50 years since the coup d’etat of 1967

“Guilty! Greek military junta. Long live a democratic Greece!” Poster by Klayman Leon, Wilfred Owen (1975). Source: Library of Congress

It was this day in 1967, just weeks before the scheduled elections, that a group of army colonels led by brigadier General Stylianos Pattakos (left) and colonels George Papadopoulos (right) and Nikolaos Makarezos seized power in a coup d’etat and changed the course of Greece’s history.

The radio was playing military songs and the announcer was warning people to stay indoors because the Greek Armed Forces have taken over the governance of the country. The coup leaders placed tanks in strategic positions in Athens, effectively gaining complete control of the city. At the same time, a large number of small mobile units were dispatched to arrest leading politicians, authority figures, and ordinary citizens suspected of left-wing sympathies, according to lists prepared in advance.

Papadopoulos and his accomplices took advantage of a shaky political system, a young inexperienced King Constantine and the U.S. obsession with curbing the spread of communism. Papadopoulos appointed himself minister, prime minister, regent and president of the republic.

The dictatorship lasted less than seven years. During this period politicians had left Greece, self-exiled in Europe, with most of them choosing Paris. Political opponents were tortured and jailed. Communists and leftists were persecuted and could not find work in the public sector. The news was censored and the newly-established public television broadcasted government propaganda.

The collapse of the junta both ideologically and politically was triggered by a series of events which unfolded soon after Papadopoulos’ attempt at liberalization, with ideological collapse preceding its eventual political collapse. In November 1973, the student uprising in the National Technical University of Athens (Polytechneio) put an end to Papadopoulos’ efforts. Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannidis (center) used the Polytechneio revolt as a pretext to restore public order and organized a coup d’état overthrowing Papadopoulos and his government on November 25, 1973.

Ioannidis lasted only a few months, though. His arrogance led him to organize a coup in Cyprus, following his nationalist dream to unite the island with Greece. The events that followed gave Turkey the excuse to invade Cyprus on July 20, 1974. The dictator was forced to give up power three days later and on July 24, self-exiled Constantine Karamanlis returned to Greece. His new party, New Democracy, won the November 1974 general election, and he remained prime minister. Parliamentary democracy was thus restored, and the Greek legislative elections of 1974 were the first free elections held in a decade.

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