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Politics in Greece

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Secretary, Zionist Organization of America


The Jews of Greece have just been freed from a grave anxiety. The development of the political situation in Greece made possible the cancellation of the general elections which had been fixed for November. The consultation of public opinion by means of this election seemed to hold nothing promising for Jews. The electoral campaign which had already started threatened to turn into civil war. The newspapers of two great parties did not hesitate to state that the clash would not stop short of fighting on the barricades.

The position of the Jews in such a fight would have been deplorable, for the controversial question of the Jewish electoral college would have been one of the main bones of contention between the government and the opposition. The elections seemed unavoidable, because the Chamber with a government majority could not get ratified by the largely Venizelist Senate, the new electoral law which abolishes the separate electoral college for the Jews at Salonica.


An understanding of the recent history of Greece is necessary for a realization of the serious implications of the question of the Jewish electoral college. As a result of the state of Greek politics, this question had become a political football. Its solution, no matter what, was fraught with trouble for the Jews. As a result, the Jewish electoral college has, strangely enough, become a new means of and a new source and inspiration of anti-Jewish propaganda.

Although there are many political constellations: The Republican Bloc under the leadership of Venizelos, and the Popular Party under the leadership of Mr. Tsaldaris. As the system of majority is applied in most elections, the Greek nation is divided into two camps, the Venizelists and the Tsaldarists. And the fight between these two political factions constitutes the basis of the modern history of Greece.


The party of M. Venizelos, which was in power during the first part of the Greco-Turkish war, after the World War, made itself rather unpopular and suffered a heavy defeat in the elections of 1920. As soon as it came to power again in 1924, it tried to change the electoral districts to its advantage. Mistrusting the Jewish voters of Salonica, to whom the Venizelists attributed a marked hostility, the separate electoral college, which attained so much fame, was introduced. The Jews in this manner were forced to vote apart from the other population, had to limit themselves to the election of two members of the Chamber and one Senator, whereas the non-Jewish population of the same voting district was able to cast their votes for about twenty Deputies and ten Senators.

This measure, which was recognized as an expression of distrust, was vigorously opposed and hated by the Jews. The whole Jewish community rose as one man to protest against the motives which had caused the government to segregate the Jews into an electoral ghetto, denying them the right to participate in the political life in the same way as other citizens. An imposing movement made itself felt among the Jews for a total abstention from the elections. This strike at the polls, observed with an impressive unanimity, is one of the most important and most stirring chapters of the Jewish political life in Greece.


During the following ten years the Jews continued to demand the abolition of the separate electoral college; but in vain. At last, in 1934, the Supreme Electoral Court, which has its seat in Athens, and which under the government of the Popular Party had regained its power, ruled that the Jewish electoral college was contrary to the Greek constitution. It declared the decree establishing this electoral body void and ordered new elections for Salonica.

At this point things took a turn dangerous for the Jews. The election returns of Salonica are of utmost importance to the parties, and a new casting of about 12,000 Jewish votes added to the others was liable to bring about a decisive change in the results. The Venizelists, who during the whole time had held a majority in Salonica, were afraid that the Jewish votes would cause them to lose their victories at each parliamentary and municipal election. The saldarists, thanks to their political attitude which is favorable to the Jews, hoped to win the Jewish votes—the more so as some Venizelist organizations during the last years placed themselves at the head of the anti-Semitic movement in Greece, evoking, of course, a reaction against their party among the Jews.


It was quite natural that under these circumstances the Venizelists tried to obtain an annulment of the new electoral law. At the elections of 1934 they presented a “Christian list” as opposed to the “Jewish list” of the government. and increasing their anti-Jewish propaganda, they met with success. The Jews had no representative in the Chamber. But the danger was not passed for the Venizelists. The suburbs, inhabited by Greek refugees, had been detached from the voting district of Salonica. The Jewish voters thus had become the arbiters of the situation. The Venizelists were of the opinion that about 10,000 of them voted for the Tsaldarists, 2,000 for the Communists and only an insignificant number for the Republican list. The truth of these figures is unknown, as the Jewish and the Christian votes are cast together in the urns of their electoral districts. But it is nevertheless certain that the majority of the Jewish voters would not vote for Venizelos, who transferred the electoral campaign to the national-religious field, and who excluded all Jewish candidates from party lists.


After having used all legal means in trying to obtain the reestablishment of the electoral college, the Venizelists embarked upon the terrorization of the Jews in order to force them to ask for the reintroduction of this body themselves. This movement brought about an unheard-of press campaign, in which the leaders of the Republican bloc, who up to then had kept them-

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