Thursday 3 November 2011, 18:00

Adam Curtis Adam Curtis

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In the present crisis over Greece there is a furious argument about whether the Greek people should be allowed to vote on the proposed solution. Many of the voices against this come from the world of finance and economics. They say that the crisis is too dangerous to leave to the will of the people.

I just wanted to show why some Greek politicians - and especially George Papandreou, even though he may have retreated from a referendum - might think it important to allow the people a voice.

I have discovered a film in the archives that dramatically tells you why. It was made in 1974 and is an engrossing history of the Colonels' coup in Greece in 1967 - and what life was then like for the Greek people under the military dictatorship that held power for seven years.

As you watch it you realise, given what the Greeks have been through, it is no wonder that politicians, especially Papandreou, think the mandate of the people is important.

The present language of the finance technocrats, and their supporters in the media, portray the Greek people as just another group of lazy southern Europeans who have fed too long at the trough of state money. A bit like us - but more crap.

What is forgotten is that from 1967 to 1974 the Greek people lived under a harsh and violent dictatorship that tortured and murdered thousands of ordinary people. The Colonels also corrupted the society by handing out vast loans to individuals in towns and villages across the country - to buy their loyalty. At the same time the repression and torture bred a powerful resistance that finally burst out in incredible bravery in 1973.

This is the strange and twisted society that the present Prime Minister's father, Andreas Papandreou, inherited when he became the newly elected leader in 1981. He was faced by the task of rebuilding the peoples' trust in democracy and the state. Partly he did it through state spending - and in that policy lie many of the roots of today's crisis.

The discussion of Greece today in the press and the political offices of Europe is almost completely ahistorical - everything is couched in utilitarian terms of economic management. I just think it is important to put the present crisis in a wider historical context. Above all the extraordinary history of the military dictatorship and the savage effects it had on the whole of Greek society.

First - here is a short compilation of some of the best bits of the news coverage from the time.

Back in 1965 Mr Papandreou's grandfather, who was also called George, was the Prime Minister - leading the progressive Centre Union Party. Young right-wing officers in the military became increasingly concerned about the influence of George's son, Andreas who they saw as a dangerous leftist.

The officers were convinced that Andreas wanted to remove Greece from its frontline role in the Cold War - they believed this would open the door to communists. For eighteen months there was political chaos. Then new elections were scheduled for May 1967 - which George Snr. was certain to win.

So, on the 21st of April, the officers mounted a coup. They used a NATO plan for neutralizing a communist uprising in the event of a Soviet invasion.

The news coverage starts with a wonderful piece of reporting by the Panorama reporter John Morgan at the first press conference held by the officers after the coup. Then there are sections from other reports that both give a brilliant sense of the absurdity of the military men who now took control of the country, but also of the total fear they induced. I have included some vox pops taken by a crew inside the country in 1972.

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Here is the film about life under the Colonels. It is called Greece - The Seven Black Years. It was made in 1974 - and broadcast in early 1975.

Its commentary is very much of its time - but the film has a power both in the details and in the way it is made. It shows that along with the terrible torture, the Colonels exercised control through financial means - or what one villager calls "the big money".

The film starts with these details and some great interviewees, and then builds to a very moving climax with the students who took over the Athens Technical University in November 1973 and stood against the military might of the Junta. There is extraordinary film of what then happened - and it also tells you a lot about the radicalisation of many of the Greek people today, and how important democracy is to them in the face of unelected elites who try and control them and their society. A belief in democracy born out of struggle - something that we may have forgotten.

But history also shows that coups don't always happen because of a power-hungry military. The Times pointed out today that the cuts being demanded of Greece are on a scale similar to the reparations imposed on Germany by the victors at Versailles in 1919. And look what that did to the belief in democracy.

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    Comment number 1.

    This is terrific, cheers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Just to follow on from your last sentence, the power of Nightmares applies to more than one country. I think the average German has good reason to be terrified of the dilution of their currency.

    The Euro has in many ways been a sort of Socialist dream. At the heart of it is the notion that the wealth of *rich* countries can somehow be shared with those not so wealthy, even if only by allowing those *poor* countries to obtain loans at very low rates of interest.

    Back in the Cold War days the socialist nightmare we all used to be afraid of was the loss of democracy. You have just seen the terror democracy strikes into the heart of the Euro dream. Join the dots.

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    Comment number 3.

    Remember London with the refugees from the coup and their tales of horror. Then I remember an artist friend. She had said something wrong but she was American and found herself tortured. Her living body came back from Athens but her mind was gone. Most Americans cannot understand the consequences of American meddling. Many Greeks spit when one mentions Germans, the Resistance never forgets.

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    Comment number 4.

    "You know the saying, that ... when its wonderful to know that when the doorbell rings at seven o'clock in the morning, it's the milkman."

    That sentence alone speaks volumes.

    That Panorama piece was golden. I'll bet John Morgan wasn't very popular with the colonels. The bit at the end with several (one painfully beautiful, please allow me to say) people dodging questions about the junta is especially gripping.

    Thanks, Adam, for continuing to haunt the BBC archive, and to present not only the past, but the present, in such a straight up fashion. I can't get enough of this.

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    Comment number 5.

    It is an absurd idea, as Moor Larkin suggests, that the Euro is a socialist project.

    The market is king, here. Greece is trying to make decisions according to the dictates of her citizens and not the market.

    This is a crisis of capital, and a crisis brought about by unregulated capitalism.

    Germany and France are acting in the defensive of *capital.* Of course they are—the exercise of democracy in Greece threatens wealth and investment everywhere Euros are spent.

    The notion that Germany and France are somehow "socialist", and the European project somehow "socialist" because it's fractionally more regulated than the American model is, simply, an American fantasy. It isn't.


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This is a website expressing my personal views – through a selection of opinionated observations and arguments. I’ll be including stories I like, ideas I find fascinating, work in progress and a selection of material from the BBC archives.

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