December 3

This Day in History

World War II

Dec 3, 1944:

Civil war breaks out in Athens

On this day, a civil war breaks out in Athens as communist guerillas battle democratic forces for control of a liberated Greece. Germany had occupied Greece to bail out Italy after Italy's failed invasion threatened to leave Greece open to Allied occupation. When Germany arrived, various Greek resistance forces gave battle, but two stood out as particularly important: a communist-backed resistance movement called the National Liberation Front, and a liberal, democratic movement called the Greek Democratic National Army. While both of these factions operated from different ideological frameworks, they nevertheless occasionally cooperated in fighting the common German enemy. By early 1944 though, the communist-backed National Liberation Front had taken to the hills to create a provisional government, rejecting the legitimacy of both the Greek king and his government-in-exile. It also disregarded the one remaining rival for ultimate political supremacy in Greece—the Democratic National Army.

When Germany was forced to withdraw from Greece in October 1944, victorious British forces brought together the communist and democratic factions in order to establish a coalition government. But this government collapsed after the communist Liberation Front refused to disband its guerrilla forces. So, on December 3 war broke out between the communists and the democrats—with the National Liberation Front taking control of most of Greece, with the exception of the capital and Salonika.

The British fought against the communists with the Democratic National Army, which began to move more and more to the right politically as it struggled for survival and support. By February 1945, the National Liberation Front was forced to surrender and disband its guerilla army. One month later, a general election was held, and the democrats, now also royalists, won control of the government. The communists refrained from voting altogether, preferring to bide their time. When a plebiscite elected the Greek king back to his throne in September of the same year, the communists emerged from underground-and civil war broke out again. By this time, Britain, fed up and exhausted, left the negotiation for peace to the United States, which employed the Truman Doctrine of giving massive amounts of foreign aid to governments pledged to democracy in order to keep them out of the communist/Soviet orbit. It took time, but eventually the rejuvenated—and well-funded—Greek democrats were victorious.

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