Policy in Greece
BRITAIN NOT SEEKING TO IMPOSE WILL ON GREECE
By ANTHONY EDEN, British Foreign Secretary
Delivered in House of Commons, London, December 20, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 162, 172-174.
WE could perhaps have been censured for not having interfered in Athens on behalf of law and order at an earlier date, but I refute the suggestion made by Mr. [William] Gallacher [Communist] that someone "whispered in the ear" of Papandreou [Greek Premier] to ban a demonstration. He gave the impression the British Minister had whispered, and that is quite untrue.
The European Advisory Commission was set up to agree on plans for the surrender terms of Germany and plans for the occupation of Germany and other enemy states. It was set up on our initiative.
Regarding the general machinery of international collaboration, there is nothing we should welcome more than closer machinery of collaboration than there is now.
Consultation Is Invited
We would welcome quarterly meetings between the Foreign Secretaries of the great powers, such as we used to have before, to deal with some of these matters. The Prime Minister and I have said over and over again that we would go anywhere.
As to the decision to go into Greece, I do not know what other decision we could have taken in the circumstances. We knew there were risks, but I still think that the decision was right. Before we took that decision we did consult our United States allies. We did go there with their agreement. We did tell our decision also to our Soviet ally and they also approved that decision. There was no question of our having done this without having consulted our allies, or by a movement of our own.
The only criticism that could have been made is that we ought to have brought contingents of the others with us as well. The Government, I say quite frankly, did not foresee matters would turn out as they have done, and in a fashion all of us deeply deplore.For reasons of operational security we did not, before we went to Greece, describe in detail all our plans and intentions, even to our Greek allies. We could not give them a clear answer to many appeals they were making to us to go into Greece. They saw developments and wanted us to drive elements of Germans out. We were unable to describe our plans because we did not want to reveal our military plans.
But as we drew near the date on which we did enter Greece, we did tell them of our plans to some extent and invited their collaboration in respect of the guerrilla bands in Greece.
Early Agreement Recalled
Two leaders, General Saraphis of the Elas and General Zervas of the Edes, were invited to come to Caserta and meet the Supreme Commander and there was drawn up an agreed formula between them, known as the Caserta Agreement. Items in this agreement do show the immense trouble taken to try to get an agreement between all parties, the Greek Government and guerrilla leaders, before we went into Greece at all.
It was agreed to by Mr. Papandreou, as Prime Minister of the Government of all parties, in the presence of Earn leaders, and signed by General Saraphis and General Zervas at a conference presided over by the Supreme Commander, Mediterranean Theatre, and by Greek guerrilla leaders.
The following decisions were recorded as having been accepted unanimously:
1. All guerrilla forces operating in Greece place themselves under orders of the Greek Government of National Unity. The Greek Government places these forces under the orders of General Scobie, who has been nominated by the Supreme Allied Command as the general officer commanding in Greece.
2. In accordance with a proclamation issued by the Greek Government, the guerrilla leaders declare they will forbid any attempt by any units under their command to take the law into their own hands. Such action will be treated as a crime and punished accordingly.
3. In Athens no action is to be taken except under orders of General Scobie. Security battalions are considered instruments of the enemy unless they surrender.
4. All Greek guerrilla forces, in order to put an end to past rivalries, declare they will form a national union to coordinate their activities in the best interests of the common struggle.
In accordance with the powers conferred on him by the Supreme Allied Commander, General Scobie issued operational orders concerning the spheres of various guerrilla forces. [One member asked for the date of this document and Mr. Eden replied September 25.]
At the time the Greek Government was a Government of all parties. There was complete agreement between guerrilla leaders, and in so far as any document expressed agreement, that document did.
No Selfish Motives
Before the actual entry into Greece there was no issue that divided the Greek Ministers among themselves and no issue that divided us from any part of our Greek friends. What was our purpose in going to Greece? We seek nothing for ourselves in Greece. Neither strategic advantage nor economic advantage nor any other advantage of that kind at all. In this action we are taking we have no ulterior motive whatever. I don't know why some members should be always so eager to think that we have some sinister purpose.
Of course, it is true that we have an interest in theMediterranean. That has never been denied by anyone.
But in respect of this action we took in Greece, we took it only in order to bring food and supplies to Greece because we know the position Greece would find herself in. If Greece was largely a self-supporting country and could provide her people with food, we certainly should not have gone in for this vast organization to try to provide food and supplies for the people of Greece.
If we could not get food in, there was no chance of the Greek people's escaping starvation or of their industries being restarted. Those are the reasons we went into Greece. No one can complain of that. We knew the risks because of disturbed conditions. If we had not done this, there would have been certain mass starvation all over Greece and we would have been asked why we did not do something to help our allies. UNRRA was coming in, but now unfortunately has had to pull out.
[Mr. Eden then gave the figures on one week's supply, ending Nov. 24, as an indication what the British had done in Greece in providing food and other supplies. He said that in Piraeus alone more than 20,000 tons of food were landed and at other places the total was nearly another 20,000 tons.]
Minimum Terms Given
Concerning the matter of terms for an armistice, what is the position? Elas forces undertook to obey General Scobie's orders as agreed.
He has asked that Elas supporters in Athens and Piraeus must cease resistance and hand in their arms. It is limited to that area. He has not asked that Elas supporters outside who have withdrawn shall hand in their arms. I fear that is the minimum which must be there, because if arms are left in the hands of members of the public, many in civilian clothes in Athens, over a long period, even when this immediate emergency is over and political division arises, you will have this same thing happening again. I think these terms are the minimum. They apply only in that area.
We have not asked that dissolving of guerrilla bands outside Athens should be done otherwise than by agreement subsequent to the cessation of hostilities. There is no question of leaving security battalions in possession of their arms nor of any right-wing organization in Athens.
I ought to tell the House in fairness that General Scobie some little time ago refused assistance offered to him by a right-wing organization against Elas. General Scobie said these men offered to join with our forces against Elas and he refused and disarmed them. We desire that all should lay down their arms. We are not trying to impose right-wing or left-wing government.
All we wish is that the ship should be on an even keel. We wish that arms should be laid down and we are against reprisals by one side or the other after this event is over, and we shall do everything we can to stop them.
Scobie's New Warning
Aircraft today dropped leaflets containing a warning by General Scobie to civilians in and around Athens and in Piraeus that rebel guns still firing after 9 A. M. tomorrow will be attacked with all arms at his disposal. Guns have for some time been firing at the center of Athens and General Scobie now says he will attack them and he warns the civilian population to get out of the way of the guns.
I do not think that is at all the picture which Mr. Bevan [Laborite Aneurin Bevan] gave. I must say in justice to our commanders that I am absolutely convinced that they used every possible means they could to avoid unnecessary loss of life in this operation.
We were told again today that we were trying to impose a King on the Greek people. It is really not so. We all know the King is still in this country. It is on the advice of the Prime Minister and myself that the King is still here. Very likely he would have taken that decision on his own account. We were perfectly conscious that his arrival might be the cause of political controversy, which he wants to avoid.
That is not imposing a King with British bayonets on the Greek people. We are not against a regency and we were not throwing our weight against a regency.
I had not intended to reveal this but many hard things have been said about our Ambassador in Athens. The first suggestion for a regency was made by our Ambassador in Athens himself. When Mr. Macmillan [Harold Macmillan, British Minister of State in the Middle East] got out there he confirmed the judgment of the Ambassador.
As I understand his position, the King feels that before he can make a decision on a matter of this kind he must get recommendations from leaders of the parties in Greece. The King naturally will be guided by the advice of his Ministers. If this is the desire in Athens, then an expression of the desire can come back to the King.
Not Opposed to Regency
We are not opposed to a regency. I think the Greeks themselves and the leaders of the political parties have a right to express their own opinion, and should express it to the King. Then the King will make his decision on their advice.
I have said we have not the slightest objection to a regency if it is going to provide a solution; on that we must get advice from the Greeks themselves.
[Tom Driberg, Independent: "If the Government can give advice to the King about remaining in this country cannot they advise him against sending messages to Greece in a form which is hardly likely to promote reconciliation?"]
I do not think that is a reasonable request.
[Dr. Haden Guest, Laborite: "Surely it is not worth spending the life or the wounding of one British soldier to defend the King's prerogative."]
Dr. Guest is most unfair. The King is behaving with concrete constitutional propriety. He has not gone to Greece at our request and his present decision is that he awaits the advice of his ministers and, so far as I am aware, he will take that advice. I have tried to avoid bringing controversy into this. We want to bring this present conflict to an end as speedily as possible by whatever means can be devised.
Relief Efforts Blocked
Apart from the tragic loss of life, we must bring it to an end because otherwise we cannot get supplies in, and there will be tragedy of starvation. With the help of the Red Cross, some supplies have been sent, but they are pitifully small. The population of 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 in Athens are faced with serious threat of starvation and disease. Most of the Greeks are in great need of supplies, which cannot reach them because of the disturbed conditions.
We shall use all means at our disposal to try to bring this conflict to an end and to insure that this conflict is not made the excuse for a lasting vendetta either of right against left or left against right when the conflict is over.
Our aim is to maintain law and order to establish a Greek Government broadly representative of all the opinionin Greece, including the Eam, and to enable the Government to establish its authority in all Greece. The first task of the Government will be to get relief going and food for their people. The second task will be to organize free and fair elections, and if our help is needed our help here will be available. And if our Allies will come and help, their help will be welcomed.
We wish to bring our troops away as soon as practicably possible. We only ask that order shall be established so that the people shall be fed with supplies, the greater part of which we collected with great pains.
This is an unhappy phase in Anglo-Greek relations. For more than 100 years our nations have been friends, though there have been incidents from time to time. I hope this chapter will soon be closed and that there will be once again that friendship in which we have taken pride and that the Greek people—all Greek people—and all our own will be united and friends together.