Is Greece heading off a military coup?

I really don’t like the military coup meme on Greece, but it can’t be entirely dismissed. Here’s why?

Clearly, George Papandreou called for a referendum on the austerity because he felt any decision his government made that was not popularly supported risked a veritable civil war. A Greek author put it well in the Guardian:

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The balance was probably tipped on 28 October, the anniversary of Greek entry into the second world war. Traditionally there are student and military parades in urban centres, the largest in Thessaloniki. In an unprecedented act, crowds of bystanders disrupted parades across the country, including in Thessaloniki. Government representatives were hounded and the president was called a traitor. The mechanisms of symbolic and ideological power of the Greek state buckled.

The reaction of the crowd signalled a development that has been in the offing for a while. By imposing ruthless austerity, privatisation and liberalisation, the EU has eventually succeeded in igniting the nationalist sentiment of Greeks. The rejection of the latest bailout has taken a nationalist tinge, often directed against perceived German domination.

Lest it be misunderstood, this is not yet virulent nationalism. It is more a reaction to the loss of national sovereignty and independence that would result from the permanent monitoring of Greek finances by EU bureaucrats, and from the plan to sell a huge range of public assets to pay off debt.

It is also a reaction to the palpable weakening of the democratic process in the course of the crisis.

Papandreou is fully aware of the risk of being branded a traitor, fairly or unfairly. He is also aware of the advancing collapse of his government. But he is reluctant to hold fresh elections because he knows his party would be destroyed. And so he has opted for the desperate gamble of the referendum in the hope of buying time, as well as scaring people with the "euro or drachma" question.

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Fair enough. But now, we have learned that the Defence Minister has made a wholesale change of military leadership (hat tip @deficitowl). The question is why:

In a surprise move, the defence minister proposed on Tuesday evening the complete replacement of the country’s top brass.

At an extraordinary meeting of the Government Council of Foreign Affairs and Defence (Kysea), which comprises the prime minister and other key cabinet members, Defence Minister Panos Beglitis proposed the following changes to the army, navy and air force and the general staff.

  • General Ioannis Giagkos, chief of the Greek National Defence General Staff, to be replaced by Lieutenant General Michalis Kostarakos
  • Lieutenant General Fragkos Fragkoulis, chief of the Greek Army General Staff, to be replaced by lieutenant general Konstantinos Zazias
  • Lieutenant General Vasilios Klokozas, chief of the Greek Air Force, to be replaced by air marshal Antonis Tsantirakis
  • Vice-Admiral Dimitrios Elefsiniotis, chief of the Greek Navy General Staff, to be replaced by Rear-Admiral Kosmas Christidis

Top brass replaced – Athens News

It is understood that the personnel changes took many members of the government and of the armed forces by surprise.

I see this as an extremely alarming development. And in conjunction with Papandreou’s move to call a referendum, it would make sense to think that the Greek government is worried about a coup d’etat.

Does anyone have better insight here?

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7 Comments
  1. Xino Chung says

    Yes, I think Greece is heading off a coup. These are big changes in the defense forces. Maybe the coup is the reason that the referendum is being proposed. My feeling is that a coup may still happen, the replaced top brass will not disappear gently, especially where there is so many of them. The barrel of apples may be rotting already.

  2. ChrisBern says

    I think there are two very interesting things to keep an eye on from the perspectives of the European citizens.

    (a) If I’m a Greek citizen, I’m asking “Why not go the route of Iceland?”

    (b) If I’m an Irish citizen, I’m asking “Why can’t WE get 50% of OUR debt erased?” (this one applies to several other countries as well)

    I suspect in the day and age of social media, etc., the cries of “why them not us” will get louder and louder as the citizens take the brunt of the collateral damage in this crisis and observe vast inequality in the various countries’ outcomes.

  3. Bill Smith says

    No coup. This typically happens when one party thinks it is about to lose power.

    That party appoints a new round of top brass so that officers that favored their party get the honor of holding the top spot until the new party kicks them out.

  4. David Lazarus says

    Ultimately I see a civil war in Greece if this is not solved rapidly. Greece has a relatively large army and history of military dictatorships, plus Turkey has been rearming as well so things are uneasy there. The majority of the public are law abiding citizens and are being screwed by the tax avoidance of the wealthy and that creates a nasty back drop, since the new taxes hit the majority, rather than the rich, who have been buying £1 million plus homes in London with cash for the last year or more.

    The problem is that in many ways the policies are looking more and more like class warfare in order to maintain the lifestyles of the rich and famous at the expense of the 99%. Clearly that is not unique to Greece. You can see large elements of that policy in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy. Ultimately that will change and it can be either a violent transition or a preferably peaceful one.

  5. Petros says

    At the moment, I think the Greeks are feeling more threatened by the loss of their national sovereignty and independence than by the supposed threat of a military coup.

    In accepting a bailout from the Troika without ratifying the agreement in Parliament, and with many MPs later saying they had not even seen the text of the agreement at the time, the government acted illegally and in contravention of the Greek constitution.

    It’s not the first time the government is resorting to more or less veiled threats. Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangkalos said, on the occasion of the voting of the Mid-Term Austerity Programme in May 2011, that unless Parliament passed the Bill there would be tanks in the streets.

    I don’t think Greek society will tolerate anything other than a democratic solution to the crisis. Any attempt to impose foreign rule (e.g. under the pretext of offering technical advice) or military law on the Greek populace will eventually result in violent uprisings, possibly even leading to outright civil war.

    1. David Lazarus says

      Yes the loss of sovereignty is a big factor. I think that the troika’s attitude over the running of the ministries provoked this referendum call. If your quote from Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangkalos is correct and that they were willing to use the army against the people then they really should be facing potential criminal charges.

      As a Brit I would be backing the Greek people against the fire sale of assets to pay off its debts. Privatisation has not been the panacea that they are portrayed as. While there have been some benefits we have had substantial regulatory failures and the public are being ripped off by the privatised companies.

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