Web Review

There’s nothing more annoying than being lectured by members of the British ruling class on their take on the history of your own country. I’m afraid poor old Greece is getting it in spades at this moment. To listen to David Cameron you would think that our behaviour and actions towards the Greeks have always been totally benevolent. Never heard of “the Elgin Marbles” or The Greek War of Independence which turned out with Greece being nominally in control of its own affairs but not in reality independent


The atrocities that accompanied this expedition, together with sympathy aroused by the death of the poet and leading philhellene Lord Byron at Messolongi in 1824, eventually led the Great Powers to intervene. In October 1827 the British, French and Russian fleets, on the initiative of local commanders but with the tacit approval of their governments, destroyed the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Navarino. This was the decisive moment in the war of independence.

In October 1828, the French landed troops in the Peloponnese to stop the Ottoman atrocities. Under their protection the Greeks were able to regroup and form a new government. They then advanced to seize as much territory as possible, including Athens and Thebes, before the Western Powers imposed a ceasefire.

A conference in London in March 1829 proposed an independent Greek state. The Greeks were disappointed at the restricted frontiers, but were in no position to resist the will of Britain, France and Russia. By the Convention of May 11, 1832, Greece was finally recognised as a sovereign state.

When the Ottomans finally granted the Greeks their independence, a multi-power treaty was formally established in 1830. Capodistria, who had been Greece’s unrecognised head of state since 1828, was assassinated by the Mavromichalis family in October 1831. To prevent further experiments in republican government, the Great Powers, especially Russia, insisted that Greece be a monarchy, and the Bavarian Prince Otto, was chosen to be its first King.

The after effects of WWII were disastrous for Greece. On October 12 1944 Greece was liberated from the Nazis. The National Unity government returned from abroad with George Papandreou as prime minister. The situation in the country was critical. The British, who had been given military control of the area by the Allies, demanded the disbanding of the ELAS guerrilla army and the surrender of its weapons. After the German withdrawal the principal Greek resistance movement, which was controlled by the communists, refused to disarm. A banned demonstration by resistance forces in Athens in December 1944 ended in battles with Greek Government and British forces. Thus, the first phase of the Civil War began on December 3 1944.

Accord quickly broke down, but in street fighting between ELAS and British occupation forces during December (known as the ‘Second Round’ of the Greek civil war) the communists failed to press home their advantage. Instead the KKE accepted the Varzika Agreement of February 9 1945, calling for the disarming of ELAS. The outcome allowed a revival of right wing nationalist forces shielded by the British occupation.


As always the British opted for a military solution rather than social and economic programmes. At the end of World War II Greece stood in virtual ruin. During the German occupation, which lasted until October 1944, the economy nearly collapsed. Allied bombing raids destroyed miles of railroads and devastated the major port cities of Salonika, Volos and Piraeus. A combination of heavy military traffic and neglect left the country’s highway network in a precarious condition. Then, as the Germans withdrew, they blew up bridges, highways, and portions of the four-mile-long Corinth Canal, which was a vital link between Athens and the Adriatic Sea.

The 1967 coup and the following seven years of military rule were the culmination of 30 years of national division between the forces of the left and the right that can be traced to the time of the resistance against Axis occupation of Greece during World War II. After the liberation in 1944, Greece descended into a civil war, fought between the communist forces and the now-returned government-in-exile.


In 1947 the United States formulated the Truman Doctrine and began to actively support a series of authoritarian governments in Greece, Turkey and Iran, in order to ensure that these states did not fall under Soviet influence. With American and British aid the civil war ended with the military defeat of the communists in 1949. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) was outlawed and many Communists either fled the country or faced persecution. The CIA and the Greek military began to work closely, especially after Greece joined NATO in 1952. Gust Avrakotos, a high ranking CIA officer in Greece who was close with the colonels who lead the coup, advised them regarding Andreas Papandreou “shoot the motherfucker because he’s going to come back to haunt you”.

The collapse of the junta both ideologically and politically was triggered by a series of events which unfolded soon after Papadopoulos’ attempt at liberalisation, with ideological collapse preceding its eventual political collapse. During and following this ill-fated process the internal political strains of the junta came to the fore and pitted the junta factions against each other, thus destroying the seemingly monolithic cohesion of the dictatorship.

We have little to be proud of in our actions with regards to Greece during this period hence it ill becomes British politicians giving advice when we have never compensated for our past demeanours

Relief and stability from post war hardship really only arrived to the present generation when Greece acceded to the European Community on 1 June 1981. This perhaps explains why, in general, Greeks prefer to be in the EC than out. However to ask a people living under austerity to accept additional austerity could push them too far.