TIME MAGAZINE «THE NATIONS: CAPTAIN OF THE CRAGS»

Monday, Apr. 05, 1948

αναδημοσίευση από: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,798297-1,00.html



Down from the rocky ridges and snow-choked gullies the guerrillas straggled last week. Some were barefoot, some wore slabs of leather tied about their feet with string. Two Greek government forces, catching the rebels in a pincers northwest of Mt. Olympus, had driven them up the slopes of Mt. Pieria, up beyond the snow line. There the guerrillas' food gave out. Some ate their mules. By week's end, after a month of fighting, over 800 had been captured or had surrendered. They left the corpses of about 800 more behind them on the heights.

The Contagion of Hope. The Greek army's rout of these guerrillas, many of them untrained, ill-armed recruits for Communist Markos Vafiades' army, was one of the few positive achievements that could be claimed for the Truman Doctrine after a full year. The battle of Mt. Pieria was neither great nor glorious. It was, however, important: for the first time in a year the Greek government forces, instead of trying to "contain" the guerrillas, had taken the offensive. Just as the U.S. had finally begun to crowd the Communists with political moves like the Trieste trump in Italy and General Lucius Clay's tough stand in Germany, so the Greek army was no longer Content to sit back and wait for the next Communist threat.

The various anti-Communist moves throughout Europe were not part of a definite plan; but they had a connection. Testifying last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal had said: "The disease of despair is contagious, but there is a greater contagion in hope."

The mass of the people in Europe and Asia wanted to be let alone. They did not want to fight for or against the Reds. The mass of the U.S. people did not want to fight, either. There was a strong tendency in the U.S. to wait for the Greeks, the Italians, the French and the Chinese to do it, and an equally strong tendency abroad to wait for the U.S. If both waited, both would be lost.

The Big Ones. Since Truman had proclaimed the U.S. policy of defending Greece, most Greeks had asked themselves: Why not sit back and let the U.S. and Russia fight it out? One young conscript, an Athenian grocer's son, put it this way: "Why does America help us at all? They have it all worked out, the big ones. We are just holding the position for them until they are ready."

A TIME correspondent asked a Greek lieutenant, who had fought with exceptional bravery against the Italians and Germans, what had happened to the spirit of seven years ago. The lieutenant shrugged: "This war in Greece is a battle between the United States and Russia. It happens that it's being fought here. That is our bad luck. But you can't expect us to fight your battle singlehanded—at least not with the old spirit."

Reluctant Hunters. On the other hand, Americans, seeing more & more U.S. aid going to Greece, wondered why the Greeks didn't buckle down to the job and wipe out the Communist guerrillas. U.S. advisers have urged the Greek-army, scattered among its fortified positions, to get out on the offensive. Greek generals replied that they were not well enough armed.

Recently a Greek correspondent asked Dwight Griswold, head of the AMAG (American Mission for Aid to Greece), what should be done if an international Communist brigade moved into Greece.

"If they come in," said Griswold, "give them a good trouncing."

"How?" asked the Greek.

"Fight!" snapped Griswold.

Greek and American alike was asking: Whose war is it? Last week all hands were beginning to see the answer more clearly: it was everyone's fight who hoped to check Communism, whether Greek, American, Italian, French, British or Chinese.

Last week there were signs that the Greeks were ready to move in a spring offensive against Markos. In Athens, the staff of burly, battlewise Lieut. General James A. Van Fleet, chief U.S. military adviser to Greece, has been working out plans for an offensive against the Communist-led guerrillas. Hailing the Pieria action as "a splendid victory," Van Fleet was showing a knack for getting action out of reluctant guerrilla hunters.

Occasional Knocks. The contagion of hope was apparent in a vigorous Independence Day* talk from aged (88) Premier Themistocles Sophoulis. Said he:

"The facts show that the tactics of movement in concentrated force recently adopted by the new Greek army leaders have proved wiser and brought the first good results in the Pieria battle. The civilian population bears the brunt of the bandits, and is right in asking the army to guard them and their villages. However, this is not the wisest way of coping with banditry because, if dispersed, the army is weak. It is only possible to defeat banditry by concentration of our forces. The army must strike and its punches must be harder than those of the bandits. Therefore the villagers must be prepared to suffer occasional knocks."

The Greek government now has plenty to strike with U.S. aid has brought its army up to 132,000 men with good equipment, is increasing its National Guard (to release troops now garrisoning towns and villages) to 50,000. The new Sophoulis policy, if carried out, perhaps would answer the metered rhetoric of Lord Byron, who more than a century ago threw his life and lyrics into the cause of Greek independence:

Hereditary bondsmen! know ye not

Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?

By their right arms the conquest must be wrought?

Will Gaul or Muscovite redress ye? no!

The Uprooted Ones. The guerrillas who were keeping Greece in turmoil, though supported by the Muscovite, were not waiting for Moscow to send Russian troops to do their work. With far less aid than the Greek government had from the U.S., they had not only held out in their crags but had grown in numbers and vigor. In two years they had multiplied tenfold. They had raided and ravaged, living a hard mountain life unsolaced by Athenian cafés. A motley collection of uprooted folk, they had no status quo to preserve, no hopes to lose. Consequently they fought as desperate men. Their mission was akin to that of Communists everywhere: to uproot their countrymen, to spread despair, to kill hope, to smother enterprise, to prevent the sowing of crops, until even the tyranny of Communism would seem by comparison a haven

Their leader, appropriately, was an uprooted soul. Lean, sinewy Markos Vafiades, like many other Greek Communists, was a refugee from Turkey. In 1922, he was caught up in that melancholy trek to his Greek "homeland" where he had no home, known as the "exchange of populations" after the Greco-Turkish War. Other Communist leaders were spawned in that tragic migration. Nicolas Zachariades, father of Greek Communism; Demetrios Partsalides, who became head of the Communist-front EAM; Petros Roussos, who became editor of Rizospastis, principal Communist newspaper in Greece; Roussos' petite, intense wife Chryssa Hadjivassilou, who now likes to think of herself as Greece's Ana Pauker.

Urge to Boss. "I became an orphan too early," Markos told a Russian correspondent last week. He was one of seven children. His father, a schoolteacher in the village of Tossia in Asia Minor, where Markos was born 42 years ago, died when Markos was eleven. For the next few years he worked in a grocery, served as a carpenter's apprentice. Markos was 16 at the time of the great trek of 1922. For a year he peddled oranges in Constantinople, ran messages, barbered. He lived mainly on money sent by an uncle in New York.

In 1924 Markos went to Kavalla in northern Greece, a tobacco center where many wretched fellow refugees from Turkey had gathered. Markos joined the Tobacco Workers' Union and the Communist Youth Organization. Nicolas Zacha-riades had just formally transformed the Socialist-Labor Party into the KKE (Kommounistikon Komma Ellados—Hellenic Communist Party) and brought it into the Third International. From then on Markos' life was the into-jail, out-ofjail of Balkan revolutionaries. Called up for army service, he went into the cavalry. "I managed to acquire good military knowledge," he says. He also acquired a dishonorable discharge as a Communist.

"They imprisoned me ten times," he reminisces. His last and longest imprisonment, from 1938 to 1941, began under the Metaxas dictatorship, ended under the Nazis. He escaped from the Germans in 1941, helped to organize the resistance group EAM and their army ELAS. He became kapitanos of the "Macedonian Group of Divisions"; in October 1944, as the Germans withdrew from Salonika, Markos entered the city as liberator without firing a shot. He, not the Greek resistance's commanding general, led the parade, wore the hero's laurel wreath, took the public bows. He then set himself up as regional commissar. Allied officers then in Salonika said: "He believed in running everything himself. No detail was too small, no decision too trivial to require his personal attention. He had the urge to be boss in a big way." When Zach-ariades decided to boycott the national elections of 1946 and to build up a Communist revolutionary force, Markos took to the hills.

Mountain Birds. At that time Markos had perhaps 2,500 armed followers in bands scattered about Greece. Within a year the number had grown to 8,000. Now he has 25,000. The hard core and leadership are Communist. But the KKE (pronounced coo-coo-ay) seldom admits that it controls the guerrillas, and refers to them as a "democratic force fighting against monarcho-fascists." Last year one member of the Greek Politburo earned a sharp rebuke from his comrades by boasting that "KKE has birds which sing in the mountains."

The strange but vigorous aviary includes other breeds. Some are "slavo-phones," Slavic-speaking people of Macedonia lured by Communist promises of an autonomous Macedonia. Some are simply bandits. More & more new "recruits" are conscripts, shanghaied into the guerrilla forces by raids into their villages.

Markos' stronghold is the range of the Pindus Mountains, extending like a probing finger from Albania and Yugoslavia into the heart of Greece. In those crags Markos Vafiades can claim to rule. And his influence extends to any rocky slope throughout Greece where armed men may hide beyond the easy reach of troops not anxious to stage a manhunt.

Exotic Resolutions. Markos, since proclaiming himself Premier of the "Provisional Democratic Government of Greece" last Christmas Eve, has not only been issuing conscription orders but otherwise acting like a government. Around him he has a "cabinet" of twelve men. Slight, dark Petros Roussos is Minister of Foreign Affairs; short, bespectacled Ioannis Ioannides, a consumptive ex-barber who went to Moscow's School of Eastern Studies, is Markos' Vice Premier and Minister of the Interior; Minister of Justice is Miltiades Porphyrogenis, a 45-year-old lawyer who has been busy organizing an international brigade to help the Greek Communists; Leonidas Stringos is Minister of Economy and Supply. All boasted the common badge of Communist leaders —a police record for political crimes.

So far Mother Russia and her chicks have not publicly received the Markos government into the Communist brood. Their aid is still covert—providing training camps, bases of operations, military supplies, food, funds. But since Markos' proclamation of his "Free" Greek government, all the Communist countries have publicly set up societies to help Markos.

Tolling Bell. In the last few weeks help of a more substantial (and, for the Greek army, more ominous) kind has been piling up on Greece's northwestern borders. Over the two main roads leading to villages on the Albanian side of the border, there has been a steady movement of convoys bringing up supplies. Nightly their lights bob and weave among the hills. Nightly mule trains wind across the rough hill tracks into Greece. Villages on the Albanian side of the border, for a depth of 30 miles, have been practically cleared of civilians.

The "Free" Greek radio also was stepping up its boasts. Last week it broadcast: "The bell is tolling for the great spring offensive. . . . Now is the time to close our ranks . . . for final victory."


No Man's Land. How would Greece react to the new threat? Life on the U.S. dole has become attractive. Would Greeks bestir themselves? Since war's end the British had poured a quarter billion dol lars into Greece, the U.S. over $700 million (through UNRRA, AMAG and other aid), with more to come. Most moneyed Greeks would not dream of investing their own funds in a shaky country which would be quickly overrun from the north. But far more threatening than guerrilla military victories was their continued disruption of Greek life. Markos' uprooters had already driven half a million Greeks (of a total population of 7,500,000) from their villages into the crowded towns.

In the no man's land between Markos' mountains and army-held towns, the few remaining villagers have learned to retire to their cellars when the shooting starts. When it stops, they come out to see who has won. Said one villager: "As far as I'm concerned, there's only one difference between the two. The army pays me for the food it buys—the others give me pieces of paper."

"All I Ask .. ." The spiritual no man's land in the hearts of despairing Greeks is the most significant battlefield. Perhaps half the population is sitting on the fence, ready to join whichever side wins the first big victory. Said one peasant refugee: "I want to go back to my farm. All I ask is peace and security." His manner tacitly added what he did not say: ". . . and I don't care who gives it to me."

Greece's agony and problem are, in microcosm, the world's. Where can war-weary, desperate people turn? Of all who offer answers, the Communists beyond doubt have been most vigorous in selling theirs. At last, the selling is beginning to get some brisk competition. Last week U.S. headquarters in Athens, which Greek officers derisively call "The Temple of Knowledge," was startled and delighted when the Greek Chief of Staff Demetrios, Yantzis made a significant statement. He dropped the Greek government clamor for more equipment and told a press conference: "The means at our disposal are now sufficient for us to obtain our objectives."

This was the best possible answer to the morale problem of the Greek army expressed by one soldier last week: "It's all very well to say we are not showing much initiative fighting Markos—but the Americans aren't showing much initiative fighting Stalin."

Only the contagion of hope, the realization that it was everybody's war, would break that attitude and Markos' hold.

* On March 25, 1821, Germanos, Archbishop of Patras, raised the blue & white flag of the Cross above the convent of Hagia Lavra in the Peloponnesus. It was the signal for the Greek rising against the Moslem Turks. The Turks replied by seizing 80-year-old Gregory, Patriarch of Constantinople, as he left the altar on Easter Sunday. They hanged him at the gate of his palace and threw his body into the sea. After eight years of war, Greece became an independent kingdom.