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The WW II Resistance and Greek Civil War

The Greek Resistance during World War II included both leftist and rightist groups, three of them the most powerful players.

The two major left-wing groups were ELAS (the acronym which translates to: the Greek Popular Liberation Army), and EAM (National Liberation Front). EAM was the military arm of ELAS.

The main right-wing group was EDES (National Greek Democratic League/Union). The two leftist groups are generally seen as ‘communist’, though ELAS had a mixed membership, not entirely left wing, though founded and led by communists with orders and training from the Kremlin.

EAM, however, was primarily made up of Stalinist-oriented members of the Greek Communist party (KKE) who had spent time in Moscow in the 1930s, and whose vision of post war Greece was in line with that brand of communism.

The members of EDES were right wing and monarchist resistance fighters. The in-fighting between these resistance groups was as intense as their struggle against the Nazis, and when the Germans were finally expelled from Greece in the autumn of 1944, the in-fighting continued.

From 1939 to 1943, it was EAM that was the focus of political and military action in Greece, and that group was in control of most of the country at the end of this period, working with the British on tactical operations, as well as with its own army (ELAS), navy, and civil and secret police forces.

There was widespread support for EAM in Greece in the beginning. Churchill, however, had his own agenda, which was to reinstate the monarchy (especially since EAMS highest ranking members were Communists).

Long before the end of the war, in the summer of 1943, members representing each of the resistance movements flew secretly to Cairo to ask the king to not return to Greece unless he was elected by a plebiscite, but the British were dead set against this.

The EAM was divided between the Stalinists and those who were willing to accept a non-communistpost-war government. ELAS proceeded to wipe out all of its rivals, fearing a British and American anti-Communist takeover, though unable to destroy the most right wing rival, EDES, which was suspected of collaboration with the Germans. When the British sponsored interim government went into effect as the Germans began leaving in autumn of 1944, most of the EAM leaders agreed to join it, though this was where they walked into a trap. Though having 90% of Greece under their control, the new government gave the Communist only one third representation, and began forming a new right-wing army.

Not only was the new army not drawn from ELAS, it was made up of right wingers. Next followed by an Allied command for ELAS to disarm, and the police firing on an EAM demonstration in Athens, with at least sixteen killed, and a six week battle, known as the Dekemvriana (December events) started between British troops and ELAS.

This was the real beginning of the Greek Civil War. ELAS wiped out opposition in the provinces, but, unable to take power in Athens from the British and right-wing Greek elements, which more or less sealed their fate. The right wing takeover ended in the rigged plebiscite of 1946 which put George II back on the throne, and the formation of a new guerilla version of ELAS, called the DSE, which occupied all of Greece’s northern border with Albania and Yugoslavia.

Around the same time, King George died and was replaced by his brother, and the Americans took over the role of the British, implemented by the Truman doctrine, with vast military and economic aid aimed at undermining any possible Communist takeover by supporting the right wing Greek regime.

Unscoring the control sought by the American government was the requirement that all official decress had to be countersigned by the chief of the American Mission. US military advisors trained the nationalist army to help them fight the DSE and mass arrests, imprisonments and court martials were carried out, which went on until 1951.

Greeks villagers numbering 700,000, were forcibly evacuated from their mountain villages and resettled in camps near towns, in order to keep them from giving support to the DSE, which not only caused them immense suffering, but also made it impossible for them to take up their rural lives again after the war, what with loss of livestock and untended land, this following upon the ravages of the four-year German occupation. The DSE, however, was supplied by Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and indirectly through these states from the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, Communism was declared illegal, and , to find work and vote, Greeks had to qualify for the Certificate of Political Reliability, which remained in force until 1962.

The left wing committed many more atrocities during the Civil War, includeing more than thirty-three thousand executions, the sending of large numbers of children to Communist countries, supposed for their protection, vandalization of monasteries, and torture of those who wouldn’t come into line with their agenda, and/or believed to be monarchist supporters or sympathizers. The novel by Nicholas Gage (Nikolaos Gatzoyiannis), ‘Eleni’, presents a moving account from the perspective of a refugee from Ipiros (Epirus), whose mother had been tortured and killed by the left wing forces, which had taken over the family house as their headquarters. Another book was written to present the other side, ‘The Other Eleni’, though it may not be in English translation yet. By the end of the Civil War in 1949, these atrocities were among the factors that doomed the DSE (and left wing forces in general) to defeat. Another was the cutting off of supplies to the DSE, making its last stand in the mountains of Ipiros after Tito and Stalin fell out, along with closing of the border, but the greatest single cause was the impossibility the David and Goliath scenario of lightly armed guerillas fighting the well equipped American army, which not only had aircraft and heavy artillery, but a new weapon that they were trying out for the first time in the mountains of Ipiros—napalm (which left scars on the Greek landscape still visible fifty years later).