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GREECE AND CYPRUS IN FOREIGN OFFICE EYES: THEN IS NOW
In the words of Guicciardini, things have always been the same, the past sheds
light on the future, and the same things return with different colours. In the
case of official British views of Greece and Greek politicians, there is a remarkable
consistency of policy and opinion over the years, and the themes
which we shall now look at, taken from documents from thirty and more years
ago, are likely to be similar in essence now, apart from some different colours.
Let us look at corruption, Cyprus, the Aegean and a rather inept British Foreign
Minister, James Callaghan: he’s the chap who gave in to Kissinger and was responsible
for not stopping the invasion of Cyprus; tried to give up the British
bases; was not allowed by Kissinger to give them up; and who then lied about
his knowledge of the invasion plans, as we shall see later. We shall use some
of the latest files released. The Foreign Office was obliged to courier copies of
files to me in Athens, after the Information Commissioner took my side. It all
reads like a tragi-comedy, and is highly relevant to today, since although the
lying, high-level thieving and sheer incompetence that are currently destroying
Greece are due to corrupt politicians and their clients, the origins reach back
The rot was there from at least 1974, when the old Karamanlis took over with
New Democracy, and when Greece was beginning its negotiations to enter the
Επετηρίδα του Κέντρου Επιστημονικών Ερευνών, ΧΧΧVI, Λευκωσία 2013, σσ. 325-337
* William Mallinson is a former Member of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service who
left to study for, and was awarded, his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics and Political
Science’s Department of International History. He covered Dutch foreign policy,
Dutch-German relations and German rearmament during the initial period of the building
of European institutions and NATO, and the formative years of the Cold War. He has published
several books and articles.
EEC, with strong French support. Let us look at French views through Foreign
M. Villemur found it difficult to see what was to be done about Greek agriculture
[…] He was preparing a study on the subject and was gravely handicapped
by the extraordinary lack of statistics. […] M. Villemur wondered if in
fact certain statistics existed at all. The French had noticed that when they
tried to extract statistical information the Greeks became very secretive. He
was also concerned about the very small number of Greek Civil Servants who
understood the magnitude of the problem they were facing. There were only
three or four who did so and who took all the decisions. […] Villemur expressed
reservations very similar to those held in this Embassy about the extent to
which the highly inefficient Greek bureaucracy was capable of gearing itself
up to make the necessary efforts.1
By 1981, the situation had not improved. The British ambassador in
Greece was highly critical of Greek politics. The following could have been
First, inefficiency and corruption. The Greek public service is bureaucratic,
slow moving, and highly politicised. The administration finds it difficult to respond
to the need for reform […] Though the Greeks are good at making plans,
they are less good at carrying them out, and past masters at changing them
for new plans. […] Where the administration and citizen come face to face,
there is also inefficient and sometimes inhumane bureaucracy. […] The problem
is partly an Ottoman bureaucratic tradition which revels in documentation
and in which the petty official, not able to take responsibility for positive action,
shows his power by obstructing his fellow citizens; partly the effect of the low
level of education of the majority of civil servants, compounded by the propensity
of all governments to put placemen into the administration (which in turn
results in over-manning). […] Much of the ‘corruption’ in Greek public life
amounts in my view to little more than the working to the limits of the political
1. Memo by British Embassy, Paris, of 13 July 1976, about views of French Foreign
Ministry Official, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (cited FCO) 9/2401, file Foreign and
Commonwealth departmental file reference for Greece (cited WSG) 022/593/1.
326 WILLIAM MALLINSON
system, which allows and is indeed based on the principle of rousfeti, of favours
done between patron and client. This is, as anthropologists can show, deeply
embedded in Greek society, and serves a social purpose so long as the administration
does not provide speedy and impartial treatment to its citizens. (I am
aware that there is a circular argument here that rousfeti itself prevents the development
of a just state.) The local deputy persuades the Minister to find a
job in a corner of his Ministry for the son of one of his clients (the Greeks say
‘one of our people’). The boy is not too bright and will not improve the efficiency
of the Ministry: but the votes of the client, who is the village Headman,
and of his extended family and friends, are assured. The same principle of
favours exchanged applies of course to other benefits than jobs – places in
hospital, even attachments to Embassies abroad. There have been grosser examples
of corruption involving the highly placed, including Ministers. The handling
of private sector contracts can provide examples. But I do not have the
impression that this is widespread. Nor that the reputation of the government
and administration has been damaged. The Greek voters seem to regard both
the lesser and the greater corruption as an inevitable part of the social and
political scene. With proper scepticism, they do not (except for committed and
the naïve) expect PASOK to be much different. […] Accession to the European
Community is certainly going to bring particular, and acute problems of adaptation
in which some parts of Greek industry, unable to compete without protection,
will go under. […] PASOK in power would be a force for instability
and disintegration, damaging to western interests. […] Finally, where within
the system lies the possibility of change and reform such as will reduce the inefficiencies
and eliminate the corruption? It is hard to see. I have doubts about
PASOK’s credentials to reform the administration and machinery of government.
[…] Nor is it easy to see rapid change from New Democracy. The years
in power have eroded the will to improve the existing order which was so evident
after the fall of the dictatorship.2
2. Letter from British ambassador in Athens, Ian Sutherland, to Euan Fergusson, Foreign
and Commonwealth Office, 27 January 1981.
GREECE AND CYPRUS IN FOREIGN OFFICE EYES: THEN IS NOW 327
Mitsotakis ‘not above corruption’
Apart from good quality analyses by the British embassy in Athens, British
diplomats also had a file on leading Greek personalities. Thus, Miltiades Evert
could be ‘brusque, bumptious and arrogant, and was not much liked’; Giannis
Horn was ‘an unbalanced character’ could be ‘extremely amusing and very offensive,
was ‘virtually impossible to work for and extremely tight-fisted’;
Spyridon Markezinis was ‘a funny-looking frog-like little man’; Constantine
Mitsotakis ‘was said not be above corruption’ (English understatement can be
Papandreou and PASOK: Ambition, Health and Drinking
Andreas Papandreou was seen as ‘considerably more rational in private than
his histrionic public appearances would suggest, cultivating a reasoned, academic
air’, and was ‘an ambitious opportunist with a strong belief in his own
inherited destiny’, whose ‘health had been in some doubt in the past two years’
(1979/80).4 ‘There was strong evidence’, wrote the ambassador three years before
the above, ‘that he was the leader of Aspida, whose aim was to establish
a political power base in the Army for the Papandreous’5. Extracts from a diplomatic
report make interesting reading:
One cannot but be worried by Papandreou’s reputation for intrigue and his
propensity to alienate political associates and friends. His many political enemies
declare that Papandreou is an unstable personality, albeit a brilliant
one. There is a real danger that as Prime Minister of Greece Papandreou
would bring Greece once more towards political chaos and renewed military
3. FCO 9/2957, file WSG 010/1.
4. FCO 9/2957, file WSG 010/1.
5. ‘The Rise of the Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and its Implications’,
Diplomatic Report No. 319/77, 14 December 1977, FCO 9/ 2506, file Foreign and Commonwealth
departmental file reference for Cyprus (cited WSC) 014/1, part C.
328 WILLIAM MALLINSON
By June 1980, some seventeen months before the elections, the ambassador
still considered Papandreou’s PASOK to be a one-man band, and that a
PASOK government would bring economic crisis and governmental chaos. He
was perhaps jumping the gun, since the chaos did not arrive until thirty years
later.7 A wonderful bequest! Papandreou, like many a demagogue, was a political
chameleon: in private, particularly with the British, he was almost sycophantic
on occasions, especially with Foreign Minister Lord Carrington: in
November 1980, one month after the Karamanlis government had rejoined
NATO’s integrated military structure, he was, according to a Foreign Office
official, ‘running after Lord Carrington, trying to express views which would
expose the least possible diversion of view’.8 The official wrote:
The only words I can remember omitting from the record sounded positively
silly. He actually said: ‘if you like, we could even remain in the military organisation
We all know that when he came to power, Papandreou did not carry out
his electoral rhetoric about leaving NATO, but then few politicians are known
for matching words to deeds. Apart from that, it is well known that many politicians
drink a lot of alcohol. Papandreou was apparently no exception, and the
Foreign Office even got involved in a spot of gossip, at the highest level, about
Papandreou’s drinking and health, the original source having been the Turkish
Foreign Minister, Türkmen:
[…] Turkmen, when talking to the Secretary of State, had implied that Papandreou
once had, and might still have, a drinking problem […] there were persistent
stories about two years ago about a drinking problem. But less has been
said about it recently. Apparently, Papandreou still enjoys his whisky and his
ouzo, but the Ambassador has never seen him the worse for wear or met anyone
who claims to have done so. Apparently Papandreou is in the habit of offering
7. PASOK and the Left in Greek Politics’, Diplomatic Report No. 152/80, 12 June 1980,
FCO 9/2959, file WSG 014/1.
8. Letter from Martin to Dain, 30 December 1980, FCO 9/2166, file WSG 022/2.
GREECE AND CYPRUS IN FOREIGN OFFICE EYES: THEN IS NOW 329
people who come to his office an ouzo instead of coffee and tends to take one
himself. He apparently did this when the Turkish Ambassador called on him in
Athens. This is probably the origin of the Turkmen story. There are apparently
stories that Papandreou’s health is not too good in other ways and he is working
at a very intense rate. There are no overt signs yet that he is cracking up
with the strain.10
Cyprus, the British Bases and Turkey
Let us now move on briefly to the Cypriot relatives: 1981 witnessed the Foreign
Office at last admitting to itself that it considered its military territories
on Cyprus to be more important to Britain than a solution on re-unification.
Let us not forget that, in Britain’s last desperate attempt to be free of its American
military master and the pro-Turkish and pro-Israeli Kissinger’s pressure,
she had tried to give up the bases between 1974 and 1979, before the fanatical
Thatcher came to power.11 At the end of 1980, having completely succumbed
to the master-butler relationship, a senior Foreign Office official wrote:
The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually
irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American
relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned
which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered
use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’
might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as
breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served
by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of
And what did the Foreign Office think of two well-known Cypriots in
10. Letter from Sutherland to Wilson, 23 December 1981, FCO 9/ WSG 010/1.
11. Read Chapter 6 of William Mallinson’s recent book, Britain and Cyprus: Key The -
mes and Documents since World War Two, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and
Chapter 6 of Πυκρές Ελιές, Estia, Athens, 2011.
12. Minute from Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, 8 December 1980,
FCO 9/2949, file WSC 023/1, part C.
330 WILLIAM MALLINSON
1980? Glafcos Clerides was articulate and privately reasonable and flexible.
But it was open to doubt whether he was any longer likely to provide effective
leadership if he got the chance. Here, the Foreign Office was rather wrong.
But what of Rauf Denktaş? He suffered from an inferiority complex which
made him emotional and quick tempered if, as frequently happened, he felt or
imagined that he was being misunderstood or underestimated. But he could be
charming, with a mischievous sense of humour when relaxed.13 Compare this
with what the Foreign Office was thinking about the Turks in 1977:
They are a proud, obstinate and largely unenlightened people, assertive of their
national identity and rights and uncompromising in their pursuit of them.14
This did not of course prevent Britain from considering Turkey more important
We should also recognise that in the final analysis Turkey must be regarded as
more important to Western strategic interests than Greece and that, if risks
must be run, they should be risks of further straining Greek rather than Turkish
relations with the West.15
The Continental Shelf
The same two-faced attitude is evident in the Turkish claims to the Greek Continental
The British Government’s view of the issues is much closer to the Greek than
the Turkish view (in particular, Britain supports the entitlement of islands to
have a Continental Shelf). However, we do not wish to prejudice our position
in our own Continental Shelf disputes with France and Ireland and have
13. FCO 9/2934, file WSC 010/1.
14. Planning Paper on Turkey and cover memo from Crowe to Sutherland, 15 December
1977, FCO 9/2674, file Foreign and Commonwealth Office departmental file reference for
Turkey (cited WST) 020/3, part A.
15. ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper of 11 April 1975, FCO
46/1248, file DPI/516/1.
GREECE AND CYPRUS IN FOREIGN OFFICE EYES: THEN IS NOW 331
16. Briefing for British Ambassador Designate, Washington, 30 May 1977, FCO
9/2568, file WSG 020/1, part A.
avoided getting involved in the substance of the Greek/Turkish disputes, confining
ourselves to encouraging moderation on both sides.16
This a good point at which to relate this question to the incompetence of
Foreign and then Prime Minister James Callaghan, who allowed Turkey to occupy
Cyprus, in contravention of the Treaty of Guarantee, and who, as we shall
see at the end of this tragic-comedy of an article, then lied about his foreknowledge
of the invasion: in August 1976, at the height of a crisis caused by the
Turkish exploration ship Sismik-1 operating illegally in Greek waters, and
when the UN Security Council was discussing the question, Kissinger telephoned
Callaghan. The dialogue is hilarious:
- Kissinger: […] The Greeks are trying to ram a resolution through with a lot
of support from Europeans. And my fear is that once that resolution is through
and if the Turks violently object we still have the problem of the ship. And I
wondered whether we shouldn’t aim for a resolution that’s more balanced.
- Prime Minister: I see. I’m out of touch with it really, Henry. What’s the present
position on the resolution? Is it going through tonight or what?
- Kissinger: No, no. It’s not going to come up till tomorrow. Are you in London?
- Prime Minister: I’m in Sussex. I’m on holiday really.
- Kissinger: I’m sorry.
- Prime Minister: No. It’s all right. But I haven’t been following this one in particular
except in the newspapers.
- Kissinger: Well let me get you to 10 Downing Street what the state of the play
in New York is, to supplement the African thing.
- Prime Minister: I’ll get No.10 to tell me what it is. And what is it you would
like me to do? Do you want a more moderate resolution?
332 WILLIAM MALLINSON
- Kissinger: It’s the French who are pursuing a very pro-Greek line.
- Prime Minister: Ah, yes. Well, they would, of course. Yes, I see. And what
about the others?
- Kissinger: We are not anti-Greek. We just don’t see any point in humiliating
the Turks right now.
- Prime Minister: What’s the line up? This is within the Security Council, is it?
- Kissinger: That’s right.
- Prime Minister: What’s the line up at the moment then? Anybody with the
- Kissinger: You and the Italians.
- Prime Minister: We’re with the French, are we, at the moment?
- Prime Minister: This problem of the Greeks and the Turks is a difficult one
because none of us in the European Community likes to look as though we are
opposing the Greeks. You know, we all go around saying that we want them
very badly as part of the Community. Everybody goes on on these lines.
- Kissinger: But they do have a tendency to overplay their hands.
- Prime Minister: That’s right. Well I know they always did from 1945 onwards,
and indeed before then. Righto Henry.
Economy with the Truth
Before concluding on this tawdry story of international relations, let us look at
how James Callaghan and the Foreign Office treated the truth. On 19 February
GREECE AND CYPRUS IN FOREIGN OFFICE EYES: THEN IS NOW 333
17. Prime Minister’s conversation with Dr, Kissinger, 16 August 1976. file reference
for the Prime Minister’s Office (cited PREM) 16/1157.
18. The Select Committee on Cyprus: Minutes of Evidence, Thursday 19 February 1976,
FCO 9/2192, file WSC 3/548/10, part C.
19. File reference for the Prime Minister’s Office (cited DEFE) 11/833.
1976, Callaghan appeared before the [parliamentary] Select Committee on
Cyprus, accompanied by three Foreign Office minders:
- Mr. Rees-Davies: […] at least you recognised, did you not, that there was to
be an immediate invasion by the Turks into at least northern Cyprus at that
time and that that was imminent?
- Mr. Callaghan: No.
- Mr. Rees-Davies: When you had the first Geneva Conference and communiqués
were signed on the 30th of July, at that time there was no indication that
the Turks were withdrawing because reports were still coming through that
they were increasing their hold in Northern Cyprus; that is right, is it not?
- Mr. Goodison [FCO minder]: It is true that immediately after the signature
of the Geneva Declaration the Turks did move forward a little, but the substance
of the Declaration was that they were going to stop, and it involved the
delineation of the cease-fire lines which was to proceed between the two conferences.
We expected that the lines would become stabilised after the first
- Mr. Rees-Davies: That is right. You expected it but, in fact, events did not
turn out that way. They still continued to indicate that there was a real danger
of further advance, did they not?
- Mr. Callaghan: No, I do not think that was indicated at all.18
A few days later, on 26 February, Callaghan telegrammed the High Commission
You may as necessary deny that HMG had any advance intelligence about the
coup or the invasion and say that I denied this to the Select Committee.19
334 WILLIAM MALLINSON
On 19 July 1974, one day before the invasion, a senior Foreign Office official
wrote to Callaghan’s Private Secretary:
The situation envisaged below is an invasion of Cyprus by Turkish forces in
the next few days in accordance with the JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee]
expectation of the Turkish plan of operations.20
Apart from this evidence of foreknowledge of the Turkish invasion of 20
July, the clearest evidence that Callaghan deceived the committee is contained
in a top secret letter to him of 10 August, during the second Geneva conference,
from Air Vice Marshall Mellersh, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff, who
was in Geneva:
MILITARY ASPECTS OF THE PRESENT SITUATION
Likely Turkish Plans
1. The Turkish army is looking for an excuse to continue operations. The next
likely objective is to increase the size of their area to take in the entire North-
East of Cyprus, bounded by a line from five miles east of Morphou, through
the southern suburbs of Nicosia and along the old Famagusta road to Famagusta.
I consider that to achieve this they would launch ground attack from
their present position in the West and in Nicosia, combined with a parachute
landing by two battalions in the Chatos enclave and possibly a beach landing
in the northern part of Famagusta Bay. At the same time they would mount an
armoured thrust Eastwards from the Eastern positions to link up with Chatos.
A landing in Morphou Bay is considered unlikely at this stage. […]21
The same day, Mellersh sent a telegram from Geneva to the Vice-Chief of
the Defence Staff in London:
Foreign Secretary is most concerned at hard line attitude being adopted by
GREECE AND CYPRUS IN FOREIGN OFFICE EYES: THEN IS NOW 335
20. FCO 9/1894, file WSC 1/10, part E.
21. FCO 9/1915, file WSC 1/10.
Turkish delegation at Geneva and the strong indication that they may soon attempt
a major breakout from the area at present under their control. MOD reps
have been asked to offer advice in general terms on the likely form a break out
would take and what UNFICYP suitably reinforced could do by interposing itself
and making it quite clear to the Turks that they would have to take on a
UN force in achieving their objectives. The force would have to be large enough
and so armed as to give good account of itself, but I have emphasized that deterrence
is all we could hope for and that any question of holding the Turks is
out of the question with the estimated Turkish force levels and in the face of
Turkish air [support].22
As has been said, ‘the truth cannot be denied’. But it can be kept hidden
for many years. International politics, like national politics, is a filthy game,
often based on greed, ambition, pride and fear. So why did Callaghan and his
Foreign Office lie? Essentially, to avoid telling the public that Britain had succumbed
to Kissinger and lost its independence in foreign and defence policy.
And he needed to keep his image as clean as possible within his own Labour
Party, for the internal elections as leader of that party and therefore Prime Minister.
In fact, he was Prime Minister less than two months later, following Wilson’s
British foreign and defence policy, especially on Greece, Cyprus and Turkey,
is essentially the same now as then, whatever the soft-sounding hegemonolinguistic
platitudes spewed out by government public relations machines. Any
solution on The Aegean or Cyprus is predicated on the perceived importance
of Turkey – whatever anti-Israeli rhetoric Erdogan churns out for internal and
Moslem consumption - and on the bases that are now British only in name.
Just as with the lies on Iraq, and now Syria and Iran, only a fool could think
that the United States of the United Kingdom and Israel (USUKI) want a legal
solution in the Aegean and on Cyprus. Only a political one will do! And ‘political’
means ignoring international law. How else to control the Eastern
336 WILLIAM MALLINSON
Mediterranean and watch the Russians, who were once Greece’s best friends,
until Venizelos, his fairweather friend Lloyd George, and his military terrier
Plastiras23 messed it all up?
GREECE AND CYPRUS IN FOREIGN OFFICE EYES: THEN IS NOW 337
23. Plastiras was neverteheless a man of integrity, unsullied by tawdry money-grubbing.