During an official trip to Athens on November 20, 1999, President Bill Clinton acknowledged the U.S. government’s support for the widely despised military dictatorship that ruled Greece between 1967-1974.
In a widely acknowledged and reported speech at the time, Clinton recognized that Washington let Cold War concerns obscure a moral obligation to oppose a dictatorship.
The support that the American government gave to the regime of the colonels from 1967 to 1974 has shadowed U.S.-Greek relations ever since.
“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.”
Clinton spoke these words in front of hundreds of prominent Greek citizens and an entourage of Greek Americans who accompanied him on the trip and whom he recognized during his speech.
“The impact, I hope, is that people in our country too will realize that it’s good to look back on our own history and recognize our errors,” he added. “It takes the capacity to be self-critical to begin settling our own problems with our adversaries.”
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, embracing the junta’s leaders and calling them the country’s “best leaders since Pericles ruled ancient Athens.”
President Clinton’s complete speech
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