Richard North, 01/10/2012  

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Played big yesterday in the Greek newspaper To Vima (Tribune) is the claim, under the headline, "the coup that never was", that on 1 November last year, then premier George Papandreou fired the Greek Armed Forces chiefs of staff to forestall a military coup.

We picked this up at the time, having speculated that a coup was in the offing, at a time of maximum instability, when anything seemed possible.

Says To Vima, Papandreou's government never explained convincingly the surprise retirement of the entire leadership of the Armed Forces. But, it says, "authoritative sources" now assert that the move prevented political destabilisation and averted a coup.

The coup would have been engineered by "ultra-nationalist patriotic officers" to restore the honour of Greece and to save the country from impending civil strife, the paper says. But, as suspicions hardened, the final decision to force the Service chiefs to stand down was taken at dawn on Tuesday 1 November.

The unexpected resignations had been preceded on 26 and 27 October by Papandreou at the European Council, agreeing the second rescue package – which had been regarded as a "betrayal" by many in the armed forces and elsewhere.

In Thessalonika, defence minister Panos Beglitis had been insulted at an official ceremony, and attacked by protestors, amongst whom had been members of the armed forces.

On National Day, 28 October, there had then been riots in Thessalonika. A parade had then to be cancelled after the right- and left-wing protesters had condemned president Karolos Papoulias as a "traitor".

Predictably, the current chief of general staff, Michalis Kostarakos, and one of the generals who was promoted last year, completely denies the story. "Such claims are totally unfounded and an insult to Greek armed forces", he says.

The politicians, meanwhile have other fish to fry, after the news last week that dozens of their number, including the Speaker of the parliament, are under investigation for corruption.

Before this is all over, therefore, some may regard last November as a missed opportunity. But, given the tensions at the time, and the certainty that many had – including this blog – that Greece was going to drop out of the euro, a failed coup may well be seen in retrospect as a turning point.

Currently, Greece is expecting to be given its next tranche of €31 billion bailout funds without too much drama - even though it may not meet the reform criteria. And, although some media sources have hyped the latest round of street protests, the estimated 50,000 in Syntagma Square last week was only a tiny fraction of the numbers seen in earlier demonstrations.

By contrast with the rage elsewhere, in Madrid, Lisbon and even Paris, Athens has been relatively calm.

Thus does the New York Times report, after an interview with Greek premier Antonius Samras, that, "There is absolutely zero risk that Greece is leaving the euro". His message to his fellow Greeks is to keep the faith and that better days lie ahead. "What I am telling you", he says, "is that there is hope".

With even the German opposition agreeing to the possibility of a further bailout, not for the best part of three years - as we come up to the third anniversary of the start of the crisis - have we heard such confident words.

Whisper it softly for fear of being mocked, but the worst may well be over for Greece.

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