The colonels' coup andthe cult of the kitsch

By Diane Shugart

THIRTY years after a clique of lowly, far-right army officers led by Colonel George Papadopoulos seized power and placed Greece in a "plaster cast" for seven years to "set the bones" of the "Hellas of Christian Hellenes" they envisioned, and which they believed democracy had crippled, an opinion survey commissioned by the Athens daily Eleftherotypia has shocked a society whose political culture, since the junta's collapse in 1974, has had as its tenet that the dictatorship was - and, by definition, is - evil.
Yet the poll, which also revealed an equally surprising ignorance in Greeks under the age of 30 about both the junta and the resistance movement, has sparked a long overdue attempt to put the junta in its proper historical perspective and a public discourse on what is being remembered, what should be remembered and why.
"The poll results did not take me particularly by surprise," said journalist Nikos Nicolaidis at a conference on Resistance and opposition: Myths and realities organised by Citizens' Intervention, an independent pressure group. "If we continue to view the dictatorship as an aberration, or an isolated incident, we will never be able to see it in the proper historical perspective - and that is that the junta was one piece of a game aimed at taming Greek democracy."
Still reeling from the civil war that followed its liberation from the Nazis, Greece in the mid-Sixties was being pulled apart by a vicious fight for control of three separate "states" ruling it: the legitimate power enshrined in the constitution, the "client state" created by political parties wielding power through partisan patronage, and the police with its dark parakratos, or "para-state" that terrorised the left and which, in May 1963, killed the popular left deputy Grigoris Lambrakis. It was an explosive enough mix without the addition of a meddlesome and short-sighted monarchy and the external pressures of the Cold War, then at its peak.
But democracy's slow evolution towards a natural balance among these competing powers was arrested by the colonels, who stepped in to the vacuum.
Parliament was suspended, political leaders arrested and either sent to internal exile or banished abroad. In their place, the colonels installed censors and torturers, who brutally beat dissenters, as they tried to instil a new, Greek nationalistic, Christian ethos on a nation that was intellectually bludgeoned into submission and tolerance, but not cooperation.
The seven years of the junta's rule were by no means even. Resistance, at home but mainly from protests from abroad encouraged by the activities of prominent Greeks, including the late actress Melina Mercouri and composer Mikis Theodorakis, forced the dictators to relax their grip but democracy never slipped from their vise. As professor Nikos Sofoulis emphasised in a comment on the Eleftherotypia poll, the mere consideration that the junta may have done any good is in itself unethical.
"The fact that, according to this poll, 49 percent of Greeks today believe that the junta did both good and bad indicates [society] has failed to make clear what the junta 'cost' Greece by retarding its political development - the cost of its disastrous adventure in Cyprus, the cost of forcing corporals to beat sergeants, the cost of destroying the 'myths' that comprise society's fabric," said Victor Papazisis, a leading intellectual and publisher.
The resistance movement spawned political forces that rose from the ashes of the colonels' regime that were far stronger than the rising phoenix that had served as the junta's emblem and played a catalytic role in the political fortunes of such statesman as Constantine Karamanlis, on the right, and the late socialist premier Andreas Papandreou, on the left.
Indeed, as Eleftherotypia's controversial poll revealed, it is the political leaders who are now identified as the heroes of the resistance while individuals such as Alekos Panagoulis, who nearly succeeded in his attempt to assassinate Papadopoulos in 1968, and Sakis Karageorgas, the courageous professor arrested in an accidental explosion while making a bomb, have all but faded from most Greeks' collective memory.
Thirty years after the coup, Greek democracy is in neither doubt nor jeopardy. Yet some believe Greeks are still paying the high cost of a junta which, in the words of Panagiotis Lambrias, a leading conservative and former Eurodeputy, was the corruption of its culture - society's values and aspirations.
"The poisons the junta sowed run deep. The slow surge in racism, xenophobia, the extreme nationalist obsession - which in fact is the opposite of patriotism - are, I am sorry to say, all the legacy of the junta," he said. "Its biggest damage is the cult of the kitsch it created that has distorted Greek history and ultimately corrupted citizens' clear vision."


ATHENS NEWS , 20/04/1997, page: A01
Article code: C11726A014


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