1967 military coup caught people off guard despite hints of unrest

Let’s go back a bit. When did you lose faith in «existing socialism»? I was probably one of the pro-Soviets in our movement. I was upset by the Hungarian uprising and particularly by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. At that time, creativity was subjected to socialist realism. Great poets such as [Vladimir] Mayakovsky were driven to suicide. It was a time when the ruthless spirit of an ironclad ideology allowed no margin for creativity. Did the discovery of the dark side of socialism neutralize its vision? Of course not. I believe that what we call socialism is interwoven with its democratic dimension. I am talking about socialism with democracy and freedom, and that was the message of the Communist Party of the Interior. Did you see the 1967 military coup coming? I was one of those worried about the deterioration of political life and the danger of dictatorship. There had been indications. General [Dimitiris] Ioannidis had been writing commentaries in the newspaper To Vima, he had served in NATO. But we were all caught in our sleep because of strong disagreements between us. While everything pointed to a violent end to democratic institutions, the Communist Party (KKE) was demanding that it be given legal status. None of the other democratic forces looked kindly on that, and did not seek the widest possible unity, given the risk of an imminent coup. What instructions did your party leadership give? The Political Bureau was whispering to us not to talk about a dictatorship because then the masses would turn to the Center Union. They were readying for elections scheduled for June 1967 and a confrontation with the Center Union. Would a different stance have averted the coup? Perhaps EDA’s call for a pan-democratic rally might have raised an obstacle. What did you think when they came to arrest you? They came here to my home in Kallidromiou Street at 1.30 a.m. The first thing that came to my mind was: «Here we go again.» We had not managed to organize any form of resistance, no mechanism for communicating with the people. Not even a proclamation, a small demonstration. They took us to a reserve officers’ camp in Goudi. [The late] George Papandreou was in the next room. At one point, when the guards weren’t looking, I slipped into the room and sat on his bed. He greeted me and said: «I was doing all right with the double front, which dealt with the concerns of other circles. But from the moment you and Andreas decided to set up a new EAM (National Liberation Front), the cause was lost.» By Andreas he meant his son. Yes. The «Old Man’s» anti-communism and refusal to cooperate with anyone, even at that point, was unbelievable. Divisions of 89 Looking back to 1989, what is your evaluation of the period of the coalition government (of New Democracy and the Left) and the prosecution of Andreas Papandreou? The coalition government was the right thing, but not the prosecution of Andreas, because we were endangering the unity of the nation. People could not believe that their idol, Andreas Papandreou, could have been so tolerant of corruption. Why was the coalition government a good thing? It was necessary. The Koskotas scandal could only have been dealt with in the courts and that was only possible through the cooperation of New Democracy and the Left Coalition. There was a law dating from the dictatorship that said that if the prosecution of a government minister was not carried out during the current parliamentary session, then the charges could be written off. There was that risk. Do you think that Andreas Papandreou was aware of the corruption? I think he was. He tolerated it. It was then that the seeds of a generalized corruption were planted. Not that it didn’t exist before that, but it became more widespread. Now we take it for granted and that is the greatest danger of all. I have no great hopes that things will improve. How do you see the country’s future? I am not very optimistic. Games are being played that we know nothing about. At any moment there could be developments that we would like to avoid. For example, a crisis with Turkey – that is something that depends on the will of third parties. Not on us or on the Turks. Think of the both countries’ skyrocketing expenditure on armaments. Some people are benefiting from those arms purchases, which are justified by the crises that occur between the two countries. Great vigilance is required if nationalism is not to be whipped up so easily. As happened over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia? (Andreas) Papandreou bears a great responsibility for imposing an embargo on FYROM without first discussing it with the Cabinet. He left the name issue open. I’m not saying it was easy, but solutions had been proposed which should have been discussed. What moments in history stay in your mind? When the red star was removed from the Kremlin. I didn’t expect that. I had been enthusiastic about Gorbachev and expected his experiment to revive socialism, giving it what it was lacking – democracy. I was also shaken when, on a trip to Poland, I saw a street stall where generals’ medals were being sold for pennies. Those medals had been worn by people who had faced Nazi tanks, who had gambled their lives. (1) This interview appeared in the October 15 edition of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.