Spyros Markezinis

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Spyridon Markezinis or Markesinis (Greek: Σπυρίδων Μαρκεζίνης) (April 22, 1909, Athens – January 4, 2000, Athens) was a Greek politician, longtime member of the Hellenic Parliament, and briefly Prime Minister during the aborted attempt at democratization of the Greek military regime in 1973.

Early political life[edit]

Spyros Markezinis was a scion of an old wealthy family of Santorini Island, who were at some time given the title marchesini (i.e., "little Marquesses") during Venetian rule. He earned degrees in Law and Political Science at the University of Athens, and entered private law practice. In 1936, he was appointed counsel to King George II, a capacity in which he served until 1946. The outbreak of World War II and Greece's occupation by Nazi Germany forced the king to flee the country, while Markezinis remained to fight as part of the resistance militias.

Markezinis was elected in the Parliament (the Vouli) during the 1946 elections as a member of the United Nationalist Party from the Cyclades. Shortly thereafter, he left the party and founded the New Party, the second of many parties under which he would serve. The New Party won 2.5% of the vote in the 1950 parliamentary elections, enough to for a single seat (Andreas Stratos) in the new parliament.

Economic reform[edit]

In 1949, Markezinis was appointed Minister Without Portfolio, but was effectively assigned control over the government's economic policy, coordinating the activities of the various economic ministries. Upon the election of long-time ally Marshal Alexandros Papagos as Prime Minister in 1952, Markezinis's effective position as minister of finance was further strengthened. In April, 1953, Markezinis orchestrated a 50% devaluation of the drachma vis-à-vis the US dollar, concurrently curbing import restrictions. Markezinis’s effective monetary policies are credited for boosting exports and consumer demand, as well as for curtailing inflation and the balance of trade deficit. Markezinis was considered at the time as a possible successor in the party leadership and premiership in the event of Marshal Papagos's retirement.

Later parliamentary positions[edit]

Papagos died in 1955. He was succeeded by neither Markezinis (whose relations with the Marshal had become tense) nor by other heirs apparent (such as Panagiotis Kanellopoulos nor Stephanos Stephanopoulos), but by Konstantinos Karamanlis, a junior minister who was appointed by King Paul to form a new government. Karamanlis managed to gather the support of nearly all the MPs of Marshal Papagos's party, and eventually formed the conservative National Radical Union (ERE). In the same year, Markezinis founded the Progressive Party, but failed to win seats in the 1956 elections. Markezinis’s Party eventually won a seat in parliament in the 1958 elections. In 1961, he was re-elected in coalition with the Center Union, as well as in 1964, in coalition with the National Radical Union. Years of political turmoil ensued, and culminated in a military coup on April 21, 1967, orchestrated by George Papadopoulos, which resulted in a 7-year military regime.

Premiership under the dictatorship[edit]

In 1973, the predominantly royalist Hellenic Navy staged an abortive attempt to overthrow the military regime. Junta strongman George Papadopoulos retaliated by deposing the already self-exiled King Constantine II, and appointing himself President of the Republic further to a controversial referendum.

In face of growing difficulties with the economy, popular dissent and increasing diplomatic isolation, the Greek junta was seeking ways for a transition to some form of parliamentary rule. Papadopoulos sought support from the old political establishment, and Markezinis accepted to undertake the mission to help lead the country back to parliamentary rule in a process that was called metapolitefsi. In September, 1973, he was appointed by Papadopoulos Prime Minister of Greece, with the task to lead Greece to parliamentary rule. He accepted the task, subject to a commitment by Papadopoulos to curtail any military interference. Papadopoulos proceeded to abolish martial law, and eased censorship of the press. Free elections were promised, in which political formations including part of the traditional left-of-center were expected to participate. However, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), banned since the civil war, and United Democratic Left (EDA), the party which mostly fronted for KKE during the years of democratic rule, were not expected to be re-legitimized nor allowed to participate. In any case, most leading politicians of the old guard, including Karamanlis, Andreas Papandreou, Panagiotis Kanellopoulos and Georgios Mavros, with the exception of former MP and exile Pavlos Vardinogiannis, condemned the attempt at Metapolitefsi by Papadopoulos and Markezinis, and refused to participate in any contacts with the ruling junta, insisting on an unconditional and immediate reinstatement of democratic rule.

In November 1973, the Athens Polytechnic uprising broke out. The student uprising is generally believed to have been spontaneous, started with purely student demands at first, and not orchestrated by any political groups in Greece. (Initially, it was condemned by the parties of the Greek Left, which had been banned by the ruling junta. There were suspicions at the time that the uprising was an act of provocation orchestrated by factions within the military regime opposed to the process of political normalization and would use the uprising to derail it.) The student protests in front of the Polytechnic, within a few days, evolved into a clearly political, quite vocal and rather widespread, albeit peaceful, rebellion against the dictatorship. After approximately three days and nights of continuous mass gatherings in front of the Polytechnic, the protests were put down by force, through the use of tanks and army units which stormed the building during the night of November 17. On November 25, 1973, Taxiarkhos Dimitrios Ioannides used the events as a pretext to stage a countercoup that overthrew Papadopoulos, and put a dramatic end to Papadopoulos and Markezinis' attempt for a transition to democratic rule. Ioannidis arrested Markezinis, cancelled the elections, and fully reinstated martial law. His regime in turn crumbled in July 1974, after the coup against Makarios III, instigated by Cypriot Nikos Sampson in contact with the Greek junta of Ioannidis, led to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

Markezinis would subsequently point out that his participation in the political normalization attempted by Papadopoulos aimed precisely at avoiding such a "national catastrophe".

The restoration of democracy[edit]

Markezinis was involved in the negotiations in July 1974 that led to the return of democratic government under Karamanlis's national unity government. Markezinis's Progressive Party remained an active political party, albeit a small one, whose main success consisted of electing a delegate to the European parliament in 1981. Markezinis spent his latter years writing his memoirs and on the political history of contemporary Greece.

Legacy[edit]

Markezinis’s tenure as Prime Minister of Greece under the Junta remains controversial. Some praise his willingness to undertake the daunting, quixotic, and ultimately unsuccessful task of restoring parliamentary rule in a smooth and bloodless manner in 1973. Others feel that Markezinis lost all credibility as a politician by accepting a political appointment by dictator George Papadopoulos. Markezinis is, however, almost universally acclaimed for his successful economic reforms in the 1950s, and for his prolific historical publications, which include the multi-volume The Political History of Modern Greece.

See also[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
George Papadopoulos
170th Prime Minister of Greece
1973
Succeeded by
Adamantios Androutsopoulos