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Echoes From The Past: An Analysis Of The Greek Civil War

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British and Greek troops and a tank in combat against ELAS fighters in Athens, December 18, 1944. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, NA 20937.

“But the war has not ended yet, because no war has ever ended”. -Manolis Anagnostakis ( from his poetic collection Epohes/Seasons)

In every nation’s history, certain historical events serve as a reminder of a darker past, a past that might serve as a stigma to the history of a country. One such event might be a civil war. Greece is a nation that has had its fair share of historical events throughout its long history. However, the contemporary nation of Greece is still suffering from its past, and the Greek Civil War that took place in the mid 20th century is a dark chapter that has divided the Greek population and has created a political and social animosity that is still seen in the 21st century. 76 years ago, the Greek Civil War entered its third and final phase and set to change the history of the country up until this day. It is an event that no one wants to talk about, and it is not even mentioned most of the time in Greek public schools. However, as we have learned from our world history, distancing ourselves from an unpleasant historical event leads to nothing, and the only way to find some sort of unity inside a society is to recall and understand and not simply forget our history.

The Greek Civil War In The Shadow Of The Cold War

The Greek Civil War took place right after the end of WWII. It was fought between the army of the Greek government and the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE), which at that time was the military branch of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). The war was fought between 1946 to 1949, however, the struggle between the two conflicting ideologies started back in 1943 when the country was still occupied by the Axis forces. With the Greek government in exile, the Axis managed to establish a puppet regime in Greece, with Greek Nazi collaborators founding the so-called Security Battalions that were responsible for committing atrocities against the civil populations. At the same time, different resistance groups emerged, with the largest being the National Liberation Front (EAM-ELAS) which was controlled by the communist party, and the National Republican Greek League (EDES), which was controlled by the centrist former army officer, Napoleon Zervas. By 1944, when German troops started to withdraw from Greece, EDES, and ELAS, the military wing of EAM that was led by Aris Velouchiotis, did not see eye to eye. They both started accusing each other of treason, realizing that the Germans posed a minimal threat. At that time, for ELAS, the presence of the British was considered a major threat, while for EDES, the threat was the growing communist influence from the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. This led to a conflict between the two groups which resulted in the defeat of EDES and saw their escape to the island of Corfu.

In the fall of 1944, the exiled Greek government which was led by the liberal George Papandreou was located in Italy in preparations to return to Greece. On September 26, 1944, the government of George Papandreou signed the Casetta Agreement, alongside EAM/ELAS. The agreement provided that all resistance forces in Greece would be put under the command of a British officer, General Ronald Scobie. Although the communist party was not happy with the agreement, they were instructed by the Soviet Union not to cause an internal crisis in Greece, so as to not jeopardize the Allied unity. However, not everyone agreed with those instructions. Some KKE leaders like Aris Velouchiotis and Andreas Tzimas did not trust the Western allies. Later on, Andreas Tzimas established contact with the leader of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, who became a powerful ally for the Greek communists. A few months after the Casetta agreement, George Papandreou announced an ultimatum for the disarmament of all guerrilla groups in Greece. In response, EAM condemned the decision and organized a demonstration of at least 200.000 people in Athens. The demonstrators were faced with British forces that tried to stop the demonstrations. According to C.M Woodhouse, a British colonel officer that was stationed in Greece, there were shootings during the protests, although as he claimed, it was difficult to identify where the shots were coming from. Twenty-eight people were killed, and hundreds were injured. This was the beginning of the so-called Dekemvriana (December events), where forces of EAM/ELAS fought against British and Greek government forces in Athens. After 37 days, the conflict stopped with the defeat of EAM/ELAS. Two months later, the Treaty of Varkiza was signed between the Greek government and KKE, where it was agreed that EAM/ELAS would be completely disarmed. The communist party adopted a more political form rather than a military one, and the existence of ELAS was officially terminated.

The Red Scare: Greek Edition

However, the internal conflict in Greece was far from over. Between 1945 and 1946 it was reported that at least 1.190 people were killed by anti-communist gangs. This reign of “White Terror” against communist party members, forced many ex-ELAS fighters to form resistance groups, and eventually, the Communist Party in Greece reversed its political position of pacifism towards more aggressive tactics against the government forces. Thus, the Democratic Army of Greece (DES) was founded. On the one hand, the Greek government forces were supported by the United Kingdom and the U.S., while the DES was supported by Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. During the first two years of the war, it seemed that the communists had the upper hand, however, in the end, the government forces managed to turn the war around, primarily because of the increased military aid from the U.S and the internal conflicts inside the DES that were caused because of the Tito-Stalin split that happened in 1948. The war officially ended on October 16, 1949, with the victory of the Greek government and its allies. At least 160.000 people lost their lives in the war, with 40.000 of them being civilians, while at least 1.000.000 people were relocated during the war.

War Causation Analysis

There have been a handful of opinions concerning the causes of the Civil War in Greece. Professor Nicos Christodoulakis from the London School of Economics suggests that the prolongation of the Greek Civil War has been influenced by socio-economic factors that are linked with pre-war socio-political polarization and, political grievances that are associated with persecutions by state forces against local populations that were sympathetic to leftist ideologies. Also, he examines the causes of civil war in Italy and the potential conflicts in Belgium after WWII, that were avoided due to the empowerment of the institutions that reconstructed their countries. In contrast, politics of exclusion and population division were introduced in Greece, gradually becoming the norm, which led to the Greek Civil War. Political scientist Stathis N. Kalyvas adopts a similar theory of societal polarization. In his paper, “The Greek Civil War in Retrospect”, he points out that the period of occupation in Greece and the split of the various resistance groups, and the role of collaborators must be the primary focus of the study for the causes of the Greek Civil War. In his own words: “Recent work-study must focus more on the period of the occupation, taking into account social and economic factors. What will emerge, would be a very complex and nuanced set of shifting and segmented loyalties, heavily informed by local considerations and conflicts, in which terror was never the monopoly of a single camp”.

On the other hand, some studies generate a different opinion about the cause of the civil war in Greece, focusing on the international dimension. Professor John Sakkas, from the University of the Aegean, focuses in his paper, “Old Interpretations and New Approaches in the Historiography of the Greek Civil War*”, on the role of the Western Allies, and especially Great Britain who had a tremendous influence in Greece. In his opinion, Great Britain was always conscious of the geopolitical importance of Greece and its strategic position in the Mediterranean. As a result, they were very concerned regarding the situation in Greece and they made sure to restore their dominant presence in Greece and secure their interests in the region. Winston Churchill himself was obsessed with the preservation of monarchy in Greece and the maintenance of British influence in the country. To achieve his goals, he influenced the exiled government of Greece to return and eliminate any anti-monarchists and communists that were supported by KKE. This attitude added more “fuel to the fire” since the communists were already skeptical about the intentions of the Western allies, and they decided to side with the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Winston Churchill indeed had a great influence on Greece, and as a result, the elements of the Cold War and the clash of ideologies might have been more influential at the start of the Greek Civil War, rather than just socio-political animosities amongst the Greek population. Furthermore, the presence of the United States and its strong alliance with Great Britain was instrumental to add more skepticism about the intentions of the communist party. As the internal conflicts in Greece started to escalate further, both countries feared that Greece, the last of the Balkan states to resist Soviet domination, would fall to the communists. The extended involvement of other countries in Greece eventually led to the Greek Civil War.

In a more constructive way of thinking, the most convincing causes of the Greek Civil War would be the analysis of both Christodoulakis and Kalyvas. Although the setting of the Cold War, and the involvement of the Western Allies, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia, played a critical role in accelerating the internal conflict and providing valuable help to both sides, the causes are more complex than just saying that this was a product of the Cold War. In reality, it was a struggle between two different ideological camps that showed early signs of confrontation, even before the arrival of the Allies. Unlike other countries that became unified after WWII, Greece continued its internal conflicts, prosecuting the communists, and in retaliation, the communists conducted guerilla warfare against the nationalists. As was mentioned before, although the setting of the Greek Civil War was the Cold War, there wasn’t a real ideological confrontation between the West and the Soviet Union. Stalin had acknowledged that Greece belonged to the Western sphere of influence in the Percentages Agreement (1944) and did not interfere. In addition, Tito’s Yugoslavia stopped any support to Greece’s communists after the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, and finally, the United States came to the very late end of the Civil War to provide their support. In conclusion, the cause of the Greek Civil War was the internal ideological conflicts that were built up before and during WWII, and although some may argue it was the first conflict in the Cold War era, it was not a product of it.

The Bitter Epilogue Of World War II

The Greek Civil War left Greece in ruins with great economic and social distress. Thousands died, many had been imprisoned for their political views, and others were sent to internal exile in the infamous islands of Makronissos and Gyaros. On an international level, its significance can be seen from a Cold War perspective, where Greece and its western allies managed to win the war, which eventually led to Greece’s membership in NATO in 1952. Also, Greece managed to establish very good relations with the United States, a country that practically founded the state of Greece through the Truman Doctrine. The lasting impact of the Greek Civil War can be seen through different historical events in Greece, and nowadays in its contemporary form. The political polarization and the animosity amongst Greeks eventually led to the military junta of 1967-1974, where anti-communist generals took control of the country and imposed a strong anti-communist security establishment. After the junta, Kostantinos Karamanlis led to the abolition of the monarchy and the legalization of KKE. Also, for the first time in Greek history, the internal conflict that occurred was recognized as a civil war and not as a conflict between government forces and gangs of communists. In contemporary Greece, the effects of the civil war have not faded, as the political identity of participants in the war was passed down to the next generation through family ties, and the collective memory of the ones that were involved helped shape the political identity of the leftist ideology, that until this day is deliberately barred from the socio-political landscape of Greece. Even today, there is animosity and division within Greece and there are efforts of the current government to alter the course of Greek history by demonizing the left-wing parties. Those parties respond by accusing the government of fascist tactics. In a way, history repeats itself, and it seems that Greece is stuck in its past and refuses to provide any solutions that can lead to national unity. The war might be over, but the scars have not faded away.

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Austerity, corruption, and neglect: How the Greek railway became Europe’s deadliest

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Image source: Wikipedia

“Aren’t trains supposed to be safe?” This was the question on the minds of most Greeks after the fatal collision between a passenger and a freight train that took place on February 28th in the Tempi area of Central Greece. The crash cost the lives of 57 people, mostly young students returning home after the Clean Monday holiday. As it turned out, the trains in Greece were not safe at all. In fact, according to a 2022 report by the European Union Agency for Railways, Greece had the deadliest railway among 29 European nations even before the Tempi catastrophe.

The official inquiry into the disaster concluded that the station master had committed a series of critical errors that night; however it also highlighted that there were no safety systems in place to prevent or correct human errors. In the days following the catastrophe, the phrase “a serious accident was waiting to happen” was used many times by those working at the Greek railway.

Thanasis, 22, a driver for Hellenic Train, had the same opinion. Despite its name, Hellenic Train is a subsidiary of Trenitalia and is responsible for the operation of passenger and freight trains on the Greek railway lines. The state-owned Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) is responsible for running and maintaining the lines as well as the accompanying infrastructure and systems (signals, stations, etc.).

That fateful night, Thanasis drove the IC62 passenger train from Athens up to Larisa, one station before the disaster. There, he changed shifts with his colleagues, who had to drive the IC62 to Thessaloniki. Approximately one hour later, they died from the collision. Thanasis learned about the accident on his way back to Athens.

“Shortly before we reached Thiva, we learned that something had happened because they called us from the Rentis train depot to ask if we were OK. At first, we did not give it much thought because we were told it was a derailment and derailments happen a lot. Afterwards, we learned that it was a head-on collision and that there were deaths. Shortly before we arrived in Athens, we began to see the first photos and videos [from the place of the accident],”he said.

According to the inquiry report, the absence of the European Train Control System (ETCS) played a central role in the disaster. ETCS is being used by the majority of European countries and it would have automatically stopped both trains after they entered a collision course. ETCS was installed gradually on Greek train engines from 2007 to 2018, but in order for it to be operational, the railway signals on the lines need to work.

However, copper thieves have been stealing cables from the railway lines for years. The theft and selling of copper are predominately dominated by criminal gangs called the “copper mafia”, but in some instances OSE employees have also been implicated. In 2017, a high-ranking OSE director and seven other employees were arrested after they were found to have taken tens of thousands of euros in bribes from these gangs. Due to its limited budget, OSE does not replace the stolen and damaged cables; as a result, the signaling system that is essential for the operation of ETCS is constantly out of order. The lack of signaling has resulted in the Greek railway relying on an obsolete system of station masters. This leaves no margin for human error, especially when all the traffic takes place on a single line, as was the case on the night of the Tempi disaster.

Another railway driver, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisals, described how vulnerable the Greek railway system really is to criminal organizations taking advantage of it.

“There are extensive copper wire thefts. Even a few days after the accident, wires for the signaling system were installed in Katerini; they were stolen the same night, a few hours after installation. There is a serious problem. The system started to gradually get out of order,” he said. The driver also spoke of human smuggling rings active on the railway.   

During the last few years, the Greek railway system has become one of the main means of transport used by migrants and refugees attempting to reach Western Europe. This has attracted human smugglers, creating a dangerous environment for workers and migrants. In August 2022, three migrants were killed in their sleep near Drama after they got hit by a train.

“There is a trafficking problem within the organization (OSE), migrants have inside information such as the train and route numbers, they know each train’s destination and they are prepared. People have come into the cab and offered me 2.000 euros to hide them inside. Obviously I refused because I would be arrested.” stated the driver.

“Migrants sometimes hide even beneath the trains, when we find out, we immediately stop the train and call OSE, but they often tell us “What do you want us to do?”. Even the police do not come. If it arrives, it is usually just one run-down police cruiser with one police officer inside. Sometimes a train may have 90–100 people (migrants) on it,” he added.

Although copper theft and human smuggling are significant issues, the primary factor responsible for the decline of Greek railway is the severe budget cuts that have been implemented on OSE since 2010 as part of wider austerity policies. As a result, OSE gradually became underfunded and understaffed. It is telling that OSE went from employing around 6.000 people in 2010 to less than 1.000 people in 2021. This has led to many stations being left unmanned, while OSE employees sometimes have to work long hours, which makes them more prone to mistakes. Furthermore, the lack of funds means that damaged equipment and infrastructure cannot be easily repaired or replaced.

To make matters worse, the political clientelism that has plagued the Greek public sector for decades has also been present in OSE, with inexperienced individuals being given important positions within the organization simply because of their political ties. According to several reports in the Greek press, the station master charged with causing the Tempi tragedy was a political appointee of the ruling New Democracy party. He had been given the job in 2022 after a few months of training, despite being 60 years old and lacking prior experience.

Moreover, OSE seems to be afflicted by a culture of silence. Every OSE employee we tried to contact refused to talk, with some of them implying their upper-ups had forbidden them to speak publicly. A couple of weeks after the accident, this culture became evident during the visit of the ex-deputy minister of transportation, Michalis Papadopoulos, to the Larisa station. Papadopoulos, while addressing the press, made some inaccurate remarks regarding the station’s control board. When a station master stepped in and corrected the deputy minister, making him visibly uncomfortable, a high-ranking OSE director intervened, tapped the station master on the shoulder and coldly told him, “End it.” The station master complied and stopped talking at once.

A few days after the disaster, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis referred to it as a “sacrifice” that would help the state to prevent similar disasters in the future. However, if someone roamed the streets during the almost daily large demonstrations in the weeks following the Tempi catastrophe, the word that he would see mostly written on placards and banners was “murder.” This shows that a sizable part of society did not attribute the accident to the convenient explanation of human error but considered the Greek state responsible for the dreadful condition of the country’s infrastructure, including its railway system.

Following the catastrophe, the Mitsotakis government, which managed to secure reelection in June with an impressive 41% of the vote, increased the OSE’s annual funding from 45 million euros to 75 million euros and accelerated construction work, with the goal of having ETCS and signaling installed on the majority of the Athens-Thessaloniki line by November 2023.

Nevertheless, the disintegration of the Greek state’s capacity after 13 years of austerity makes it impossible to close one gap without opening another. In early September, catastrophic floods in Central Greece washed away the new constructions and destroyed a large part of the old railway infrastructure, once again highlighting the authorities’ lack of preparedness.

As a result, the work now has to start from scratch. “It will probably take us many months to return the railway to the point it was 15 days ago [before the floods],” admitted the newly appointed Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Christos Staikouras, in a recent interview. “The work [on the railway] will have been completed by 2026,” he concluded, attempting to reassure the citizens. However, a lot of them will probably be skeptical of the minister’s reassurances

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Nurturing Sino-EU Ties through Multilateralism

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Considering the fact that relations between China and the EU are shifting, they will continue since China’s position as a crucial economic powerhouse for the EU cannot be understated, especially as the EU confronts a real and technical economic downturn. In the Eurozone, countries such as the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Germany are experiencing a deceleration in economic growth, which requires immediate consideration. The primary reason for this is the industry-related crisis caused by the collapse of export operations on both domestic and global markets due to a lack of purchasing power.

If this mild downturn becomes a full-blown crisis, the economies of both the European Union and the United States could stagnate. Because of these challenges, the European Union (EU) must strike a fine balance between resolving the current crisis and accommodating U.S. demands. The recent summit of European Union leaders holds great importance as the EU determined its policy towards China. The EU’s economic prospects are highly dependent on developing strong ties with China.

When combined with China’s growing consumer market and massive expenditures in infrastructure, the European Union’s economy has a once-in-a-generation chance to rebound and thrive. The European Union (EU) stands to gain from closer economic connections with China due to the opportunities it presents for increased collaboration, broader trade, and the infusion of much-needed Chinese investment into the EU’s flagging industrial sectors.

Recognizing this undeniable potential, the EU must priorities capitalizing on the benefits of its partnership with China, whilst likewise making sure that the relationship remains mutually beneficial and sustainable. The path towards achieving such equilibrium, however, is fraught with obstacles, mainly due to external pressures from the United States. Notably, the United States has imposed tariffs and trade restrictions on a number of European products, creating financial challenges for European companies. These actions are frequently used as pressure to influence Europe’s approach to China.

The EU is in a precarious position, compelled to navigate an environment where financial goals, geopolitical issues, and common values intersect. Maintaining a delicate equilibrium is essential. The pressure exerted by the United States highlights the necessity for Europe to assert its own interests and independence in international affairs. It is essential that the EU devise an independent and principled strategy that protects its own interests while approaching China with a productive discussion.

European Council President Charles Michel’s recent statement that it is in the EU’s best interest to maintain “stable and constructive” ties with China has, in a sense, confirmed the continuation of EU-China relations. In a latest commentary, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, pointed to how the EU could modify its policy towards China. However, he advocated for “vigorous engagement” between the EU and Beijing.

Under the weight of US pressure, maintaining a delicate balance in EU-China relations requires careful handling. European leaders will have the opportunity to define the EU’s position on China at the upcoming EU summit, ushering in a future of balanced, constructive, and mutually beneficial engagement. It is essential that European leaders seize this opportunity and set a course that protects their economic interests and fundamental values. In this manner, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

At this critical juncture, leaders must engage in exhaustive dialogues that incorporate the many facets of the EU’s relationship with China. The promotion of human rights should be coupled with economic considerations. Considerations such as trade disparities, rights to intellectual property protection, and the development of equitable market practices must be addressed in an open discussion. This strategy will ensure an equitable playing field for EU and Chinese businesses, fostering an environment conducive to healthy competition and long-term economic growth.

The foundation of Sino-EU relations should base on mutual interest and respect, multilateralism, and economic exchanges, and they should be exempt from illicit US interference and pressures. By navigating these complexities and forging a path that safeguards economic interests and fundamental values, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

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China-Germany Win-Win Cooperation

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photo:Yao Dawei / Xinhua

The China-Germany cooperation exemplifies the transformative potential of collaboration based on mutual regard, shared objectives, and complementary strengths. This exceptional partnership has spawned a domino effect that extends beyond bilateral relations, inspiring other nations to pursue similarly mutually beneficial partnerships.

 As the world becomes more interconnected, countries can learn from the China-Germany model of cooperation, which fosters economic development, technological advancement, environmental stewardship, and cultural exchange. By adhering to the principles of win-win cooperation, nations can construct a more prosperous, sustainable, and harmonious global community.

China and Germany’s dynamic and mutually beneficial cooperation is a shining example of win-win collaboration on the global stage. Both nations have nurtured strong economic and diplomatic ties over the years, resulting in enormous advances and benefits for their respective societies.

Strong and coordinated global action is needed immediately to combat climate change and advance sustainable development. There is still a lot to be done, but China and Germany have already shown their dedication to environmentally friendly and low-carbon development. By aligning their strategies and exchanging best practices, they can expedite the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

China’s pledge to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 shows its commitment to a deep low-carbon transformation of its economy and society. Through the International Climate Initiative (IKI) administered by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the German Federal Government supports Sino-German climate change cooperation.

 Collaboration in areas such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, the circular economy, and sustainable transportation can lead the way for a greener future, mitigating the effects of climate change and nurturing ecological equilibrium.

China and Germany have established a strong economic partnership that has benefited both countries significantly. Germany’s main commercial partner is China, and vice versa, and this strong bilateral commerce has led to significant economic growth and employment creation. This collaboration has given German businesses access to the sizable Chinese market.

Notably, the exchange of products, services, and knowledge between the two nations has fostered innovation, productivity, and economic resiliency, thereby laying the groundwork for long-term cooperation. This commitment to cooperation has yielded an array of beneficial effects, strengthening the conviction that win-win partnerships can drive progress and prosperity in an interdependent world.

The dynamic economic partnership that has grown between the two nations is one of the pillars of China-Germany cooperation. Germany, known for its scientific prowess, inventiveness, and precision engineering, found a favourable market in China, with its enormous customer base and rapidly expanding economy.

On the other hand, China’s manufacturing expertise and devotion to infrastructure development have presented German businesses with incredible possibilities to expand their operations and enter new markets. Entrepreneurs from both nations could keep pursuing openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation, as well as keep the stability of industrial and supply chains with high-level practical cooperation. This symbiotic relationship has allowed both nations to capitalize on their respective strengths, resulting in economic expansion and job creation for both countries.

China and Germany have also established cooperation in the fields of innovation and research, recognizing that advancements in these fields are crucial agents of economic and societal progress. Through joint research initiatives, academic exchanges, and institution-to-institution collaboration, both nations have been able to pool their intellectual resources, foster innovation, and address global challenges. This cooperation has not only led to revolutionary scientific discoveries, but it has also set the groundwork for future innovations in technology that will benefit all of humanity.

China and Germany have fostered cultural exchange and people-to-people diplomacy in addition to their economic and technological cooperation. By encouraging education exchanges, cultural events, and intercultural dialogue, both countries have built bridges of appreciation, understanding, and friendship. Not only do these interactions enrich the lives of individuals, but they also strengthen the bilateral relationship as a whole. They facilitate dialogue, eliminate preconceived notions, and set the groundwork for mutually beneficial relationships and respect.

By expanding on these accomplishments and upholding a spirit of mutual respect and shared objectives, the China-Germany partnership can continue to advance progress and inspire global collaboration.

The China-Germany model of win-win cooperation provides valuable lessons for nations seeking to forge prosperous partnerships. It emphasizes the significance of mutual respect, trust, and open communication as the foundations for productive collaboration. It also emphasizes the importance of recognizing and capitalizing on balance in strengths and resources, which allows nations to maximize the positive effects of cooperation.

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