The Greek military junta of 1967–74, commonly known as the Regime of the Colonels, or in Greece simply The Junta, was a series of right-wing military juntas that ruled Greece following the 1967 Greek coup d’état led by a group of colonels on 21 April 1967. The dictatorship ended on 24 July 1974.
The United States was heavily involved in supporting the military dictatorship in Greece, seeking to preserve its geo-political importance in the Eastern Mediterranean during the height of the Cold War.
And while the U.S. involvement was largely ignored or often suppressed, numerous books were written during the period following the fall of the dictatorship, including Hostage to History by Christopher Hitchens who outlined then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s involvement in the dictatorship via the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
As President, Bill Clinton was the first to openly accept and acknowledge the United States’ dubious role in these dark years in Greece.
In a speech to Athens business leaders in November of 1999, Clinton acknowledged the U.S. government’s support of the junta, stating that Washington’s let Cold War concerns obscure a moral obligation to oppose a dictatorship.
“When the junta took over in 1967 here, the United States allowed its interests in prosecuting the Cold War to prevail over its interests–I should say its obligation–to support democracy, which was, after all, the cause for which we fought the Cold War.
“It is important that we acknowledge that,” he said, gaining a burst of applause.
During its seven years in power, the junta jailed hundreds of thousands of Greeks for political reasons and forced tens of thousands into exile, including most of the country’s civilian political leadership: left, right and center.
According to testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, the junta contributed financially to Richard Nixon’s successful 1968 presidential campaign. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, who was of Greek descent, angered many Greeks when he visited in 1971, embraced the junta leaders and called them the country’s best leaders since Pericles ruled ancient Athens.
Among the Greeks who fell victim to the junta’s repression were composer Mikis Theodorakis (best known for the “Zorba the Greek” film score), who was arrested and tortured, and actress Melina Mercouri, who fled to avoid arrest and was stripped of her Greek citizenship.
Then Foreign Minister George Papandreou who was present at Clinton’s talk, was 14 at the time and witnessed the arrest of his father, Andreas Papandreou, in 1967 as the colonels swept to power. The family went into exile late that year when his father was released and returned only after the junta fell. Andreas Papandreou later served as prime minister.
“Greeks have high esteem for America and its democratic values, so there’s always this feeling [about the junta years] of a friendship betrayed,” the American-educated foreign minister George Papandreou said at that time. “What Clinton did was a bold statement. I hope it will be received as a true desire for reconciliation of the past.”
See below a vintage Associated Press archive file about the military dictatorship in Greece: