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The Referendum That Abolished Monarchy in Greece

Greece referendum monarchy
Greeks celebrate the result of the referendum. Public Domain

The referendum that abolished the monarchy in Greece and the reign of Constantine II was held on December 8, 1974 after the collapse of the military junta.

The vote was overwhelmingly against the monarchy. About 69 percent of voters were in favor of a Republic with a turnout of roughly 75 percent. The result was met with enthusiasm on the streets of Athens and other major Greek cities.

The votes in the national referendum were about two to one in favor of “uncrowned democracy,” as it was called on the ballot. This meant that King Constantine, the sixth member of his dynasty to reign as King of the Hellenes, was stripped of his title.

As the results were broadcast last night, thousands of Athenians converged on Syntagma Square in the center of the city, staging one of those impromptu celebrations that are a staple of Greek life, the New York Times reported at the time.

Horns blared, candles flickered, flags waved, hands were shaken, smiles were exchanged. Here and there, a child slept on a father’s shoulder.

The slogans chanted by the crowd praised democracy and derided Constantine. One said “the German will die tonight,” a reference to the dynasty’s ethnic origins, the American paper said.

Greece votes categorically against the monarchy in the referendum

King Constantine was 34 at the time of the referendum and had been living in exile for seven years since the 1967 military coup.

He was banned by the government of Konstantinos Karamanlis from returning to Greece to campaign in the referendum, but he was allowed to make a televised address to the nation.

Political parties abstained from taking part in the referendum campaign, with the television debates confined to ordinary citizens representing one side or the other. On November 23, 1974, Karamanlis requested that his party group to adopt a neutral stance on the issue.

Two televised speeches a week were given to each side with an additional two messages broadcast by the former king. This included a radio broadcast on November 26th and a television speech on December 6th.

The electorate voted categorically in favor of the republic. Crete gave more than ninety percent of its vote for the republic, but, in around thirty constituencies, the result for the republic was around sixty to seventy percent.

The largest wins for the restoration of the monarchy were in the Peloponnese and Thrace, at around forty-five percent.

Greece referendum monarchy
“Democracy at last” reads the headline in the Greek newspaper Ta Nea. Public Domain

Constantine had expressed a desire to return to Greece no matter what the outcome of the referendum, but Karamanlis issued a statement on the night of the referendum advising Constantine that it “would not be very wise” for him to return “before some time goes by.”

Karamanlis noted that the question of Greece’s form of government has caused “acute party antagonism to the detriment of, the interests of the nation.” He called on all Greeks to respect the results of the referendum and added that “all must recognize that the uncertainty of the form of the government has been decisively eliminated.”

The voters’ overwhelming preference for a republic should help end the struggle over the monarchy that has troubled Greece for much of her modern history, the New York Times reported at the time.

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