Friday, August 20, 2010

Death of a Dictator

Greece buried one of the last remnants of its military dictatorship Wednesday. Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannides, who successfully toppled one dictatorship in favor of another, harsher one, found his final resting place in the First National Cemetery (Πρώτο Νεκτροταφείο) alongside archbishops, prime ministers and his fellow dictators.

Ioannides, 87, died Monday, August 16 still serving his life sentence at Korydallos Prison for his role during the Junta (1967-1974), one of Greece's darkest periods that has driven a wedge between Greeks and the United States. Only one of the dictators is still alive.

Somewhere between 100 and 200 people - mostly family, some former colleagues and a black-shirted contingent from right-wing group Chrysi Avgi -- attended the service. The two gold-robed, white-bearded Orthodox priests appeared neutral as they offered last rites to one of the men who touted a "Greece for the Christian Greeks." Some women wailed and a couple grown men cried over the casket draped in a Greek flag, his medals and cap perched on top. One of his eulogizers called his eight months as Greece's ethnomarchis, national ruler, the best government in Greece's history, one that left Greek without debt, financial, moral and spiritual (among other kinds).

The Junta did balance Greece's budget ... at the cost of democracy.

As a result, observers have not been so kind on the other points.

Ioannides was in charge of the most notorious repression instruments of the post-Civil War and Junta eras. His work included the infamous island of Makronisos where inmates were tortured and forced to build mini Parthenons. During the dictatorship Ioannides headed the military police, or ESA, one of the most brutal elements of the regime and its lasting legacy. Ioannides seized power eight days after the suppression of the November 17, 1973 student uprising completely discredited the regime.

Instead of regime change, Ioannides led a crackdown and instigated a coup against President and Archbishop Markarios in Cyprus. The details are often debated in this part of the world, nonetheless Turkey used the coup as a pretext to invade and retains control over Northern Cyprus more than 35 years later. Greeks used the invasion as a pretext for yet another coup and a return to democracy. Ioannides and his co-dictators were convicted and imprisoned in 1975.

Keep in mind all of these coups and plots come not from distant, Byzantine history but happened in living memory, with photographs, phones, television cameras and all.

After a short procession, the priests gave their final blessings and those in attendance tossed their flowers onto the black coffin buried three feet down into the side of a walking path. Those in attendance murmured "Kalo taxidi" safe trip, a wish eerily familiar to the Ancient Greek notion of death staring with a boat ride across the river Styx.

Most people meant kalo taxidi as a blessing.

It could also mean good riddance.

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