When King Paul entrusted Konstantinos Karamanlis to form a government on October 5, 1955 after the death of prime minister Alexandros Papagos, one of Greece’s greatest modern national leaders was coming to the forefront, destined to shape the future of the country.
Karamanlis, who passed away on April 23, 1998 at the age of 91, was the man chosen to pull Greece out of seven dark years of a dictatorship in 1974, restore democracy, tried to bring unity between Greeks, and, most important of all, make Greece the 8th full member of the European Union in 1980, then called European Economic Community.
Karamanlis’ pre-1974 political career was rather short, as leader of ERE, the National Radical Union. His eight-year career as prime minister was interrupted unpredictably, with his resignation in June 1963, following a disagreement with King Paul, which marked his break with the Palace.
It was a time of great political turmoil. Main opposition leader, president of the Centrists Union Georgios Papandreou had declared endless war against him, accusing Karamanlis of having won the 1961 election with violence and rigging the ballot, while the murder of leftist MP Grigoris Lambrakis by right-wing extremists in Thessaloniki had shed a shadow on his governance.
As a result, Karamanlis leading ERE lost the 1963 election to Papandreou and forced himself to a 11-year self-exile in Paris, France.
The triumphant return in 1974
Karamanlis returned triumphantly to Greece on July 24, 1974 after the collapse of the dictatorship under the weight of the failed coup in Cyprus and the Turkish invasion in the island. He was called back to form a government of national unity and lead the country to democratic elections.
With prudent and decisive moves, Karamanlis restored democratic governance, legalized the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) which was outlawed for 26 years, pulled Greece out of the military arm of NATO after the Alliance failed to do anything about the Turkish invasion in Cyprus.
In the 1974-1980 period and despite the international energy crisis, national income grew at a rate of 5 percent a year, while per capita income rose by 50 percent. Karamanlis did not hesitate to nationalize large companies in the private sector (Olympic Airways, Emporiki Bank) when circumstances warranted it, leading some industrialists to blame him for socialism. In foreign policy, Greece’s accession to the EEC and good diplomatic ties to the neighboring Communist countries and Moscow are recorded as his successes.
Karamanlis abandoned active politics in 1980, after the signing of the treaty for the accession of Greece to the EEC. Georgios Rallis succeeded him as prime minister. On May 5, 1981 he was elected by parliament as President of the Hellenic Republic, at a time when PASOK of Andreas Papandreou was in power.
In 1985, Prime Minister Papandreou did not keep his promise to Karamanlis for a second term and proposed the esteemed Christos Sartzetakis. Karamanlis left bitter. He was re-elected to the country’s highest office in the 1990-1995 five-year term, when he finally left politics. He had completed 60 years in politics: 8 years as a minister, 14 as prime minister and 10 as President of the Hellenic Republic.
Konstantinos Karamanlis died at the age of 91, on April 23, 1998.
Karamanlis was very laconic in his talk. He preferred to listen and spoke rarely. His words were few but full of content. Below are some of his most famous quotes.
“There is nothing more difficult than to govern the Greeks. And that’s because everyone thinks they are capable of everything.”
“It seems to me, ladies and gentlemen, that in Greece we should be afraid of successes and not of misery, because disasters unite us, while successes cause affliction and divide us”.
“In our country, we have the habit of talking a lot, so that we do not make decisions, because decisions involve responsibility”.
“All Greeks ask for things, no one wants to give.”
“Who governs this country?”
(His reaction to the murder of Lambrakis)
“Every ten years Greece is kicking its luck.”
“History will be unfair to me, because I did not start a revolution or a war.”
“We belong in the West.”
(in the late 1970s, trying to persuade Greeks for the EEC accession)
“And when we say life imprisonment, we mean life imprisonment.”
(After the conversion of the death penalty sentence to the junta colonels to life).
“And when we say “left,” we mean left of the left.”
“There is only one Macedonia, and Macedonia is Greek.”