The British Embassy to the Department of State
The memorandum expressing the United States Government’s view on the policy to be adopted towards the King of the Hellenes and the Government of Greece presented by the State Department and dated July 2nd, 1943, has been read with great interest by His Majesty’s Government. While it is observed with pleasure that the United States Government and His Majesty’s Government are in substantial agreement, it is felt that the divergence of view regarding the degree of support which should be given to the King of the Hellenes may lead to difficulties in the future. His Majesty’s Government therefore wish to explain in the following paragraphs the basis of their policy, in the hope that the present divergence of view may be resolved.
His Majesty’s Government consider that a slight distinction should be made between the position of the King and that of his government. Our support for the King is founded on three main considerations:—
- He is our Ally, and as such is, in our view, entitled to our full support. He stood by us with the utmost loyalty during the campaign in Greece, and since then has done nothing to suggest that our confidence in him is misplaced.
- He remains the constitutional Head of the Greek State, and it is not in our power to alter this even if we wished to do so. The Greek people are the only authority which can deprive him of this position, but it is clearly impossible for them to pronounce on this question until Greece has been liberated and order restored.
- Both from the juridical and from the practical point of view, it is important that the continuity of the Greek Government should be maintained. In the last resort this depends on the King, since no government could be in existence without him. If there is to be a change in the form of regime under which Greece is governed, this can properly take place only when the King has returned to Greece [Page 138] and has summoned a government which can hold elections for a constituent assembly or a plebiscite, by means of which the Greek people can make their views known.
Our support for the Government is founded on similar considerations, but in addition there are the great practical advantages which derive from having a strong and representative Greek Government. In the general conduct of the war in so far as it affects Greece, and particularly in the preparations for liberating the country there must be a properly constituted Greek authority with whom we can deal. It is of the greatest importance that we should be able to make arrangements and agreements with them, which will be accepted by the Greek people as a whole and by any succeeding government. There is the further consideration that in the later stages of the war we may wish to use Greece as a base for operations, and we shall then need a strong administration in the country. It is therefore very much in our interest to assist the Greek Government to gain the confidence and support of the Greek people.
On the other hand, we should be the first to recognise that our support alone is not enough to ensure that the return of the government will be accepted by the people, and we have always regarded it as a matter of the first importance that the government should be made as representative as possible of opinion in Greece. The Greek Government have themselves recognised that this is not easy, and they have therefore given assurances that as soon as they return to Greece they will resign in order that a fully representative administration may be formed. Meanwhile they are endeavouring to obtain wider support in Greece and since their arrival in Cairo, negotiations between M. Tsouderos and the political leaders in Greece have been in progress. Although no responsible politicians have yet agreed to come out of Greece to join the Government, the gap between the two points of view appears to have been substantially reduced, and there are reasonable prospects that it will shortly be possible to broaden the basis of the Government by the inclusion of new elements from Greece.
Thus far, I believe, we are on common ground with the United States Government. But the test of any policy will come when an Allied invasion of Greece takes place, and it is at this point that the divergence between the British and American points of view begins to become apparent. The United States Government will no doubt have learnt from their representative on the Allied Territories (Balkans) Committee in Cairo of the plans which are being made for this event. We have found it necessary to formulate certain general principles in regard to the liberation of all the occupied countries, of which the chief one is that there should be a period during which the authority of the Commander-in-Chief of the invading forces must be supreme in civil as well as military matters. It is, [Page 139] however, our desire and intention that, as soon as military considerations permit, the return of the Allied Government should be facilitated. In our view, any Allied Government, which we recognise as the legitimate government of the country, has a right to expect that it will be allowed to return there and resume authority at least over such parts of the country as are not still theatres of war as soon as it is physically possible for it to do so. For purely military reasons it may be essential for the resumption of governmental authority to be deferred until the operational phase is over, but it would be extremely difficult to justify postponement on any other grounds, and we should require to have the strongest and most evident proof that the present government would be inacceptable to the people if we were to insist on their remaining outside their country once the military situation would permit of their return. We do not wish to impose any government on an unwilling people, and if we allow an exiled government to return, this does not mean that we should be prepared to maintain them in power. We anticipate that in most cases it will be impossible to ascertain the sentiments of the people with any accuracy until some time after the exiled government has got back, but if it then becomes clear that the majority of the people are opposed to them, we should expect them to surrender power to more representative leaders.
We are contemplating applying these principles in the case of Greece. This means that, if, as is suggested by the State Department, Crete were to be the first part of Greece to be liberated, the Greek Government would not return there during the operational phase, when the administration would be in the hands of the Allied Commander-in-Chief. This arrangement can be defended as a military necessity, but we do not feel that the Greek Government would be prepared to suspend the exercise of their authority on any other grounds.
The position of the King differs from that of his government, and the State Department will probably be aware that a decision has been taken to allow him to return to Greece with the invading Allied army. He will be acting in his capacity of Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Armed Forces, and his presence in Greece will in no way derogate from the authority of the Allied Commander-in-Chief, to whom the King will specifically entrust the management of civil as well as military affairs. He will not be accompanied by any member of the Greek Government.
One of the reasons which led us to take this decision was that a request from an Allied sovereign to be allowed to return to his country at the earliest opportunity cannot be lightly rejected, and the military considerations which may make it essential to postpone the return of the Allied Government do not necessarily apply in the case of the [Page 140] sovereign, provided that he does not insist on exercising his powers of government. Secondly, it was clear that if we disregarded the King’s wishes in this matter, we should stand to forfeit his cooperation, on which we must count in the planning of operations for the reconquest of Greece. Thirdly it appeared to us, after mature reflection, that the King’s return at this stage and his presence in Greece during the operational phase would simplify rather than complicate the problems which will face both ourselves and the Greek nation.
To forecast the effect of the King’s return, it is necessary to consider the present state of feeling in Greece and to make some estimate of what the situation may be at the moment of an Allied invasion. Information is necessarily incomplete, but it seems fairly certain that the number of convinced Royalists in Greece is at present small. The representatives of the old political parties in Athens are for the most part Republican, though they have professed their willingness to accept the King if his return were sanctioned by a plebiscite; in any case, they appear to have lost much of their influence in the country. The most powerful organizations in Greece—and the most vocal—are the E. A. M.30 and E. D. E. S.,31 which have armed bands of guerillas at their command. Both are Left Wing and the leaders of the E. A. M. are avowed Communists. Colonel Zervas, the leader of the E. D. E. S., holds less extreme views, and has even stated that he would be willing to accept the return of the King, if His Majesty’s Government advised this as being in the best interests of Greece. We do not consider that either of these organisations, and still less any of the political leaders, can claim to speak in the name of the whole Greek people. There is no convincing evidence to indicate that the majority of the Greek people are, or are likely to become, Communist. It would indeed be reasonable to suppose that the majority are more concerned with the immediate problems of daily existence than with political questions, and that they hold no very clearcut political views. They would probably accept any democratic regime which offered them relief from their present distress and a prospect of stable government.
The resistance organisations, including the E. A. M. have recently agreed to cooperate with General Headquarters, Middle East, and with one another in the prosecution of the war, but there is no reason to believe that this agreement will continue to be respected once the Axis forces have been expelled from Greece. In the opinion of the British officers now in Greece, both the E. A. M. and E. D. E. S. are mainly concerned to establish a dominant position for themselves, so that they can seize power at the appropriate moment. There is therefore a serious danger of civil war breaking out in Greece between the guerilla organisations as soon as Axis control is removed, and [Page 141] this danger is, in our view, greater than the risk of disturbances which might be caused by the King’s return. It is our hope that the presence of the King with the victorious army of liberation will increase his prestige in Greece, and it is possible that a considerable section of the people will look to him to resolve party quarrels or to prevent the establishment of tyrannical rule by any one individual or group. During the initial period of Allied administration, the King will have an opportunity of studying the situation in the country, and he should thus be able to select a representative provisional government which could remain in power until fresh elections can be held.
Finally, we must take account of the fact that, owing to the long and profound tradition of friendship for England, the Greek people look to His Majesty’s Government for guidance, and we cannot therefore adopt the non-committal attitude suggested by the United States Government. We are convinced that the King of the Hellenes and the present government, with all its faults, are in the best position to rally all the forces of Greece against the enemy, and that there is no alternative body which could undertake this task. The Greek Government have as stated above given an assurance that once the country has been liberated, they will resign to make way for a fully representative administration. In his broadcast to the Greek people on the 4th July, the King repeated this assurance and gave the most explicit undertaking that he will respect the will of the people on all constitutional issues as soon as they are in a position to express it. In our view, the programme put forward in the King’s broadcast offers the best chances of assuring stability and democratic rule in Greece, and we have had no hesitation in endorsing it. If the King and his government are to be able to carry out their declared intentions, they must be able to rely on our support, and we consider that the interests both of ourselves and of Greece justify us in giving them this support in the fullest measure at our command.