214. Airgram From the Embassy in Greece to the Department of State1



  • Andreas Papandreou’s Comments on Current Greek Situation

On November 23, 1965, an Embassy officer and his wife attended a small dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Westebbe. The only other guests were Mr. and Mrs. Andreas Papandreou and Center Union Deputy Nikolaos Kountouris, an enthusiastic Papandreou supporter. Upon extending the invitation to the Embassy officer, Westebbe clearly implied that the evening had been specifically arranged to provide young Papandreou with an opportunity to explain and justify his position to an American official. Papandreou’s comments during the course of the wide-ranging five-hour conversation were as follows:

Greek Economy:

Admittedly, Greece’s present economic difficulties stem in some measure from mistakes made by the Center Union Government while it was in power. Chief among these are the tax reductions sponsored by former Finance Minister Konstantine Mitsotakis, which have cost the government some 1,200,000,000 drachmae in lost revenues. These tax reductions were instituted against the strong recommendations, in writing, of Andreas Papandreou. A second factor was the failure to obtain economic assistance through the Consortium. Particularly disappointing in this regard was the fact that the French, after offering a $25 million credit, imposed severe conditions and set exorbitant prices for locomotives, machinery, etc., which the Greeks wanted.

Despite these difficulties, Greece’s economic problems would now be well on the way to solution had the Center Union Government remained in power. When the Center Union was replaced in mid-July, Andreas Papandreou was on the verge of consummating arrangements for the floating of a long-term, low-interest bond issue through commercial banks in West Germany, which probably could have put the Greek economy “over the hump” and on the road to healthy growth.

The present government is incapable of coping with the economic situation for a number of reasons. The individual ministers are not cooperating, and few of them are professionally competent; public confidence [Page 452] has been severely shaken as a result of political and economic instability and uncertainty; the problem of agricultural surpluses is being badly mismanaged; and strikes and disruptive labor unrest will probably have a serious effect.

In the latter connection, labor problems during the period of the Papandreou government were kept to a minimum because labor leaders realized the government understood and sympathized with their position, and it was possible for members of the government—particularly Andreas Papandreou himself—to persuade the trade unions to refrain from strikes. Andreas could do this because the union leaders trusted him, and he in turn fully understood their problems. There is no one in the present government who enjoys this kind of relationship with the trade union movement.

Political Conditions:

Because of the foregoing economic conditions, internal divisions, and lack of public confidence, the Stefanopoulos Government cannot long survive—certainly not for more than a few months. If elections were held today, the Center Union would get perhaps 60% of the popular vote, ERE no more than 30%, and the “traitors” (Stefanopoulos supporters) a bare 10%. The EDA vote would be negligible—maybe 5%—because the Center Union would win the support of all but a very small Communist hard core within EDA.

The overwhelming and durable political strength of the Center Union, as presently constituted and oriented, stems from four basic issues which preoccupy the electorate:

The need for social and economic reform.
The necessity to restore civil liberties and restrain the arbitrary and oppressive activities of the police.
Keen national “sensitivity” regarding certain infringements on Greek sovereignty.
A strong and mounting resentment against recent activities of the Palace.

Item c above—the “sensitivity” regarding sovereignty—is something the Americans should understand. It stems from the widespread feeling that through its participation in NATO, Greece has surrendered certain elements of national independence. Although it is recognized that NATO served a useful purpose initially, in more recent years Greece’s membership in NATO has entailed some loss of autonomy in such matters as the selection and assignment of senior officers (concerning which subtle pressures have been applied by the U.S. and perhaps other major NATO powers); the organization, training and equipment of the Greek armed forces; and Greece’s military deployments and commitments. While NATO in some form must be preserved, the pride and sensitivities of smaller powers must be taken more into account. Simply [Page 453] because Greece is not as powerful as some other NATO members does not mean that she is not as sensitive as they where matters of sovereignty are concerned. The Greek attitude is much the same as that currently being expressed by de Gaulle, whose position has wide appeal in Greece.

The question of the Palace is another extremely important factor. Public resentment again the King’s recent “interference” in political affairs has now reached massive proportions. Andreas and other Center Union politicians have noted in their recent travels a significant change in this regard. Whereas prior to last July there was considerable anti-monarchist sentiment, it was usually expressed by the man in the street in such terms as: “When will King Constantine abdicate and go to Denmark?” Now the question is more likely to be: “When will Constantine be brought to trial for his crimes?” Until recently it had been the popular assumption that the young King’s misdeeds were the result of the influence of his mother, but now it is becoming clear that he is acting on his own responsibility and should be held accountable accordingly.

The King should realize that his position can only be saved by the Center Union Party, without which the political situation would become increasingly polarized between right and left, with the left by far the stronger faction and heavily committed to the abolition of the monarchy. If a plebiscite were held today on the regime issue, the anti-monarchists would draw some 70 to 80% of the vote.

Any effort to frustrate the continuation of the “peaceful revolution” which the Center Union, under the elder Papandreou, was in the process of carrying out will have dangerous consequences. “Progressive and democratic” forces in the country are on the march in quest of a more modern and liberal order and will not long tolerate efforts to obstruct their progress. In addition to popular internal pressures, there is another reason why “undemocratic” regimes such as the present Stefanopoulos government cannot survive. This is the presence on Greece’s northern frontiers of powerful neighbors who are “not indifferent” to developments in Greece. The United States should not assume that Greece exists in a vacuum, or that the U.S. can freely and unilaterally manipulate the Greek political situation without creating “reactions” in other quarters.

It is the firm view of the overwhelming majority of the Greek people that the U.S. is aligned with the extreme right, the Palace, and the military. This may not be entirely true, especially at the moment, but it is nevertheless a deeply held belief and there is evidence to support it. For example, it is assumed that articles last summer in the New York Times by C.L. Sulzberger, highly critical of Andreas Papandreou and his father, were a fair reflection of the U.S. view and were probably inspired by U.S. officials.2

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Reporting Officer’s Comments: Throughout the evening Andreas, who dominated the conversation, was amiable, responsive to questions, and apparently intent on giving an impression of candor. He professed to welcome an opportunity for a frank exposition of his views which, he implied, had sometimes been misunderstood in American official circles. He said he knew he had been accused of having been a leftist and even a Marxist, but in fact he considered himself neither a rightist nor a leftist but a professional economist, now a politician, who tried to approach all political and economic problems analytically and objectively. His conversation was lucid and his points were well organized. In fact, he gave the impression that some of his remarks may have been planned or rehearsed in advance.

Throughout the evening Kountouris dutifully echoed Andreas’ main points. Mrs. Papandreou was generally noncommittal. Westebbe tried to play the role of mediator, sometimes siding with Andreas and sometimes defending the American position.

For the Ambassador:

Alfred G. Vigderman
Counselor of Embassy for Political Affairs
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 2 GREECE. Confidential. Drafted by Maury and approved by Vigderman.
  2. The New York Times, July 28 and August 4, 6, and 8, 1965.