February 9, 1964
The pots boiling.
Elections in eight days (February 16). Adding to the confusion
and uncertainty is the Cyprus issue. Venizelos, second to Papendreou
in the Center Union, died suddenly yesterday.
Papendreou needs a
solid victory. If he gets it, Greece may be able (for the first
time) to begin concentrating on the internal problems which have
made it so vulnerable to the left. Until now his appeal has been
on the basis of domestic issues - he has largely ignored Greece's
international problems, including, to a large degree, the Cyprus
business. The same is true of the right wing ERE. The Communist-front
EDA, on the other hand, has been working at the Cyprus issue for
the last several weeks. Some of its leaders have even made trips
to Cyprus and have returned to Greece as the sole defenders of
"Greek rights" in the issue. They will probably succeed
in forcing both the Central Union and ERE to concentrate on Cyprus
in the final week of the campaign, probably further inflaming
A group of several
thousand, led by Greek Orthodox priests, marched on the American
embassy three days ago. Two days ago some four thousand university
students did the same thing. Last night there was a huge rally
that packed the center of Athens. There have been "spontaneous"
parades, usually led by students, every day in the past week.
(Action by student groups is a comparatively new thing in Greece
- it has been growing steadily in the last five years.) The crowds
are usually calm, friendly; you get the impression that many of
them are simply using this as a convenient reason for not attending
classes. One group of laughing, smiling students shouted "Viva
Panama!" at me as they walked past, flags and placards raised,
on their way to who-knows-where.
But well behaved as
the crowds are, the Greek is nevertheless hot, uncompromising
and pretty difficult to talk to on this issue. Teachers at the
Varvakion, for example, asked that we postpone discussion of the
literature assignment to concentrate on Cyprus instead. The comments
came in a steady flow: "The U.S. and Greece have always fought
against tyranny together. Why is the U.S. betraying us now?"
And: "Why is the U.S. supporting Turkey, which is not a democracy,
against Greece, which is." And: "The U.S. knows Greece
will support democratic principles and is, therefore, taking us
for granted, aiding the Turks, who are far less dependable. It's
blackmail." The Greek sees the issue in terms of black and
white and "you are with us or you're against us." At
this point he is incapable of comprehending the larger issues
surround Cyprus, the complexities of NATO and UN politics and
the cold war issues. There is an irrationality about the problem,
even on the part of intelligent, ordinarily thoughtful Greeks,
that is frightening - and dangerous. You get the feeling that
if one side starts shooting in earnest, that both sides will leap
into the struggle with something approaching a combination of
relief and joy. And the heat of the thing has been increasing
steadily over the past week, inflamed by an essentially irresponsible
press. There are a few calm, thoughtful people at this stage.
If they have misgivings about the recent trend of events, they're
saying very little about it.
We met with the American
Ambassador, Labouisse, yesterday. He has been meeting with representatives
of student sand other groups. The difficulty, he said, is that
there are so many rumors, so little solid information, that developing
a more reasonable approach is extremely difficult - so there are
demonstrations and rallies. (Two students told me that NATO forces
were poised to invade Cyprus, that the landing would be made momentarily.
Another said that the Sixth Fleet would be used to blockade Cyprus
and prevent the landing of Greek Forces and to allow Turkey a
free hand. Both believed that stories, although they had not even
the remotest basis in fact. They were preparing to march to the
embassy on the basis of this information.) The Lippman chapter
in The Public Philosophy, dealing with the need for accurate information
and rational public discussion if democracy is to function effectively,
has tremendous application here.
Centre Union is still
expected to win - perhaps even bigger because of the "sympathy
vote" resulting from Venizelos' death. Greeks tend to see
things in terms of personalities instead of issues. Or, on the
other hand, the Cyprus thing could be just the sort of issue that
might turn politics up-side-down and bring the ERE back into power
- or, much more commonly, lead to an EDA victory (and a quick
right-wing military move?) All in all, it's developing into a
tense, dangerous situation. The Centre Union is not as confident
of victory as it was a month ago.
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