The year 2014 represents the 70th anniversary of the second out of three cataclysmic events that have scared the Greek body politic since the occupation and the end of the civil war in 1946.
The December Uprising, although essentially a battle for Athens reverberated across Greece and left in its wake a series of tragedies and crimes.
Ultimately, it set the stage for the destructive civil war that plagued the country for three years and whose legacy is found in the ideological fragmentation of Greek politics today.
In 1944, the tide of Nazi brutality was receding in Europe and European cities faced the shock, albeit a pleasant one, of liberation. All European countries had to come to terms with was the agony of occupation and its consequences.
Civil authorities, under the cloud of collaboration, had to prove their innocence. For those who had committed treason, and who betrayed the men and women of the resistance and handed over their Jewish neighbors to the Germans who consigned them to the death camps, punishment was the order of the day.
France addressed the problem by shaving the heads of women who had consorted with German officers and men (mostly prostitutes). In a form of social retribution, the prostitutes had to suffer the indignity of public humiliation to atone for sins of the many women who had dated, married, or had affairs with the enemy.
Quick justice put an end to known associates of the Gestapo and the SS, until Charles de Gaulle established order. He began the process of reconstituting civil society in a France, torn between conservative elements who had embraced the authoritarianism of Marshall Petain and the Nazi occupation, and the resistance, both left and right, that had culminated with the allied landing in Normandy.
De Gaulle also realized that most French men and women fell somewhat in between, and it was to this mainstream France that the General’s call to restoration found resonance and trust.
De Gaulle dispensed with the collaborators through a series of trials and executions and diffused the radical elements of the Communist resistance by acknowledgement and inviting them to join the French Army and carry on the war against Germany.
Tragically, Greece did not have a de Gaulle. Internally, the country was dominated by the communist-led EAM-ELAS and by regional guerrilla bands such as EDES, essentially guided by British officers under orders to support the discredited Greek monarchy and the barely acknowledged Greek Government-in-Exile – a creature of the British.
The pre-war Greek political establishment had remained passive throughout the course of the authoritarian Metaxas Regime and had spent most of the occupation debating the Greek constitutional problem in the coffee shops and salons of Athens.
In some respect, when the hour of liberation came, there was no battle for Greece. The German Army simply withdrew with minimal interference from either the resistance forces or the British troops that had landed in Athens.
Perhaps, had there been a battle for Greece, it would have caused the resistance and the Greek people in general, as had been the case in France, to kill enough Germans and their collaborators to divert attention from the challenges of the reconstitution of a new political system in Greece.
At least, it could have bought time. While the bulk of ELAS forces would have been battling the Germans, a different political outcome could have evolved in Athens.
One reason that the December Uprising came about was that there were thousands of restless armed young men and women whose ambitions for a better future count not be matched by a toothless government incapable of dealing with an economy in shambles, but almost determined to reestablish the pre-war political order.
The government failed to purge the civil service of known collaborators or the police, and even failed to make any attempt to punish captured German offices responsible for horrific crimes.
This helplessness and incompetence forced the hand of the KKE, which attempted in early December to implement a quick coup and assume control of Athens.
It failed, and that failure bought about the White Terror: the persecution of not only Communists but anyone associated with the left-wing resistance.
Sadly, the White Terror then drove into the mountains many of the left resistance fighters, who helped bring on a three-year destructive civil war.
Cruelly for Greece, the political establishment lacked imagination and the consummate skill to adapt to the new postwar environment.
The immediate causes of the December Uprising was the unwillingness of the Government of National Unity and its British patrons to integrate the rank and file of the resistance into the army. If they had done so, they would have derived the KKE of most of its armed force.
The second critical cause was the inability or reluctance to arrest and place on trial the collaborators. This failure drove many moderate Greeks into the arms of the communists.
Finally, the KKE, plagued with the same lackluster leadership, allowed itself to be goaded into a losing battle and out of the frustration of failure and fear engage in a period of Red Terror, thus convincing most Greeks that a corrupt and incompetent regime in Athens was preferable to bloody-minded Communist revolutionaries.
Andre Gerolymatos is Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver