Mazower 1997: 250. Interestingly (or, rather curiously) Mazower does not discuss Wickham's involvement in the establishment of the Yáros concentration camp in 1947.
- Chapter 4. 1945–1946: White Terror
- » I Want to Speak of the Great Silence
Chapter 4. 1945–1946: White Terror
Following the Dekemvrianá and the retreat of ELAS from Athens, the vacuum in policing and surveillance in the country became acute. It was felt not only by the Greek government but also by the British, who, as Mazower notes, needed their troops elsewhere as quickly as possible (1997: 143). In haste they expanded the already formed National Guard (Ethnophylake), a body that had been set up in November 1944 and manned primarily by conscripts from the “class of 1936,” called to military service during the Metaxas dictatorship (and hence by definition anti-Communist and largely anti-Republican), a move that EAM considered to be explicitly aimed against the Resistance. Mazower further notes that the British officers were urged by Royalist officers to rearm the Tágmata (whose members, being collaborators, were being held in various prisons awaiting trial) and that the British police officers largely “sympathized with them who were 'out of a job through no fault of their own'” (1997: 143). During the Battle of Athens, former gendarmes, Tagmatasphalētes, and various collaborators were armed and incorporated in the National Guard. In February 1945 the political parties, ELAS, and EDES entered into negotiations under the auspices of the British in a southern seaside suburb of Athens, Várkiza, and arrived at what has come to be known as the Várkiza Agreement. The agreement demanded the complete disarmament of ELAS and all other paramilitary groups, amnesty for all political offences, a referendum on the question of the monarchy, and a general election as soon as possible. The KKE remained legal, and its leader, Nikolaos Zachariadis, who returned from Dachau in May 1945, said that the KKE's objective was now a “people's democracy,” to be achieved by peaceful means. There were dissenters, of course, like former ELAS leader Aris Velouchiotis. The KKE renounced Velouchiotis when he called on the veteran guerrillas to start a second struggle: shortly afterward he died in such a struggle. Of the demands of Várkiza (as the occasion has come to be known), the only one that was kept was the disarmament of ELAS, a condition that amounted to its termination.
The disarmament of ELAS made possible the unchecked persecution of all EAM/ELAS Resistance fighters, just as everyone had anticipated, despite the fact that the KKE was, nominally at least, a legal political party and despite the fact that the majority of EAM/ELAS fighters were not Communists. The amnesty was not comprehensive, especially since many of the actions by the Resistance during the German occupation were classified as criminal and therefore excluded from the amnesty.
During 1945 and 1946, the National Guard militias and paramilitaries killed about 1,190 pro-Communist and Leftist civilians, and tortured thousands of others. They released German collaborators from prisons, terrorized suspected Leftists and their families, and attacked entire villages that had helped the partisans during the occupation and the Resistance. According to the Right wing, they were retaliating for what they had suffered from ELAS during the German occupation.
The British, fearing that this indiscriminate terror would force the Left back underground and feeling an urgent need to get out of Greece, decided to rebuild the Greek gendarmerie and appointed Sir Charles Wickham to head this mission. Wickham was not an uncontroversial choice, as he was the founder and head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, having cut his military teeth at the age of twenty during the last two years of the Boer War (he served there from 1899 to 1901). As Mazower notes about the role of policing in the defense of the empire, Wickham was one of the persons who traversed the empire, establishing the infrastructure needed for its salvation. After the Boer War and before being sent to Ireland, during the Russian Civil War Wickham was sent with the British Expeditionary Force to support the White Russians. In 1919 he was stationed in Ireland, and from 1922 to 1945 he was the head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Wickham arrived in Greece in 1945, where he remained until 1952, when, as Mazower notes, he “traveled as an adviser to Palestine.” Wickham announced that he wanted to train the Greek police to be impartial and professional. During his seven-year tenure in Greece, Wickham failed to build the nonmilitarized, impartial, and professional police force that he had been asked to produce (and which, by all accounts, had been his elusive dream since the times of the Royal Ulster Constabulary). Hence, the White Terror continued in Greece and finally led many ex-ELAS members to form self-defense troops, without the approval of the KKE.
In July 1945, Papandreou informed the government that the dissolution of the Comintern was only a sham. Although Stalin still did not support a resumption of armed struggle in Greece, thereby showing his respect for the Yalta agreement, in February 1946 the KKE leadership decided that, taking into account domestic circumstances and the wider Balkan and international situation, armed struggle was the only means for self-preservation. The KKE boycotted the March 1946 elections as being rigged (predetermined by backstage manipulations by the British, the Right, and the Palace) and as excluding de facto a vast portion of the electorate, which had gone into hiding out of fear of the paramilitaries—in effect anyone to the Left of the Right. The elections were won by the monarchist United Patriotic Party (Hēnōménē Parátaxis Ethnikophrónōn, HPE), whose main member was the People's Party (Laiko Komma) of Konstantinos Tsaldaris. In September, in a climate of continued terror, a manipulated referendum decided to retain the monarchy, and despite the protests of the KKE, which disputed the results, King George II returned to Athens. From February to July 1945, 20,000 persons had been arrested, over 500 had been murdered, and 2,961 had been condemned to death. According to the minister of justice, in December 1945 “the number of imprisoned persons is 17,984. Of these 2,388 have been legally condemned and 15,596 are detained preventively… 48,956 are being prosecuted for their activities as EAM/ELAS members. The total number of persons to be charged, including those already detained is, according to our estimate, over 80,000” (Tsoucalas 1969: 94).
Tsoucalas, Constantine. 1969. The Greek Tragedy. London: Penguin.
A line from Eleni Vakalo's poem “Threnody” (translated by Nikos Spanias, 1994: 160):
I want to speak of the great silence
That has no moon in its sky
That has no horses to send off the cortège
That has been forgotten by the river
I want to speak of our bitter
They set Distomon on fire and put Morea to the knife
I want to speak of the destruction that crushes us
The dead one was brought to us
Wrapped in a red blanket
And a handful of jasmines
And the sorrows of night
They brought is closed shutters
A knife made of steel
To pierce the bark of trees
To make sky and sea
This silence I love
This our heart I know
Close attention ought to be paid to the wording regarding the amnesty. The provision was made for amnesty for all political offenses. This wording allowed for a legal loophole that was utilized in the eventual criminalization of the Resistance.
Velouchiotis was either killed when he was surrounded by the TA or committed suicide so that he would not fall into their hands.
As we will see, the Yáros camp was established specifically for those indicted and sentenced for crimes punishable under criminal law and not for political reasons. This gesture of the state to categorize actions by the Resistance as criminal facilitated the legal prosecution (along with the persecution) of the Left and provided the legal framework for the establishment of the Yáros camp.
Eventually even the ΚΚΕ itself deemed the decision to boycott the elections a grave mistake.
The referendum was so rigged that it produced more votes than there were voters, something that came to be standard practice in almost all Greek elections until 1974. When I asked people about this particular election, the most common response was that “every body and every thing [oi pántes kai ta pánta]” voted: the dead, trees, empty houses. Pharmakes (2006) attempts to rehabilitate these elections by saying that, when electoral representatives of the ΚΚΕ tried to substantiate the votes through the electoral catalogues by visiting the specific addresses, “of course, after such a long time, things had changed; they went there and where a house used to be they found a tree.” Yet the attempts to substantiate the votes were made only a few months after the referendum took place.
King George II had been deposed and reinstated in Greece twice, and had to flee the country at least as many times, a situation that, allegedly, led him to declare that the most important possession for a king of Greece was a suitcase.