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Historical Observations: George Papandreou and King Constantine II

February 13, 2023

The difference of views between George Papandreou and King Constantine II led to political instability in Greece’s internal affairs and to the former’s dismissal as premier in July 1965.

On February 16, 1964, Papandreou’s Center Union (CU) party recorded a landslide win in the Greek election against the National Radical Union (NRU) led Panayiotis Kanellopoulos. There was much discontent with the economy, high unemployment, and immigration to overseas countries like Germany and Australia. During the election campaign, he pledged to reduce taxes, settle debts, improve the education system, and assist farmers.

In April 1964, the CU won a confidence vote in parliament and commenced releasing political prisoners. The NRU criticized the Papandreou government, saying that it was soft on communism. It seemed the first three months of government was going well for the CU, however, in the municipal elections in July it suffered a setback with leftist and ‘pro-communist’ candidates the big winners. The municipal elections were fought over local issues.

On February 19, 1965, the Athens correspondent of The Times (London) reported that Papandreou’s government was still popular among the masses. The article stated that generous grants were given to workers and subsidies to farmers, and the imbalance between import/export receipts would be “covered by revenue from tourism, shipping, and immigrant remittances as well as the inflow of foreign capital.” Other issues covered were the Cyprus issue and the hope of obtaining foreign loans to cover deficits in the national budget. Some of the leading CU ministers were Petros Garoufalias (Defence), Constantinos Mitsotakis (Finance), Stefanos Stefanopolous (Deputy Premier), and Andreas Papandreou (Premier’s Office).

Another issue that caused party rancour were old Liberals in the CU who were angry with Papandreou for grooming his son Andreas as a future leader of the party. Some of these old Liberals had their own political ambitions and eventually forced the resignation of Andreas. George Papandreou did not want political divisions at a time when the NRU was snapping at the heels of the CU. It should be noted that Andreas Papandreou had been an economics professor at various U.S. universities and renounced his U.S. citizenship to participate in the Greek election.

The NRU criticized and accused George Papandreou, saying that his policies were “paving the way for a communist take-over of Greece.” In the Greek parliament, CU deputies backed a leftist motion for a judicial inquiry into alleged scandals under former NRU government and the NRU vowed to topple the Papandreou administration.

An exchange of letters between young King Constantine and premier Papandreou in July 1965, showed their differences over the defence portfolio. Some of Papandreou’s colleagues urged him not to assume the defence portfolio while the Aspida investigation was still underway. The political Right, with the aid of its supporting newspapers, highlighted Andreas Papandreou’s involvement with the Aspida group, and the future Greek dictator, Colonel Papadopoulos announced that there was “a communist conspiracy in his unit.” George Papandreou wished to purge the army of officers who dabbled in politics, a move that was viewed most unfavourably by the King.

The late Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, was the father of one and the grandfather of another Greek Prime Minister.

Papandreou wished to take over the Defence portfolio for himself and requested that the King sanction the dismissal of Garoufalias as Defence Minister. The decision to expel Garoufalias from the CU was taken at a Council of Ministers meeting where Garoufalias refused to resign and would do so only if the King ordered it. Garoufalias had very good relations with the Palace and King Constantine refused to sign the decree to dismiss Garoufalias, however, it seemed that the two parties might find a resolution to their problem.

According to the South China Sunday Post-Herald on July 11, 1965, it was reported that the-long simmering dispute between King and premier centered on the question of the “very nature of the constitutional monarchy” and over control of the army. The article states that the King rebuked his prime minister and that the next election would “focus on whether Greece was to be a democratic kingdom or a monarchy.”
It could be argued that King Constantine did not want his authority undermined by Papandreou and was displeased with a purge of army officers. Moreover, Constantine may have been concerned that communist ideology was gaining a foothold in the army.

On July 15, Papandreou met Constantine at the Palace. In their ensuing conversation, Papandreou tended his resignation to King stating that he could not fulfil his duties as premier. Within a few hours, King Constantine had sworn in Ioannis Athanasiadis-Novas, the president of the parliament, as premier. His ministry was composed of deputies of the CU whom Papandreou labelled as traitors.

Thousands of Papandreou supporters took the streets of Athens to protest his dismissal and chanted slogans “Papandreou, Papandreou”, “Down with Novas’s puppet government” and “fascism will not pass.” Demonstrators clashed with police who used tear gas and rubber bullets and one student died and 114 were injured. The trade unions organized strikes and street demonstrations took place in Thessaloniki. Novas’ government failed to receive a vote of confidence in parliament and resigned in August 5, 1965.

Papandreou and Kanellopoulos proposed new elections to Constantine to resolve the political crisis. However, the King ignored their requests and installed Stefanopoulos as premier instead. He won a vote of confidence from the Parliament on September 17, 1965 and held office until December 1966. The colonels seized power in April 1967.

In conclusion, the King ignored the requests of the two majority party leaders calling for a new elections, and this led to an intensification of the crisis which resulted in a coup.


It has been a year since Metropolitan Joachim of Nicomedia – formerly of Chalcedon – passed away and definitively rests in the earth of Chalcedon, in the Metropolis he served with exemplary discretion and dedication.

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