30 years since the military dictatorship collapsed and democracy was restored

All was not what it seemed in early junta days

In the fifth and last instalment of our July series, an Australianjournalist takes a closer look at the months leading up to the fall of thejunta and shows there existed an undercurrent of tension

DAVID GLASS
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Thousands of demonstrators gather outside the Athens Polytechnion on 16 November 1973 in support for the students staging a massive sit-in at the building demanding freedom and democratic rights. Hours later, the military regime sent its tanks to crack down on the students' uprising

WHEN I drove over the border from Turkey into Greece between Christmas 1971 and New Year 1972, it was raining and looking pretty glum.

Indeed, it had been raining in Turkey for days, and the trip to Greece was just a two- to three-week diversion in an overland drive from London to Sydney, Australia, after being kicked out of the UK by the newly elected Heath government because I had spent more than my allowable two years working there as a journalist in the Fleet Street office of Aussie media group John Fairfax & Sons.

I had made a couple of short visits to Greece in the two previous years, and this visit was to primarily meet up with the then mayor of Piraeus, Aristides Skilitsis, with the view to producing a supplement on the port city which the proud mayor described as "the heart of the Greek economy".

To the casual visitor, Greece seemed to be booming in 1972. A great deal of construction was going on, especially in and around Athens and Piraeus, but an atmosphere of a big village remained, and one in which the essentials - food, accommodation and transport - were cheap.

There was no inflation, with the drachma pegged at 30 drachmas to the US dollar. Indeed, a long, long ouzo accompanied by a generous meze in one of the many arcades off Omonia Square cost less than 2 drs, so one could have a meal, get sloshed, and leave a tip for 8 drs.

Working in Piraeus, I quickly became a 'Pireotis' and found a Mykonos-style house just off the Akti Miaouli waterfront. Sydney seemed a long way off by the time my first Clean Monday and Pascha rolled round. Still, I never suspected I would be here 30 years on.

But, with trying to ignore the continual threat of the Aliens' Bureau, whose members would now and then turn up at the house to check my papers, the longer one spent in Greece, the more one realised all was not what it seemed.

Taboos

While people in the street talked about newfound stability and were saying that now that stability had been returned, George Papadopoulos and his junta would return to their barracks, the more I mixed with the journalist community, I realised an undercurrent of tension existed in all aspects of daily life. Politics seemed to be the only topic of conversation, though openly talking about politics was taboo. Much of the discussion was generated by rumours concerning politicians who were not even living in the country.

As well, music composed by people like Mikis Theodorakis and Stavros Xarchakos, who had become my favourites, was only heard behind locked doors.

There was also a lack of knowledge about what was going on in the country when it did not directly concern Papadopoulos and his cronies or the thousands of US military associated with the Sixth Fleet who roamed the streets of the southern beach suburbs of Athens.

To me, Greece still seemed to have so much to offer if the population, no, if the Athenians, could come to grips with life outside politics. I had the misguided belief that by ignoring the colonels, influenced by the stability and the Greek's great love of democracy, international pressure from outside the country would force the junta to leave.

Working in London, I had handled weekly reports filed by Victor Walker, the Fairfax group's longtime Greek correspondent, and I thus thought I was pretty much aware of the situation in Greece. Not long after I arrived, I met with Vic, who was editor of the Athens News and working with the paper's founder Yannis Horn, a vigorous opponent of the junta. Horn spent considerable time under house arrest because of his refusal to buckle down to the junta.

I had also become friendly with Michael Aust, an Englishman who each evening presented an eight- to ten-minute English-language news bulletin on the state-run television network. Although he was allowed to prepare his own bulletin, he could only use "approved material" and, on occasions, was taken off the air because of his uncensored 'add-ons', only to return a few days later under popular public demand.

Tide turning against junta

By mid-1972, I was editing a newly established bi-monthly A4-size newspaper, the International Almanac. Through free circulation primarily at leading hotels and other places frequented by foreigners, The Almanac sought to keep the growing local English-speaking community and visitors to Greece abreast of what was going on, particularly with regard to the cultural and entertainment sectors while promoting tourism. Depending on advertising for survival, the paper was trying to look on the brighter side by adopting a neutral editorial line.

The Almanac was printed on the Athens News premises, and soon I was also working as an editor at the Athens News under Walker and a thundering Yannis Horn. Thus I was getting my first real insight into what was really going on.

By mid-1973, not only was 'the citizen's rebellion' against the junta gaining momentum, but I had also reversed the scenario of the tale 'foreign girl meets Greek fisherman', and with Aust agreeing to stand with me, Sophia in all her 'wisdom', married me. A few months earlier, I had been forced to marshal witnesses, including my future father-in-law at the Aliens' Bureau, just off Omonia, to explain why I should be able to stay in Greece.

The tide was turning, and the colonels were making life more difficult for everyone as pressure on them to quit grew. Favourite haunts like the Donald Scotch Club in Plaka were losing custom to the Boites ('box' in French), small clubs where groups would meet to discuss and listen to music, and read poetry, most of it on the banned list. Whenever word went round that so-and-so Boite had been raided, it was a signal the place was worth a visit.

Under house arrest, Horn had to stop publishing the Athens News, and Walker and I had joined Athens' other English-language daily, the Athens Daily Post.

Censorship was increasing, though it often took the indirect form, with the threats coming after a headline or article had upset someone.

Newsprint (paper) had to be purchased from the government-controlled agency so a warning was taken seriously.

As public defiance grew through the summer of 1973, so did the measures to counter it. With military aircraft circling overhead, military music would often break into normal radio programming, especially in the early mornings, to prepare listeners for the latest announcement or decree.

Indeed, people started listening to the radio.

Curfews and circulation restrictions were being imposed as demonstrations, though still small, increased in regularity and the names of former political figures were being leaked by the junta in an effort to get the rumour mill going regarding collaboration between it and politicians as a first step in a return to democracy. Spyros Markezinis was the name on many lips.

When students climbed onto the roof of the Law School in central Athens and were still there two weeks later when Athens Polytechnion students staged their massive sit-in, tension in downtown Athens was unbelievable. For days in November there were clashes between demonstrators and police in the streets between Omonia and Syntagma squares.

The Athens Post was based in Omonia, a few hundred metres from the Law School and less than a kilometre from the Polytechnion, and, though we had been warned not to go to work, we had decided we would publish, despite teargas wafting into the basement printing shop, where production was taking place, and there was the challenge of getting home, as curfew was in force.

17 November 1973

On the evening of November 17, we were struggling to produce the paper when anxious family and friends started telephoning saying trouble was brewing on the streets. We knew this, but when police arrived to order us to get out of the print shop, we were amazed with what we found above ground.

There was little movement, as clouds of teargas made it impossible to see, but I had to get home. Though the streets were almost empty, I was jostled and had my glasses smashed, as I ran down Stadiou Street towards Syntagma. I ended up running/walking along the deserted streets from the print shop to Kalamaki where I lived.

The excitement of the night of November 17 is matched by the one spent trying to get the headline right to cover the pending return of Karamanlis from 11 years' exile in Paris. With the government in tatters, reports had been doing the rounds since June that the 67-year-old politician was to return, but it was only when we learned that the daily Vradini, which had been closed by the junta, was about to publish a four-page issue that we went ahead with the title 'Karamanlis returns'. He did a few hours after we hit the streets.

It had been generally realised that only Karamanlis would be acceptable to most political shades of opinion, the armed forces and the majority of the Greek people.

Within two months, he was to put the army under civilian authority, avoid a disastrous war with Turkey over Cyprus and start talking about membership of the European Union and the safeguards this would offer.

The route to democratic elections was laid.

While this was going on, I had been engaged to help launch a new magazine, The Athenian. The idea of Helen Kotsonis, The Athenian was an English-language fortnightly styled along the lines of the US magazine, The Village Voice, and sought to serve as a means of communication for the foreign inhabitant who is largely isolated for the activities of the local society. The magazine was to become well established within the wider Greek community.

Among those to return to Greece at this time was self-exiled owner of the daily newspaper Kathimerini, Eleni Vlachos. She had escaped while under house arrest and gone to London after electing to stop publishing. She was a state deputy on the Karamanlis/New Democracy slate in the first free elections.

Out of the blue, in the autumn of 1974, I received a telephone call from Mrs Vlachou, a lady I admired but had never met. She asked me to visit her at Kathimerini, in Socrates Street, a stone's throw from the Post.

Publications in the junta years

There she showed me a dummy of a planned English-language monthly, titled New Greece, and explained she wanted to take the thousands of Philhellenes who had worked to expose the junta and help bring about its downfall.

The review would comprise material translated from the pages of the daily Kathimerini as well as the original copy. She would publish and edit it and was looking for a managing/production editor to work with. I jumped at the offer, and in January, 1975, New Greece became a reality.

Philhellenes like Leslie Finer, CM Woodhouse and Sir Hugh Green shared their views of the re-emerging Greece, as did Nobel Prize-winning Australian novelist, Patrick White. Backed up by the reporting staff of Kathimerini, and columns by Mrs Vlachou, were political editor George Drossos, Eleni Bistikas and Maria Karavia.

For the next two years, New Greece reported the 'dejuntaisation' of Greece; developments in Cyprus and the Aegean; the overhaul of Greek radio and television; the emerging equality for women; Karamanlis' trip to Paris in May 1975 which officially ended Greece's international isolation; the autumn 1975 visit of French president, Valery Giscard d' Estaing, the first head of state to be welcomed in Greece in 12 years, who was soon followed by German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt; embryo EC discussions; election of Constantine Tsatsos as president; the Ioannis Deyannis-directed trials of junta leaders and associates; and the trials of long-feared interrogators and torturers, like Theodore Theophyloyannakos.

The re-emerging cultural scene - music, theatre, art and books - was covered, as was the strengthening economy, the developing business sector and tourism.

But, as the curtain fell on 1976, so it also fell on New Greece.

"Greece is again a functioning democracy and the wider world has moved on to other causes," explained Eleni Vlachou. In one of her final comments in New Greece, she wrote: "There is a lot of talk about tanks again in Athens: That is, buying them for military purposes from the US, France, Germany."

"We had better get Greek ones," says an expert.

"Why?"

"Because they are better educated. they have been to the Polytechnic."


ATHENS NEWS , 30/07/2004, page: A08
Article code: C13077A081


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