Greek Coup Leads to Military Dictatorship

Colonel George Papadopoulos led a right-wing military coup against the Greek government and established a dictatorship that severely limited political and civil liberties.

Summary of Event

The history of Greece in the twentieth century is one of turmoil and political struggle. Divided by regionalism, ideology, and economic class, the country has endured war and revolution, occupation and dictatorship. During World War II, Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria conquered and divided the country among themselves. Guerrilla resisters, most of whom opposed both the king and the occupiers and many of whom were communists, believed that they had earned the right to rule the country. After the war, however, the Western-sponsored monarch, George II George II , returned to the throne. A long civil war, lasting from 1944 until 1949, ensued. The civil war became a struggle between communist forces, backed only half-heartedly by Moscow, and the monarchist supporters, backed wholeheartedly by Washington. Republican noncommunists made their peace with the king. Revolutions and coups;Greece
Greek coup of 1967
[kw]Greek Coup Leads to Military Dictatorship (Apr. 21, 1967)
[kw]Coup Leads to Military Dictatorship, Greek (Apr. 21, 1967)
[kw]Military Dictatorship, Greek Coup Leads to (Apr. 21, 1967)
[kw]Dictatorship, Greek Coup Leads to Military (Apr. 21, 1967)
Revolutions and coups;Greece
Greek coup of 1967
[g]Europe;Apr. 21, 1967: Greek Coup Leads to Military Dictatorship[09220]
[g]Greece;Apr. 21, 1967: Greek Coup Leads to Military Dictatorship[09220]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 21, 1967: Greek Coup Leads to Military Dictatorship[09220]
[c]Government and politics;Apr. 21, 1967: Greek Coup Leads to Military Dictatorship[09220]
[c]Civil rights and liberties;Apr. 21, 1967: Greek Coup Leads to Military Dictatorship[09220]
Papadopoulos, George
Constantine II
Kanellopoulos, Panayotis
Papandreou, George
Papandreou, Andreas

After King George II died in 1947, his brother King Paul reigned until 1964 and was succeeded by his ineffectual son, King Constantine II. In the meantime, Greece, one of the poorest countries in Europe, underwent an economic and political revival with help from the United States and Western Europe. Constitutional government and popular institutions were restored and strengthened, although the U.S. Department of State preferred and favored the conservative parties to those of the left and center. Washington particularly distrusted George Papandreou, the leader of the popular Center Union, Center Union, Greek even though he had been one of the first republican leaders to announce support for the monarchy during the war.

In the 1960’s, Greek politics once again became chaotic. The slow pace of modernization and gradually rising standard of living produced struggles between town and countryside, the capital and the provinces, and rich and poor. The left, which included labor unions, Marxists, anarchists, and intellectuals, challenged the conservative elements of Greek society—the monarchy, the right-wing politicians, and the church. The right, for its part, incessantly proclaimed the danger of communism, even though by then such danger had largely disappeared.

In 1963, the National Radical Union, National Radical Union, Greek a conservative party led by Panayotis Kanellopoulos and Konstantinos Karamanlis Karamanlis, Konstantinos and backed by Washington, surrendered Parliamentary elections, Greek power after eight years in office. George Papandreou’s Center Union took over. Papandreou’s son, Andreas, an American-educated economist and flamboyant politician, played a major role in the new government. In 1964, a new election returned George Papandreou with an even larger mandate.

The one policy on which left and right agreed was the claim for irredenta and the insurance of national homogeneity. Greeks wanted the lands of southern Albania and the island of Cyprus incorporated into their territory. Furthermore, although Greece in the 1960’s became more and more democratic in fact as well as in law, one area of significant oppression remained—the right to choose national identity. Greeks traditionally claimed that Albanian and Slavic speakers in the north whose forebears had belonged to the Greek Orthodox confession were Albanophonic and Slavophonic Greeks, not Albanians or South Slavs. Using a carrot-and-stick policy, the authorities encouraged and pressured inhabitants in the north to “acknowledge” their Greek nationality and to adopt Greek ways, including the use of the Greek language.

The Cyprus question was of greatest concern to the Greeks. The island of Cyprus, while mostly Greek, nevertheless had a minority of 15 to 20 percent Muslim Turks. Furthermore, although Turkey was the traditional enemy of Greece, both countries now belonged to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Greece also hoped to associate with the European Common Market, and for this reason the Greek governments, whether the National Radical Union or the Center Union was in control, did not push for the incorporation of Cyprus into Greece, but were content to leave it as a separate Greek state.

Not content with this solution, the left-wing military circle Aspida Aspida (the shield), with the encouragement of Andreas Papandreou, aided and supported those on the island who favored union with Greece. Right-wing military officers disliked George Papandreou’s military policies, particularly those governing promotions and appointments within the armed forces. Their fear of Aspida’s strength led to further conflicts. Papandreou tried to remove his minister of defense, who supported the right, and assume the post himself. Against custom, King Constantine intervened and prevented the change. In July, 1965, Papandreou protested by resigning. Constantine further confused issues by refusing to grant him a new mandate, even though the Center Union still retained its large majority in parliament.

This July Crisis July Crisis (1965) led to a weakening of the Center Union, as renegade members broke with Papandreou in order to preserve their own positions. In the fall, the king appointed a prime minister from the ranks of the right, but he lasted only a few weeks. Indeed, in the period from July, 1965, to April, 1967, five prime ministers served in Greece, but none could muster sufficient force to govern effectively.

In the meantime, Center Union leadership fell to Andreas Papandreou, who began to assume power once held by his aging father. His youth and vigor as well as his nationalism made him a popular figure. Greeks viewed the American-educated Papandreou as a national version of the recently martyred and popular John F. Kennedy.

In the fall of 1966, a trial began of a group of Aspida officers charged with treason Treason;Greece for their involvement with the Cypriot union movement. The government sought to try Andreas Papandreou as well, but he enjoyed parliamentary immunity. Guilty verdicts against the officers and rumors concerning the arrest of the popular Papandreou led to demonstrations and some outbreaks of violence. The king, desperately seeking a more stable government, consulted with all leading politicians at the end of March. After failing to come up with a solution, Prime Minister Kanellopoulos dissolved parliament and called for new elections in May. With parliament dissolved, the government could arrest Papandreou, but fear of violence as well as the possibility of intervention from the right led the elder Papandreou and Kanellopoulos to agree to extend parliamentary immunity during the campaign. The military Right acted anyway. They had already choreographed a move against the expected popular demonstration that would come with the arrest of Andreas Papandreou. To legitimize their coup, they claimed that Papandreou was involved in a communist conspiracy and that the existing politicians could not govern.

On the morning of April 21, 1967, coup leaders—mostly colonels, not generals—drove their armored vehicles into Athens. There they arrested the leading politicians and pressured the king into acknowledging their deed. Later in the day, Constantine issued a decree suspending the civil liberty provisions of the constitution. Colonel George Papadopoulos soon emerged from the background to become the chief leader of the coup and assumed the premiership.


Despite some infractions against constitutional and democratic government in the years preceding the coup, the Greek monarchy could be classified as a government generally adhering to modern standards of jurisprudence and civil and political liberties. In contrast, the South American term “junta” soon caught on as descriptive of the coup’s perpetrators and as carrying a connotation of contempt.

Immediately following the coup, the colonels arrested leading politicians who opposed them, but over the next few months released the most prominent. The junta also arrested opposition military officers and forced those who refused to cooperate to resign. This enabled the colonels to move themselves and their friends into the higher ranks, one of the chief goals of the takeover. The junta also carried out a purge of the civil and educational establishments, forcing out opponents and replacing the higher ranks with retired military officers. They appointed commissioners in every college, university, and institute and assigned them the tasks of checking curricula and uncovering “subversive” individuals and ideas.

The colonels introduced a new constitution Constitutions;Greece that severely limited political and civil liberties Civil liberties;Greece . Even the church was purged. The new government dissolved trade unions, even those with right-wing leanings, and appropriated their assets. The new leaders also closed dozens of other organizations that they found distasteful. They forbade gatherings of more than five even in private homes.

The junta extended its regulations into the daily lives of the Greek people. They forbade long hair on men and short skirts on women. Church attendance became compulsory. Censors banned hundreds of books and the playing of the works of the leftist composer and poet Mikis Theodorakis, one of the country’s most prominent international figures. Newspapers found themselves under strict censorship as well, mitigated only by a limited freedom for foreign journalists, whose papers were still sold in Greece and who could be quoted to an extent by the Greek press. The government closed many newspapers and arrested journalists or hounded them into exile.

The colonels treated offenses against the martial-law Human rights;Greece regime with draconian rigor. One well-known diplomat was imprisoned for having a group larger than five in his home. Many ordinary citizens as well as prominent opponents of the regime were detained without fair trial and subjected to torture and abuse. Papadopoulos attempted to give his government a populist appearance, but despite some superficial acts, such as the forgiving of some peasant indebtedness, the masses of Greeks fared no better than they had in the past, and with regard to civil liberties were far worse off.

Active and passive resistance to the junta expanded both inside the country and abroad, but this opposition, even with foreign support, could not oust the colonels. The king tried to organize a countercoup at the end of 1967, but the colonels foiled it and drove him from the country. In the fall of 1973, some of the dictator’s own associates removed him from power, although the junta remained intact. Eight months later, in July, 1974, the military leaders resigned and democratic government was restored. The main catalyst for the change in 1974 was the Cyprus issue, over which the Turks and Greeks were in open conflict. When Turkey invaded the island and the junta could not respond effectively, the government resigned within a few days. Ironically, that same issue, Cyprus, had played a major role in sparking the coup of 1967. Revolutions and coups;Greece
Greek coup of 1967

Further Reading

  • Andrews, Kevin. Greece in the Dark: 1967-1974. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1980. A narrative accounting the crimes and violations of human rights by the colonels’ regime. Contains interviews, statements, and documents, some in the original Greek with English translation. Documentation, no bibliography or index.
  • Becket, James. Barbarism in Greece: A Young American Lawyer’s Inquiry into the Use of Torture in Contemporary Greece, with Case Histories and Documents. New York: Walker, 1970. A collection of case histories, documents, and statements about the violations of human rights by the junta. Appendixes contain lists of resistance movements and of persons killed and tortured.
  • Closs, Richard. A Concise History of Greece. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Written for a general audience, this volume provides an accessible introduction to the history of modern Greece. Illustrated, includes tables, chronology and guide to further reading.
  • Danopoulos, Constantine P. Warriors and Politicians in Modern Greece. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Documentary Publications, 1984. A narrative and analysis of the Greek military before and after the coup. Excellent bibliography. Illustrations, documentation, and index.
  • Kaloudis, George S. Modern Greek Democracy: The End of a Long Journey? Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000. Includes a chapter on Greece under the dictatorship of 1967-1974.
  • Kourvetaris, George A. Studies on Modern Greek Society and Politics. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, 1999. Includes a chapter on the 1967 military coup and the role of the military in Greek politics. Bibliography.
  • Papandreou, Margaret. Nightmare in Athens. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1970. A personal account of the coup and of the succeeding events, by the American-born wife of Andreas Papandreou. The author describes the effects of the coup on her family and friends and gives some background from Papandreou’s perspective. Castigates Washington for unfairly supporting conservative governments in Greece. Valuable as a primary source. Contains a list of the fates of some persons mentioned in the text. Index, no bibliography.
  • Theodorakis, Mikis. Journal of Resistance. Translated by Graham Webb. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973. A diary written by the prominent Greek composer, poet, and author of the years he spent in prison under the colonels. Contains some of his poetry and polemics against the junta. Contains a chronology and glossary. No index or bibliography.
  • Woodhouse, C. M. The Rise and Fall of the Greek Colonels. London: Granada, 1985. A well-researched, authoritative account of the junta’s regime by a leading scholar of modern Greek history. Although the author is generally unsympathetic to the colonels, his work maintains the highest standard of scholarship and was written long enough after the events to provide perspective. The best single work on the subject. Illustrations, references, bibliography, and index.

United Fruit Company Instigates a Coup in Guatemala

Duvalier Takes Power in Haiti

Cyprus Gains Independence

Greek and Turkish Cypriots Clash over Political Rights

Indonesia’s Government Retaliates Against a Failed Communist Coup