12 APRIL 1975, Page 11


Caressing the colonels

Piers Dixon

"Punish a few of them and caress the rest." This tactful advice was given last month to the Karamanlis government, which somehow has to satisfy the Greek people that 'fascist' Colonels will suffer for the misdeeds of seven years and at the same time maintain the patriotism and morale of an army confronted by an enemy who may strike at any moment: there are four times as many Turks as Greeks.

Mr Averoff, one of the two men expected to become Prime Minister under a Karamanlis Presidency, told me last week how they would resolve this dilemma. "The military purge is over," he said, "— that is as long as there are no further moves by officers against the Government." As Minister of Defence he sacked 100 officers last autumn and transferred several hundred to new assignments. After the abortive military coup in February of this year, he sacked a few hundred more. "There are no colonels left in the Greek army," I was told last month. "Either they were purged by the Colonels. Or they have been purged by Averoff., And those that remained have become generals." This somewhat exaggerated assessment underlies the stark reality of a situation which fills Mr Averoff and every patriotic Greek with alarm.

The gossip in the coffee-houses of Kolonaki Square and of the country's 6,000 villages is that the Minister of Defence will form the bridge between the army and the Government, and that he is ready at any moment-to replace Mr Karamanlis. "That is not true," he insisted vehemently. "First of all, it would be dishon

ourable. Secondly, it would be unpatriotic. Mr Karamanlis is the only man round whom the nation can rally." Equally Mr Averoff is the only man in Greek public life round whom the armed forces would rally in a military confron tation with Turkey.

As he sits unruffled on the third floor of the "Pentagon" (for all their anti-Americanism today, the Greeks use no other word for the Ministry of Defence), flanked on one side by a heroic scene from the Balkan War of 1912 and on the other by an ikon of the Madonna, sipping what is now known as Byzantine coffee, he represents to the captains and the corporals the model of patriotism and orthodoxy admired in the villages where most of them were born. And they know that he is not in politics for the money. "I am a writer and a farmer," he told me, "and any day 1 would gladly return to my normal pursuits." The man who today has a play running in Bucharest — and hopefully in Belgrade as well — could be tomorrow's Cincinnatus supervising his cheese production in the high Pindus.

Many Greeks think that the confrontation with Turkey in Cyprus and the Aegean is part of a Russo-American plot. "No," said Mr Averoff. "There has not been a new Yalta. I can see it from the faces of the Americans who come to see me. They still think in terms of the cold war and they know that it is they above all who have suffered from the collapse of the entire south-eastern flank of NATO."

In his view it is the Colonels who precipitated the situation. He recalls that, when he was in prison, "the Lieutenants of Ioannidis" (then head of the military police) used to come and see him in his cell, telling him confidently that they were going to smash the Turks in Cyprus and inviting him to agree with them. This is not an isolated case. Another member of the Karamanlis cabinet told me that, when he in his turn was arrested by the Colonels, they said that there was going to be a war with Turkey in which "the Greeks would capture Constantinople — and in a few days." Mr Averoff's colleague commented on this: "I told the secret police that I hoped that there would not be a war but that, of course, if there were a war, I hoped that Greece would win it. I am a patriot." Clearly the Colonels had, as it were, been trying to conduct an informal opinion poll among their critics about the feasibility of war. At all events, he added, the meeting which had begun as an attempt to bully him into submission had become one in which it was the investigator's doubts which had been paraded.

As they watch the Turks across the Evros river, the Greeks know that, although they are outnumbered by four to one, they are technically more advanced. They can handle tanks and artillery more efficiently. They are vastly superior at seamanship. The acrobatics put on by their air force for Independence Day on March 25 astonished Mr Averoff himself. But the Turk is a brave and disciplined infantryman. In military terms the two sides are equally balanced. As one member of the Government said to me, "He who crosses the Evros first is the fool."

Piers Dixon, formerly Conservative MP for Truro, returned last week from his latest visit to Greece