PART TWO: CIVIL WAR By Roger Silverman.
The workers had little time to celebrate their liberation. Hard on the Nazis’ heels came a British occupation force determined to crush them. To secure freedom of operations in Greece, Churchill had offered Stalin control of Rumania and partially Bulgaria, plus a 50% interest in Yugoslavia. Churchill described his ally’s reactions:
“There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick on it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down... After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said: ‘Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed that we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.’ ‘No, you keep it,’ said Stalin.”
With a stroke of his pencil Stalin signed away the fate of Greece. Hoping for a painless accommodation with the British, ELAS stayed out of Athens, abandoning the workers to another dose of military repression, this time from the British. Not only the troops, but the hated collaborationist Nazi security battalions and the fascist general Grivas’ “Organisation X” were turned loose on the workers by Papandreou and his British commander-in-chief Scobie. Yet again the workers organised a general strike, and half a million people followed the funeral procession of workers shot by fascist murderers under British protection in December 1944.
Churchill cabled to Scobie:
“Do not... hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress.... We have to hold and dominate Athens... with bloodshed if necessary.”
Yet even after the British had clamped their military stranglehold on Athens, EAM yearned for a compromise with its sworn enemies. Siantos, acting secretary of the CP, said: “The conflict between the British and ELAS is the result of a regrettable misunderstanding.” Soon afterwards, ELAS even signed the humiliating Varkiza agreement, voluntarily disarming the partisans. This surrender betrayed them to a remorseless terror campaign. The arms used by the fascist squads to kill partisans were the very ones surrendered by ELAS at Varkiza.
In a menacing atmosphere, on rigged electoral registers, and with EAM abstaining in protest, elections were held in March 1946, giving a semblance of legitimacy to the intensified murder campaign.
In retaliation for yet another protest general strike, the government kicked out the elected trade union leaders and replaced them with its own stooges. Tens of thousands of workers were arrested. The Minister of Justice even had the nerve to suggest that “the immense number of accused is the result of a deliberate manoeuvre on the part of the detained persons to overburden the judicial system”!
This victory was hastily followed up by a rigged monarchy referendum. For the third time the monarchy was foisted on Greece by force of British arms. It became again the figurehead of the corrupt hierarchy, its courtly sycophants dressing up the rule of the generals, blooded and brutalised in the Metaxas, collaborationist and civil war regimes, hell-bent on a crusade against communism. It is ironic that George Papandreou himself was to fall victim to its power.
For sheer self-preservation, the partisans were forced back to the mountains. The civil war began again in conditions far less favourable to the EAM as a result of its blunders.
A grisly manhunt was launched. A price was put, literally, on the heads of decapitated partisans which could be exchanged for cash prizes. Corpses were mutilated in order to furnish the press with faked “red atrocities”. Hostages were shot in the prisons.
The strain of propping up this contemptible regime was too heavy for British imperialism in its weakened state after the war. When Attlee announced that Greece was to be abandoned, the US president Truman appealed to Congress for $300 million, stating that “without financial aid from America, Greece will fall under Communist domination within 24 hours”. Dollars poured in. Inflation reached 50% between March and August 1947.
Meanwhile, the Americans introduced to Greece all the fiendish techniques later perfected in Vietnam: strategic hamlets, defoliation, napalm... But the Stalinist leaders still whimpered for a coalition with the butchers of Athens. The blood of the partisans was spilt recklessly, to score bargaining points. Despite their bravery, after three years the odds were hopeless. As a final stab in the back, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia sealed their borders to the partisans, and they were defeated.
Nearly one tenth of the population of 7 million had died fighting in turn the Italian, German, British and American occupations. Another 700,000 homeless refugees were stranded in camps, and nearly 100,000 Greeks had fled to exile. Although the civil war had been won in the name of “democracy”, the survivors were left in no doubt as to the outcome. Thousands of political prisoners herded on the Makronisos island prison camp were harangued by the commandant:
“Communism fell at Vitsi and Grammos. Now it’s going to eat dirt at Makronisos... We stop at nothing. We are the winners, you are the losers... The time has come to crush you... You submit or die. The army runs things here... We have all the rights and power and we want you to know it.”
48 hours’ torture for the first batch of 3,00 prisoners produced the following gruesome statistics: 17 dead, hundreds of attempted suicides, 600 bone fractures and 250 mental cases.
That was the real face of the victors of the civil war and their “Anglo-Saxon liberalism”.