Metapolitefsi, which means polity or regime change, is the period in Greek history that starts right after the fall of the military dictatorship of 1967-74, on July 24, 1974, and continues all the way to the present.
The long course towards the metapolitefsi began with the ‘liberalisation’ plan of Georgios Papadopoulos, the head of the military dictatorship, in the last months of his regime. This process was opposed by prominent conservative politicians, such as Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, who was Prime Minister of Greece at the time the coup was staged, on 21 April 1967. Papadopoulos’ plan was halted with the Athens Polytechnic uprising on 17 November 1973, a huge demonstration of popular rejection of the Greek military junta, and the counter coup staged after the Polytechnic uprising, by Brigadier General Dimitrios Ioannides.
Ioannides’ coup d’état against the elected president of Cyprus, Makarios III, on 15 July 1974 and the subsequent Turkish invasion resulted in the fall of the dictatorship and the appointment of an interim government, known as the ‘national unity government’, led by former conservative prime minister,
Konstantinos Karamanlis. Karamanlis legalised the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and formed a new party, namely New Democracy, which won the elections of 1974.
In September 1973, Georgios Papadopoulos, the head of the military junta that took power in 1967, initiated a process of liberalisation, aiming to legitimise his government and rehabilitate its image as international, and especially European.
Feeling confident of his grasp on power he requested the resignation of the 13 military men in his cabinet and appointed an old guard politician, Spyros Markezinis, as Prime Minister of Greece, entrusting him with the task of leading the country to parliamentary rule. The dictator, however, proposed a constitution that accorded far greater powers to the President of Greece (a position Papadopoulos also held) than those of the Parliament.
Under the condition that Papadopoulos would curtail any military interference that could hinder the process, Spyros Markezinis accepted to assist in helping the transition to some form of parliamentary rule. Having secured quasi-dictatorial presidential powers under the new constitution, Papadopoulos not only accepted but ordered a range of liberalisation measures, including the abolition of martial law and the easing of censorship.
So called ‘free’ elections were announced soon after, in which political formations including part of the traditional left, but not the Communist Party of Greece (which was banned during the Greek Civil War), were expected to participate.
However, in November 1973 the Athens Polytechnic uprising broke out, starting with protest actions such as building occupations and radio broadcasts, and changed the course of events as planned by Papadopoulos. The student uprising, believed to have been spontaneous and not orchestrated by any particular political group in Greece, followed a smaller uprising in February 1973 at the Athens Law School.
Unlike the Athens law school uprising-occupation, where the junta negotiated with the students and bloodshed was avoided, in November 1973 the regime made no attempt to negotiate.
The three day student uprising at the Polytechnic, and the subsequent cold blooded deaths of many demonstrators by the army in the nearby streets, gave the anti-dictatorship feelings and movement momentum, whilst martial law was reintroduced.
Dimitrios Ioannides, a disaffected junta hardliner, on 25 November 1973 used the Polytechnic uprising as a pretext to stage a counter coup that overthrew Papadopoulos and put an abrupt end to Markezinis’ attempt at transition to democratic rule.
Ioannides ruled Greece from the shadows, and was the de facto leader of a puppet regime. Adamantios Androutsopoulos, the new junta prime minister, was described as a political non-entity by the New York Times. President of the Republic became General Faidon Gizikis. The new junta pursued an aggressive internal crackdown and an expansionist foreign policy.
Ioannides was not concerned about legal formalities, like his predecessor. He was a “ruthless dictator who toppled the Papadopoulos junta for being too liberal”.
His junta introduced repressive measures and, using the military police EAT/ESA offices and prison cells as torture chambers, he launched an all out assault on Greek civil society. EAT/ESA became the regime’s ‘Praetorian Guard’ which could arrest anyone, even superior officers, if it suspected any anti-
Having successfully terrorised the population, the new junta tried to realise its foreign policy ambitions by launching a military coup against President and Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus.
Makarios was deposed by military coup on 15 July 1974 and replaced by Nikos Sampson. However, the coup backfired as Turkey reacted with Operation
Atilla on 20 July; the Turkish invasion of Cyprus had begun.
This military and political disaster for Greece and Cyprus led to thousands of dead and 200,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees, deeply traumatised the Greek body politic for the long term and was the final straw for Ioannides’ regime.
Immediately after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus the dictators, not expecting such a disastrous outcome, finally decided that Ioannides’ approach was catastrophic for the interests of the country. The Androutsopoulos government could not deal effectively with the dual crises of the Cyprus conflict and the economy. Androutsopoulos did not have the clout to effectively negotiate an end to the Cyprus crisis. It was finally realised that only a strong government could effectively negotiate an end to the Cyprus conflict.
On July 23, 1974, ‘President’ Gizikis called a meeting of old guard politicians, including Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, Spyros Markezinis, Stephanos Stephanopoulos, Evangelos Averoff and others. The heads of the armed forces also participated in the meeting. The agenda was to appoint a national unity government with the mandate to lead the country to elections and at the same time to honourably extricate Greece from an armed confrontation with Turkey.
Former prime minister Panagiotis Kanellopoulos was originally suggested as the head of the new interim government. He was the legitimate prime minister originally deposed by the dictatorship and a veteran politician who had repeatedly criticized Papadopoulos and his successor. Raging battles were still taking place in Cyprus’ north and Greece’s border with Turkey in Thrace was tense when Greeks took to the streets in all the major cities, celebrating the junta’s decision to relinquish power before the war in Cyprus could spill all over the Aegean. However, talks in Athens were going nowhere with Gizikis’ offer to Panayiotis Kanellopoulos to form a government.
Evangelos Averoff, a conservative minister in pre-junta governments, offered the Karamanlis solution.
He insisted that Konstantinos Karamanlis, prime minister of Greece from 1955 to 1963, and in self imposed exile in Paris since 1963, was the only political personality who could lead a successful transition government, taking into consideration the new circumstances and dangers both inside and outside the country. Gizikis and the heads of the armed became convinced by Averoff’s arguments.
After Averoff’s decisive intervention, Gizikis phoned Karamanlis and asked him to return. Karamanlis initially hesitated but Gizikis pledged to him that the military would no longer interfere in the political affairs of Greece. Other junta members joined Gizikis in his pledge.
Upon news of Karamanlis’ impending arrival cheering Athenian crowds took to the streets chanting “Ερχεται! Ερχεται!” – “Here he comes! Here he comes!”. Similar celebrations broke out all over Greece. Athenians in the tens of thousands also went to the airport to greet him.
On 23 July 1974 Karamanlis returned to Athens on the French President’s Mystère 20 jet made available to him by President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, a close personal friend, and was sworn in as prime minister under President Phaedon Gizikis, who remained temporarily in power for legal continuity reasons.
Despite being faced with an inherently unstable and dangerous political situation, which forced him to sleep aboard a yacht watched over by a naval destroyer for several weeks after his return, Karamanlis moved swiftly to defuse the tension between Greece and Turkey, which came on the brink of war over the Cyprus crisis, and begin the process of transition from military rule to a pluralist democracy.
Strategy of democratisation
Karamanlis first legalised the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) that was constantly demonised by the junta, using this political move as a differentiator between the junta rigidity on the matter that betrayed its totalitarianism and his own realpolitik approach honed by years of practicing democracy. The legalisation of the Communist Party was also meant as a gesture of political inclusionism and rapprochement.
At the same time Karamanlis also freed all political prisoners and pardoned all political crimes against the junta. This approach was warmly received by the people, long weary of junta divisive polemics.
Following through with his reconciliation theme he also adopted a measured approach to removing collaborators and appointees of the dictatorship from the positions they held in government bureaucracy, and, wanting to officially inaugurate the new democratic era in Greek politics as soon as possible, declared that elections would be held in November 1974.
In the legislative election of November 1974, Karamanlis with his newly formed conservative party, not coincidentally named New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία), obtained a massive parliamentary majority and was elected prime minister. The elections were soon followed by the December 1974 plebiscite on the abolition of the monarchy, where 69 per cent voted in favour of the abolition and 31 per cent opposed it.
In January 1975 the junta members were formally arrested and in early August of the same year the government of Konstantinos Karamanlis brought
charges of high treason and mutiny against Georgios Papadopoulos and nineteen other co-conspirators of the military junta. The mass trial, described as ‘Greece’s Nuremberg’, was staged at the Korydallos Prison under heavy security and was televised. Papadopoulos and Ioannides were sentenced to death for high treason. These sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment by the Karamanlis government. This trial was followed by a second trial which centred around the events of the Athens Polytechnic uprising.
A plan to grant amnesty to the junta principals by the Konstantinos Mitsotakis government in 1990 was cancelled after protests from conservatives, socialists and communists. Papadopoulos died in hospital in 1999 after being transferred from Korydallos, while Ioannides remained incarcerated until his death in 2010.
The adoption of the Constitution of 1975 by the newly elected Hellenic Parliament consolidated the new era of democratic governance.
First years of Metapolitefsi
New Democracy went on to win the Greek legislative election in 1977, and Karamanlis continued to serve as prime minister until 10 May 1980, when he succeeded Tsatsos as President of Greece and then coexisted for four years (1981-1985) with his fierce political opponent and leader of PASOK, the Greek socialist party, Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.
Karamanlis’ policy of European integration and the entry of the country in the European Union in January 1981 is also acknowledged as a landmark achievement in metapolitefsi and in the modern history of Greece.
In the 18 October 1981 election Andreas Papandreou used as a slogan the catch word ‘change’ (αλλαγή) and won 48 per cent of the popular vote. PASOK’s
victory under Papandreou is regarded as the culmination of the metapolitefsi of 1974, given that the fall of the junta had not been accompanied by the rise of new political powers, but rather by the resumption of power by the old guard politicians.
PASOK and Papandreou captured the sizeable centre-left current in Greece, which emerged from fragmented resistance groups that were active during the dictatorship.
Andreas Papandreou shifted political power from the traditional conservative Greek right, which had dominated Greek politics for decades, to a centre-left
locus. This shift in the Greek political landscape helped heal some of the old civil war wounds and Greece became more pluralistic, and more in line with the political system of other western European countries. Papandreou also systematically pursued inclusionist politics which ended the sociopolitical and economic exclusion of many social classes in the post-civil war era.
It is universally acknowledged in Greece that Papandreou, along with Karamanlis, played a leading role in establishing democracy in the country during metapolitefsi.
Metapolitefsi 40 years on
Metapolitefsi is the longest period of political and social stability in modern Greek history. It is a period, where up until the onset of the multiple crisis in 2009, Greece and its people enjoyed unprecedented growth and wealth, most of it through borrowed money, as well as social and political liberties and rights.
The positive and negative aspects of this historical period, as well as its protagonists in all walks of modern Greek life, are still determining the present and the future of the country.