Forty years have gone by since the dramatic days of July 1974 which essentially defined the country’s modern history. They were intense and unforgettable days – even to a 13-year-old. I still recall a rather expressionless Costantine Karamanlis observing the cheering crowds on his way from the airport. Who knows what was going through his mind right then as history was calling on him to play a leading role after 10 years in exile. I’m absolutely certain, however, that the country was fortunate to have Karamanlis as a national backup. Neither Panayiotis Kanellopoulos nor Georgios Mavros nor anyone from the era’s political establishment was capable of taking over and leading the country to a safe haven at such a difficult time. Karamanlis was firm and well-respected internationally, qualities that allowed him to carry out this difficult mission.
It’s hard for the younger generation to understand exactly what 1974 Greece was like. The junta officers’ system was still powerful, forcing Karamanlis to sometimes spend the night on board a navy vessel. The populist tsunami had already started to grow with the left taking the lead. Part of the population had been under heavy pressure for decades and local society was fuming. Turkey had secured a foothold on Cyprus and was preparing for a second round. The Americans treated Karamanlis with suspicion as they didn’t know whether they could control him and because of his dedication to Greece’s European dream.
Some issues are still up for discussion and analysis regarding possible mistakes he made during those first months in power. For example, would the threat of a Greek-Turkish war between the two Turkish invasions have led to US-British intervention? Why did he opt for Greece to exit NATO’s military arm, a move which cost the country dearly? Why did he give in – in part – to a kind of populism and the period’s growing undercurrent of socialism which eventually legitimized the subsequent demonization of entrepreneurship?
None of the above issues can ever reduce the major and positive role he played after he returned to Greece. He took us by the hand and oversaw the restoration of stability following the end of the military dictatorship before doing the most important thing of all: He told us that whether we liked or not we belonged to the West and set the country’s entry into the European Community as his goal. He understood the importance of such a target for a country located in a crucial geopolitical position and whose people were prone to excess. Forty years on we can safely say that he fulfilled a very tough national mission in the best possible way. We owe him this much, at least.