The Kapetanios: Partisans and Civil War in Greece, 1943–1949

The complicated and dramatic course of the Civil War in Greece had, for lack of parties interested in reconstructing the truth of its events, never been narrated prior to the appearance of this volume. It closed a gap in the history of our times, and did so with thoroughness and vivid journalistic immediacy. In addition to the known sources and unpublished documents, the author relied on testimony painstakingly collected from survivors of the tragedy who were scattered throughout the world. It remains the authoritative account.

At the center of the stage are the kapetanios, the guerrilla chiefs who organized the partisans in the Greek mountains. Their first leader was Aris Velouchiotis, “a wild, bearded figure who owed something to Chapaiev and prefigured Castro”; the second was Markos Vafiadis, who continued the armed struggle into its last hopeless stages. Ranged against the partisans are a series of foreign powers representing the succession of imperial hegemony in the eastern Mediterranean: first the German and Italian occupation forces during World War II; then the British, who unremittingly pursued the object, both during and after the war, under Tory and Labour ministers alike, of restoring to power the monarchist Right; and finally the Americans, who entered the fray with the Truman Doctrine of 1947, and made of Greece a “laboratory,” in the words of General Van Fleet, for experiments with napalm, chemical and incendiary defoliants, and barbed-wire compounds.

The Communist-led movement was badly divided and disoriented at every crucial turn in the struggle. The partisans were hindered and betrayed by a Central Committee leadership which, in obedience to pressures from the Soviet Union, forced upon the kapetanios almost complete disarmament at the end of the German-Italian occupation. The role of the Soviet Union was defined in the Moscow accord, informally drafted by Churchill and approved by Stalin; it gave Great Britain a “90 percent” dominance in Greece after the war. By the author’s account, this barter of the rights of the Greek people was respected by the Soviet Union throughout the closing phases of World War II and the fighting that followed.

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