Apostasia of 1965

The terms Apostasia (Greek: Αποστασία, “Apostasy“) or Iouliana (Greek: Ιουλιανά, “July events”) or the Royal Coup (Greek: Το Βασιλικό ΠραξικόπημαTo Vasiliko Praxikopima) are used to describe the political crisis in Greece centered on the resignation, on 15 July 1965, of Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou and subsequent appointment, by King Constantine II, of successive prime ministers from Papandreou’s own party, the Center Union, to replace him. Defectors from the Center Union were branded by Papandreou’s sympathizers as Apostates (“renegades”). The Apostasia heralded a prolonged period of political instability, which weakened the fragile post-civil war order, and ultimately led to the establishment of the military regime in April 1967.

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In 1961, various factions of Greece’s liberal centrist political forces, known as the “Centre”, joined together in a new political party, the Centre Union (EK), whose aim was to provide a credible alternative to the National Radical Union (ERE) of Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. Soon, Karamanlis called a general election, which led to a clear victory for his party. However, Papandreou, other Centre Union politicians and the leftist EDA started claiming that Karamanlis’s election victory was largely due to “violence and vote rigging”. Papandreou, a gifted orator, launched a “relentless struggle” (Greek: Ανένδοτος Αγών) aimed at forcing the “illegal government” of Karamanlis from power. In May 1963, Karamanlis resigned officially over a dispute with King Paul on the latter’s planned visit to the United Kingdom, but there has been speculation that the “Relentless Struggle” and other crises (most notably the assassination of the leftist independent MP Gregorios Lambrakis with the alleged involvement of the police and the secret service) had greatly weakened Karamanlis’s position.

A general election in late 1963 resulted in Centre Union coming first although without achieving an absolute majority. Papandreou was appointed prime minister and gained a vote of confidence in Parliament since the EDA also voted for him. However, the EDA was considered by Greece’s political establishment, including Papandreou himself, as a simple front for the outlawed Communist Party of Greece and not totally without cause. The EDA was by no means communist, but the Communist Party supported it and several sympathisers were prominent EDA members. Papandreou, refusing to govern with communist backing, tendered his resignation.

In a move interpreted as favourable to Papandreou, King Paul immediately dissolved Parliament and called for a new general election. Papandreou, who had implemented a number of popular measures as prime minister before his resignation, won 53% of the popular vote and an absolute parliamentary majority in that election. It is claimed that, as repayment of such a favourable treatment, Papandreou agreed to accept an increased role for the King in the running of the armed forces, which were traditionally conservative and fiercely anticommunist. Whether there was an express agreement or rather a tacit understanding is still disputed, but it is true that Papandreou chose figures who were unlikely to offend the King as his defence ministers and even chose the King’s favourite, Lieutenant General Ioannis Gennimatas, for the key post of Chief of the Army General Staff. In his 1963 government, the defence minister was a retired general who had also been the defence minister in the previous (caretaker) government, which supervised the election. In the government formed after the 1964 election, the defence minister was Petros Garoufalias, a loyal friend of Papandreou and one of his financial backers. Garoufalias was conservative and may be said to belong to the right wing of the Centre Union.

Soon after Papandreou had been sworn in again as prime minister, in early 1964, King Paul died and his 24-year-old son succeeded him as Constantine II. Initially, relationships between the King and his Prime Minister seemed cordial, but the horizon soon clouded over. By early 1965, Papandreou and the King had even stopped talking to each other. Their last meeting, before the crisis, was in March 1965.

A number of other factors played an important role in the genesis and the development of the crisis. The Centre Union was a party hastily formed, in late 1961, by the fusion of various centrist factions, which had previously been bitterly bickering with each other. It spanned a broad segment of the political spectrum, managing to house, under the same roof, both Stefanos Stefanopoulos who, but for the sudden emergence of Karamanlis, would have been leader of ERE in 1955 and Prime Minister, and Ilias Tsirimokos, a former minister of the provisional government set up in the mountains of Greece by the Communist resistance in 1944. For this reason, Tsirimokos was commonly regarded, at least by the Right, as a Communist or, at least, a sympathizer. To complicate matters even further, Papandreou, 76 years of age in 1964, was expected soon to have to cede his place to a new leader, and many aspired to this position, most of all the powerful and considerably younger Finance Minister, Konstantinos Mitsotakis. Furthermore, Papandreou’s son, Andreas, emerged from political obscurity in 1964 as a new leader of the party’s left wing.

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