Private Armies Undermine DemocraticGovernment


By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain

Delivered in House of Commons, London, December 5, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 134-136.

SO far as has been ascertained, the facts are as follows: The Greek organization Eam had announced their intention of holding a demonstration on Dec. 3. The Greek Government at first authorized this, but withdrew their permission when Eam called for a general strike to begin on Dec. 2. The strike, in fact, came into force early on Dec. 3.

Later in the morning the Eam demonstration formed up and moved to the principal square of Athens in spite of the Government's ban.

On the evidence so far available I am not prepared to say who started the firing which then took place.

The police suffered one fatal casualty and had three men wounded. The latest authentic reports give the demonstrators' casualties as eleven killed and sixty wounded.

The demonstration continued during the afternoon, but there was no further shooting, and by 4:30 the crowd had dispersed and tranquillity was restored.

It is deplorable that an event like this should take place in Athens scarcely a month after the city's liberation and feeding.

Assistance Is Hampered

Greece is faced with the most desperate economic and financial problems apart from civil war, which we are trying to stop. We and our American allies are doing our utmost to give assistance and our troops are acting to prevent bloodshed.

But some times it is necessary to use force to prevent greater bloodshed. The main burden falls on us. The responsibility is within our Allied military sphere—that is, our military sphere agreed upon with our principal allies.

Our plans will not succeed unless the Greek Government and the whole of the Greek people exert themselves on their own behalf. If the damage of four years of war and enemy occupation is to be repaired and if Greek life and economy are to be rebuilt, their internal stability must be maintained and pending a general election under fair conditions, the authority of the constitutional Greek Government must be accepted and enforced throughout the country.

The armed force must be dependent on the Greek Government. No Government can have a sure foundation so long as there are private armies owing allegiance to a group, party or ideology instead of to the state and the nation.

Although these facts should be clear to all, the left wing and Communist Ministers have resigned from the Greek Government at this dangerous crisis rather than implement measures to which they had already agreed for the replacement of the Eam police and guerrillas by regular national services.

(William Gallagher, Communist: Why have they resigned?)

I say they have resigned. I am stating the facts. I thought the House would like a full answer.

In addition, the Eam leaders have called a general strike which is, for the time being, preventing the food we and America are providing from reaching the mouths of the population we are trying to feed.

Assures Greeks Free Choice

Our own position, as I have said, is extremely clear. Whether the Greek people form themselves into a monarchy or republic is for their decision. Whether they form a government of the right or left is for their decision. These are entirely matters for them. Until they are in a position to decide we shall not hesitate to use the considerable British army now in Greece, and being reinforced, to see that law and order are maintained.

It is our belief that in this course His Majesty's Government has the support of an overwhelming majority of the Greek people. The gaping need is to receive relief for the immediate requirements and conditions which give them a chance of earning a livelihood. In both of these ways we wish to help them, and we are working continually with experts, financial and otherwise, to assist in every possible way, but we cannot do this if the tommy guns which were provided for use against the Germans are now used in an attempt to impose by violence a Communist dictatorship without the people being able to express their wishes.

(F. E. Pethic Lawrence, Laborite, asked whether the Prime Minister was "aware of the very grave anxiety which is felt in all sections of this country with regard to what is taking place, and will he undertake to keep this House informed from time to time in the immediate future so that we can know what the situation is from day to day?" Mr. Lawrence also asked whether Mr. Churchill would take care that the Government action in suppressing disorder "shall not take the form of support to any one faction in Greece."

(Mr. Lawrence continued: "We all recognize that law and order must be maintained, but there is evidence, I think, that mistakes have been committed on both sides and this terrible shooting affair on Sunday is one which suggests, at any rate, that a mistake was made by the Greek Government. (Can he [Mr. Churchill] assure the House that if the armed forces of Britain and the Allies are to be used in support of the Greek Government that the British Government will impress on the Greek Government the need for a conciliatory policy and not to assume that because they have the support of the British forces that they can take such action as they like?"]

Pledges Full Publicity

The answer to the first part of the question is that the newspapers give most full and continuous reports from Athens and Greece and that in the event of anything important occurring which is not public property I shall be ready to answer any question.

I have no other wish but to keep the House informed. I quite agree that we take a great responsibility in intervening to preserve law and order in this capital city so lately delivered by our troops from the power of the enemy.

It would be very much easier for us to allow everything to degenerate, as it would, into anarchy or a Communist dictatorship.

But we do not feel, having taken the position we have—having entered Athens and brought food and made great efforts to restore its currency and doing our utmost to give those conditions of peace and tranquillity which will enable the Greek people as a whole to vote on their future—having gone so far as that, that we should look back or take our hand from the plow.

It is the Greek Government we are supporting, or perhaps acting in conjunction with would be a better expression, because General Scobie is for the moment in charge of order. We shall certainly take care that that Government is not used to fasten any rule of a faction upon the Greek people. They will have the fullest opportunity of a free election. The Government of Mr. Papandreou three days ago represented all parties, including the Communist and Eam representatives. They left suddenly on the eve of a quite evident attempt to overthrow a settled Government which was on foot.

Clarification Asked

(Dr. Haden Guest, Laborite, interrupted to ask if it were not a fact that the demonstration which was fired upon on Sunday consisted of 200 unarmed children and youth with a sprinkling of adults. He quoted the correspondent of The Times of London as saying the firing went on for an hour—savagely and wildly. Dr. Guest asked whether it was "not a further fact that there was a good deal of feeling in Greece that collaborationists had not been dealt with, and that the security battalions appointed by the Germans to fight against the Greek movement are now being maintained by the present Government and by us."

(Dr. Guest continued: "Is it not time that the whole of the Athens police force was disarmed, as they have shown themselves thoroughly untrustworthy as people to keep the peace?")

So far as the incident is concerned, I told the House that the British Government reserve judgment upon that. It was a shocking thing that firing should be made by the police force on unarmed children; that is a matter we should all reprobate. We should also reprobrate the massing or leading of large numbers of unarmed children to a demonstration center which had been banned by the Government in a city full of armed men liable at any moment to an explosion.

The question of the Security Battalions is not to be dismissed as easily as you have done. According to information that I have most carefully sifted, the Security Battalions

came into existence gradually in a large measure to protect Greek villages from the depredations of some of those who, under the guise of being the saviors of their country, were living upon the inhabitants and doing very little fighting against the Germans.

(Mr. Lawrence again broke in: "I quite appreciate that the British Government are holding the ring for a future election in Greece. Will you assure us that, so far as the British Government are concerned, any support that we give to the Government of Greece is accompanied by recommendations that the Greek Government should use a conciliatory attitude toward all sections in Greece?")

Oh yes, certainly a conciliatory policy, but that should not include the running away from or the lying down under a threat of armed revolution and violence.

(Sir Percy Harris, Laborite, asked whether, in addition to military authorities, Britain had a political representative in Greece to advise on political problems.)

We have an Ambassador in Greece with whom the Government is in hourly consultation and whose telegrams arrive with the greatest frequency, wiring having not been cut so far. Mr. Harold MacMillan [Minister Resident in the Middle East] is advising General Wilson, the Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean [who is continuing until Field Marshal Alexander assumes command] on the political aspects of the military measures which he takes.