PETER FROST reminds us of some aspects of Greek history that help explain key issues of the situation in Greece today

500BC Cradle of democracy

Today’s Greeks are rightfully proud that it was their country that gave the world democracy.

Just like Greece today, early democracy wasn’t quite as democratic as you might think.

Some 30,000 Athenian men had the vote out of a total population of over a quarter of a million.

Only adult male Athenian citizens could vote. Excluded were women, slaves, freed slaves, children and foreigners.

Also excluded from the right to a say in running their country were those who couldn’t pay their debts, a curious precursor to the situation the eurozone finance ministers are trying to bring back in Greece today.

1918 Greece gets a Communist Party

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) was founded in 1918 as the Socialist Labour Party of Greece. It is the country’s oldest political party.

Greek socialists had been inspired by decades of revolutionary activity from the Paris Commune to the workers’ struggles in the US and Germany.

Many Greek exiles had played their part in these strikes and political campaigns and brought or sent news of these epic struggles home.


Finally the 1917 Bolshevik revolution (above) convinced Greek communists that they needed their own home-grown party.

Early political aims were to organise Greek workers into trade unions, for an eight-hour day and for higher wages.

In 1920, it decided to join the Comintern in Moscow and in 1924, the party renamed itself the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). At the last general election the KKE won 15 seats and it also holds two EU seats.

1941 The first German occupation of Greece

In April 1941 fascist Italy and nazi Germany invaded Greece. They would occupy parts of the country until the end of World War II.


A puppet Greek government was established immediately after the invasion. The occupation brought about terrible hardships for the Greeks.

Over 40,000 civilians died in Athens alone from starvation, tens of thousands more were murdered by both nazis and collaborators. The country’s economy was ruined.

The Greek Resistance, many of them communists, became one of the most effective anti-nazi movements in occupied Europe.

1943 The tragic civil war

As the Greek resistance groups started to win the battle against the nazis, the right-wing collaborationists started to turn on the communists and other left resistance forces.

By late 1943 the left and right resistance groups began to fight each other.

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When the nazis were driven from the mainland in October 1944, these divisions led to civil war.

Many prominent anti-communist nazi collaborators used the conflict to escape punishment.

With US and British support they would become the right-wing ruling class of post-war Greece.

1944 A British outrage in Athens

On December 3 1944, a huge demonstration of communists, progressives and democrats in Athens’s Syntagma Square was attacked by British soldiers.


Twenty-eight protesters, mostly young, were shot dead and another 128 were injured. The events are known in Greece as the Dekemvriana.

The orders for the bloodletting had come direct from Winston Churchill, who was determined to stop the advance of popular communist support in the Balkans.

A young Mikis Theodorakis, who wrote Zorba the Greek and became a legend as one of Greece’s best-known composers, daubed a huge Greek flag on the pavement using the blood of his fallen comrades.

1946 The German bully who wanted to rule Greece

No, we are not talking about Angela Merkel. This is about Frederica, born a German princess of Hanover, Great Britain and Ireland. Although German, as a descendant of Queen Victoria, she was 34th in line to the British throne.


The princess was an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth and indeed her husband proposed marriage to her at Hitler’s notorious 1936 Summer Olympics (below). He was the son of King Constantine I and Frederica’s cousin. They married in Athens in 1938 and Frederica became Hereditary Princess of Greece, her husband being heir to his childless elder brother, King George II.


The couple fled war-time Greece, living in London, South Africa and finally Eygpt. Only in 1946 when the Greek people decided by a rigged referendum to restore the monarchy did the prince and princess return to Greece.

When George II died, Frederica’s husband became King Paul I, Frederica his queen consort. The country was hugely divided, which led to the Greek civil war. The king and queen, supported and guarded by US and British forces, toured Greece appealing for loyalty.

During the civil war, Queen Frederica set up camps where children, some as young as three, were indoctrinated in right-wing politics and loyalty to the monarchy. Worse, some of these children were offered for adoption, for a generous fee, to rich US families. Frederica was both unpopular and totally undemocratic, making numerous arbitrary and unconstitutional interventions in Greek politics.

She clashed with the democratically elected government. On her many luxurious state and shopping visits abroad she was often greeted by huge demonstrations. She died in 1981 in exile in Madrid during a cosmetic operation to remove the bags from under her eyes.

1947 The Truman Doctrine

In March 1947 president Harry S Truman made what many consider was the first declaration of the cold war. He pledged to contain what he called Soviet threats to the Balkans.


The Truman Doctrine became the foundation stone of US anti-communist foreign policy, and led in 1949 to the formation of Nato.

The US and Britain began to actively support a series of authoritarian governments in Greece, Turkey and Iran.
In Greece the bitter civil war ended with the military defeat of the communists in 1949.

The KKE was made illegal and driven underground and many communists either fled the country or faced persecution and jail.

1960 German war debt


In 1942, the occupying nazis forced the Greek Central Bank to lend 476 million Reichsmarks at zero interest to nazi Germany.

In 1960, Greece accepted 115 million Marks as a down payment towards the debt and as compensation for nazi war crimes.

In 1990, Germany started to insist that all matters concerning World War II, including further reparations to Greece, were closed.

Earlier this year Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras officially demanded that Germany pay further reparations to Greece.

On April 6, Greece demanded Germany pay the equivalent of €278 billion in reparations for the war. Germany, it seems, has no intention of ever paying any of that debt.

1963 Princess Frederica and the bent copper

Karl Carter was a 22-year-old communist. In July 1963 he joined the mass protests outside Claridge’s hotel against Queen Frederica of Greece’s state visit to London.

Karl with charge sheet

Karl still has the charge sheet from half a century ago.

Three policemen, bused in from outside London, arrested Carter and charged him with “using insulting words and behaviour whereby a breach of the peace might be occasioned.”

In court they gave evidence that he had shouted: “Free the Greek prisoners! Down with Queen Frederica!” Carter said he never had a chance to shout at all.

Conducting his own defence, Carter asked one of the out-of-town policemen where they had arrested him.

The policeman quoted a road junction that simply didn’t exist. The magistrate threw out the case.

Other protesters that day weren’t so lucky. While he was being charged, Carter witnessed the notorious bent copper Harold Challenor fitting up fellow protester Donald Rooum.

Rooum was a cartoonist for Peace News. Challenor told him: “You’re fucking nicked, my beauty. Boo the Queen, would you?” and punched him in the head.

At the police station, Challenor added a half-brick to Rooum’s possessions, saying: “There you are, me old darling, carrying an offensive weapon — you can get two years for that.”

Rooum, a member of the National Council for Civil Liberties, had studied forensic science. He refused to touch the planted half-brick and handed his clothes to his solicitor for testing. No brick dust was found and Rooum was acquitted.

Not everyone was as lucky as Carter and Rooum. Other people arrested at the demonstration were convicted, many on the perjured evidence of Challenor and other officers.

Challenor got his comeuppance at the Old Bailey in 1964, when he was charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Almost unbelievably his defence was insanity.

He was deemed unfit to plead and spent a short time in hospital before returning to the justice system as an investigator for the solicitor who had defended him. The Metropolitan Police remained institutionally corrupt.

1963 A murdered hero

Grigoris Lambrakis was a politician, physician and athlete and an active fighter with the anti-nazi resistance.

He organised sports competitions and used the money they raised to fund foodbanks.

Not a communist, Lambrakis was part of the United Democratic Left. He was an active pacifist campaigning against the Vietnam war and even taking part in the British Aldermaston CND marches.


On April 21 1963, Greek pacifists organised the first pacifist rally from Marathon to Athens. The police banned the rally and arrested many demonstrators, including Mikis Theodorakis.

Lambrakis, using his parliamentary immunity, marched alone carrying what became a famous banner. He too was arrested by the police.

On May 22 1963, shortly after he had delivered the keynote speech at an anti-war meeting in Thessaloniki, two far-right thugs clubbed Lambrakis to death as police looked on.

His funeral became a massive demonstration. More than 500,000 people rallied to protest against the right-wing government and the monarchy.

Thousands of Greek youths founded a new political organisation called the Lambrakis Democratic Youth.

Theodorakis, one of Lambrakis’s friends and fellow activists, was elected its first president.

This leftist political organisation played a decisive role in Greece’s progressive movement of the 1960s.

1967 Greece under the colonels

In 1967 a military coup d’etat seized control of Greece. A series of right-wing military juntas would rule until July 1974.


The Hellenic National Intelligence Service (EYP) and the Mountain Raiding Companies (LOK), both right-wing secret service organisations, had been set up to guard against a left-wing parliamentary victory. They were supported by the CIA and the US government.

In 1965 King Constantine sacked the Centre Union’s Georgios Papandreou Snr (right) as prime minister.

The king appointed an interim government under Ioannis Paraskevopoulos, and new elections were called for May 1967.

Papandreou’s Centre Union was tipped to be the largest party but needed a coalition with the United Democratic Left which included many banned communist supporters.

This was too much for the military, the Greek right, the monarchy and their US supporters.

On April 21 1967, just weeks before the scheduled elections, a group of right-wing army officers seized power in a coup d’etat.


The coup leaders placed tanks (above) in strategic positions in Athens, effectively gaining complete control of the city.

At the same time, 10,000 leading politicians and ordinary citizens suspected of left-wing sympathies were arrested.

2004 Syriza — A new party of the left

In 2014 a new coalition of the radical left was founded. Today Syriza is the biggest party in the Hellenic Parliament and scarcely ever out of the headlines.


The coalition originally comprised a broad alliance of leftist groups and individuals, including some communists not part of KKE, democratic socialists, feminists, environmentalist groups, as well as Maoist, Trotskyist and euro-communist groupings.

This article appeared in the Morning Star 30 July 2015


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