Former Greek king’s funeral briefly rekindles political passions of a forgotten era

ATHENS, Greece – Former Greek king Constantine’s funeral, in Athens Metropolitan Cathedral, on Monday, was the climax of what can only be described as a bizarre week in Greek politics, which started last Tuesday with the former king’s death. Although the center-right government decided that Constantine would be buried without head of state honors, it permitted a lying-in-state for his supporters to pay their respects. 

Thousands of monarchist mourners, most of them elderly, queued for hours in front of the side chapel of Agios Eleftherios to pay their respects to the former king, whose body was lying in a closed casket draped with a Greek flag.  The mourners, who were holding portraits of Constantine and Greek monarchist flags, chanted the national anthem, with some of them following up with hesitant monarchist chants like “Glory to the king” and “Bread, olives and King Constantine.”

Although the monarchy in Greece was abolished by a referendum almost 50 years ago, some mourners expressed their hope for its restoration and that Constantine’s son Pavlos will become king.  

“You see the crowd; I was one of the first, people do not forget and times change, with a new referendum monarchy may return, long live Pavlos II,” said Fotis, a pensioner who travelled to Athens from the monarchist stronghold of Laconia, in Peloponnese.  “Things change, monarchy could be restored, there have been referendums many times in the past and monarchy was restored,” he added. 

Mourners waiting in queue to pay their respects to the former king, Athens, January 2023, Credits: Aris Dimitrakopoulos

Others stated their displeasure towards the government for not giving the former king the honor of a state funeral.  “He should have been buried with honors as a head of state, he is part of our history and he served his homeland, others who did not serve it were buried with honours, as a Greek and as a human I feel sad,” said Kyriaki, 67, while holding a Greek monarchist flag. 

There were also some younger people amongst the crowd who supported the former king even though his reign ended decades before their birth.  “We are here to pay our respects to Constantine II, it was unjust that they voted him out, we are waiting for Pavlos, his son,” said Spyridon, 18,who was also holding a monarchist flag.

Mourners holding monarchist flags, Athens, January 2023, Credits: Aris Dimitrakopoulos

Moreover, right-wing politicians of various parties appeared in the funeral and were applauded by the mourners. Most prominent amongst them, former Greek Prime Minister and current MP of the ruling party “New Democracy”, Antonis Samaras.  The left-wing main opposition party, SYRIZA, condemned the presence of Samaras and other “New Democracy” MPs at the funeral, stating that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis “bowed” to the former king after being pressured by the “monarchist wing” of his party.   

Although the funeral went smoothly, both sides of the political spectrum saw it as an opportunity to score political points few months before the coming elections that are expected to be tight. The main point of contention between the right and the left was whether or not the former king should receive a state funeral. 

As a result, for a few days, it was as if the Greek  political system got into a time machine and traveled back in the 1960’s, with parties using historical arguments in support of or against the former king, which had not appear in the public political discourse for many decades.

After the referendum of 1974, where Greeks overwhelmingly voted for the abolition of monarchy, due to Constantine’s handling of the 1967 coup that led to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the case was considered closed, there was never again a discussion about the monarchy in Greek politics.  Constantine contributed to this, as he accepted the results of the referendum and never tried to get involved in the country’s political affairs.

Political life in Greece is expected to return to normality after the former king’s funeral, as the political discourse will focus on more pressing issues; however one could argue that this was a unique opportunity for Greeks to take a glimpse into the politics of the past and at the same time acknowledge the resiliency of the current political system.

Aris Dimitrakopoulos
Aris Dimitrakopoulos
Aris Dimitrakopoulos is a freelance journalist and war correspondent. He has covered on the ground the wars in Ukraine and Libya, as well as Greek affairs, for local and international media outlets. You can connect with him on Twitter at @ArisDimitrako or reach out via email at arisdimitrako]at]