Roller-Coaster by Ian Kershaw

Roller-Coaster by Ian Kershaw

Author:Ian Kershaw
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780241187173
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Published: 2018-07-25T16:00:00+00:00


While Western European democracies struggled to adjust to the effects of the oil crisis there was good news to the south. The authoritarian regimes of Greece, Portugal and Spain collapsed within months of each other in 1974–5. Was this simply coincidence? Or were there deeper causes of the transformation?

Before the Second World War pluralist parliamentary democracy had, apart from a cluster of countries in north-western Europe, been a contested system of government, rejected both by powerful elites (especially in the military) and by wide swathes of the population. By the early 1980s it was welcomed everywhere in Western Europe – with the partial exception of Turkey, the most peripheral country in the western bloc, where the military remained the determining force in politics. It amounted to a remarkable and lasting transformation, a triumph for democracy.

Political change in Greece, as in much of the rest of Western Europe, had appeared in the early 1960s to be moving towards the left. The conservative right wing which, backed by the military, had run Greece since the end of the civil war of 1946–9 in what was little more than a facade democracy, had become increasingly unpopular and was ousted in elections in 1963. But the military viewed the new government’s proposed liberal reforms as a Trojan Horse for the return of communism. When King Constantine II forced the government out of office in 1965 it prompted a constitutional crisis and rising popular unrest. To forestall new elections in May 1967 right-wing army officers headed by Colonel George Papadopoulos, fearing steps in a left-leaning government to bring the army under civilian control, purge the leadership, reduce military expenditure and terminate the American presence in Greece, staged a coup on 21 April.

The king failed in a badly executed attempt to wrest control back in a counter-coup and fled into exile in what turned out to be a permanent end to the Greek monarchy. The ‘rule of the colonels’, as it became known, was quickly consolidated. A junta of twelve colonels, the ‘Revolutionary Council’, was established. Papadopoulos was from the start, however, the dominant figure, eventually combining the positions of Prime Minister and other key ministries – notably foreign affairs and defence – with the regency that was set up after the king’s attempted counter-coup. Political parties were dissolved, thousands of left-wing sympathizers were arrested (and many tortured in prison), civil rights were suspended, and rigorous censorship of the media was imposed, while numerous opponents fled abroad. The regime worked closely with industrial leaders, supported agriculture, backed tourism, and started a number of big construction projects. Economic growth was at first strong, though it started to sag badly in the early 1970s. Greece’s image abroad suffered as criticism of the regime’s assault on human rights mounted. But the regime was propped up by support from the United States, concerned more about its vehement anti-communism than its appalling human rights record. Nor was there any united opposition to the regime by the Western European democracies. While


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