Interview with a Colonel The Number Two Man Behind the Greek Coup
Stylianos Pattakos is the number two man in Greece. A member of the original triumvirate which took power in the coup d'etat of April 21, 1967, Pattakos is now Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior.
I met with Pattakos in Samarina, a small village in the north of Greece, when he made a surprise visit on a tour of the northern provinces. He descended on the village from the sky in a helicopter like a profane god seeking disciples. Few in this remote village had ever seen a helicopter, so most of the people ran to meet this awesome, whirring machine.
When I saw the helicopter from my tent overlooking Samarina, I was afraid that it could only mean more trouble. I was one of a group of people who were living in Samarina for several weeks to make a documentary film about the Vlachs, a transient group of shepherds who make their summer homes in Samarina and a number of neighboring villages.
After we had been filming for a week, military authorities from near-by towns ordered the village policemen to confiscate our film until we acquired a permit. We gave him a fraction of the film we had taken, and I went off on a Kafkaesque tour in search of a permit for the film.
This was a touchy task, since Samarina and other Vlach villages are within a few miles of the Albanian border. Greece and Albania never signed a peace treaty after World War II and are still technically at war. Of course, every official I went to denied he had any power in the matter and sent me along to other officials who they said
could surely arrange a permit. The last resort was the Bureau of Foreign Correspondence in Athens which rejected the request on the grounds that our effort was non-professional, i.e., we weren't NBC. The real reason was most probably that official opinion opposes the idea that minorities such as the Vlachs exist in Greece. Only Greeks could live in Greece.
So when the helicopter arrived the day after I returned to Samarina, I thought it had come on our business to take the film we had shot, and to prevent us from continuing. Coincidentally, as I discovered later, a communique had been sent up from Athens that same day ordering the local policemen to do just those things. In any case, I was ironically relieved on learning it was Pattakos.
STYLIANOS Pattakos resembles a Bavarian butcher-balding, with arching, bushy eyebrows and a well-fed physique. He comes from Crete and possesses the unassuming generosity and vengeful temper which is characteristic of his fellow islanders. So great is his pride that the night before the coup, he gave a pistol to his eldest daughter and told her that if she did not hear from him before 3 a.m. the following morning, she must shoot her mother, her younger sister, and herself.
Before the coup, Pattakos had been a lieutenant colonel for ten years and was impatient for a promotion. He was made Commander of the Tank Training School in Athens and promoted to brigadier general about two months before the coup. The fact that his tanks were the ones used to take over Athens was instrumental in gaining him a high position among the scheming military leaders. Like his colleagues and former colonels, George Papadopoulos, the Prime Minister, and Nicholas Makarezos, Minister of Coordination, Pattakos was at various times involved with the KYP, the Greek intelligence agency which was started and directly funded by the American CIA. In fact, his fellow conspirator Papadopoulos was the chief liaison between the KYP and the CIA.
The first thing Pattakos did on arriving in Samarina was to greet the local policemen and the village priest. He went straight to the church to pay his respects. The Orthodox Church plays an essential role in the junta's image. The prayer books used by school children in Greece have a picture of Christ on the first page and the official emblem-the phoenix rising out of the flame-on the opposite page.
Pattakos stood in the village square and heard the requests of the people-electricity; a better road from Samarina to the district capital, Ghrevena; a town hall. Pattakos asked his aide to write down all the needs of the town.
A story circulating in Greece: Papadopoulos and Pattakos took a tour to a number of towns in Northern Greece. When they arrived at the first town, the mayor came up and asked the Prime Minister for government funds to improve the local school. Papadopoulos apologized and explained that the government could not afford to help. They drove off in their black limousine, and when they arrived at the second town, the mayor requested money to improve the conditions in the local prisons. "Of course," replied the Prime Minister as he wrote out a check for a handsome sum. As they cruised off, Pattakos turned to his boss and asked, "Why did you give money for the prison and not for the school?" The Prime Minister answered, "Stylianos, do you think we will ever go back to school in the future?"
Ade Pollard, an English journalist who was working on the film, asked Pattakos why we were prohibited from taking film, explaining that the film was about what a great job the government is doing in Greece. Pattakos turned to the police chief of Ghrevena, who had been giving us a hard time about the film, and scolded him for interfering with our work. Then he signed a piece of paper stating that we could film "at liberty."
That evening, we taped an interview with Pattakos after he finished his dinner in a tavern. Ade and I had thought up some questions and Ade posed them in the most flattering way possible. The result was a near parody of the B.B.C., but it yielded some insights into the colonels' way of thinking. Pattakos was obviously sensitive to the hostile attitude of the foreign press, so many of his answers were what he thought would be favorable to foreign readers. Hence, the frequent lies. It is as unlikely that Greece is ready to recognize Albania as it is that the government can multiply the number of sheep tenfold. Greece is not a full but an associate member of the Common Market, and its status has been frozen since the coup.
IT IS interesting to see that Pattakos believes that Greece will "once again" serve as an example of civilization to the entire world. This reflects the official view that Greece is returning to the glory of the Age of Pericles. Therefore, school children are taught to speak Katherevousa, which is a mixture of ancient and modern Greek, until recently used only in official circles. In the meantime, the Greeks with cultural genius, such as Theodorak is and Sephefis, are barred from publishing their works inside Greece.
What underlies this interview is an ominous jingoism. Pattakos asserts that Greece's entry into the Common Market is not as important to Greece as it is to the Common Market. He says that tourists and their money don't matter, but that they can benefit by absorbing the Olympic spirit of Greece. Greek politics during the past century and a half since Greece's independence from the Ottoman Empire has been dominated by the recurrence of the so-called Megale Idea or Great Idea-the notion that Greece will take back all the lands which were once Greek. These lands include Istanbul and Asia Minor. Although Greek military strength, particularly her naval strength, is far inferior to Turkish military might, it is not inconceivable that the junta will build up Greek forces with a view to moving coastward. Greece tried to take "the city" after World War I with disastrous results. Nothing is impossible in the Balkans.
When I was sitting in a coffee house in Athens, around the corner came a platoon of about 400 Greek school children, aged about 10 to 16, all wearing T-shirts bearing the junta emblem and marching in perfect step. It is unsettling to speculate where this excess youthful energy might be channeled.
Pattakos says that the Greeks are free to express their ideas. Another story from Greece: In the Byzantine Cafe in Athens, a customer ordered lobster, which is astakos in Greek. The waiter changed the wording slightly and ordered "Pattakos." He was jailed for three days.
Censorship of the press has been heavy and absolute. If any newspaper strays from the party line, the editors are tried or else the government makes sure that the paper no longer has the supplies it needs to continue publication. A few days ago, the junta issued an edict which imposes a three-year jail sentence and a $6500 fine for any Greek journalist, whether he writes for Greek or foreign papers, who "spreads false rumors."
After the interview, Pattakos treated us to an enormous platter of roast lamb. At dawn the next day he flew off. We were confident that Pattakos' word on our filming would be taken as law, but we were wrong. The local military authorities acted on the orders which they had received from Athens. We had already given them 200 feet of film and twelve rolls of color slides, assuring them that was all we had taken. We hid the rest of the film in the woods. Whenever they asked for more film, we simply gave them a roll of dud film which we couldn't use anyway. Every time we asked for the film, they said they would definitely return it the following day, but in fact they had sent it down to Athens for inspection. They even asked to borrow the book we were using-a 1913 edition, now out of print, of The Nomads of the Balkans -promising to return it the next day, but they sent it down to Athens for some American-paid intelligence bureaucrat to examine.
As more and more pressure was mounting against us during the weeks after Pattakos' visit, we decided that we had to finish filming as soon as possible and leave. The villagers were always kind to us and the village council even gave us all the land surrounding our tent to build a house on when we would come back the next summer. The news of this spread until it was reported on the radio in Salonika that some foreigners were planning to build a college overlooking Samarina which would enroll a thousand English students. But the local village policemen were under constant pressure to confiscate all our film. On September 8, we left Samarina in the middle of the night with all the film.
THE COLONELS have more support in remote mountain villages such as Samarina than they do in the larger towns and cities. One reason is that conditions in the countryside were largely neglected by the previous governments, which emphasized urban growth and industrial development. Many villagers are now happy that so many self-seeking politicians are either in the can or in exile. Another reason is that after Churchill excluded the Communists from the electoral process in accordance with a deal with Stalin, the Communists, who had spearheaded the resistance against the Germans, began taking desperate measures towards the end of the Greek civil war. They kidnapped children, slaughtered sheep, and murdered their opponents ruthlessly. The mountain villages were particularly hard hit, since the mountains were a bastion for the guerrillas. Many villagers who were affected by these harsh measures talk admiringly of the colonels, who are virulently anti-Communist. But even in these bastions of conservatism, the junta's support is rapidly declining. The Samarinans reacted with disgust when they heard that the military was interfering with our film, which was simply attempting to describe and
preserve their way of life. Many resent the government's massive purchase of private forests. One old man complained that his son could not find a job in Greece because he had gone to a foreign university.
The prospects for active resistance against the regime involves a Catch 22: opponents of the junta are reluctant to resist because they realize that the Sixth Fleet and the U.S. military mission in Greece is behind the colonels all the way. The U.S. is not considering changing its unqualified support of the regime until (they claim) there is some sign of resistance among the people.
The Greek people have every reason to believe that the U.S. is completely in favor of the colonels. Within days of the coup, a large sign for Latton Industries appeared in the central square in Athens. When Helen Vlachos discontinued publication of her newspaper in protest of the coup, American ambassador Phillips Talbot tried to persuade her to resume publication. C. L. Sulzgerger, chief foreign editor of the New York Times , could scarcely conceal his delight at having that rabble-rousing Andreas Papandreou silenced. The so-called embargo on heavy arms turned out to be completely bogus when it was found out that the Pentagon was selling surplus heavy arms to Greece. In any case, the "embargo" was lifted this summer for "strategic" reasons. When the Commission on Human Rights' findings that torture is a practice of the Greek government induced the Council of Europe to expel Greece from its membership, the U.S. lobbied against expulsion.
While Stylianos Pattakos owes his sudden rise to power largely to his being in the right military circle at the right time, he also has a great debt in gratitude to the U.S.A.