of the last century. He played a major role in promoting Greek democracy in the early 20th Century, as the leader of the then very large Liberal Party. He was well known to Lloyd George who regarded him as a modern Pericles.

...Karamanlis, a centre right leader, was the first Prime Minister after the 1974 restoration of democracy and was the key figure in stabilising Greek democracy, perhaps bringing to an end the struggles inaugurated by Venizelos. Karamanlis was already a veteran by then and had played a notable role as a moderate in Greek politics, pursuing a European road for Greece...Anyone who would like a gripping cinematic version of Greek struggle against authoritarianism, should see the film 'Z', which refers to another centre-right Greek hero of law and democracy, Christos Sartzekis, as the examining magistrate who resists political pressure when investigating a state sponsored political murder of the left wing leader Lambrekis in the 1960s. Sartzekis was president himself before Karamanlis took that office.

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