In modern Greek usage, the term “Ethnarch” has the connotation of “father of the nation”, and is widely used as an epithet applied to one of the most influential political leaders of modern Hellenism: Constantine Karamanlis.
It was about two hours past midnight, between July 23rd and 24th, 1974 when Constantine Karamanlis landed at Ellinikon airport aboard the former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s plane from Paris. Huge crowds gathered to greet him at Athens airport and there was jubilation in the streets of the Greek capital to mark the beginning of a return to democracy.
Karamanlis, 67, was prime minister for an unprecedented eight years until the centre-left won power in the country’s last democratic election in 1963. Up until his return that day, he was in self-imposed exile in Paris He was one of eight former senior politicians invited to return by the foundering military leadership.
Constantine Karamanlis part 1 of 4
The military junta, led by Colonel Papadopoulos, Colonel Makarezos and Brigadier Pattakos seized power in Greece in April 1967. Following the invasion of Cyprus by the Turks, the dictators finally abandoned Ioannides and his disastrous policies.
On July 23, 1974, President Phaedon Gizikis called a meeting of old guard politicians, including Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, Spyros Markezinis, Stephanos Stephanopoulos, Evangelos Averoff and others. The heads of the armed forces also participated in the meeting. The agenda was to appoint a national unity government that would lead the country to elections. Kanellopoulos was originally suggested as the head of the new interim government. He was the interim Prime Minister originally deposed by the dictatorship in 1967 and a distinguished politician who had repeatedly criticized Papadopoulos and his successor. Raging battles were still taking place in Cyprus’ north when Greeks took to the streets in all the major cities, celebrating the junta’s decision to relinquish power before the war in Cyprus could spill all over the Aegean. But talks in Athens were going nowhere with Gizikis’ offer to Panagiotis Kanellopoulos to form a government.
Nonetheless, after all the other politicians departed without reaching a decision, Averoff remained in the meeting room and further engaged Gizikis. He insisted that Karamanlis was the only political personality who could lead a successful transition government, taking into consideration the new circumstances and dangers both inside and outside the country. Gizikis and the heads of the armed forces initially expressed reservations, but they finally became convinced by Averoff’s arguments. Admiral Arapakis was the first, among the participating military leaders, to express his support for Karamanlis.After Averoff’s decisive intervention, Gizikis decided to invite Karamanlis to assume the premiership. Throughout his stay in France, Karamanlis was a vocal opponent of the Regime of the Colonels, the military junta that seized power in Greece in April 1967. Now he was called to end his self imposed exile and restore Democracy to the place that originally created it… Greece.
Upon news of his impending arrival cheering Athenian crowds took to the streets chanting: Έρχεται! Έρχεται! He is coming! He is coming… Similar celebrations broke out all over Greece. Athenians in their thousands also went to the airport to greet him.
Karamanlis was sworn-in as Prime Minister under President pro-tempore Phaedon Gizikis who remained in power in the interim, or until December 1974, for legal continuity reasons, until a new constitution could be enacted, and was subsequently replaced by duly elected President Michail Stasinopoulos.
During the inherently unstable first weeks after his arrival, Karamanlis was forced to sleep aboard a yacht watched over by a destroyer for the fear of a new coup. He attempted to defuse the tension between Greece and Turkey, which were on the brink of war over the Cyprus crisis, through the diplomatic route. Two successive conferences in Geneva, where the Greek government was represented by George Mavros, failed to avert a full-scale invasion and occupation of 37 percent of Cyprus by Turkey on 14 August 1974.
Constantine Karamanlis part 4 of 4
The events that led to metapolitefsi and the traditional weaknesses of the Greek political and social institutions were not conducive to a comprehensive strategy towards democracy. The civil society was not prepared to articulate a transition strategy “from below” and the groups of resistance were fragmented, despite their political glamour. Therefore the transition process became a “from above” project, whose weight had to fall on the shoulders of Karamanlis.
Karamanlis first legalized the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) that was constantly demonized by the junta, using this political move as a differentiator between the junta rigidity on the matter that betrayed its totalitarianism and his own realpolitik approach honed by years of practicing democracy. The legalization of KKE was also meant as a gesture of political inclusionism and rapprochement. At the same time Karamanlis also freed all political prisoners and pardoned all political crimes against the junta. This approach was warmly received by the people, long weary of junta divisive polemics.
Following through with his reconciliation theme he also adopted a measured approach to removing collaborators and appointees of the dictatorship from the positions they held in government bureaucracy, and, wanting to officially inaugurate the new democratic era in Greek politics as soon as possible, declared that elections would be held in November 1974, a mere four months after the collapse of the Regime of the Colonels. This statesmanlike approach pleased the right as well as the left and greatly lowered the political temperature of the country. It is also another reason why the democracy-driven metapolitefsi worked.
In the legislative election of November 1974, Karamanlis with his newly formed conservative party, not coincidentally named New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία, transliterated in English as Nea Demokratia) obtained a massive parliamentary majority and he was elected Prime Minister. The elections were soon followed by the 1974 plebiscite on the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the Third Hellenic Republic.
In January 1975 the junta members were formally arrested and in early August of the same year the government of Karamanlis brought charges of high treason and mutiny against Georgios Papadopoulos and nineteen other co-conspirators of the military regime. The mass trials, described as “Greece’s Nuremberg “, were staged at the Korydallos Prison under heavy security and televised. One thousand soldiers armed with submachine guns provided security. The roads leading to the jail were patrolled by tanks. Papadopoulos and Ioannides were sentenced to death for high treason, but these sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment by the Karamanlis government.
New Democracy went on to win the Greek legislative election in 1977, and Karamanlis continued to serve as Prime Minister until May 10, 1980, when he succeeded Tsatsos as President of Greece and then cohabited for four years (1981–1985) with his fierce political opponent and leader of PASOK, the Greek socialist party, prime minister Andreas Papandreou. PASOK and Papandreou captured the sizeable center-left current in Greece, which emerged from fragmented resistance groups that were active during the dictatorship.
The political and social views expounded by PASOK were in antithesis to the centre-right policies followed by the conservative government of ND (1974–1981). According to Ino Afentouli, the political expression of the metapolitefsi, namely the coming to power of a conservative leader such as Karamanlis, did not correspond to the changes which had in the meantime befallen Greek society. Thereby, this current often opposed ND’s governments, disdained the old centrist political elite expressed by Center Union – New Forces (and its leader Georgios Mavros) and prompted the rise to power of PASOK and Papandreou in the elections of 1981.
Since 1974 Papandreou challenged Karamanlis’ choices and objected to his dominant role in defining post-1974 democracy, while others political forces of the opposition, such as Center Union – New Forces and EDA occasionally offered him an inconsistent support, especially during 1974-1977.
In the elections of 1981 Papandreou used as slogan the catch word change (Greek: αλλαγή). Some analysts, including Afentouli, regard PASOK’s victory under Papandreou as a culmination of the metapolitefsi of 1974, given that the fall of the junta had not been accompanied by the rise of new political powers, but rather by the resumption of power by the old guard politicians.
Nonetheless, Karamanlis or the Hellenic Republic’s Ethnarch is acknowledged for his successful restoration of Democracy and the repair of the two great national schisms by first legalising the communist party and by establishing the system of presidential democracy in Greece. His successful prosecution of the junta during the junta trials and the heavy sentences imposed on the junta principals also sent a message to the army that the era of immunity from constitutional transgressions by the military was over.
He was certainly one of the greatest leaders this country has ever known….