In a surprise move, on Tuesday evening the defence minister replaced the country’s top brass. An extraordinary meeting of the Government Council of Foreign Affairs and Defence (Kysea), which comprises the prime minister and other key cabinet members, accepted Defence Minister Panos Beglitis' proposal that the following changes be made to army, navy and air force and the general staff:
- General Ioannis Giagkos, chief of the Greek National Defence General Staff, to be replaced by Lieutenant General Michalis Kostarakos
- Lieutenant General Fragkos Fragkoulis, chief of the Greek Army General Staff, to be replaced by lieutenant general Konstantinos Zazias
- Lieutenant General Vasilios Klokozas, chief of the Greek Air Force, to be replaced by air marshal Antonis Tsantirakis
- Vice-Admiral Dimitrios Elefsiniotis, chief of the Greek Navy General Staff, to be replaced by Rear-Admiral Kosmas ChristidisGovernments have exerted tight control over the armed forces since the collapse of the junta in 1974. Army chiefs are often selected on the basis of party loyalty as part of a deeply-entrenched system of political patronage.The move to replace the military chiefs may have also been hastened by a Greek protest at austerity measures that halted a major national parade last week.
The current Greek financial crisis appears to be driving much of it. Walter Russell Meade gives some background:
Greece was under military rule following a coup in 1967 until 1974, and the experience left lasting scars. It is not clear why the government felt these changes were needed now. There is some question as to whether Prime Minister George Papandreou’s government can survive until the weekend as a significant number of party members have challenged the decision to call a referendum on the latest austerity program.Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan forced out the leaders of the armed forces because he feared the famously secularist army would launch a coup d'etat against his famously Islamist government. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou may have similar fears:
There could be two possibilities for this move. The Telegraph notes the absence of any rumors of a “Turkish-style” military intervention, but that might be because the rumors hadn’t spread far enough. Greece has a history of military rule, although the military has behaved for the last 37 years after the last national referendum in Greece abolished the monarchy. It’s possible that the government caught wind of a revolt among senior leadership and cashiered the leadership before they could take any action. It’s also possible that the current government might decide that it needs to suspend democracy for a while and needs allies in those positions to get the military to enforce a shift to an autocracy, but that doesn’t make much sense in light of the government’s continuing insistence on a national referendum.I love Greece. I hate to see it suffer like this.
Their action could precipitate a military intervention, though, if the dismissal is seen as politically motivated. Greece is hardly a model of political stability at the moment, and the military might come to the conclusion that the current government lacks the legitimacy to issue these dismissals. If the opposition parties block the nominations for their replacements, it will leave the military leadership in limbo. The Greek military might not have the same interventionist tradition as the Turkish armed forces do, but they don’t entirely lack precedent, either.