Apostasia of 1965

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The terms Apostasia (Greek: Αποστασία, "Apostasy") or Iouliana (Greek: Ιουλιανά, "July events") or the Royal Coup (Greek: Το Βασιλικό Πραξικόπημα To Vasiliko Praxikopima) are used to describe the political crisis in Greece that centred on the resignation, on 15 July 1965, of Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou and the appointment, by King Constantine II, of successive Prime Ministers from Papandreou's own party, the Center Union, to replace him. Those defectors from the Center Union were branded, by Papandreou's sympathisers, as the Apostates ("renegades"). The Apostasia heralded a prolonged period of political instability, which weakened the fragile post-Civil War order and ultimately led to the establishment of a military regime in 1967.

Background[edit]

The Center Union comes to power[edit]

In 1961, various factions of the liberal centrist political forces, known then in Greece simply as the "Center", joined together in a new political party, the Center Union (EK), which was aimed at providing a credible alternative to the National Radical Union (ERE) of Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. Soon after, Karamanlis called a general election which led to a clear victory for his party. However, Papandreou and other Center Union politicians, as well as the leftist EDA started claiming that Karamanlis' election victory was largely due to "violence and vote-rigging". Papandreou, a gifted orator, launched a "relentless struggle" (Greek: Ανένδοτος Αγών) aimed at forcing the "illegal government" of Karamanlis from power. In May 1963 Karamanlis resigned, officially over a dispute with King Paul on the latter's planned visit to the UK, although there is speculation that the "Relentless Struggle" and other crises (most notably the assassination of leftist independent MP Gregorios Lambrakis, with alleged involvement of the police and the secret service) had greatly weakened Karamanlis' position.

A general election in late 1963 resulted in Center Union coming first, although without achieving an absolute majority. Papandreou was appointed Prime Minister and gained a vote of confidence in Parliament, since EDA also voted for him. However, EDA was considered, by Greece's political establishment of the time, including Papandreou himself, as a simple front for the outlawed Communist Party of Greece (and not totally without cause; while EDA was by no means Communist, the Communist Party supported EDA and several sympathizers were prominent EDA members). Papandreou, refusing to govern with Communist backing, tendered his resignation.

In a move interpreted as favorable to Papandreou, King Paul immediately dissolved Parliament and called a new general election. Papandreou, who had had time to take a number of popular measures as Prime Minister before his resignation, won 53% of the popular vote and an absolute parliamentary majority in the election. It is claimed that, in repayment of such favorable treatment Papandreou agreed to accept an increased role for the Crown in the running of the armed forces which, at the time, were traditionally pro-right wing and fiercely anti-Communist. Whether there was an express agreement or rather a tacit understanding is still disputed, but it is true that Papandreou chose figures who were unlikely to offend the Crown as his Ministers for Defense, and even chose the Crown's favourite, Lt General Ioannis Gennimatas, for the crucial post of Chief of the Army General Staff. In his 1963 government, the Minister of Defense was a retired general who had, in fact, also been the Minister of Defense in the previous (caretaker) government which supervised the election. In the government formed after the 1964 election, the Minister of Defense was Petros Garoufalias, a loyal friend of Papandreou (and one of his financial backers). Garoufalias was conservative and could be said to belong to the right-wing of the Center Union. Soon after Papandreou was sworn in again as Prime Minister, in early 1964, King Paul died and his 24-year-old son succeeded him as Constantine II.

Initially, relationships between the King and his Prime Minister seemed cordial, but the horizon soon clouded over. By early 1965 Papandreou and the King had even stopped talking to each other: their last meeting, before the crisis, was in March 1965.

A number of other factors played an important role in the genesis and the development of the crisis. The Center Union was a party hastily formed, in late 1961, by the fusion of various centrist factions, which had previously been bitterly bickering with each other. It spanned a broad segment of the political spectrum, managing to house, under the same roof, both Stefanos Stefanopoulos who, but for the sudden emergence of Karamanlis, would have been leader of ERE in 1955 and Prime Minister, and Ilias Tsirimokos, a former minister of the provisional government set up in the mountains of Greece by the Communist resistance in 1944. For this reason, Tsirimokos was commonly regarded, at least by the Right, as a Communist or, at least, a sympathizer. To complicate matters even further, Papandreou, 76 years of age in 1964, was expected soon to have to cede his place to a new leader, and many aspired to this position, most of all the powerful and considerably younger Finance Minister, Konstantinos Mitsotakis. To complicate matters even further, Papandreou's son, Andreas, emerged from nowhere in 1964 as a new leader of the left wing of the party.

The ASPIDA scandal[edit]

ASPIDA is an acronym of "Officers Save Fatherland Ideals Democracy Meritocracy" (in Greek: Αξιωματικοί Σώσατε Πατρίδα Ιδανικά Δημοκρατία Αξιοκρατία". The acronym forms the Greek word for "shield"). It was, essentially, a group of relatively junior army officers (captains or majors) centred on Captain Aristidis Bouloukos. Generally speaking, they were pro-centre and anti-right, although they don't seem to have had much sympathy for Communists. The purpose of this secret organisation seemed to have been, on the one hand, to oppose actual or perceived right-wing domination of the Greek army, through the IDEA secret organisation which was perceived as still being active and, in this context, to also help its members with obtaining favourable postings etc. (hence the reference to "meritocracy" in the acronym ; there was a perception that choice postings and promotions went to sympathizers of the IDEA independent of merits). The alleged scandal, which had been revealed in 1965, would have had no serious implications in the political life of Greece, if it were not for the alleged membership in this group by Andreas Papandreou, the prime minister's son and a prominent figure of the Centre-Left. This accusation was never accepted by Papandreou, who was later to become Prime Minister himself.

Garoufalias decided to form a committee, which would examine the political implications of the ASPIDA scandal, including Andreas' involvement. Georgios Papandreou disapproved of this decision, while Andreas Papandreou reacted vehemently. This resulted in Petros Garoufalias submitting his resignation.

The resignation of Georgios Papandreou[edit]

After Petros Garoufalias resigned, Georgios Papandreou decided, pushed by his son's advice, to assume himself total control of the army, by succeeding Garoufalias as Defense Minister. The relations with the King were already bad after a letter the King had sent to the Prime Minister. In this letter, considered by some to be insulting, the King expressed his discontent because Papandreou refused to meet with him. Georgios Papandreou replied to the King in a bitter but careful and polite way.

King Constantine, following his advisers' recommendations, refused to accept the Prime Minister's appointment as Defense Minister. Certain historians and journalists believe the court sought to control the military for a number of generations. The argument used was that there was a conflict of interest, since the son of the Prime Minister was accused of involvement in an alleged scandal which the new Defense Minister, namely his father, would have to clear up. In turn, the King proposed the appointment of any person the Prime Minister would like, but not himself. Initially, Papandreou seemed willing to consider the King's proposal, but during their last and bitter meeting, the Prime Minister refused Constantine's proposal and threatened to resign, if he was not appointed Defense Minister.

Constantine II refused Papandreou's demand and accepted his subsequent resignation. The political turmoil began from this point and arose from the fact that the King had already decided about Papandreou's successor, Georgios Athanasiadis-Novas, who was waiting in an adjoining room during that meeting. The fact that Papandreou's successor was sworn in just a few moments after Papandreou's resignation caused a great amount of criticism, and created the impression that the King wanted to get rid of Papandreou all along.

The July apostasy[edit]

At this point, Papandreou appealed to public opinion with the slogan "the King reigns but the people rule", and called upon the people to support him. King Constantine made several attempts to form new governments, but none of them lasted for long. He appointed Speaker of Parliament Georgios Athanasiadis-Novas as Prime Minister. Athanasiadis-Novas was followed by many dissidents from the Center Union (the infamous apostates, most prominent amongst whom was the future Prime Minister, Konstantinos Mitsotakis) and conservative ERE MPs, but not enough to gain a vote of confidence in parliament. He was replaced on August 20 of the same year by Ilias Tsirimokos with similar results. Failing to gain a vote of confidence, Tsirimokos was dismissed on September 17.

Constantine II next induced some of Papandreou's dissidents, led by Stephanos Stephanopoulos, to form a government of "King's men", which lasted until December 22, 1966, amid mounting strikes and protests. When Stephanopoulos resigned in frustration, Constantine appointed an interim government under Ioannis Paraskevopoulos, which called elections for 28 May 1967. This government did not even last till the scheduled elections. It was replaced on April 3, 1967 by another interim government under Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, Kanellopoulos being the active leader of the National Radical Union and still supposed to organize a fair election.

There were many indications that Papandreou's Center Union would not be able to form a working government by itself in the scheduled elections. Therefore, there was a strong possibility that the Center Union would be forced into an alliance with the socialist EDA. This sense of a "Communist threat", along with putschist tendencies existent in some right-wing nationalist fractions of the military of Greece, eventually led to the coup d'état of April 21, 1967, which established a military dictatorship, better known as the "Regime of the Colonels".

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