December crisis

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December crisis or December events (Greek Δεκεμβριανά) is the name given to the troubles that occurred in Greece - especially Athens - during December of 1944, after the German occupation forces withdrew leaving a power vacuum behind them.

On December 3, 1944, a banned National Liberation Front (EAM) demonstration of 100-250,000 people took place in Constitution Square, central Athens. Violence broke out during the crowd's march with at least one civilian beaten to death on suspicion of belonging to the collaborationist Security Brigades. Meanwhile, positioned in the square and various other strategic parts of Athens, Organisation X members, policemen, LOK (Lochos Oreinon Katadromon troops and British troops awaited the mob, fearful of a takeover of Greece by Communists. The demonstators were fired on and 28 of them were killed (another 148 were wounded).

The clashes that took place that day led to a full-scale fighting between ELAS and the Government the following days.

Western Allies tried to stay neutral but when the battle escalated they intervened, with artillery and aircraft being freely used. At the beginning the government had only a few policemen and a brigade without heavy weapons. On December 4 Papandreou attempted to resign but the British Ambassador convinced him to stay. By December 12 ELAS was in control of most of Greece and Piraeus. The Western Allies, outnumbered, flew in the 4th Infantry Division from Italy as reinforcements.

Conflicts continued through December,(therefore known as Dekemvriana) with the Western Allies slowly gaining the upper hand. Curiously, ELAS forces in the rest of Greece did not attack the Western Allies concentrating instead on expelling the conservative EDES from the Greek mainland.

The outbreak of fighting between Western Allied forces and an anti-German resistance movement, while the war was still being fought, was a serious political problem for Churchill's coalition government, and caused much protest in the British and American press and in the House of Commons. To prove his peace-making intention, Churchill himself arrived in Athens on December 24 and presided over a conference, in which Soviet representatives participated, to bring about a settlement. It failed because the EAM/ELAS demands were considered excessive and, thus, rejected.

In the meanwhile, Pravda didn’t mention at all the conflicts. Moreover, the Soviet delegation in Greece wasn’t encouraging or discouraging EAM’s ambitions, as, according to the Moscow agreement, Greece belonged to the British sphere of influence. Any notification about this fact might have staved off December’s clash. It seems that Stalin didn’t have the intention to avert the Dekemvriana, as he would profit no matter the outcome. If EAM rose in power, he would add a country of major strategic value in his realm. If not, he could justify any intervention in his sphere of influence, like the British had done in Greece.

By early January ELAS had been driven from Athens. As a result of Churchill's intervention, Papandreou resigned and was replaced by a firm anti-Communist, General Nikolaos Plastiras. On January 15 1945 Scobie agreed to a ceasefire, in exchange for ELAS's withdrawal from its positions at Patra and Thessaloniki and its demobilisation in the Peloponnese. This was a severe defeat, but ELAS remained in existence and the KKE had an opportunity to reconsider its strategy.

KKE's defeat in 1945 was mainly political. The exaltation of terrorism on the communist side made a political settlement even more difficult. The hunting of "collaborators" was extended to people who had not been involved in collaboration. The KKE made many enemies by summarily executing up to 8,000 people for various political "crimes", during their period of control of Athens, and they took another 20,000 hostages with them when they departed. Several Trotskyists had to leave the country to save their lives (e.g. Cornelius Castoriadis fled to France). After the Athens fighting, KKE support declined sharply, and as a result most of the prominent non-Communists in EAM left the organisation.

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