Behind the Iron Curtain – Chapter XI (third part)

41. The Greek Obstacle.

A first endeavour to oppose Russia’s access to the Mediterranean was made by Great Britain during the autumn of 1944. British troops landed in Greece as soon as the German resistance in the Balkans was made impossible by the reversal of Rumania’s alliances. Greece has remained since then under British control.

The British control in Greece met from the beginning with great difficulties, which may not all be attributed to hazard or local conditions but rather to foreign instigation. One might recall the rebellion of the communist “patriotic” organizations E.A.M. and E.L.L.A.S. in December 1944; the real war waged in the streets of Athens and the Piraeus by General Scobie’s British troops in order to defeat this rebellion; Mr. Churchill’s and Mr. Eden’s flight to Athens; the appointment as Regent of Greece of the Archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos, as a substitute for King George considered undesirable by the Communists and their satellites; lastly, the compromise concluded with the Communists in February 1945 by the Greek prime minister, General Plastiras, in order to re-establish an appearance of order and concord.

After this agreement, the Greek Communist Party and its “patriotic” annexes went on in raising up trouble and disorder. Many violent demonstrations, strikes, riots and political crises followed until the general elections of March 31st 1946. The communists refused to present themselves in these elections, which gave a Royalist majority. The Royalist governments which took office after the elections had to overcome a difficult situation.

The first problem the new government had to overcome was the problem of the Monarchy. King George II lived in England and was substituted by the Regent, Archbishop Damaskinos. The Greek people were asked to decide by a plebiscite if they wanted the King to recover his throne. The King had an important majority and returned to Athens during the last days of September 1946. He died in March 1947 and his brother Paul I succeeded to the throne.

As mentioned above a war of nerves was carried on in 1945 with Russian support by the Yugoslavian and Bulgarian press about the so-called atrocities the Greek authorities were said to have committed against the Slav minority of Greek Macedonia.

In September 1946, a rebellion openly supported by Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Russia broke out in Macedonia and lasted for several months. The Greek regular troops had to carry on severe fights against the rebels. Incidents also happened and are still happening in the Epirus, at the Greek – Albanian frontier.

During the Paris Peace Conference, the New York U.N.O. Conference and the investigation carried by the UNO International Commission in Macedonia, the Russians openly supported Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania against Greece.

It seems clear that the Greek government is having much trouble and this trouble might easily become far greater in the future. One may ask how the situation will develop after the departure of the British troops, which seems highly desirable to the Russians[1], or after the waste of the American financial aid.

The Greek communist Party is powerful, well organized and thoroughly supported by Russia. It was successful in several elections between the two World Wars. It did not take part in the elections of March 31st 1946 under the pretext that they were not free elections. The truth is that the party and its satellites had become odious by their atrocities during the rebellion in December 1944 and feared the resentment of the public. Thus, the elections gave a Royalist majority, but the communists and their foreign supporters might at any moment question their validity. The present Greek government and those who would follow are expected to be harassed by the Communists in the country as well as from outside. The Communist Party is likely to obtain Russia’s, Yugoslavia’s and Bulgaria’s support for increased pressure on whatever pretext may be found. In the interior it is likely to resort to press campaigns, strikes, rebellions and even civil wars. Devoid of the actual strong foreign support, the “reactionary” governments would only be able to convince the Greeks of their inefficiency. Nothing would then hinder the Greek people, whose political inconsistency is well known, from giving the Communist Party a majority in the following elections. At that very moment, Greece would enter the Russian zone of influence, Russia’s access to the Mediterranean would be assured from Trieste to Rhodos and no Power in the World would be able to oppose it – unless by a Third World War.

One might object that the above considerations are purely hypothetical and question the possibility of a communist success in the elections even in a more distant future. In this matter it would seem advisable to remember the political versatility of the Greek people who for the last 30 years not only changed their government even more frequently than France, but also provoked not less than seven dynastic crises. King Constantine ascended the throne in 1913, after his father assassination, was deposed in 1917, recalled in 1920 and deposed again in 1922 when he was succeeded by his son George II. The latter was deposed in his turn and replaced by a republican regime in 1923, called again to the throne in 1935, replaced by a Regent in 1944 and called back for the third time in 1946. One more change does not seem likely to frighten the Greek people.

The events during the years 1920 – 1923 were also very instructive. In 1930, the Lloyd George government had trusted the Greek government of Venizelos, who was considered as completely devoted to Great Britain, with an easier task than that of being an obstacle in Russia’s way to the Mediterranean. At that time, Greece had only to watch Mustapha Kemal’s Turkey and prevent her from interfering in the Arabian World where England had a very delicate part to play. The Greek troops attacked the Turks in Asia Minor beyond Smyrna, and had an easy success. In December 1920 Venizelos, then at the summit of his prestige, presided over general elections and everybody expected him to hold an important majority. The result, however, was a total defeat for him and a striking success for the Royalist and former pro-German Party of his rival Gounaris.

The latter, at the head of King Constantine’s new government, continued Venizelos’ policy in Asia Minor. England however, who now had to support an old opponent, did not take up a firm attitude. She still encouraged the Greeks against the Turks but did not lend them the indispensable material support. The final result was that of all half made attempts. In October 1922 the Greek campaign in Asia Minor ended in a disaster and Smyrna was taken back by the Turks.

In Great Britain, Lloyd George had to resign and the conservative government which followed abandoned the policy of intervention and returned to that of insular isolation. In Greece, the Royalist Party was overthrown by a military revolt and in February 1923 Gounaris, five former ministers and prime ministers and the former commander – in chief were shot after a pseudo-trial. The whole story clearly demonstrated what might be the result of entrusting a small country like Greece with a political role beyond her power.

The final conclusion to be drawn is that the Greek obstacle, if abandoned to its own resources in Russia’s way towards the Mediterranean, could not possibly be an effective obstacle.

[1] It is worth recalling that Russia repeatedly asked for the withdrawal of the British troops from Greece; the incidents that happened at the U.N.O. conference in London in February 1946 between Messrs. Bevin and Vyshinski are notorious.

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