Monday, April 23, 2007


In the mid-summer of 1999, I was sitting on a balcony of an apartment in Ambelokipoi, uncharacteristically sipping a frappe, totally engrossed in the footage displayed on the television screen by an obscure local channel. A motley group of persons holding up Greek flags that displayed a phoenix at their centre were clapping, as a casket was being lowered into the ground. Were they clapping because they were glad to have safely disposed of a potentially occupation and safety hazard according to the regulations, or was this indeed their way of honouring the occupant of the sarcophagus? I sighed, scratched my leg and took another sip of my frappe, changing the channel to MAD in order to appreciate Madonna singing ‘Beautiful Stanger’ in the company of Austin Powers. It was only later that day when I chanced upon some strangely unrepentant juntists, (strange as they had all been born after the fall of the Greek Junta) that I discovered that I had been witnessing the final chapter of a most bizarre period in Greek history: the funeral of the 1967 coup leader, Giorgos Papadopoulos.
Indeed, such indolently indulgent behaviour as that aforementioned would not at all have been possible some thirty or so years previously. For it was then, on 21 April 1967 that the «εθνοσωτήριος επανάστασις» (nation-saving revolution) took place, ostensibly to make Greece safe for democracy. Greece had enjoyed a stormy period of political turmoil after the close of the Civil War. Governments rose and fell at whim, the more liberal and democratic politicians were perpetually squabbling with the King and the reactionary right, who were determined to perpetually marginalise those elements of society that fought on the wrong side in the Civil War and cement their rule over Greece through any means, constitutional or not. Sections of the military with Colonel Giorgos Papadopoulos at their head, had, in the heady years immediately prior to the coup, made various intricate plans to seize power, while the young and inexperienced King too, had made plans to subvert the Constitution, replacing elected governments with other more compliant ones of his own liking, plunging the country into chaos.
When Papadopoulos seized power in 1967, just prior to an election, he did so citing the danger of an imminent take-over of Greece by Communists. His coup therefore, was justified by the fact that in unconstitutionally taking control of the country, he was saving Greek democracy. Enough evidence has emerged since, to suggest that the United States were, if not complicit, then at least cognizant of the coup’s orchestration. Amusingly, while Phillip Talbot, the US ambassador in Athens, disapproved of the military coup, complaining that it represented ‘a rape of democracy,’ Jack Maury, the CIA chief of station in Athens, characteristically riposted, ‘How can you rape a whore?’ a telling exposition of the state of our greatest export within its own birthplace.
For some reason, the coup came to be popularily termed ‘the Junta’ and its supporters “juntikoi.” That this terminology remains with us still to denote any perceived subversion of democracy or foul play in general can be evidenced by the charming linguistic morphing of the word, here in Melbourne. Thus, the current regime reigning in Lonsdale Street is referred to by its detractors as the “Founta” and its supporters, as “Fountists.” At any rate, the baptism of the coup with a Meso-American name possibly ensued its downfall. For a Junta to be successful, it needs to be run by oily, dark-skinned men with deep tan lines, long, drooping mustaches who smoke Cuban cigarettes and wear a multitude of gold rings on their fingers, the value of which, could purchase a small Balkan country. Such Juntas are invariably run by personages with impressive hispanic sounding names such as Pedro Paulino Hermenegildo Reodulo Francisco y Salgado Araujo, who wear jodhpurs dark sunglasses and slap their adjutants wit riding crops. Had Papadopoulos changed his name to Jorge Hijo de Sacerdote, we would now all be singing the national anthem to a samba beat. Unfortunately, Papadopoulos was too concerned with dancing with foustanella clad, burly Hellenic types and all the accoutrements of petty fascism were left by the wayside.
Apart from the usual torturing and imprisoning of political enemies, the exiling of dissidents to Long Island and the general curtailing of public freedoms, the Junta, exhibiting the sort of general malaize that only the genius possess and the insane lament, made lasting constributions to linguistics. Its ideology was followed by the creation and use of terms that were employed as propaganda tools. The revised Junta lexicon included unique expressions that provide a glimpse into its mindset and government structure. For example, the word anarchist was expertly contorted by the Junta to mean any opponent of only their archi (αρχή) meaning, exclusively, any opponent of the Junta regime. Ingenious compound words such as ‘anarchokommounistes’ were employed to signify that there was absolutely no difference between communists and anarchists. An ‘ethnikofron’ was a person who was ‘Nation-minded’ or a patriot ie. a supporter of the Junta. Conversely, the term ‘antethnikos’ signified the opposite of an ‘ethnikofron,’ meaning against the nation. This invariably described anyone that declared to be or acted against the Junta. The term usually, but not exclusively, was reserved for those out of junta's reach as, for example, in antethniki propaganda (from abroad) against the Junta, or distinguished and well known personalities that could not be labelled otherwise. For lesser personalities and domestic resistance, especially students, anarchokommounistes was, more often, the label of choice. As a corollary, was another distinguished phrase: ‘antethiniki drastiriotis’ or activity against the Nation indicating resistance action against the Junta. Distinguished Greeks such as poet Giorgos Seferis, Mikis Theodorakis, Melina Mercouri and many others were placed into this category.
By far my favourite phrases employed clumsily by Papdopoulos were the following: “Όταν εγώ θα αποφασίσω θα γίνουν εκλογές,» showing that Papadopoulos’ commitment to democracy was a precursor of Presdient Pervz Musharaff of Pakistan’s own, «Ησυχία, τάξις και ασφάλεια» (peace, order and security) which was said to reign throughout the land, and «αποφασίζομεν και διατάσσομεν» (we decide and we order), prefacing all of the Junta’s announcements. Papadopoulos’ raspy voice and his struggle to extricate his tongue from the mesh of pretentious artificially created katharevousa that he imposed upon the populace is today, side-splittingly funny. One of his speeches, where he refers to Greece as «ασθενής στο γείψο» (a patient in a plaster cast) and implies that he and his cronies were doctors sent to cure Greece of her ills, after which time he launches into a detailed description of the medical procedure entailed is surreal and almost made me crash into a telephone pole when I happened to listen to a re-broadcast of it one day in the car.
Perhaps the most enduring as well as reviled Junta political slogan was «Ελλάς Ελλήνων Χριστιανών» (Greece of Greek Christians) as it is a concept that Greek society has been grappling with, both in Greece and in this country, ever since the conversion of the Greeks in the dawn of Christianity. Is Christianity synonymous with being Greek? Can the concept of being Greek thus preclude those who do not espouse Christianity? The Junta seemed to think it did and it is arguable that a vast number of Greeks, quite possibly the majority, still think so today. Indeed, it could be argued that the Junta’s treatment of such questions of identity, rather than cement them in the popular consciousness, caused doubts to be cast upon them. Guilty by association your honour.
When the Junta fell, it did so pathetically after attempting fecklessly to organize a coup in Cyprus, thus provoking the Turkish invasion of that island. Its legacy is with us still. The anti-Junta movement fostered a belief in the right to protest, culminating in the tragic self immolation of geology student Kostas Georgakis in Matteoti Square, Genoa, that has been transformed from a well-intentioned peaceful voicing of an opinion to a violent and destructive riot at the slightest pretext. Right up until the present day, one of the electoral tactics of the centre left has been to scare citizens into voting for them by maintaining that by voting for the right, they are voting for Junta sympathizers, though the centrist politics of the Simitis and current conservative government have largely destroyed the distinction between right and left, finally bringing to an end a conflict and division in Greek society that began during the Second World War.
The phoenix, an old symbol of the original Greek revolution has been tainted by the Junta and banished from public display except for the bus terminal at Ionnina,. wher e a large phoenix, lying on its side, could be glimpsed through the doors of a storeroom as late as 1998. From time to time, prominent Greek personalities, such as Archbishop of Athens Christodoulos are accused of collaborating with the Junta and it was only recently that one of the last members of the Junta, the infamous Stylianos Patakos, died in extreme old age, bitter and unrepentant, maintaining to the last that his Junta could have ‘saved’ Greece.
An entire generation defined itself by its anti-Junta stance. Here in Australia, Neos Kosmos played a historic role at the forefront of anti-Junta sentiment. This was the generation that was nourished upon Theodorakis’ protest songs, Ritsos’ poetry and Maria Farantouris’ girth. They believed that they would change the world and make it a better place and indeed one of the major complaints of these now aging activists is that the youth of today have nothing to fight for. Perhaps it is still early to tell whether this is in fact the case. Regardless of the Junta’s repression and ridiculousness, one of George Papadopoulos’ statements still may ring true to this day: «Ο δρόμος τον οποίον οφείλομεν να διανύσωμεν είναι μακρύς και θα παραμείνει επίπονος, το τέλος του, όμως, κατοχυρώνει ένα λαμπρόν μέλλον δια την πατρίδαν μας.»


First published in NKEE on 23 April 2007