The Ambassador in Greece (Peurifoy) to the Department of State
- Conversation with Minister of Coordination Markezinis
At my request, Mr. Karamessines 1 and I met yesterday with Mr. Markezinis and discussed for over two hours his Government’s policy toward the Communist-front party EDA.
We reiterated the concern which I had expressed to Mr. Markezinis on another occasion (Embdesp 993 dated February 27)2 that, in spite of the vigorously anti-Communist convictions of Marshal Papagos and all his ministers, the Rally Government had not in fact taken steps to correct the unsatisfactory security situation inherited from the previous Government. We cited the facts (1) that [Page 814] practically none of the exiles and prisoners released by the previous Government had been taken back into custody in spite of the fact that several of them are known to be dangerous Communists, that many have engaged in political activities since their release, and that more than 50 actually appeared as EDA candidates in the last election; (2) that Avyi, the EDA newspaper, continues to appear freely; (3) that the Prime Minister and Mr. Markezinis have on several occasions received and conferred with Passalides Chief of EDA, thus appearing to recognize him as a responsible political leader; (4) that no action has been taken against EDA itself or its officers in spite of the fact that it has been clearly established that EDA is an agency of the KKE. (In this last connection we referred to the Department’s inquiry on this matter contained in IAD dated March 3.)3
We suggested that this apparent toleration of EDA and the Communists generally could have two unfortunate effects. First, it would facilitate the Communists in rebuilding their underground apparatus and developing its capacity for causing serious damage at the time of some future emergency, such as the outbreak of war. Second, particularly at a time when EPEK seems to be breaking up, many of these followers might be encouraged by the apparent toleration of EDA to join the ranks of the latter, whereas, on the contrary, repressive action against EDA on the part of the Government might well intimidate and discourage new recruits.
Mr. Markezinis explained at great length his philosophy and strategy in this connection. He emphasized that the Rally Government is of course very strongly anti-Communist, both internationally and internally, but that the tactics might differ in the two cases. Internally he did not consider the Communists as serious or as immediate a menace as the non-Communist Opposition. In spite of the huge majority and apparent strength of the Rally, the mercurial quality of the Greek people created the danger that at any time that majority might evaporate unless the people were convinced that no alternative existed except Communism. He, therefore, intends to continue to put forward regularly the slogan, which he announced in Salonika, that there is no alternative to the Rally but Communism. He is loath therefore to proceed against EDA at this time for fear that its dissolution might swing many of its supporters over to the Center which might thereby be enabled to win a series of by-elections and, conceivably, as a result to cause the downfall of the Government. In order to meet this danger, Mr. Markezinis had proposed, and Marshal Papagos had agreed, that there should shortly be introduced into Parliament a bill doing [Page 815] away with by-elections except in one-member constituencies. This would prevent, for example, a by-election in Athens which, though it might cost the Government only one seat, nevertheless might undermine its entire position. After this bill had been enacted into law Mr. Markezinis said that he would be quite prepared to recommend the dissolution of EDA, though he was inclined to feel that the Communists would merely substitute another front organization. He was also prepared, he said, as soon as he had dealt with the most pressing economic problems, to work out a long-range and really comprehensive anti- Communist policy. This would include not only the mild steps which we had mentioned but also a law providing for the elimination of the numerous “pinks” in government service and another law authorizing the Government to suppress not only Avyi but any other newspaper which followed a pro-Communist or anti-nationalist line.
We expressed some doubts about these more far-reaching measures which the Minister proposed, suggesting that the abolition of by-elections would subject the Government to very strong attack and was in our view not necessary for the maintenance of the Government in power; while the elimination of “pinks” from government service was desirable, this should not be conceived as a general cleaning out of all public servants with Liberal or EPEK leanings; and that he was certainly aware of the dangers of suppressing newspapers which might merely be anti-Government. Mr. Markezinis disavowed any intention of carrying his program to this extreme but did say that a firm decision had already been taken regarding the law abolishing by-elections.
We said that we would like to discuss with him later his long-range policy but would hope that in the meantime action could be taken promptly at least to place in custody the most active and dangerous Communists released by the previous Government and to suppress the EDA newspaper Avyi. We suggested that this action taken prior to his visit to Washington4 would enable him to answer any criticism which might possibly be addressed to him there in regard to the failure of the Rally Government to take the necessary measures in the security field. Mr. Markezinis said that he thought that it would probably be possible to take action along these lines before his departure.[Page 816]
We are inclined to feel that, simply because we have made a considerable point of this matter, Mr. Markezinis will see to it that some action along these lines is taken before his American trip. It is quite clear, however, that we have not dissuaded him from his basic conviction that the main threat to the Rally Government’s position and to his own comes from the Center and that his primary political objective, therefore, should be to destroy the Center, using the Communist’s for this purpose insofar as it seems expedient. We shall continue to try to convince him of the unwisdom of this strategy but are far from sure that we shall succeed. It is clear that we must be careful that he not use our representations in regard to action against the Communist’s as an excuse for enacting sweeping measures for a purge of the Civil Service and control of the press, which measures he would be likely to employ primarily to weaken the Center and its adherents rather than the Communists.
In the course of our conversation, Mr. Markezinis reported to us with pride that he had that morning, with considerable difficulty, persuaded the inner cabinet to issue sweeping and categorical instructions forbidding Greek vessels, not only from carrying strategic materials to Communist ports but even from calling at any such ports. (This is a matter on which the Embassy has been pressing the Government for some weeks.) Mr. Markezinis assured us that in the international sphere the US would always find the Rally Government prepared to go to any lengths which we desire in combatting Communism.
Mr. Markezinis mentioned that Marshal Papagos is going to pay an official visit to Turkey commencing April 28 and returning May 2. Mr. Markezinis has proposed that Mr. Tsouderos be acting Prime Minister during the Marshal’s absence and that he be acting Minister of Coordination during Markezinis’ absence in the US. He said that it seems wise to conciliate Tsouderos and his group in this way, although he was taking precautions, by leaving instructions that the Currency Committee not be convened during his and Mr. Costanzo’s absence, to see to it that Tsouderos and Sir Theodore Gregory 5 had no opportunity to upset the stabilization program. Referring to his proposal that Tsouderos serve briefly as acting Prime Minister, he said that he felt it wise that he, himself, refrain from publicly assuming the Number Two position in the Government at this time though later, after his economic program had [Page 817] been successfully completed, it might be desirable for him to accept the position of Vice Premier.
- Thomas H. Karamessines, Attaché in Greece.↩
- Despatch 993 reported Yost’s conversation of Feb. 25 with Markezinis on the Greek Government’s tactics toward Communism and particularly on a recent call by Passalidis on Markezinis. Passalidis urged Markezinis to go to Moscow and negotiate a trade agreement rather than go to Washington to seek aid. (781.00/2–2753)↩
- Not found in Department of State files.↩
- In a letter to Peurifoy of Feb. 24, Papagos stated that he had decided to send Markezinis to the United States for a timely review of certain economic questions with a view toward more permanent economic planning for Greece. (Telegram 2572 from Athens, Feb. 26; 781.13/2–2653)↩
- British Member of the Currency Committee of the Bank of Greece.↩