2. Telegram From the Embassy in Greece to the Department of State1

2400. Subj: Greek Prime Minister Confronts Serious Problems.

Summary: Greek regime in recent months has been unable to deal decisively and in timely fashion with variety serious problems, e.g., universities and student unrest, detention of seven lawyers without charges, arrest of Professor Tsatsos of Bonn University, etc. At same time while Admiral Norton, Chief of British Defense Staff’s visit was exploited for needed positive publicity, escalation of violence in Cyprus and squabbling within Greek Orthodox Church have cast additional doubts on competence of GOG leadership. Rising level of internal public criticism of GOG coupled with heightened complaints from Greek military rounds out dreary picture for Prime Minister Papadopoulos. Question arises as to viability of Prime Minister vis-à-vis his colleagues within regime. Remains to be seen whether PM can or will exert strong leadership based on full implementation of 1968 Constitution. End summary.

Prime Minister must be increasingly aware he faces problem of developing sufficient forward progress on the political side to eliminate charges of stagnation and lack of direction. Early concrete steps to implement the 1968 Constitution could get him off the hook. For example, such concrete steps would involve the establishment of constitutional court and putting into effect draft electoral law allowing for organization of political parties, as well as fixing of a date for elections, at some distance in the future, however. Recent developments in internal situation are putting him under greater presure for action.
Events in recent months have not improved image of GOG. Number of unresolved problems has increased, causing embarrassment [Page 3] and highlighting regime inability to take decisions in timely fashion. For example, despite fact it has been clear for some time that archaic university administration and growing student dissatisfaction were likely to present problem, regime failed to come to grips with issues posed. When recent student difficulties erupted into confrontation that required resort to drastic measures to bring situation under control GOG reacted rashly, particularly in its resort to draft and in means police used in restoring order. Criticism produced by this affair in Greece and abroad added new element of uneasiness and tension in political environment.
Difficulties arising from GOG fumbling on student problem were compounded by untimely arrest of seven lawyers who were publicly identified as legitimate defense counselors for detained students, even though there is little doubt they engaged in other activities considered subversive. GOG refusal to receive representatives of International Commission of Jurists and American Bar Association, while it may have been justified on narrow legal basis considered from internal standpoint, was poor public relations abroad since it lost GOG opportunity to put its version of facts on record.
Similarly inept move was GOG arrest of Greek Professor Tsatsos of Bonn University. His arrest, for which no reason yet given publicly but Embassy understands involves his extensive contacts with opposition elements here and abroad, came just at time that GOG discussing and arranging date for visit of German Foreign Minister Scheel to Athens, as well as shortly before SPD Party Congress at which GOG must have been aware FRG Chancellor Brandt would face hostile critics of regime. As result product of SPD Congress was perhaps sharper in its anti-regime focus than might otherwise have been the case, and a considerable cloud has been cast upon prospective Scheel visit this calendar year.
On other hand Prime Minister was able to extract maximum publicity value from visit of Admiral Norton, Chief of British Defense Staff by insuring Norton received red carpet treatment and providing full press and TV coverage, including prominent front page pictures of Norton, British Ambassador and himself. To some extent, however, question in House of Commons on desirability of such visits inasmuch as they implied support for GOG, undercut PM, particularly after HMG response made plain visit was military in character and not intended to have political implications.
To add to PM’s woes, public image of Greek Orthodox Church under GOG-chosen head Archbishop Ieronymos is in deplorable state. Continuing ecclesiastical problems, including profferred resignation of Archbishop, must have produced considerable uneasiness among Greek public generally.
Escalating violence in Cyprus, most of which turns upon differences between pro-Makarios and pro-Grivas Greek Cypriots, also casts unfavorable light upon GOG leadership. Here again image of regime and govt have seriously depreciated. Greek inability to unify Greek Cypriot elements, given its announced claim to lead the Hellenistic world, could adversely affect overriding objective of maintaining strong and friendly Greek-Turkish relationship. Athens regime seems to realize critical character of problem it faces in Cyprus but has so far demonstrated inability to master developments on island rather than be mastered by them.
While grounds of revival of Vice President Agnew’s Drake University statement over past weekend remains somewhat obscure, it seems clear that it was surfaced for government’s purposes. It balanced critical resolutions of SPD Congress, and it also served to remind Greek public that GOG has important friends in U.S., irrespective of hostility shown by certain European political leaders.
On economic side, GOG has also demonstrated considerable ineptitude in face of inflation, meat shortage problem, pressure for increased wages, and inability to initiate key economic development projects involving foreign investments.
Government has either deliberately or by inadvertence permitted development of considerably higher level of direct criticisms within country as evidenced by such publications as “political themata” and regular Greek press which have taxed GOG for its failure to cope with wide variety of current problems. Coupled with publicity regarding seven detained lawyers and university problems, these criticisms take on added psychological significance since they contribute to creation of atmosphere in which opposition groups within Greek society are feeling somewhat freer about revealing their own opinion about current situation. Rising level of such critical comment could compel PM to face choice between new and genuine clamp-down and present “shadow of martial law” posture that permits “tolerable” level of dissent, reviving this area of intra-regime friction.
The problems above have not been lost on the military who individually have increased their complaint level. This apparently has allowed Chief of Military Police, Col. Dimitrios Ioannidis, who often opts for a much harder line, an increased voice in governmental matters through adroit exploitation of officer complaints. It is difficult to come to grips with the existence or exact size of dissident conspiratorial groups in the Army who may have plans to seize upon this opportunity to move against the Prime Minister. Such a move if carried out by the military with a view toward extricating the Army from government would probably receive a large majority of support both in the military and the population. However, prospects for such a move [Page 5] to succeed would have to be evaluated in context of PM’s demonstrated ability to ferret out and neutralize Army dissidence. Any new group would also have to take into account the views of those junior revolutionary officers who control the key military units in Athens and appear to command the loyalty of Ioannidis.
Foregoing adds up to dreary picture for Papadopoulos and his government. It seems to bear out analysis that weakened position of PM vis-à-vis his colleagues within regime may be coming close to point where he has only slim chance to lead government constructively. Various aspects of these developments have been reported on separately [less than 1 line not declassified]. Added together, I believe evidence is mounting that the Prime Minister’s problems are substantial and that he must move decisively and constructively if he is to retain the balance in his favor within the military establishment necessary for survival. It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister will in light of above circumstances ultimately grasp point that only by a strong demonstration of leadership based upon the full implementation of the 1968 Constitution does he continue to have real chance to save himself as leader of the government and prevent disgrace and disintegration of his “revolution.”
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15–1 GREECE. Secret; Exdis.