In Egypt as in Greece, path to democracy can be treacherous
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, February 17, 2011

I’ve been thinking about Greece while watching history unfold in Egypt.

After fighting the Germans in WWII, the Greeks were caught up in an even more savage civil war. Though the Communists initially lost, in early 1967 they were sending mobs into the street to influence the coming election. The police asked for the assistance of the military, and in April there was a coup led by a group of anti-Communist Army colonels.

The Greek people, weary of war, seemed to reluctantly accept the new order, especially since the Colonels announced their intention to stay in power just long enough to establish stability.

For two of the seven years until democracy was restored, my Naval officer husband was stationed there; he, our five year old son and I lived in a small town just outside Athens. Most of what I know of modern Greek history I learned from that experience and from reading Kenneth Young’s 1969 book “The Greek Passion” just before I returned to the States in 1971.

The U.S supported the Junta, as it called itself, so we Americans were welcome there. The American military made it clear to its personnel and families that we were guests, that we were to mind our own business and not question our new Greek friends about politics. We were warned we could get them in trouble if we did.

Mostly we didn’t notice anything odd; the beautiful country seemed what Fodor’s guidebook promised, overflowing with ancient history, delicious food, friendly people. I experienced only two oddities. One was being invited to downtown Athens to view a parade; I looked forward to enjoying flowered floats and marching bands. Instead, we saw a parade of military vehicles and what looked like a missile on a flatbed. The American military officers at the party didn’t seem to see anything strange about this. I remember quietly asking my husband, can we go home now?

The other recollection is of hanging wash with my Greek landlady, who lived next door, calling across the yard to ask why her kids were home on an expected school day. She moved close to me, looking over her shoulder, and whispered, “Today is Papadopoulos’ birthday”.

George Papadopoulos was the leader of the Junta. I couldn’t imagine having to whisper if I referred to President Nixon’s birthday. I couldn’t imagine being afraid of my government.

On the other hand, I also couldn’t relate to the stories our landlord told us, about the fighting in the streets during the civil war; he showed us the holes in the wall of his shop, from bullets that had narrowly missed him.

During WWII, the communist partisans hid weapons in the hills, waiting for the day that they could make their move, which they did in 1946. By 1950 they were defeated and the Greek Monarchy was re-established; Greece began to recover and modernize. But Greek politics, where democracy began, was always chaotic, and by 1967 people were in the streets, chanting “the King must go”.

We were told that the mobs were encouraged by Greek communists; international leftists still deny this. I don’t credit leftists so I think this communist involvement was probably real and threatening. Regardless, the Colonels seized power, with a promise to restore order and, as soon as possible, democracy.

I somehow got the impression, living in New England by then, that the Colonels voluntarily stepped down in 1974. But actually, another faction of the military stepped in and arrested Papadopoulos and the rest of the Junta. Then elections were held and Greece was free. We can talk about the mess it has made of its democracy and its economy another time.

When I lived there, we Americans did whisper among ourselves about the building in Athens where political prisoners were allegedly tortured, but we tried not to think about this too much. We were told that the Greek government was a vital part of the Cold War against communism; certainly that was true, but I’d argue not a good excuse for our country’s complicity.

So in reference to recent events: The Egyptian dictator was an ally in the present war against terror; the people were in the streets; American observers were dealing with rumors that Islamic extremists were behind the demonstrations and that if the government fell, it would be replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood bearing evil Sharia Law. Comparisons are made to the Iranian Revolution, which didn’t work out so well for “the people”. The military has stepped in and promised democracy.

It helps that the world is watching on CNN and the Internet. But “the world” must include all Americans who feel a sense of brotherhood with others who want freedom instead of government control. The Egyptians we saw protesting in Cairo looked, not like communists or Islamic fundamentalists, but like us Teapartiers who hold freedom as our highest value.

This may be a romantic fantasy. While many Egyptians probably do share this value, others are like some members of the older Greek revolution and yes, like some citizens of our own country today, more interested in getting control of the machinery of government in the interest of socialism, religious ascendancy, or just a more favored position for themselves. I hope the freedom-lovers prevail, there and here.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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