Guest Post: A Short History of Greek Military Coups.

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by The Needle blog

A Short History of Greek Military Coups.

With the recent speculation, in some quarters, suggesting that the Greek military might step in, I decided to look back and find out how the last Greek military coup came about and, as I was interested myself, and presuming others might be also, write a brief history. However, each time I looked for a starting point, an historical moment which needed little explanation of itself, I was driven further back in time. 20th Century Greek political history is so complicated, that I came to the conclusion that it could only be understood by someone who actually lived through it, so little sense it made to me. Nevertheless, never one to be put off writing on a topic I am, hitherto, completely ignorant of, I have stitched together a very brief overview of Greece’s history over the last century.

To understand modern Greece one must understand it’s ancient history and it’s Geography. The Golden era of ancient Greece was rarely Pan Hellenic, with the legendary exception of King Menelaus’ expedition and siege of Troy, the brief cooperation during the war against King Xerxes of Persia, and perhaps Alexander the Great’s domination of what is now Greece, it has predominantly been the glorious histories of city states. And it’s geography is crucial, it has always been thought to stand as the boundary between East and West, whether you consider the ‘East’ to be Persia, the Ottoman Empire, or Communist eastern Europe it is best to understand that Greece’s eastern frontiers have never been an impassable barrier, infact Greece’s porous frontiers have ebbed and flowed with fickle fate and capricious fortune. As a consequence Greece is one of the most polarised nations on the planet.

Eleftherios Venizelos

It must seem to many Greeks reviewing their own history that the First World War actually began in Oct 1912, almost 100 years ago in the reign of King George I.  Greece was then being led by a young Cretan politician called Eleftherios Venizelos who had become Prime Minister in 0ct 1910 after a military coup in 1909. Crete was then part of the Ottoman Empire, as was Macedonia at that time, Venizelos had caught the attention and imagination of the military by declaring union with Greece.

By the Spring of 1912, Venizelos had helped form the ‘Balken League’, a series of bilateral treaties between Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria and in October 1912 they declared war on the Ottoman Empire. After striking decisively, led by the Crown Prince Constantine, at the Ottomans in Macedonia (modern north east Greece) and then Epirus (modern north west Greece) the combined Greek army and navy looked to the Ottoman ruled islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas.

In March 1913 King George I was assasinated by an anarchist and King Constantine I, war hero, succeeded to the throne.

King Constantine I

The war with the Ottomans was concluded in June 1913 but soon after hostilities broke out between Greece and her former allies over the partition of Macedonia.When this too was concluded in August of that year Greece had gained  southern Epirus, the southern half of Macedonia (including Thessaloniki), Crete and the Aegean islands, except for the Dodecanese, under Italian occupation, These gains nearly doubled Greece’s area and population.

The Greeks managed briefly to stay out of WW1 but in 1915 the western allies offered Cyprus in exchange for help against the Ottomans, Prime Minister Venizelos was in favour but the German educated King Constantine I,  brother-in-law to Kaiser Wilhelm, insisted on neutrality. Venizelos resigned, was re-elected, invited the western forces onto Greek soil, was fired by the King and then, following another military coup in Thessaloniki, formed a separate government which governed over all the territory taken in the last couple of years.

The western allies ignored the neutrality of the ‘Old Greece’ which King Constantine still ostensibly ruled. Royalist supporters rioted against the Venizelos supporters in Athens. When King Constantine’s cousin Tsar Nicholas was removed by the Bolsheviks, Russian protection was removed and he was forced to flee, without ever abdicating, along with most of his family. In June 1917 Venizelos theoretically then led a united Greece and officially joined WW1, he saw to it that Alexander, King Constantine’s second son, was crowned king but the country was now completely polarised between the royalists and the republican Venizelos supporters, the ‘National Schism’.

‘King’ Alexander

At the conclusion of WW1, Venizelos secured, as reward, Western Thrace, Eastern Thrace, and a zone around Smyrna, but not Cyprus. On his return from these relatively successful negotiations Venizelos was almost assasinated by  former royalist army officers. Venizelos then lost the elections in 1920 which was then followed by a referendum, following the ‘sudden’ death of ‘King’ Alexander, which saw the return of King Constantine I from exile. Venizelos prudently left the country

Meanwhile, in Turkey, a nationalist movement led by Mustafa Kemal was growing in popularity and fought to restore some of the territory lost to Greece. Following King Constantine’s return, Greece lost the support of the main European mediterranean powers, France and Italy, and by 1922 had been defeated by Turkey. In the Treaty that followed Turkey gained  back Smyrna, Eastern Thrace and the islands Imbros and Tenedos. Both countries agreed a compulsory population exchange in which 1.5 million Christians and 0.5 million Muslims were forcibly to moved.

The humiliating defeat and the economic deprivation, in part caused by a 25% increase in population due to refugees, exacerbated the difficult political situation and Army officers, who supported Venizelos, brought about yet another military coup, forcing King Constantine to abdicate in favour of his eldest son King George II in Sept 1923. A counter Royalist coup failed and in elections the Liberals won by a landslide [monarchist parties abstained] and on 25 March 1924, the Second Hellenic Republic was proclaimed, ratified by plebiscite a month later.

King George II

This democratic republic was weak and prone to interference from the military who had become the main beneficiaries of the upheavals over the previous decade. In June 1925, General Pangalos launched a military coup, and ruled as a dictator for a year until a counter-coup by another General Kondylis unseated him and restored the Republic.

In 1928 Venizelos returned from his self imposed exile and returned to government in new elections. The Great Depression hit an already poor Greece hard, and this period marks the rise of the Communist Party of Greece. Venizelos defaulted on Greek sovereign debt in 1932 and lost elections being replaced by a monarchist coalition.Eleftherios Venizelos returned to exile where he died soon after. Two pro-Venizelos military coup attempts followed and failed before in 1935 the a successful monarchist coup, led by Georgios Kondylis, abolished the republic and restored the monarchy under King Geoge II.

Ioannis Metaxas

King George II dismissed Kondylis, and in 1936 new elections followed. The result was a hung parliament with the Greek Communists holding the balance of power. Ioannis Metaxas, a former royalist general, with the king’s permission dissolved parliament and modeled Greece on Italy’s strong fascist state, as himself as leader.

When World War Two broke out Greece remained neutral but in 1940 it was attacked by Italy. The Greeks drove the Italians back but Hitler came to Mussolini’s rescue and over ran the country. By this stage Metaxas had died. King George escaped first to Crete and then to Egypt.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the Nazi occupation of Greece, needless to say it was bloody awful. However, it is important to note that while the monarchy ‘ruled’ in exile, the communist led National Liberation Front (EAM) were the largest resistance group fighting the Germans.

After an ‘agreement’ between Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin which left Greece as a British sphere of influence, and despite the fact that the communists were in control of most of the country, a government of national unity, under British backed George Papandreou came to power. However, following disagreement the six communist EAM minister in that government resigned. Demonstrations turned to violence and then all out civil war which lasted until 1949, when the communists were defeated with the support of Great Britain and the USA. The civil war resulted in 100,000 deaths.

Greece joined NATO in 1952. The period through the 1950s and 1960s could be characterised as democratic though right of centre parties had control, with heavy American influence. Rising economic growth from a very low starting point,  due to manufacturing, shipping, and tourism. On 9th July 1961 his government and the Europeans signed the protocols of Greece’s Treaty of Association with the European Economic Community (EEC) and in November 1962 the association treaty came into effect and envisaged the country’s full membership at the EEC by 1984, after the gradual elimination of all Greek tariffs on EEC imports.

In 1964 King George I died and King Constantine II took the throne.

King Constantine II

In 1965, after so many years of conservative rule, elections saw centrist/liberal Georgios Papandreou (Sr) become Prime Minister. King Constantine II dismissed him that same year but after failing for two years to for a conservative coalition was forced to call new elections for May 1967. It looked increasingly likely that Georgios Papandreou would win and form a new government with the Democratic Left (thought by the right to be a proxy for the Greek Communist Party which had been banned)

There was yet another military coup just a few weeks before the scheduled elections, almost certainly at the behest of the King. The King didn’t bargain on what kind of people he had urged to take power, they refused to be his puppets and in December of that year King Constatine II attempted a ‘royal coup’ to seize power from the military junta, he failed and never returned to Greece as King.

The Greek Military Junta

The EEC financial aid package as well as the protocol of accession were suspended during the 1967–74 junta years and Greece was expelled from the EEC.

Under the junta torture was a deliberate practice carried out both by the Security Police and the Greek Military Police.

Examples of the types of torture commonly used included:

  • Beating the soles of people’s feet with sticks and pieces of metal pipe.
  • Sexual torture such as shoving objects into people’s vagina/anus and twisting them violently, or hoses shoved into the anus and forcing water in at high pressure.
  • Choking people and shoving rags soaked in urine and excrement down their throats
  • Ripping out hair from the head and pubic regions.
  • Jumping on people’s stomachs
  • Pulling out toenails and fingernails

In 1973 another attempted military coup by the Greek Navy failed. In 1974 the Military Junta was overthrown, democracy restored, and the monarchy abolished.

Since then Greece has been democratic, it joined the European Community on 1st January 1981, and the Eurozone on January 1st 1999.

The rest everyone should be familiar with.

Greece is still politically polarised, the ‘National Schism’  still exists and has be seen regularly on the streets of Athens over the last couple of years.

I think this short history demonstrates that a Greek military coup can not be totally ruled out but I would caution that such a coup would not only mean that Greece would have to withdraw from the Eurozone, which is likely anyway, but, because of the rules of membership, also the EU, and personally I don’t think that Greece under any form of government could claw it’s way back in isolation and the Greek military understand this.

And for this reason, I  don’t think it will happen.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Mercury's picture

You might also enjoy:
A short history of Greek currency debasement, temporarily thwarted:

Oh regional Indian's picture

What a ride reading that. All those words full of so much meaning in every aspect of our lives and language. Quite confusing at times.

And that history. I thought Italy and Japan were bad, but this? Talk about a pawn.

The Greek character is not so much Greek as Anti-Spartan. Athens won (still the capital, 2,400 years later), finally. Softening ever since.

There is no Sparta in modern day Greece. none.

That is why people are rolling over, slowly but surely.



Peter Pan's picture

Greeks have always suffered from the tall poppy syndrome and in ancient Athens they often exiled some of the best men ou of fear that their success might lead them to become tyrants. Following the Greek war of independence they nearly hung Kolokotronis who was the chief hero of their struggle, they killed Bouboulina who gave her entire wealth to build war ships even though the Russians gave her the honorary title of admiral and they subjected another great hero Nikitaras to allowing him to beg at a certain square instead of giving him a small pension.

Bickering is still their great passion and is evident today not just in their politics, but also in their church committees, their brotherhoods, their soccer committees etc. In fact there is still much rivalry between Greeks of different areas.

The only thing that will pull them through is that they value above all their children and their faith and the fact that (with the exception of their parliament) there is only one traitor per 300 as was the case with the Spartans.

If Greece falls as a nation and is sold, partitioned or even invaded by the Turks, the price will be a heavy one for Europe.

theXman's picture

Author seems to have got parts of the history wrong. According to Wikipedia:

- King George II died in 1947. He was succeeded by his brother King Paul I.

- King Paul I died in 1964 and was succeeded by his son Constantine II.

BTW, the current Queen Sophia of Spain is a daughter of King Paul and sister of Constantine II. 

gojam's picture

As the author, you've got a +1 from me. You are absolutely correct. I'll change the original.

bank guy in Brussels's picture

Ha! The CIA's Wikipedia as a source to 'correct' somebody?

The same Wiki that gives full anonymity to CIA agents, to Mossad agents, and to trolls for politically-connected banksters and corporations?

What you read might be totally fake sh*t there on Wikipedia ... often against political targets ... but sometimes the CIA and NSA boys just do it for fun, they plant fake info there and watch it multiply.

The CIA's best scam ever ... the world thinking it is somewhow controlled by well-meaning 'volunteers' ... Ha!

Nobody For President's picture

Mercury's reference to is a must read, not only for the economic history of Greece WWII to post-war, which explains to a T why Greece bailout is doomed and Greece will be leaving the EZ soon, but the style of dry British humor/snarkiness is unparallaled. One small example:

Incredibly, and despite a number of distinct periods between 1940 and 1945 that could only be characterized by severe or even violent and sudden changes in policy, government, political status, occupation, liberation, military or civilian administration and the presence or absence of outright civil war, Greek monetary and fiscal policy enjoyed a disarmingly consistent state of absolutely peerless incompetence.

EllaDara's picture

The European Union wanted to send a man to the moon.

They asked a German, French and Greek astronaut how much money they wanted to go to the moon.

The German said. 1 million euro.

I million??? the EU representative screamed. That’s too much.

You see, I have a family, it’s very dangerous. Soo…

So he asked the French astronaut.

He said 2 million euros. You see I have a family and also a mistress with a illegitimate child. So if anything happens…

The EU representative went on to ask the Greek astronaut figuring he would be cheaper than the other.

The Greek said 3 million euros.

The EU guy gasped but managed to ask.

Why 3 million?

Look. The Greek said.

1 million for me. 

1 million for you.

And 1 million to send up the German.


You don’t need any more than this example to understand modern and ancient Greek history.

Peter Pan's picture

The Nazi occupation of Greece was not just awful, it was savage and disgraceful. If ever a movie was made about the viciousness of the Nazis, Europe would think twice about falling into the clutches of another Nazi takeover. The German people are already under the control of their Nazi masters and for the last decade have done wonders for their nation's trade balances but very little for themselves. The fruits of their labour have been used to advance a one world order agenda.

Lednbrass's picture

I dunno, I had an old Greek doctor here in the US (who lived in Greece in those days) tell me that the Germans were actually quite well behaved but the Communists regularly attacked Germans just to spark a reprisal.

Then again, this viewpoint could be another illustration of the schism mentioned above.

In any case, it is certainly not the fault of Germans today that Greeks are too incompetent to run their country without someone else constantly handing them cash.

Peter Pan's picture

Your old Greek doctor must have been a scoundrel and those that junk my comment are ignorant of history although I do not take it personally. The first non American winner of the Boston marathon in 1946 was Stylanos Kyriakidis who was rounded up during the war with 49 others to be shot as punishment for the killing of some German soldier. He survived because the German commandant found in Kyriakidis wallet his 1936 Berlin Olympics card as a participant. The point is, which modern army resorts to such measures and secondly how many more inspiring men and women did this German savagery deprive humanity of?

I repeat this is not an indictment of the German people but a warning that they are once again falling victims to a dangerous statism where control f people and interference with the markets will have an evil ending.

Lednbrass's picture

How does not wanting to hand over their money to a pack of indigent and poorly governed nations indicate that they are falling prey to statism?

yrbmegr's picture

In 1990, when I was in Crete, the Greeks understood German but would not speak it.  They would speak English or French to the Germans.  There were French language tour buses and English language tour buses, but no German language tour buses, although there were more German tourists than any other nationality there at the time.

vast-dom's picture

i'll do it for 2.9M -- i suspect the german will negotiate a bit.

EllaDara's picture


It's a deal.

But I will pay you next year in drachmas. 

LowProfile's picture

No deal, pay us in euro or we go with the Italians.

Oh shit, wait...

Kataphraktos's picture

I will be sharing this here in Athens all weekend before I return to NY. Classic!

DavidC's picture

" must understand it’s ancient history and it’s Geography".

Just FYI, the possessive form of it is its, not it's (it's is short for it is or it has). Same as one wouldn't (or shouldn't!) write your's, hi's or her's.


Arius's picture

"The war with the Ottomans was concluded in June 1913 but soon after hostilities broke out between Greece and her former allies over the partition of Macedonia.When this too was concluded in August of that year Greece had gained  southern Epirus, the southern half of Macedonia (including Thessaloniki), Crete and the Aegean islands, except for the Dodecanese, under Italian occupation, These gains nearly doubled Greece’s area and population."

Now, if Needle could kindly explain how do you "gain" only the southern part?  Doesnt this by definition mean that you actually LOST the northern part?

or does it mean Macedonia and Epirus were not actually part of Greece (since adding only half of each doubled the population)?

well... at least we know where Needle blog stands ...

gojam's picture

Hi Arius,

Epirus and Macedonia were not part of Greece, Greece took them during the Balken conflict but lost the northerns parts later.

Arius's picture

okay ... well, because they were previously part of Ottoman Empire?

Now, this is not the kind of blog to get into this discussion, but lets hope the borders will be changed again and the history will be rewritten again ... that is the history you read in the books (no pun intended :-) ...written by Needle et al ...

harry555's picture

Golden Dawn Bitchez!!!


i-dog's picture


"writing on a topic I am, hitherto, completely ignorant of"

You don't seem to have progressed very far while writing it, either. Your conclusion makes no sense.

SDRII's picture

Egyption assasination?

Egyptian Spring Clean? Former Egypt Spy Chief Suleiman dies in USA.

"According to the Palestinian intelligence analyst it is very likely that Omar Suleiman was assassinated because of his knowledge about the details of that comprehensive solution pertaining to Egypt as well as Palestine, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood. His position as Chief of Egypt´s Military Intelligence makes it very unlikely that Suleiman did not have detailed knowledge about US considerations an plans to destabilize Egypt with the purpose to weaken the influence of Egypt´s military on Egyptian foreign policy with respect to the planned re-structuring of the Middle East. His death comes, one must say, very conveniently for many."


Pope Clement's picture

No you can't count King Menelaus either because he never saw that country in the map above called Greece, so that adds up to zero point zero. See link below which also will change your perspective on where the birth of western civilization took place.

battle axe's picture

Good article, thank you...

boeing747's picture

Alexander the Great’s is the princess of Marcedonia. The original Greek had long gone.

Peter Pan's picture

Either your Englsh or your thinking has a problem. Or is it both?

Bicycle Repairman's picture

OK, so Papadumopolis failed miserably.  Why shouldn't the military be next to come out of the clown car?

LowProfile's picture

No reason, but only after the EU money spigot is turned off.

SDRII's picture

The Greek island of Ikaria has demanded to join Austria on the grounds that a 1912 agreement to join Greece out of fear of an Italian invasion has now expired, allowing it to seek independence, daily Vatan reported today. The island, which is famous as a stronghold of the radical Greek left, has routinely criticized the central government for forgetting about the island for years, Italian daily Libero reported

Kit Green's picture

Should my investment strategy look to the future as one of city states to replace globalism?

Gromit's picture

Good luck with that one!  It implies a huge reduction in GDP worldwide so long anything peper based won't work very well.

A more likely outcome is 1984, Orwell thought deeply about the consequences of the unequal power between government and citizens (very different in the 19th. century when guns were the great equalizer), yes there were cannon and cavalry but it's a very different equation today.

LowProfile's picture

A 1984 type government won't happen w/o a civil war.

So if you really believe that, you should be building a bunker hidden in the mountains, somewhere far from the Western world.

Betting on a contraction in all central gov't, and a revaluing of all paper claims is a better bet (although I am splitting the difference between that and 1984).

Gromit's picture

No- a civil war won't happen because government is too powerful to be effectively challenged.

Guns aren't much good against drones. Luke Skywalker was fiction, sorry to disappoint.

Thanks for your kind advice, doubly so because i didn't even ask for it!

Gromit's picture

Greece's current rulers may have too much to lose by rebelling against normalcy....

Nachdenken's picture

Free Cyprus. Then Tibet. Then Stockton ? 




Pretorian's picture

So the GREEK teritory is not Greek itself but was stolen from neighboring countries. They use to be thiefs in 1913 they are even bigger theifs now ripping EU apart. Nice one.

Joe A's picture

Not really. They took back what the Ottomans took from them. One of the reasons why Greek hate paying tax (apart from costing money) is that they were taxed heavily by the Ottoman Turks. Erdogan's Ottoman aspirations makes a whole lot of people nervous in the Balkans.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

I'm sure the Ottomans would say they took back what the Greeks took from them.  Ottoman empire "We took back what was taken by Greece"

Greece:  "We took back what was taken by the Ottomans"

Germany "We took back what was taken by the Greeks" and so on...

Joe A's picture

Many areas of what is nowadays Turkey were part of ancient Greece. Also during Byzanthine times, the Greek occupied parts of nowaydays Turkey. Then came the Ottomans and they occupied a large part of Eastern Europe. The Ottomans were there for 500 years and were stopped at Vienna or else they would have marched further.

Ancient Greek history is very complicated with all the city states and everything but the Greek were there before the Ottomans. So the Ottomans took from the Greek, not the other way around. The Greek just reclaimed what was theirs.

Joe A's picture

Ok, which Greek king has the most impressive set of medals and decorations? I am doubting between King George II and King Constantine II.

Billy Shears's picture

The uniforms on th junta are definitely national socialist surplus.

shovelhead's picture

Greece is a failed state with some nice scenery.

My Greek buddy says the only problem with Greece is that it's full of Greeks.

frenchie's picture

these tortures look very jewish... (especially the sexual ones and the nails thing)