Mikis Theodorakis made all sorts of statements and comments with the ease afforded him by his status. And for some, he came under harsh criticism from the orthodox Left, but also from other ideological camps.
But the statement that defined an entire era and acquired a dynamic of its own was “Karamanlis or tanks.” He made it shortly before the elections of November 17, 1974, as Greece struggled to make the transition from a dictatorship to a democracy. With his finger, as always, firmly on the pulse of the times, he posed the dilemma that was at the center not just of the elections, but of the historical moment as well. And despite his own ideological background, he did not hesitate to pose the dilemma publicly, making citizens aware that they had a duty to perform.
In order to appreciate the importance and bravery of this particular statement, we need to look back on the stance of the PASOK socialist party and of the Greek Communist Party (KEE) with regard to the type of transition that was being attempted. They had stated that it was simply a “changing of the NATO guard,” reproducing KKE chief Nikos Zachariadis’ simplistic outlook in the 1952 elections when he said that there was no real difference between the outgoing centrist prime minister Nikolaos Plastiras and his right-wing challenger, Field Marshal Alexandros Papagos.
With his statement, Mikis went against these positions and, most importantly, against the grain of a wildly radicalized youth movement demanding “socialism on the 18th [of November]” to express his support for Konstantinos Karamanlis and his bid to establish a modern, Western-style democracy in Greece.
Back then, pro-junta officers continued to predominate in the armed forces, traditional ties between Greece and NATO were badly strained by the July 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and the state of the economy was critical. It was a confluence of events that formed a political and social landscape with all the characteristics of a quicksand trap and it would take a strong government with a strong parliamentary majority to navigate it. Theodorakis’ statement “Karamanlis or tanks” contributed to a landslide victory for Karamanlis and his then newly established New Democracy party.
Mikis, who left us yesterday, had a unique gift. He listened and heeded the messages emitted by society at any given time and had the courage and the global stature to influence events. He did not sit on the sidelines, watching them unfold, as he could have done. If he had, he would not have been “our” Mikis. Instead, he was among those who stood up for their beliefs.