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Monday, 24 March 2008

Churchill's percentages agreement

The cartoonist Leslie Illingworth on the events surrounding Ta Dekemvriana on Sunday 3 December 1944 and - below - a later comment from a cartoon collection in the National Library of Wales. On the rail journey this evening from Birmingham to London I have been engrossed in the 'Prolegomena 1936-1944' of Thanasis Sfikas' book The British Labour Government and the Greek Civil War 1945-1949: The Imperialism of ‘Non-Intervention.

What makes Sfikas such powerful reading is that he describes the Greek perspective as richly as the British. 'Non-intervention' refers to the way the British Labour government that succeeded the wartime coalition government led by Churchill in July 1945, against expectations effectively continued his strategy without his uniquely personal involvement in Greek affairs.

Other good books on the Anglo-Hellenic relationship have told me more about the British than the Greeks. In Sfikas' first chapter - all I've read so far - the story unfolds relentlessly, as the author moves between the British players, the American and the Greek, with descriptions of individuals, their statements - private and public - their correspondence, dates, places; the tensions building up in Greece between Venezelists and Monarchists and their shifting allies in the years after World War I, the end of the Great Idea 'in the sands of Asia Minor', the Greek army in retreat followed by two million refugees, the effects of the Great Depression in the growth of the Left, the trends that brought the dictatorship of Metaxas, and the rise of the influence of the Communist party as the chief organiser of Greek resistance once Italy had failed and then the Nazis had succeeded in occupying Greece; the apparent abruptness with which Churchill, even as allied forces were fighting intensively in France and closing on the borders of Germany, began the high strategy that would become the Cold War between 'us' and the USSR - our ally; meetings with Stalin. The percentages agreement, was described in 1954 in Churchill's memoirs:
The moment was apt for business, so I said [to Stalin], "Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Roumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don't let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety percent predominance in Roumania, for us to have ninety per cent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?" While this was being translated I wrote out on a half-sheet of paper:


The others




Great Britain
(in accord with U.S.A.)







The others



I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down…After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said, "Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper". "No, you keep it", said Stalin.

Roosevelt waited on a near bankrupt British Empire. Churchill and Stalin diced for the territories of the new Europe and Churchill took Greece, to ensure the route between Britain and her oil. Where Sfikas does best is in describing the interaction between events inside and outside Greece - one moment Greeks adapting to the British, the next vice versa. The most cogent part of this story is about the way Churchill through his determination to return a King to Greece and destroy the KKE downplays the rampages of a Right made confident in their vengefulness by British (and later US) support. In a matter of months being a Communist earned worse penalties than having collaborated with the Nazis. Illingworth's cartoon shows a Tommy intervening to prevent internecine strife. No doubt many young British soldiers saw their role just that way. They may have had intuitions, but they would not have read Churchill's message to our General Scobie in Athens after 3 December 1944:
Do not however hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress….We have to hold and dominate Athens. It would be great thing for you to succeed in this without bloodshed if possible, but also with bloodshed if necessary.

In the cartoon we see the malign figure of Jo Stalin, who we now know had backed out of this confrontation, but there's not a sign of Ernest Bevin, inheritor of Churchill's policies on post-war Greece, nor the President who with the Truman Doctrine, took over Britain's role in Greece, though a member of the government takes refuge behind the stars and stripes.
* * *

The typical Greek blogger - Matthaios Tsimitakis of Kathimerini. ...Panteion University has produced the ... survey on Greek bloggers. Who are these people that television channels lauded last summer when they took to the streets to demand the reforestation of fire-ravaged Mount Parnitha, but whom they denounced a few weeks ago when the identity of the people behind press-gr was revealed? What part do bloggers play in public discourse? Is what they do journalism and, if so, what kind? These are just some of the questions that Zafeiris Karambasis, a postgraduate student in the virtual communities program at Panteion, addressed in his research. Though blogs have been around for no longer than 10 years, they have already had a powerful impact, giving expression to new bloggers an even smaller proportion – the most experienced and best-educated users. But they are part of a rapidly growing trend... From the massive response to the death of Amalia Kalyvinou, (See Stavros' comment on MGO) a cancer sufferer who had used her blog to record shortcomings she encountered in the health system, to the organization of the Parnitha protest rally and revelations of torture in Greek police stations, the Greek blogosphere is in line with developments abroad. In just one year, the number of Greek blogs has grown to 40,000, which are read by 500,000, according to government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. opinions and people that might not otherwise be heard. ...


  1. Thank God for Churchill, otherwise Greece would have gone the way of Albania and Greeks would have suffered the same fate as their long suffering brethren in Northern Epirus. Unfortunately the resurgent Left has revised history in Greece to whitewash their role during the December revolt and the subsequent civil war.

  2. With the deepest and most genuine respect from one who loves Greece and feels grief for her sufferings in those dreadful years, I wonder if your explanation is adequate.
    In later life Kevin Andrews'became a Greek citizen. In his book about travels in Greece during the civil war, when he was attached to the British School at Athens he writes (on p.185) of a conversations on his way towards Kalamata on a route up to the Langádha Pass. He'd seen a village with burned-out houses. No-one locally will tell him who is responsible. A little later, a man on his road, a merchant refugee from Smyrna with a ‘thin cultivated voice’, offers his donkey to carry Andrews’ pack. They talk as they walk. Andrew feels it safer to ask ‘the question to which I had long been seeking the answer:
    “Which side, then, has committed more crimes here, the Right or the Left?”
    “I can only tell you the side that happens to have most power in one district or another also has the most opportunity to commit them.” ’
    Mark Mazower, a more recent historian of this period, noted this careful answer.
    In the tenth chapter of 'The Flight of Ikaros' Andrews, pondering the murderous actions of his friend Kostandi, while making no judgement, allows himself his angriest passage:
    ‘Perhaps the blood on his hands was less, in the scale of things, than the desecration of one man’s private and essential value (that was all he had to begin with, and end with); less than his uncritical, unquestioning adherence to the revolting shame of lesser people’s stupidity, cynicism and cheapness – and everything else that oils the all-pervading and hospitable machinery of unchecked power. But I came to no conclusions on the subject, either then or later’
    In another (Chap 4, p.78) conversation with a Cretan gendarme in Molái, in the Peloponnese, in a coffee-shop full of war weary men, Andrews' is asked his views on the Civil War:
    ‘What solution is there? What way do you propose for us?"
    Andrews replies ‘There’s only one way for a civil war to be won.’
    ‘What way?’
    ‘The hardest of all.’
    ‘What way?’
    Then the gendarme nearly screams. ‘Can you speak such a word – and to us!’
    ‘I said it’s the hardest of all.’
    ‘Do you say that for comfort? Is that another one of your labels?...In this age there’s only one thing for men of moderation to do, and a lot of them have done it already.’
    ‘The only thing they can possibly do,’ I said, ‘which is to work at –’
    ‘No, no. Not work at anything. Just kill themselves.’
    I study the history of these years - as the genius Thucydides studied the Peloponnesian War starting with the revolt in Corcyra - to learn not just about beloved Greece but also about myself and my species.
    Incomprehension is part of this. It is not only that for many the horrors, being beyond imagination, become invisible, it is because people's motives for their actions are not only unclear to observers, they are unclear to those who act. Intricately interwoven threads of ethnicity, geography, religion, nationality, kin, village and domestic rivalries within the calculus of international alignments and tension is one of the defining characteristics of civil war - its intimacy. A young Muslim who would come as a guest lecturer to one of my courses told us that before he went to Bosnia - as an aid worker during the worst of the war there - he had not understood what was going on. "After I went there I understood even less."


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Simon Baddeley