By Beverley Gerolymatos
SACRAMENTO, CA – On the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the Greek colonels Junta (April 21 1967), a conference commenced in the garden of the Julia Morgan House in Sacramento, CA. Scholars gathered to discuss one of the darkest episodes of Modern Greek History which had been not been examined fully in the past. Their expertise set new parameters for engaging in the discussion of the authoritarian regime that stayed in power for seven long years.
The conference was made possible by the collaboration of the Sacramento State Hellenic Studies Program and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University.
Dr. Katerina Lagos, director of the Hellenic Studies Program at Sacramento State University (SSU) gave the opening remarks underscoring the ongoing relationship with the Niarchos Centre at Simon Fraser, headed by Dr. Andre Gerolymatos.
According to the participants, Lagos provided a well-organized and terrific conference. Her decision to hold it at the Julia Morgan House created an intimate atmosphere encouraging animated discussions.
Dean Sheree Meyer of SSU’s College of Arts and Letters opened the conference and in the course of her remarks took the opportunity to praise the virtues of free speech and why it is critical for the survival of democracy. She decried the current trend in American campuses that has students banning speakers because they represent an opposing ideology. Denying free speech, warned Meyers, was one of the aims of the Greek junta and is the path to authoritarianism.
The participants included scholars from North America, Great Britain, Copenhagen, Athens, Spain, and Luxemburg,who covered a wide range of subjects to analyse Greece’s Junta.Five panels examined various aspects of the coup and the subsequent regime. The first panel discussed international and economic affairs. Dr. Alexandros Nafpliotis presented his extensive work on the relationship between Western European countries and the Junta and Dr. Andreas Kakridis provided a unique perspective on the economic policies of the Junta.
The second panel included Dr. Mogens Pelt, who lectured on West Germany’s policy towards Greece during the Dictatorship and Dr. James Miller gave us his insights on the response of American politicians to the Junta as well as the Johnson and Nixon Administrations’ reactions.
The conference brought to light not only how the Junta came to power, but underscored why the legacy of the Junta received relatively limited attention. Remarkably, the Junta officers left few memoires. Equally, remarkable is that few historians took opportunity to interview the principle Junta leaders such as Papadopoulos and Ioannides but even the lesser known officers who formed the backbone of the dictatorship.
Another important consideration that emerged from the conference was the notion of continuity. Was the Junta the outcome of the history of coups that had characterized Greek politics before the Second World War? In Panel Four, Dr. Gerolymatos’ presentation on the role of the Greek officer corps and its factions and how that resulted in military coups offered some insight but the consensus was that the different than other military interventions in Greek politics because of the direct involvement of the officers in ruling the Greek state and the fact that it lasted seven years.
A key presentation in Panel Three was by Dr. Neovi Karakatsanis: “A View of the Colonels from the U.S. Congress: Supporters and Opponents of the Greek Regime.” It argued that U.S. strategic interests overruled liberal democratic values. In other words, as Karakatsanis put it: “pragmatism trumped ideology.”
Drs. Foteini Dimirouli and Dimitris Antoniou formed the fourth Panel “Aesthetics of Dissent and Greek Legacies. Dr. Dimirouli discussed the international press responses to the Greek dictatorship. She uses: “…writings on the Greek junta published in the New York Review of Books to situate them in the context of the journal’s unique cultural identity.”
Dr. Antoniou presented a complex paper on “Making the Junta Fascist: Anti-Dictatorial Struggle, the Colonels and the Statues of Ioannis Metaxas.”
On the final day of the Conference, Dr. Othon Anastasiakis examined the Junta’s educational policies as part of an historical continuum. He commented on the fact that the students are the “real heroes” who brought down the very dictatorship that failed to de-mobilize and silence them.
As the last speaker, Dr. Kostis Kornetis examined the juxtaposition between the academic and public history of the Eptaetia. His work pointed to the barbaric torture the Junta inflicted upon those it abused. Kornetis stated that: “Fifty years on and the Junta still has not acquired the place it deserves in terms of Greek historiography.”
The conference was concluded with a roundtable discussion that pivoted along a series of questions posed by Dr. Lagos that further emphasised the need for insightful studies of the Junta and Greek society during this critical period. The long 1960s, as Dr. Kornetis labeled the decade, effectively concluded in Greece with the student demonstrators and their takeover of the Polytechnic University.
The “heroes of the polytechnic” are the generation that inherited the Greek state and its economic and political crises that ran away from them. Perhaps, the most effective legacy of the Junta is that the reforms implemented after 1974, have kept the Greek army in its barracks and away from military intervention.