Sunday, December 30, 2012

DBTL α: Greeks Bearing Gifts

This is the latest installment of the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth. With no spellbinding demagogue to unite them, Germany's radical right remains divided among several mutually hostile groups. In October 1932, ex-Army Captain Ernst Röhm, the leader of Germany's right-wing street fighters, siezes power in a coup d'etat. The fall of democracy in Germany sends ripples spreading throughout Europe . . .

Today's post was written by Demetrios Rammos, who has kindly consented to bring his wealth of knowledge of modern Greek history to add some much-needed verisimilitude to this timeline. So, without further ado, the Johnny Pez blog proudly presents:

Greeks Bearing Gifts
by Demetrios Rammos

Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.
 Athens, Greece
5 March 1933

The election results were still being announced, but it seemed clear to Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos that his Liberal Party and its allies were losing to Tsaldaris' Populist Party. As he glanced up from the telegrams littering his desk, memories of the catastrophes that had followed the Populist victory in 1920 were fresh in his mind, and he felt every day of his 69 years. Although the stakes were not as high now as they had been then, the situation was still serious. Since its establishment in 1924, Greece's Republic had been fragile one. Since his return to power in 1928, Venizelos had done what he could to bring stability to the country, and for a few years he had succeeded. Unfortunately, in the wake of the Great Depression, things were coming unraveled. A deadlocked election had led to months of uncertainty, with governments following each other in rapid succession. Now, a new set of elections looked likely to give the Populists undisputed control of the country.

Tsaldaris' victory wasn't so bad in itself; although a royalist, Tsaldaris was a moderate man. But with Tsaldaris would come his allies Metaxas and, ironically, George Kondylis, and Venizelos knew they represented a danger to the Republic. Now that war clouds were gathering over Europe again, Greece had to be prepared and the last thing it needed was to have a king forced upon it again.

There was a knock at the door of his office, and General Nikolaos Plastiras entered, his peaked cap under his arm. As was his habit, he saluted, then came right to the point. "Mr. Prime Minister, I come for your advice."

Venizelos suspected what was coming, but he simply answered, "Yes?"

"It appears the democratic parties are losing the election."

Venizelos nodded. "That is unfortunately true."

Already ramrod straight, Plastiras somehow managed to stand even straighter. "So I came to ask you about launching a coup, to safeguard the democratic institutions from a restoration."

"You shall not."

Plastiras blinked in confusion. "Prime Minister?"

"Look at what happened to Germany last year, General."

"I have, Prime Minister. That is what I hope to avoid."

The Prime Minister was shaking his head. "You won't avoid this by
overthrowing a government by force of arms. Even a narrowly elected one."

The General's tone was resolute. "I am afraid, Prime Minister, that neither Kondylis nor Metaxas will be as circumspect with democratic institutions as you want us to be. There will be a coup; the only question is who will be leading it."

"There, General, you are correct. But now is not the time. A coup now, especially a coup without the slightest preparation behind it, would be worse than useless. The chance of success would be small, and the cost of failure would be great. So I most strongly advise you to do nothing against the newly elected government."

Although the General's face revealed nothing, Venizelos could sense his disappointment. "Very well, Prime Minister."

"General, there is an expression you may be familiar with. 'Give a man enough rope to hang himself with.' We will let Mr. Tsaldaris and his allies have their rope. After that, what will happen, will happen."

Athens, Greece
31 December 1934

Nearly two years had passed under the Populists. And throughout those two years the royalists had steadily prepared for the restoration of the monarchy, removing republicans from key positions in the police and the army, and replacing them with their own men. The royalist press didn't even bothering to disguise their plans. As they put it, Tsaldaris' government was a regime that couldn't be overthrown by constitutional means.

However, while the royalist coup was being prepared in the open, the republican coup was being prepared in secret. It was only a question of which side would be faster. Venizelos, back in his native Crete, watched as the Brownshirt regime in Germany tore up the Versailles treaty and began re-arming while the Western powers did nothing. There was another European war coming closer with each day, and Greece had to be ready for it.

Kondylis was set to remove Generals Plastiras and Mannetas from their commands with the new year. This proved to be an inspired bit of timing, because nobody was expected a coup on New Year's Eve.

Athens, Greece
20 July 1935

After the republicans seized power, Venizelos asked for 6 months to institute the reforms he considered necessary to stabilize the Republic. Afterward, he would retire, and a provisional government would hold elections three weeks later. He had kept his word. The amended constitution effectively turned Greece to a presidential republic similar to the American model. [1] With war looming ever larger in Europe, Venizelos had increased armaments production, which had had the happy side effect of pulling the Greek economy out of the Great Depression. Afterwards he had left Michalacopoulos, an acceptable figure for both the republicans and the royalists, to conduct the elections. The Liberals had won more narrowly than he'd have liked, but they won. Which now made the old Cretan President of the Republic.

Athens, Greece
1 June 1936

Sir Sydney Waterloo, His Majesty's ambassador to the Republic of Greece, looked at President Venizelos in surprise. "Let me see if I understand you, Mr. President. You're asking me to transmit to my government the offer of a declaration of war against Germany on the part of Greece?"

Venizelos smiled. "Exactly. Should your government accept, Greece is prepared to send a 3 division expeditionary force to Poland immediately, and dispatch the Greek light fleet in support of the Allied blockade of Germany. Of course, the Greek merchant marine, as well as the port of Thessaloniki, [1] will be placed at the service of the alliance as well. And I am hopeful that the other Balkan League members may well follow our lead. I certainly hope to persuade King Alexander and the Romanian government to do so."

Sir Sydney nodded. "And in exchange?"

"Twenty-four years ago, your government offered Greece a union with Cyprus in exchange for naval facilities. That offer was renewed in 1916. I feel that the time is ripe for another renewal of that offer. Back in 1864, your government allowed the Ionian Islands to join Greece. Extending the same generous gesture to the people of Cyprus would put the Greek nation in your debt."


[1] A modern observer from our own timeline would consider the new Greek government to be closer to that of the Fifth French Republic than the United States of America, but of course that comparison would not occur to any of the participants.

[2] The latter was considered by the Little Entente to be one of their main supply routes in the 1920s.


Syd Webb said...

Thank you Demetrios and Johnny.

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