This Week in Greek History

Despina Vandi. File photo: eurokinissi-Vasilis Papadopoulos.

July 22: On this day in Tubingen, West Germany. Greek singer Despina Malea (better known as Despina Vandi) was born. At age eight, she and her family moved to Kavala and later she attended the philosophical School of the University of Thessaloniki. Her adoption of a stage name so that she could kickstart her passion of creating music for a living started because she wanted to hide singing from her parents. She began her career in 1994 after she had taken lessons in song and voice calibration.

For a while, she worked at nightclubs in Thessaloniki where among other people, she worked with Antonis Remos. For a time, Only ardent fans of the local music scene even though who they were, Thessaloniki had two gems that needed to get out to all of Greece. After experiencing commercial success in the 1990s singing more Laika songs, Vandi pivoted to pop for her next batch of hits.

One of those hits happened to be “Ipofero” which came out in 2000 as a single and became the highest-selling single in the history of Greek music. From there Vandi would continue to collect accolades and is regarded as one of Greece’s great female singers of her generation. She is married to AEK Athens’ Demis Nikolaidis and together they have two children.

July 23: On this day in 1974, the military junta that had ruled Greece from 1967 collapsed and conservative former Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis was invited back to form a government. Karamanlis was in self-imposed exile in Paris, France. The conditions in Greece were ripe in 1967 for a calamity such as a coup d’état to occur.

The country was facing sustained political instability and identity crisis regarding its ideological orientation and increasingly hostile situation arising between Greece and neighboring Turkey over who would dominate Cyprus, newly independent from the United Kingdom. A regime of mid-level Colonels in the Greek Armed Forces took over the country using the cover that they were willing and able to restore balance and order back to Greece.

In the beginning of the military junta, leader Giorgios Papadopoulos legitimately sought to make reforms to Greek society so that the Greek economic miracle started under Konstantinos Karamanlis in the late 1950s and early 1960s would steam on. However, Papadopoulos himself was overthrown by Brigadier General Dimitrios Ioannidis, who assumed control of the government until the junta collapsed. There were many factors as to why the junta was destined not to rule for the decades that the colonels had imagined.

Karamanlis had left Greece because he sensed a period of lawlessness was coming as the Royal Family of Greece insisting on overreaching and gaining more constitutional power. Giorgios Papandreou of the Centre Union thought that Karamanlis was operating a deep-state right-wing enterprise that was directly responsible for leftist MP Grigoris Lambrakis’ assassination. Karamanlis was abruptly asked to return to Greece at the request of the provisional Greek emergency government so that he would create a more concrete government and smoothen the transition back to democracy.

Karamanlis was sworn into office at 4AM on July 24th as the flag bearer for his newly formed New Democracy Party. Karamanlis succeeded in making the switch in governance easier but he also skillfully used all his intelligence and political guile to avert all out conflict with neighboring Turkey over the Cyprus question. Karamanlis demanded that the military be placed under civilian authority, amended the constitution to be more inclusive and liberated all political prisoners. The legacy of the military junta in Greece is a complicated issue even today in the country.

Citizens of Greece are so fed up and tired of successive incompetent governments that led to financial ruin in the last decade, that they are beginning to look back almost fondly at the military junta years in not insignificant numbers. To some Greeks today, basic liberties of the social nature are worth giving up if it meant a strong central government, more productivity from their government regarding Public Works and massive investment in tourism and shipping. The reality of course is always somewhere in the middle.

The Greek military junta tortured and killed any dissenters to their way of doing things. It is also worth noting that during this time it was the latter end of the Greek economic miracle that was no doubt aided by the fact that there was “political stability” in the country for seven years. That sort of unbroken longevity was something foreign to Greeks and therefore were able warmly welcome back Karamanlis into the fold as he was perhaps the only other Greek political figure of the century to govern Greece for as long consecutively as the colonels.

Karamanlis would bring security, knowhow, and compassion to the table to heal his country. The Colonels that created the regime from 1967 to 1974 were put on trial in 1975. they were all found guilty and the death penalty was recommended but instead They would serve their punishment with lifelong prison sentences. The fall of the military junta in Greece coincided with a sharp rise in anti-Americanism, due to alleged links with the regime, and the rise of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK).