It is only telling of the state of the public discourse in Greece that the death of dictator Stylianos Pattakos (who lived to the age of 104, despite having been released from prison due to ‘poor health’ in 1990) ignited a kind of polarisation that one would not expect to see 42 years after the disgraceful collapse of the regime he was instrumental in establishing.
On one side, there are those on the left, who all but sang “ding, dong, the witch is dead” (and they might have done, if the lyrics were gender appropriate); on the other, strangely enough, there were the centrists and those on the right who, while not condoning the actions of the brutal dictator, were appealing to the humanitarian sentiments of the people and the nature of democracy, which is forgiving and not punitive. “Let his soul rest” was the tone of the commentary, “he was an old man, whose actions should only be judged within the historical framework of the times”.
There was another side commenting on the man, echoing the same mantra that always comes up when there’s talk of the 1967-1974 dictatorship: “Say what you will, but the junta built roads, boosted the economy and reduced public debt to a minimum.”
The recent rise of the Nazi thugs of Golden Dawn has made these kind of remarks all the more frequent, despite the fact that they’re completely untrue.
Sadly for those nostalgic for a brutal regime, the economy is numbers and numbers are brutal. According to data issued by the Greek Bureau of Statistics (even during the dictatorship), and later confirmed by the European Commission, in 1974, the Greek public debt had soared to 20.8 per cent of the GDP, amounting to 114 billion drachmas. When the colonels took over it was only 37.8 billion. Resorting to foreign lenders to support their ‘vision’ for Greece, the dictators managed to borrow, in seven years, three times what the country had borrowed in almost 150 years, from the establishment of an independent Greek state in 1830 to 1967.
Apart from public debt, Greece’s inflation, which had been the lowest among the OECD countries, at 2.2 per cent from 1961 to 1971, was also on the rise by 1973 and Greece never really recovered. Moreover, the regime’s taxation policy saw the lower and middle classes burdened to exhaustion, while ‘investors’ (i.e. constructors friendly to the regime and shipping magnates) were offered huge tax breaks. In 1971 alone, the 464 larger enterprises had received tax breaks amounting to three times the sum that they had actually paid in taxes.
Apart from creating a soaring debt and an unsustainable economy, the colonels also destroyed agriculture, employing people to the ‘overblown-public-sector-state’ that they created and which is still seen as the root of Greece’s problems.
Yes, the growth rate had been on the rise, but that was a trend that began well before the junta; yes, unemployment was close to zero, but that was thanks largely to the wave of migration that had sent the workforce to Germany, Australia, the US and elsewhere (not to mention being an added sort of taxable income); yes, the construction and building industry was flourishing, but that had also begun as part of the policies implemented a decade ago by Konstantinos Karamanlis, the same man the disgraced colonels invited back to take over, when they had shamefully performed the utmost act of treason, conspiring against Makarios and opening the gates for the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
For those claiming that the ignorant colonels where pure-hearted ‘patriots’, this should be a constant reminder. It takes a very vague and open definition of ‘patriot’ to include someone who defies their country’s constitution and overthrows an elected government, establishing a police state that tortures and hunts citizens, but even those who don’t have a problem with this will admit that making room for the enemy to occupy your land is a clear definition of ‘treason’.
So yes, democracy can be forgiving − and more importantly, can be inclusive, allowing people freedom of speech. But if you want to use that right to express your admiration for delusional traitors, the least you should do is get your facts straight.