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Profiles of Greece
Nicholas Econopouly

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 public opinion.

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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