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Profiles of Greece
Nicholas Econopouly

March 12, 1964

The census lists the Greek population as eight-and-a-half million. There seemed to be at leas that many people on Sofias Boulevard, in front of the Athens Hilton Hotel watching King Paul's funeral procession. It was even more crowded around Constitution Square; the narrow streets of the Plaka, where the procession began, were packed solid with human beings. I reached a spot between the Hilton and Constitution Square at about 10 a.m. The procession didn't pass until almost one o'clock. The site I had chosen was already packed as some people had arrived at 2:00 a.m. It was impossible getting even close tot he avenue on which the funeral parade would pass. There were people on balconies, clinging to roofs, in the trees and about a half-mile away, on the top of Mount Lycebettus looking down. An army truck parked near the avenue was covered with humanity. When the soldiers asked the people to climb down, that they needed to take the truck to another point, not a soul moved -- the soldiers left without it. I gave up. I walked instead to a point about a mile down Sofias Boulevard where people stood only five or six deep. The U.S. Embassy formed a nice background for pictures.

The procession passed shortly after one o'clock. The U.S. limousine, with Lady Bird Johnson, Harry Truman and Ambassador Henry LaBouisse, shot by near the front of the procession. The automobile with King Constantine and the royal family moved by more slowly, followed by a truck filled with soldiers hauling the gun carriage on which the coffin was placed. The were also automobile with church officials, Premier George Papendreau and other members of the government, army and navy officials, and more embassy representatives. I clicked away on the camera. People lining the street applauded King Constantine, Archbishop Makarias (President of Cyprus) and Papendreou. And very quickly it was all over. People left to go home to spend a warm and sunny afternoon.

It was not a festive affair, nor was it a particularly sad one. The signing of the church choir could be heard coming from transistor radios held by people in the crowd. People chatted, some had their children, women were dressed in bright-colored dresses. The mood contrasted with the shocked disbelief and grief which followed the Kennedy assassination. It isn't that there wasn't genuine sorrow but it was simply that all of this seemed to be much more natural, consistent with the course of human events and as such, could e more easily accepted. Kennedy's death could not.

King Paul died on Friday. People gathered quickly in front of the kiosks to read the newspaper headlines. I heard two young people complain that the death came at precisely the wrong time, during carnival week when Athens and Patras are in the midst of masquerade celebrations -- there would be little celebrating this year. A man commented that actually King Paul had dies two weeks before the election but in the interest of public tranquility the death was not announced at that time -- this is a rumor which continues to persist, despite denials from the government. On Friday night the government announced that schools would not be closed except for the day of the funeral -- this caught students by surprise -- it may have been due to the large number of days lost because embassy marches during the past weeks. Theaters and shops remained open.

On Saturday, King Paul's body was taken from the palace at Tatoi to the Athens palace and then to the National Cathedral. Crowds were large but not impossible. I got close enough to see the Cretan Guard, the Evzones escorting King Paul's coffin, King Constantine and Queen Fredericka walking behind, followed by other members of the royal family, including Princess Sofia and Princess Irene. Princess Anna-Marie of Denmark followed in an automobile. The procession moved slowly down Sofias Boulevard, past Constitution Square and down into the Plaka. The route was lined with soldiers, standing arm-to-arm. Flags, at half mast, hung from buildings, on light posts. It was a dark and cold day and everything seemed appropriate for what was taking place.

The New York Times editorial on the death of King Paul was a good one. Greece had strong republican tendencies when Paul ascended the throne -- and it still has strong republican tendencies today. King Paul was not universally popular in Greece but probably as popular as a king could be. I'm not sure Greeks fully appreciate the value of the monarchy in their country. King Paul referred to "the art of kingship." He saw his function the need to give Greeks a sense of national unity and through this national unity and with other government and other royal families, a sense of integration into a larger Europe. A sense of national unity does not come easily in Greece -- except, as in ancient times, during periods of crisis. Political parties attack each other with tremendous vehemence; politicians engage in verbal attacks that border on savagery. King Paul spoke not for any political party but as the representative of the total Greek people. By quiet persuasion and the strength of his personality he dulled the sharp edges of partisan politics, often succeeded in bringing about effective government action. It is hard to imagine Greek democracy, with all its strengths and weaknesses even exiting without this function of the monarch. The new monarch, 22-yera0old King Constantine, will have his hands full.

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