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Costas Karamanlis, myth and reality

Costas Karamanlis, myth and reality (Mythoi kai alitheies gia ton Costa Karamanli) is the title of the book soon to be brought out by I. Sideris publications and which was presented last Tuesday by its author, journalist Giorgos N. Anastasopoulos. The writer knew the influential former Greek statesman from the late 1950s, both as a young political editor and later as deputy minister of the prime minister’s office and Euro MP, and though this might diminish his objectivity, it certainly gives him a view from the inside. It is this insider’s knowledge that Giorgos Anastasopoulos attempts to share with readers through a blend of personal testimony, political commentary and the use of the 12 volumes of Karamanlis’s Archive. Two crucial waystations in Karamanlis’s career were dealt with in the presentation at the Plaza Hotel at Syntagma Square, over which less ink has been spilt than on the fall of the junta in 1974 or joining the EEC in 1981: his ousting from the premiership in 1958 and his failed re-election to the presidency in 1985. The conspiracy of 1958 -and how he survived On February 28, 1958, a crisis broke out in the Cabinet, when the Minister of Transport and Public Works, Giorgios Rallis, expressed his disagreement with the unexpected drafting of an electoral bill by the interior minister Tassos Makris. Rallis was highly knowledgeable about electoral systems, and immediately judged that Makris’s proposal, which obviously had the prime minister’s approval, contained within it the possibility of the left-wing party EDA (United Democratic Left) coming second in the elections, with the centrist Liberals third. Karamanlis disagreed with this judgment (which was later proved correct a few months later) and brusquely interrupted his minister. Rallis resigned. Anastasopoulos writes: In the evening, he sent Karamanlis his letter of resignation, which was followed by one from Commerce and Industry Minister Panagis Papaligouras. Twenty-four hours later, on March 1, the crisis had developed into a political one, as Rallis, Papaligouras, Andreas Apostolides and 12 other ERE (National Radical Union) deputies declared no confidence in the government, which thus was deprived of its parliamentary majority. Later, Rallis said, ‘I made the foolish mistake of signing the motion of no confidence in the government… (as) Papaligouras and Apostolides claimed this was the only way to sink the electoral bill. Resignation On March 2, Karamanlis handed in his resignation to King Pavlos, and requested the formation of a caretaker government and elections, a recommendation that was accepted. On May 17, he was re-elected prime minister with 41 percent of the vote, while EDA garnered an unprecedented 24.42 percent and 80 seats. Anastasopoulos notes that, This was how Karamanlis survived the crisis, which effectively aimed at his overthrow. But, as he clarified in his ‘Archives,’ he was in no doubt about the intrigues organized against him. ‘The crisis of 1958 was the result of a conspiracy, which the Palace, the Americans, the British and some of my colleagues were embroiled in, ‘ he wrote. Each sought the fall of the government for his own ends. The foreigners wanted to force him to form a government with other parties in order to solve the Cyprus problem. The others wanted to weaken him and place him under their control. Encouragement and assistance for this attempt was provided by the private secretary of the king’s wing commander, H. Potamianos (the king in a conversation with Karamanlis had termed his involvement in the plot as highly unlikely), the then-owner of Kathimerini, Eleni Vlachou, and the American charge d’affaires, James Penfield. Role of Kathimerini Eleni Vlachou’s involvement in the intrigue caused a rift with Karamanlis, which was never to heal. The writer, after exhaustively detailing the bad relations between Karamanlis and Vlachou while at the same time noting the favorable stance by the pre-dictatorship director of Kathimerini, Aimilios Hourmouzios, toward Karamanlis, says: It took the transfer of ownership of the historic paper… to Aristides Alafouzos for Constantine Karamanlis to be treated with greater respect and esteem. The speechwriters Who wrote Karamanlis’s speeches after 1974? Giorgos Anastasopoulos says: The list of Karamanlis’s speechwriters is not long. After the fall of the junta, it included Takis Lambrias, who wrote most of the draft speeches for the president, Constantinos Tsatos, Panagis Papaligouras, Stamos Zoulas and the writer of the book himself. There were issues on which Karamanlis asked for two, or more rarely, three collaborators to draft a speech. Karamanlis would fashion his own final texts out of these drafts. He was a perfectionist, and thus worked on them and labored over them for a long time. Why Karamanlis lost the presidency in 1985 A large part of Giorgos Anastasopoulos’s book is devoted to the replacement of Karamanlis as president in 1985 by Christos Sartzetakis, the personal choice of Andreas Papandreou, then prime minister. Anastasopoulos writes: It was the beginning of February, when Andreas Papandreou, in a meeting with Menios Koutsogiorgas and Akis Tsochadzopoulos, told them that ‘we might not support Karamanlis for the presidency again.’ The next question that arose was, naturally enough, who PASOK would propose as Karamanlis’s successor. Papandreou convened PASOK’s central committee for March 9, so as to approve the nomination of the presidential candidate. Everyone, apart from a few in the narrow political circle around the prime minister, were certain this would be Karamanlis. Twenty-four hours before the meeting, Menios Koutsogiorgas offered the candidacy to Themis Kourousopoulos, former president of the Council of State, and to Othonas Kyriakos, vice president of the supreme administrative court, both of whom declined it. On the eve of the meeting, and without a candidate in sight, Koutsogiorgas, on Papandreou’s orders, went and visited the presidential mansion. Karamanlis was in bed with a terrible cold. Koutsogiorgas was received by the general secretary of the presidency, Petros Molyviatis. Anastasopoulos writes: Menios Koutsogiorgas told him that the purpose of his visit was to inform the president on behalf of the prime minister that Mr Papandreou would continue meetings with people until late, as around 10 percent of the members of PASOK’s Central Committee still did not agree with Mr. Karamanlis’s candidacy. Mr Papandreou wished to reduce this small percentage even further […] When Koutsogiorgas returned from the presidential mansion, he was asked about the contents of his conversation. ‘Did you tell them?’ asked Andreas Papandreou. ‘I let them figure it out,’ Koutsorgiorgas replied. None of those who heard this answer gave it particular attention. The search for a successor to Karamanlis came first. Time was pressing. It was almost midnight. It was then that Menios Koutsogiorgas came up with the name of Christos Sartzetakis. Akis Tsochadzopoulos observed that the name Sartzetakis would make a good impression because he represented the resistance and Andreas Papandreou hastily agreed. Koutsogiorgas again undertook to convey the proposal. But Christos Sartzetakis could not be found by telephone. When, finally, Menios Koutsogiorgas was able to speak to Sartzetakis on the phone, he had no intention of losing a moment. Koustsogiorgas: ‘We want to make you president of the Republic.’ Sartzetakis: ‘I’ll think it over during the night and give you a reply in the morning.’ Koutsogiorgas: ‘Impossible. An immediate response is necessary.’ Christos Sartzetakis finally said yes, under these circumstances, and at five minutes past midnight, PASOK acquired a presidential candidate to succeed Karamanlis.