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PostDeath of Constantine II, Last King of Greece (Consoly Leon Arias, Spain / Canary, 01/14/23 3:23 am)
Constantine II (Κωνσταντίνος), the last king of Greece (βασιλιάς της Ελλλάδος), died in Athens on January 10th. He was 82.
He was monarch between 1964 and 1973. After the Coronels' coup d'état of 1967, he headed for exile, along with his entire family, including his mother, Queen Frederica, and his sister, Princess Irene.
Since then, the head of the Greek Royal House has been one of those dethroned monarchs who made the dream of one day recovering the throne of his country his only vital objective. Related to the principal European dynasties, besides being the brother of Queen Sofia of Spain, and uncle of King Philip VI of Spain, he had blood ties with the Windsors, and with the Royal House of Denmark by his marriage to Princess Anne Marie, which always afforded him a privileged treatment in all the courts, where he was still the king who de facto ceased to be so years ago.
The son of King Paul I of Greece and Frederica of Hanover, Constantine was born in Psykhiko, near Athens, during the reign of his uncle George II.
When he was barely a year old, the Axis forces invaded Greece, and the royal family had to go into exile in Egypt and finally South Africa, where his sister, Princess Irene, was born. For this reason, all the members of the dynasty went through moments of real hardship, as Queen Sofia herself would relate in her memoirs.
In 1946, when World War II was over, the royal family was able to return to their country. And after the death of George II in 1947, Constantine's father, Paul of Greece, became king, which led to little Constantine being automatically proclaimed "Diádocos," that is, heir to the Crown.
While Paul I reigned, Constantine devoted himself to military training and sports, something that would mark him for the rest of his life. Thus, at the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, the Greek sailing team of which he was a member won the gold medal. In addition, during his long exile, he maintained his position as a prominent member of the IOC, a body from which he tried to exert his diplomatic influence.
After the death of King Paul of Greece in 1964, Constantine encountered great political polarization when he came to the throne. His mistakes and several betrayals cost him the Crown.
He was only 23 years old when he assumed the reins of a country living under a climate of enormous political tension, polarization, and instability, due to the high parliamentary fragmentation.
Anti-monarchist sentiment was already strong among much of the population. And there were many parties that took advantage of Constantine's weakness to try to strip the Crown of its powers. The 1952 Constitution was then in force which, although it enshrined democratic principles and a system of parliamentary monarchy, was reminiscent in many respects of the European constitutions of nineteenth-century liberalism in which the Crown and the Army remained the two real centers of power and individual freedoms were severely restricted. All parties seemed interested in those turbulent years in attacking the monarchy, even including the monarchist conservatives.
Let us not forget that the constitutional reform proposed by the monarchist Karamanlis in 1963, which stripped the Crown of many powers, did not represent a democratic advance but an authoritarian imposition.
However, the King of the Greeks would pay dearly for the mistake he made barely a year after being crowned, when he led a palace maneuver that resulted in the resignation of Papandreou.
Constantine, who did not want to limit himself to a ceremonial role, abused his constitutional prerogatives and, for two years, completely wore himself out with political interventionism.
Papandreou's resignation, in July 1965, strongly contested by street demonstrations against the king, was followed by almost two years of deadlock, as Constantine refused to call elections.
Greek politics collapsed, and the sovereign was branded as the main culprit.
Moreover, in the context of the Cold War, all kinds of extra-parliamentary conspiracies developed. As is well known, the one that triumphed, on April 21, 1967, was the Colonels' coup.
Constantine's initial support for the rebels would cost him the Crown.
In 1974, after the fall of the colonels' dictatorship, Karamanlis, who had been so close to the king during the years of his government in exile, also betrayed him.
The conservative leader dealt him the final blow when he called a referendum for the Greeks to choose between monarchy and republic.
The result was so devastating that Constantine accepted that his days as king were over.
After half a life in exile in London, under the protection of Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh (a first cousin of his father, King Paul), Constantine and his wife, Queen Anne Marie, were finally able to return to Greece to take up residence there in 2013.
With him goes the last king of the Hellenes, a people who never forgave those political mistakes that cost them so dearly, and where the monarchical institution seems to have no place.
May he rest in peace.
JE comments: One can be certain that Constantine spent most of his life wondering how he could have done things differently. I wish I knew more about his support of the 1967 coup, which took place during the height of the Cold War. What type of role did he envision having under a military junta? Our good friend and colleague Harry Papasotiriou in Athens could enlighten us.
Constantine II and the 1967 Coup
(Harry Papasotiriou, Greece
01/14/23 2:56 PM)
In 1967 Greece's King Konstantine II knew nothing about the coup of the
colonels (and one brigadier general) that brought them to power on 21
April. At first, he went along with the new dictatorial regime. Then
on 13 December 1967, he led a counter-coup that failed and resulted in
his exile. For a few years, he was replaced in Athens by a regent--General Zoitakis--until the monarchy was abolished by the Papadopoulos
dictatorship in 1973. It was abolished finally and irrevocably by the
December 1974 referendum that was conducted after the restoration of
democracy and in which only about 31% of the people voted for the
restoration of the monarchy. In only two prefectures out of dozens did
the pro-monarchy vote exceed 50%.
The current center-right Mitsotakis government decided that the former
king's funeral should be private, even though it will be attended on
Monday by royalty from various parts of Europe, as Consoly León pointed out.
Some conservatives complained that a former head of state deserved a
public funeral. It is too close to the next Greek parliamentary
elections, to be held in the next few months, for a center-right
government to be seen to be too close to the former monarchy; it could
galvanize the left's voters.
JE comments: The Greek people resoundingly said "no" to the monarchy. Harry, do you sense this was due to Constantine's personal unpopularity, or a general republican sentiment among the Greek people? As I write these lines, I realize that I have much to learn about modern Greek history.
Happy 2023 to you, and many thanks for your steadfast support of WAIS over the years!
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