Friday, December 19, 2008

Greece: little confidence in the politicians' republic

Written by Professor David Flint

The Greek republic has shown itself impotent in the face of the expression of rage which followed the shooting of a Greek youth by police on 6 December. Lawyers for the police say the youth was one of a mob who attacked the police with bottles and stones, shouting "Cops, we're going to burn you alive." One officer says he fired warning shots, one of which ricocheted and sadly, struck the boy in the chest. The lawyers say ballistic evidence supports this.

Why then was Greece in a state of anarchy for over a week, with mobs waging war against the police, looting and setting fire to buildings in Athens?

What is evident is that the politicians, tainted by years of intrigue and corruption, have led Greece into a dead end. There is no one, no authority, who enjoys the Greek people's respect. Indeed, as one observer puts it, Greece is exhibiting all the signs of a failed state. And neither side among the despised politicians offers a solution. One thing is clear. The Greek people have lost confidence not only in their politicians but in the politicians' republic.

All this is exacerbated by the romantic but foolish notion, coming from the French Revolution, that salvation lies not through traditional institutions, values and beliefs, but through the actions of the mob. This idealisation of mob rule still haunts its birthplace, notwithstanding Napoleon's "whiff of grapeshot." Every few years, exasperation with France's politicians leads to an explosion of mob violence which is sometimes assuaged by a new regime, or even, yet another constitution.

And yet, this is the cradle of democracy. There is one institution which can offer the nation leadership beyond politics, something for which the Greek people so clearly yearn. This is the Crown, the throne, that mystical institution whose office holder, the King of the Hellenes, is sworn to duty and service, and who alone can unite this ancient land.

The person who embodies these qualities is King Constantine of the Hellenes, a dashing and popular figure when came to the throne at the age of 24, as indeed his son Crown Prince Pavlos clearly is. Married to the beautiful Princess Anne-Marie, sister of Danish Queen Margrethe II, The King became a national hero when he won a gold medal in sailing at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

None of the always intriguing and too often duplicitous Athens politicians can equal this - this was Greece’s only gold medal between 1912 and 1980. Indeed in his later exile The King was to play a leading and perhaps crucial role on the International Olympic Committee in the award of the 2004 Olympics to Athens.

One criticism made in the British television programme ‘Constantine: A King’s Story,’ was about a crucial event in the King’s reign. This was when he swore in a military junta in 1967. The critics ignore the fact that as at times in Thailand, the King had no realistic alternative. He has always maintained that his brief co-operation with the coup was a tactical move which he had hoped would allow him to organize a counter-coup. This was in fact launched later that year. Unfortunately it failed, at least in part because the King wanted to avoid bloodshed at all costs, so he and his family went into exile.

The dictator George Papadopoulos tried to persuade The King to return, but Papadopoulos would never accept The King's firm condition that democracy be re-established. When naval officers tried to overthrow "the Colonels”, Papadopoulos, with the support of a rigged plebiscite, retaliated by declaring a republic in 1973. In April 1974 the junta's disastrous mishandling of events in Cyprus led to its downfall, and the apparently pro-royalist leader, Constantine Karamanlis, returned from exile to become Prime Minister.

Although the 1973 republican constitution was a sham, Karamanlis continued to operate under the junta’s republican constitution. This was as inconceivable as keeping Cromwell’s constitution at the restoration of King Charles II in England in 1660. Karamanlis even kept the junta’s president, Phaidon Ghizikis, in office, at least for the time being. The reason became obvious later- Karamnalis did a deal with Ghizikis. Karamanlis clearly had an agenda to create a politicians’ republic.

Instead of observing the lawful constitution, Karamanlis then announced that a second vote would be taken on the monarchy. Although he was the leader of the traditionally royalist party, he chose not support the King. Karamanlis had had a brittle relationship with Constantine's parents, particularly when Karamnalis was accused of being an informer during the Second World War. By failing to defend the King against the patently unfair charges that he had supported the junta, Karamanlis placed the King at a serious disadvantage. He exacerbated this by not allowing him to return to Greece during the campaign preceding the plebiscite.

Karamanlis was well aware that for years, the Colonels had conducted a propaganda campaign to damage the King, and now he was being blamed for the tyranny he tried to remove. And as the principal opposition party was also republican, it was not surprising that the vote to retain the monarchy was defeated.

The King, however, has always graciously accepted the decision. In a CNN interview with Richard Quest, The King emphasised that he will never campaign for a restoration. He will only return to the throne if he is invited because the Greek people want that. His Majesty remains as he has been since he succeded to the throne, a true and honourable constitutional monarch.

The day after the vote, the junta’s President Ghizikis stood down and Karamanlis actually made himself acting President as well as Prime Minister. Although this lasted only a few days, the impropriety of one person holding both offices was glaring. An interim President was then elected by Parliament. As Prime Minister leading an ostensibly centre-right party, Karamanlis embarked on a major programme of nationalising sectors of the economy. Karamanlis subsequently twice became President, moving into what was once the Royal Palace.

Successive Greek governments have displayed both hostility and petty vindictiveness towards The King. They were reluctant to allow The King to visit Greece except under exceptional circumstances, until at last it became clear they could not stop him under European law.

One government even confiscated all his property, particularly the family estate at Tatoi, bought by King George I with his own funds, and on which King Constantine had actually been required by successive republican governments to pay taxes as owner.

This brazen theft was subsequently found to have been unlawful by the European Court. The meagre compensation paid was used by the King to endow a charity for disaster relief, the Anna Maria Foundation. The Queen, Anne-Marie, is the President of the Foundation.

The government also attempted to strip him of his nationality, and even today refuses him a passport insisting that he invents a surname. But during this time, when he briefly put into a Greek port, he was received warmly by the local people, which put the republican politicians on edge.

In the British television programme, a Greek Orthodox priest explained that Constantine will always be King. So although he accepts the referendum, The King has never abdicated.

As a private citizen, he returned to Greece for the Athens Olympic Games. He lives in London with Queen Anne-Marie, where he is a close friend of Prince Charles and a godfather to Prince William of Wales. He continues to be invited, correctly, to state functions there as the "King of the Hellenes," notwithstanding the disdain of successive Greek governments.

A noble figure, the King clearly puts the interests of Greece and the Greek people first. He is in so many ways a model King.

His son Prince Pavlos, the Crown Prince of Greece and Prince of Denmark, was born in 1967. He was married on 1 July 1995 in London to Marie-Chantal Miller, who became The Crown Princess Pavlos of Greece and Princess of Denmark.

As have the people of other countries, the time will surely come when the Greek people invite their King to resume his rightful place at the head of the Greek nation. In the meantime, it is time surely for The King to be allowed to return to live among his people.

By putting petty obstacles in his way – his name for example – the politicians are only confirming that their great fear is that once he is among them again, the people will see in their King that leadership beyond politics which they so long for, and which The King of the Hellenes alone can offer.

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