The actual events of the fall of the Colonels are documented in history. These pages will not attempt to catalog general events, but rather my impressions of the time.
Being newly arrived in Greece and still fairly unfamiliar with the political climate, I didn't notice anything unusual about Greece under the Colonels. I did pick up disparaging remarks about the regime's insistance on using Cathorevasa Greek - a very formal variety. Imagine our President addressing Congress with formalized old English with "Thee" and "Thou" etc. The Greeks refused to use this dialect and kept to their Demotic dialect, which, of course, was a form a passive rebellion.
I knew nothing about political prisoners and torture and people who disappeared forever. It happened, of course. I did pick up an all pervading caution about discussing the regime and disparaging remarks. All the Greeks I was friendly with had but one saying: "The Walls have Ears". Funny - that's exactly what they are saying in China today, except today the "ears" are a lot more sophisticated.
I am fuzzy on the exact dates, but what remains in my memory is Thanksgiving. So all events had to have been in effect just before Thanksgiving 1993. In early November, Hoppy decided to send all of us on long weekend trips out of Athens. In retrospect, I think Tom anticipated trouble and was trying to get us out of harm's way. Loftstrand was sent to enjoy northern Greece, and I and my companion-for-the-year traveled to Istanbul. While we were in Istanbul, we heard on the Turkish newscasts that one Greek colonel had overthrown another one. After enjoying the Sultan Ahmed District, the Blue Mosque, and having a terrific and authentic Turkish bath and massage in a 500-year old bath, we flew back to Athens.
We learned upon arrival that there was a general curfue ordered. Off the airplane, we were sent to a public security office to have our papers scrutinized (nothing more insidious and suspicious than a 26-year old oceanographer and his female companion). I noticed a discolored square on the wall where once had hung the portrait of that pompous colonel, Papadopoulos. A frightened taxi driver drove us back to our Kalamaki flat, just to the north of the airport.
The orders were no more than 4 people could gather in one room. People seen walking on the streets would be shot. And so on. Sounds like 1989 Beijing, eh? The phones were working, so we got in touch with Hoppy, and what he related made our hair stand on end.
While we were sipping beers on the shores of the Bosporous, Hoppy and his wife Dartha had been in the center of Athens near Syntagma on a shopping trip. Hoppy heard a loud diesel engine revving up and looked out of a store window to see a tank chewing up a park across the street. Somebody was shouting into a bullhorn. Now, Dr. Hopkins is an ex-SEAL team member. Needless to say, when he heard the barking explosions of a 50-cal. machine gun begin, he had a quick, well-conditioned response. He flung himself through the air toward Dartha, and hit the deck, sheltering his wife under him. It's a good thing he did this, because the window he had just been looking out of exploded after being hit by a lot of high-velocity lead.
They were motionless for what seemed like a very long time, covered with broken glass and dust. After the firefight subsided, Hoppy cautiously investigated, and when it looked safe some time later, they made their way back to Kalamaki via taxi driven by another frightened driver.
Which brings us to Thanksgiving. Being Americans, we had long planned for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at Hoppy's house. They were cooking the bird. Loftstrand was handling the preparation of a ham. Donna and I were doing an interesting casserole. And Paul Joppa / Margie McCartney (who were great cooks) had prepared an impressive dessert. The only trouble was we all lived separately and were fairly scattered throughout Kalamaki.
And the curfue was still on with shoot on sight orders.
So we communicated an elaborate plan of leaving each house paired up at 5-minute intervals. That way one or the other of us would be able to keep the other in sight (to see if they were shot?!) on the 15-minute walk to Hoppy's house. With hearts pounding, Paul and Margie hit the street with their dessert platter at 11:05. At 11:10 Lofstrand started walking with the ham still steaming, and Donna and I were tail-end-Charlie at 11:10 with our portion of Thanksgiving dinner. We didn't see a policeman or soldier all the way to Hoppy's.
Thanksgiving dinner was delicious. The walk back home at dusk was equally risky but uneventful.
The only other event of note, from my perspective came several months later. Constantine Karamalis, who had been exiled from Greece, returned to Athens to take over the government. The Greeks had a saying: "O Karamalis exi Frithia ke Arxithia" This is pretty much off color, but never fails to get a chuckle out of a Greek. Try it. Then look at a picture of Karamalis to totally understand....
It was just after nightfall in the Spring. We felt an excitement building all day long, but were so delinked from Greek politics that the return of Karamalis was not all that special. Suddenly, every car, taxi, truck, and bus started to simultaneously honk their horns. Shotguns were retrieved from closets and fired in the air. Fireworks went off. For about an hour there was a cacaphony of sound unlike anything I had ever heard. Karamalis had returned to Athens and was enroute to the center along the seaside highway that ran through Kalamaki.
Greece was now firmly underway to double-digit inflation and an ill-advised-in-retrospect return to socialism. But the walls no longer had ears, and that knock never came again on your door in the early hours. Freedom always has a price.
As a postscript, everyone at the time cynically thought that when Papadopoulos and the other crazy colonels were sentenced to life in prison, they would soon be released and exiled. Not the way it turned out, much to the credit of the Greeks. To this day, some 23 years after the return of Karamalis, Korydalos Prison remains the home of the junta.
The Greeks have a saying: Beni se louki. This literally means, "down the sewer", and that's exactly where Papadoupoulos and pals remain.
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Copyright © 1995, 1996 Paul H. Kronfield, Revised July 9, 1996