Democratic Army of Greece
|Democratic Army of Greece
Δημοκρατικός Στρατός Ελλάδας
|Participant in the Greek Civil War|
Badge of the DSE. The letter Delta stands for Demokratia, meaning "Democracy" and "Republic"
|Leaders||Nikolaos Zachariadis (Gen. Sec. of the KKE)
Markos Vafiadis (military leader, President of the Provisional Government)
|Allies||N.O.F., Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia|
|Opponents||Hellenic Army, Hellenic Gendarmerie|
The Democratic Army of Greece (Greek: Δημοκρατικός Στρατός Ελλάδας, DSE (ΔΣΕ)), was the army founded by the Communist Party of Greece during the Greek Civil War, 1946–1949. At its height, it had a strength of around 50,000 men and women.
The DSE was backed up by the Popular Civil Guard (Λαϊκή Πολιτοφυλακή, ΛΠ), the Communist Party's security police force.
After the liberation of Greece from the Axis occupation, the Dekemvriana and the Varkiza Agreement (in which ELAS, the main Partisan Army in Greece, agreed to a disarmament), the persecution of left wing citizens, communists and officials of EAM, started. There were 166 different anti-communist groups, such as those of Sourlas and Kalabalikis in Thessaly, and Papadopoulos in Macedonia. Archives of D.S. National Solidarity indicate that by 31 March 1946, nationwide, 1,289 suspected communists had been killed, 6,671 had been wounded, 84,931 had been arrested, 165 been raped, and the property of 18,767 was looted. Imprisoned suspected communists numbered in excess of 30,000. Those responsible for the murders, according to the DSE, were collaborationist groups, national guards, rural police, and members of the British armed forces.
Under these circumstances, the persecuted partisans that were still free, started to form guerrilla groups named Groups of Persecuted Fighters. By the summer of 1946 cells of these groups had been established throughout Greece. The official start of the armed struggle came with the attack on the Greek Gendarmerie station at Litochoro by around 35 guerrillas on 31 March 1946, an election day. 12 Gendarmes and 2 civilians were killed, and this attack is generally considered the start of the Civil War.
The Communist Party of Greece led the armed struggle, through the General Partisan Command, which was created on 28 October 1946, and headed by Markos Vafiadis. Order number 19 of the General Command, issued on 27 December 1946, renamed the guerilla groups to the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE). The relevant order included the following comment regarding the DSE: "It is the national people’s revolutionary army of the new Democratic Greece and fights with gun in hand for our National independence and for People's Democracy."
In 1947, KKE and the Democratic Army formed the "Provisional Democratic Government" ("Mountain Government") under the premiership of Markos Vafiadis. After this, KKE turned illegal.
As well as issues regarding the war effort, the Provisional Government had to deal with issues regarding the "People's Law" in the territories controlled by the DSE. These had to do with the judicial, financial, and political systems. As the Provisional Government was based on political forces which aimed to establish a socialist state, its decisions were driven by this political agenda. The self-determination of national minorities living in Greece was one priority. The Provisional Government and the KKE intended to establish a People's Republic of Greece in which all nationalities would work together in a Socialist state. An article written by Nikos Zachariadis expressed the KKE's strategy after the envisioned victory of the Democratic Army of Greece regarding what was then known as the "Macedonian Issue": "The Macedonian people will acquire an independent, united state with a coequal position within the family of free peoples’ republics within the Balkans, within the family of Peoples’ Republics to which the Greek people will belong. The Macedonian people are today fighting for this independent united state with a coequal position and is helping the DSE with all its soul...." The policy of self-determination for Macedonia within a People's Republic was reiterated during the 5th KKE Central Committee meeting held in January 1949, which declared that the "Macedonian people participating in the liberation struggle would find their full national re-establishment as they want giving their blood for this acquisition... Macedonian Communists should pay great attentions to foreign chauvinist and counteractive elements that want to break the unity between the Greek and Macedonian people. This will only serve the monarcho-fascists and British imperialism...." This statement can be explained due to the large number of Slavomacedonian fighters (30-50%) amongst the DSE fighters.
The Provisional Government never achieved international recognition. During the first two years, from 1946 to the beginning of 1948, it managed to control large rural areas but no major town. At the same time, the Hellenic Army, advised by the British up to 1947 and afterwards by US military delegation led by General James Van Fleet, US Army, established the Greek government's position in the rest of the country as well as internationally.
After the fatal blow in early 1948, when DSE's III Brigade numbering 20,000 men and women was completely wiped out, DSE lost support in southern Greece as well as the political and economic control of a huge area. That was the beginning of the end of the Greek Civil War. At the same time, the efforts of the HQ of DSE to capture and hold a major town in the North such as Konitsa or Florina led to catastrophic defeat of the partisan army, which never recovered. On the other hand, the DSE did manage to achieve some military victories in 1948 and early 1949, in the battles of Karpenisi, Naousa, and Karditsa. At the same time, DSE had a huge problem regarding reserves. Most of the men and women capable and willing to join its ranks were imprisoned or unable to reach areas controlled by DSE.
One of the biggest battles of the three year Greek Civil War took place in the Grammos mountains in 1948. The operation took place after the Hellenic Army had secured the Peloponnese, where it managed to defeat the DSE's III Division, numbering 20,000 fighters. In the battle of Grammos, forces of the Hellenic Army, with the codename Operation Koronis, deployed 70,000 troops, while the DSE had 12,000 fighters. The battle lasted from 16 June until 21 August 1948. On that day, DSE forces, after hard fight, retreated into Albanian territory and reformed towards Vitsi. The maneuver from Grammos to Vitsi is considered one of the most important tactical actions of DSE during the war, from a military point of view.
Towards the end of August 1949, the Hellenic Army, under the leadership of Alexander Papagos, deployed 180,000 troops, and achieved the defeat of the DSE army of about 7,000 fighters on the Grammos-Vitsi front. After this defeat, the DSE fighters crossed the border into Albania and scattered to camps all over the newly founded so-called Socialist Republics, with the main body of the fighters camped in Taskent, the capital of Uzbekistan in the USSR.
The post-Civil War era left a country in ruins. Many of the nation's youth were either killed on the battlefield, imprisoned or became political refugees. The political situation was quite unstable for most of the next two decades – the decisive factor leading to the Greek military junta of 1967–1974. The ghost of the Civil War haunted Greece for many years after. In 1981, when the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party came to power in Greece following a long period of right-wing dominance, the political refugees of the DSE were finally given permission to return to their homeland (Slavomacedonians excluded) by the new Interior Minister, George Gennimatas. Markos Vafiadis also returned to Greece and supported the PASOK government, and was elected a Member of Parliament for PASOK.
In 1989, the Greek Parliament voted unanimously a law that declared the three-year war of 1946–1949 as formally having been the "Greek Civil War" and accepted the former "Communist Bandits" as "Fighters of DSE", giving some of them privileges of pension.
The Oath of the DSE fighter
The following text was the oath that DSE members must swear and abide by. During enrolment, the member would swear:
I, a child of the Greek people and a DSE fighter, swear to battle with gun in hand, to shed my blood, and give even my life to banish from the soil of my motherland every last foreign occupier. To banish every trace of fascism. To secure and defend the national independence and territorial integrity of my motherland. To secure and defend democracy, honour, work, fortune, and progress of my people.
I swear to be a good, brave and disciplined soldier, to carry out all the orders of my superiors, to observe all regulations, and not betray any secrets of the DSE.
I swear to be a good example to the people, to encourage popular unity and reconciliation, and to avoid any action that reduces and dishonours me, as a person and as a fighter.
My ideal is a free and strong democratic Greece and the progress and prosperity of the people. And in the service of my ideal I offer my gun and my life.
Notes and references
- Δοκίμιο Ιστορίας του ΚΚΕ, ΚΕ ΚΚΕ
- Ο Εμφύλιος Πόλεμος στην Πελοπόνησσο, Α. Καμαρινού
- Daily Orders General Command, DSE, 28 December 1946
- Study on the History of KKE.
- Δημοκρατικός Στρατός magazine, edited by Ριζοσπάστης, 1996, vol. I, pp. 408-412.
- KKE, Official Documents, vol. 6, pp. 356, 338.
- Δοκίμιο Ιστορίας του ΚΚΕ
- Timothy Boatswain and Colin Nicholson: A Traveller's History of Greece, The Windrush Press, Gloucestershire, 1989, p. 240
- Shrader, Charles R. (1999). The withered vine : logistics and the communist insurgency in Greece, 1945-1949 ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Westport, Conn.: Praeger. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-275-96544-0.
- Πολιτική επιτροπή για την Ανασύνταξη του ΚΚΕ 1918-55
- ΡΙΖΟΣΠΑΣΤΗΣ : Ο χαρακτήρας του και η βασική του στρατηγική επιδίωξη
- «Oath of the fighter» Source: Website of the Political Committee for the Re-establishment of the Communist Party of Greece, 1918 - 1955. Downloaded 15 July 2006
- «Oath of the DSE fighter» Source: Website of Rizospastis, newspaper of the Communist Party of Greece. Downloaded 15 July 2006
- Nikos Kiritsis, "Democratic Army of Greece, basic steps of the struggle."