The dictatorship

46 years ago, a military dictatorship took over Greece for seven years. George Zangalis looks at the Greek Australian response to the Junta.

Greek Australians, since their first days of arriving as migrants in the late 19th century to this day, have never stopped caring about and contributing to the struggles of the Greek and Cypriot peoples for national independence, democracy and social justice, rallying in the process important sections of the Australian democratic and labour movements. Many of these actions of solidarity are recorded in my book Migrant Workers and Ethnic Communities – Chapter IX Solidarity, Anti War Campaigns and ASIO.
This article on the Greek Australian Resistance against the Junta is taken from that section. It should be noted, committees for democracy in Greece in Australia and other parts of the world had been formed immediately after the end of the American imposed civil war in Greece. In Australia, apart from many Greek Australians, they involved such prominent people as Dr H Evatt, his brother the eminent QC Clive Evatt, Don Dunstan and Mike Rann, Premiers of South Australia, Jim Cairns, Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur Calwell, ALP Leader, Dr Ernest Collocott, Frank Gallbally QC, dozens of Unions and leading Union Officials, Churches and Civil Liberty Councils.
The Greek Australian Resistance to the Junta – The Struggles for Democracy in Greece
The news, in April 1967, of the Junta taking power, imposing martial law and declaring illegal all political parties, unions, peasant, academic and literary associations, as well as the arrest of thousands, had an immense political and psychological impact on all Greeks. In Victoria, the Greek branch of the CPA met at George Philopoulos’ home in Richmond . There were similar meetings in other states.
There was anger and determination to organise the resistance, to rally the people for democracy in Greece, and to fight the Junta’s supporters in Australia in the consulates, the church hierarchy and sections of the establishment and, of course, in the Liberal Party and government. Neos Kosmos came out with a special edition condemning the coup and calling for solidarity action in Australia.
Some among the Communist Left wanted this campaigning to be the only and paramount task, but the majority view was that the struggle for migrant workers and ethnic community rights in Australia should not take a secondary position. In fact, the two campaigns were complementary.
The 1965 Committee for Democracy in Greece, established after the dismissal by the king of the Papandreou Government, was reconstituted as the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Greece, and included Stathis Vlassopoulos (secretary of the Greek Community), John Zigouras (solicitor), Chris Fifis (Greek Students Association), myself, Chris Mourikis, Basil Keramas, George Philopoulos, John Tsitas, George Papadopoulos, Plutarch Deliyiannis and Denis Skiotis.
In Sydney – the day after the coup – a spontaneous rally of Greek Australians was held in Hyde Park. The next day, the Sydney branch of the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Greece was formed. Among the foundation members mostly from the Atlas Workers League and the Greek community were Dimitris Kalomiris, Dimitris Tsingris, Savas Savidis, Jim Anastassiou, John Economou, Triantafilos Koutsournithis and Alex Sheppard.
The Melbourne committee issued its first leaflet (on 25 April 1967) as a patriotic call for action on a date close to Greek Easter. It was symbolically headed ‘Greeks, Christ Has Risen’, and stated:
In these hours that we celebrate the resurrection and wish each other joy and happiness, in our motherland the dictatorship put democracy and our people to the cross. Let us mobilise immediately to save our brothers and sisters from execution, jail and concentration camps. Let us demand like one the restoration of democracy in Greece. The committee seeks your support to: send a delegation to Canberra on May 3 to meet with members of parliament of all parties and foreign embassies, to convene a meeting of representatives of all Greek and Australian organisations and the Greek clergy and to send a delegation to the world conference of Greek migrants in West Germany.
The leaflet concluded: Greek democrats of the Centre, Right and Left – let us unite our efforts to bring soon to our country the resurrection of democracy.
The reference to our country and our people, meaning Greece, was quite natural for people who had been in Australia for a few years and the bonds of kinship run very strong and deep.
On 1 May 1967, Democritus put out its own clarion call for action in a declaration headed: ‘Down With Fascism in Greece – Freedom to Our Brothers and Sisters – Long Live Democracy.’
It recited the crimes committed by the palace against the Greek people as the agent of foreign interests. It invited Greeks and their families to march on May Day, where the main slogan would be ‘Democracy in Greece’.
We are today called to become the new Filiki Eteria (the organisation of Greeks abroad, mainly in Russia, who planned the uprising against the Turkish occupation in 1821). For every servant who the traitors have in the persons of ambassadors and consuls, we have 200,000 democrats who can become fighters for democracy in this country.
Democritus also called on Australia not to recognise the Greek Junta, a position shared with all anti-Junta forces in Australia. Although the Australian government hesitated for a few months, it became one of the first to grant it recognition.
The two major Greek language newspapers, Neos Kosmos and Panhellenic Herald, came out strongly against the Junta, with Neos Kosmos playing a leading mobilising role. The CPA paper, Tribune, was of tremendous help, attacking in particular the pro-Junta position of the Liberal government. Tribune (13 November 1967) carried a front page article headed: ‘Government Sides with Greek Dictators’, in reference to the decision to ban the entry to Australia of prominent Junta opponent Dr Nicolaides. The reverse was the case with the Melbourne-based Phos and Torch, which backed the Junta, and along with other Junta supporters sought to financially hurt Neos Kosmos.
On the first anniversary of the military coup, 21 April 1968, Melbourne Greeks rallied at the Collingwood Town Hall and in the evening demonstrated outside the Greek consulate to ‘make this the last year of fascism in Greece’. Speakers at the rally included Frank Galbally QC, Jim Cairns, Labor Member for Yarra and later Deputy Prime Minister, Victor Nollis and Chris Fifis. On 10 August the Greek branch of the CPA organised a fundraising function for the families of the political prisoners in Greece. Over 300 people attended.
Student Actions
In March 1968, Farrago, the Melbourne University student newspaper, published the first of two feature articles by Con Dimoyannis, who was sent to Greece on a fact-finding mission by the Student Representative Councils of RMIT, Monash and Melbourne universities. The objective was to gather information for a teach-in on Greece at RMIT.
Greek Australian students were active in most universities throughout Australia. Vietnam and the dictatorship in Greece politicised many of them radically. The Greek Students and Graduates Association of Victoria, representing La Trobe, Melbourne and Monash universities, and RMIT, Swinburne and Prahran Technical Colleges, organised a demonstration supported by the Australian Union of Students outside the Junta’s consulate in Queens Road in July 1973.
In November 1973, following an uprising by students at the Polytechnic in Athens, which was bloodily suppressed, several hundred Greeks in Melbourne rallied outside the Greek consulate. A deputation led by Denis Skiotis and Pano Gerondakis walked up to the third floor to see the Consul, but he and his staff had fled. The deputation refused to move. The police then dragged them by the legs down the stairs: ‘The protestors then hoisted the Greek flag on the flagpole of the consulate to half mast and demonstrators kept vigil over the flag for the night’ (reported by the secret police in my Special Branch file).
The vigil lasted for a week, attracting tremendous support and public interest, much to the annoyance and embarrassment of the consulate. Housed in the same building were the consulates of many other countries. Demonstrations outside the Greek consulates in all states became regular events.
Then the visits by prominent leaders of the Greek resistance against the Junta – such as those of Tony Ambatielos, Markos Dragoumis, Mikis Theodorakis and Andreas Papandreou – attracted thousands to rallies and demonstrations. National Day celebrations, such as 25 March and 28 October, turned into rallies for democracy in Greece. Greek Australians had never before, or since, demonstrated in such massive, sustained and enthusiastic solidarity action for democracy in Greece.
In Adelaide and Sydney, the Greek communities would often lead the campaigns, either as part of the Committees for Democracy in Greece or in their own name. In Melbourne the community offered assistance to the committee and a number of its leading officials had joined it. The reluctance to go all the way had more to do with the view of some in the ‘sensible’ Left that this would not be right for such an organisation than with the ability to win the support for the communities, given the strong anti-Junta feeling. That soon led to a debate on the role of the Greek communities and their involvement in the socio-political and ethnic issues of the day. The Left and other democrats argued strongly in favour of such a role. Politicisation meant relevance to issues of vital importance to the people.
Union Action
But it was the industrial and political might of the trade unions in Australia that made a most profound and effective contribution. Their protests were accompanied by action and bold political moves, hitting the Junta where it hurt most – its ship owner allies whose merchant ships, mostly under flags of convenience, were reaping billions out of the sweat and tears of seamen of all nationalities. The strong sense of internationalism by significant sections of the Australian trade union and labour movements, with which the Greek Australian Left had a good relationship, made powerful allies for democracy in Greece.
I remember when the Greek passenger ship Patris arrived in Port Melbourne soon after the military coup, a group of Greek Australian activists and maritime workers, led by Bert Nolan of the Seamen’s Union and Ted Bull of the Waterside Workers, were at the disembarkation point to welcome migrants, using loud speakers and speaking in Greek. Zenon Papaloukas, a Greek Cypriot, was a crew member on the tug that brought the Patris to dock. He, shouting his welcome in Greek, played a key role in Melbourne’s tug crews holding up Greek shipping.
Before the passengers began to disembark, the ‘wharfies’ and seamen working on the Patris held a short stop work meeting where Nolan, Bull and I spoke about the arrests and torture of Greek seamen and other unionists, and how Australian workers could help. This action was the forerunner of the tying up of dozens of Greek ships for days and weeks in Australian ports. Seamen and ‘wharfies’ would take action on the related issues of demanding legitimate payment and proper conditions, meals and accommodation for the seamen – who as a rule were underpaid, ill-treated and often owed money – and the demands for the release of fellow unionists and other democrats in Greece. Australian ports were among the very few in the world where such action could be taken and often with favourable results.
Greek ship owners – Onassis, Nearchos and Chandris – were major shareholders in the international gang of modern pirates. In the Junta they had found the most convenient of all flags of convenience. With unions banned and militant unionists behind bars, they had it all their own way. Greek consulates acted as agencies for the shipping industry, always in the pockets of the owners. In Australia they became the place where these demands were taken up, almost weekly, and without a satisfactory solution no Greek ship would leave port, or only after long delays.
George Gotsis, a wharfie in Sydney, Michael Tsounis in Adelaide and myself in Melbourne would accompany maritime union officials on board ships for discussion with the crews, captain and consular officials. While the Junta’s agents in the consulates would normally refuse to receive community deputations, they had no choice but to meet with union officials. Tsounis records (Icarus of the Antipodes) that in 1970 Ron Giffard, South Australian secretary of the Seamen’s Union and very active in tying up Greek ships, was summoned by Archbishop Ezekiel to the office of the consul in Adelaide. Tsounis went along as the interpreter.
The Archbishop complained that by tying up Greek ships his seafaring flock was suffering greatly and this must stop. This incident was also reported in the Seamen’s journal. Tsounis noted the Archbishop never complained about the well being of the Junta’s victims, having in fact condoned its regime of terror, as did the official church in Greece. He further noted that not one of the thousands of official pronouncements made and published by the Greek Orthodox Church from 1924 to 1983 mentioned the economic and social problems of the believers in Australian capitalist society.
Tsounis was also infuriated with Neos Kosmos – though it led the media campaign in Australia against the Greek Junta, it would not attack the Junta’s agents and supporters in Australia. The Greek Australian Review was quite different during and after the fall of the Junta (Editorial, May 1972): ‘We need to relentlessly struggle against the Junta’s people in Australia who work feverishly to export the fascist darkness in our communities and the popularisation of their regime in Australia.’
Another issue of the Review (October 1974) demanded the Junta’s people in Australia be removed and face justice.
* This article is taken from George Zangalis’s book Migrant Workers and Ethnic Communities – The Greek Australian Resistance to the Junta – The Struggles for Democracy in Greece