The Cost of Junta – 50 Years Later

University students hold a blood-stained Greek flag from the deadly 1973 student uprising in Athens, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

By Antonis H. Diamataris

April 21 marked the 50th anniversary of the – last – coup in Greece. In the ensuing years, the country experienced a long period of peace, prosperity, and political normalcy, before the last seven years of deep crisis.

It was, therefore, a period of missed opportunities. And there were major, rare opportunities for economic and social progress which, had they been exploited, would have turned the country into a modern state – an accomplishment that has eluded Greece for almost 200 years since its liberation.
One of the main reasons that did not happen was the repercussions of that nationally degrading and anachronistic dictatorship established on April 21, 1967. The junta of the colonels, those military officers who were probably well-intentioned but tragically unprepared for such positions, caused enormous damage to Greece. The country continues to pay the price even today.

And by damage, we do not only mean the torture, as barbaric as it was, but also the traumatic experience of the junta, the humiliation, the loss of national pride and the national vilification of the invasion of Cyprus that made society vulnerable to exploitation by political demagogues – first and foremost Andreas Papandreou – for the seizure and exploitation of power, in an unprecedented manner, and to a large extent with the participation of the Greek people.

Everything was justified in the name of democracy. New heroes – actual or not – emerged, and positions, salaries, and pensions were generously granted, all in democracy’s name.

Democracy became the regime of countless, and often irrational, rights with few or no obligations.
Even now, 50 years later, politicians divide society with outdated, demonstrably failed experiments, and justify their ignorance on the bases of the Greek Civil War and the junta.

In the half century that has passed, there have also been brave, reasonable, calm, sensible voices, such as those of Constantine Karamanlis and Constantine Mitsotakis. But despite their efforts, their voices were drowned out by the strong cries of the demagogues, whose path was much easier.

In conclusion, the junta caused two great damages: one was the abrogation of democracy, and the second was that it contributed to the diversion of the Greek people toward a way of government and life that was alien to its principles and traditions, and which inevitably led to the present state.

However, the danger of a “backwardness” – according to a recent statement by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – is looming. Democracy needs constant nourishment and protection. Today, its value is being tested as never before over the past 50 years.