Greece opens door to communist partisans, drawing guerrilla leader home
Markos Vafiadis, the partisan who led Greece's communist guerrillas in their unsuccessful bid for power in the late 1940s, is going home. He can return to Greece, because for the first time, the government is unconditionally allowing back in all communists who fled the country in 1949. Until now, the guerrillas could only return on a case-by-case basis.
''I am very emotional,'' Mr. Vafiadis has told friends who spoke with him by phone last week. ''I am ready to see and talk to everybody. Let all hatreds be forgotten.
''Tell everybody I am happy to return. I believe my return will help solve the problems of political refugees,'' he adds.
Once known as Captain Markos, Vafiadis now lives in the Soviet city of Penza, 400 miles southeast of Moscow, with his Russian wife and two sons.
He was one of about 50,000 members of the communist bands, known as the Democratic Army, who withdrew into Bulgaria and Albania after their crushing defeat by the Greek Army in 1949.
With the anticommunist stand of the various Greek governments during the cold war period, and the policy of the Greek Communist Party to continue its illegal activities through the operation of clandestine networks in Greece, hardly an effort was made for the repatriation of the former guerrillas.
After the restoration of democracy in 1974, following seven years of military rule, the Communist Party was legalized and former guerrillas were allowed to return, on an individual basis.
More than 25,000 former guerrillas and members of their families have returned since. The majority of them have settled to a new life in Greece, but some found it difficult to adapt to Greek ways, finding it impossible to get jobs suitable to their professional backgrounds. Others were left without their hard-won pensions because the communist countries, unlike the Western world, prohibit the export of pensions or other assets.
''Life here is difficult,'' observed Nikos Papadopoulos, a young taxi driver who was born in Tashkent and came to Greece in 1978 with his parents. ''And I am getting ready to return to the Soviet Union.''
Premier Andreas Papandreou, announcing the free repatriation of communists in a special message on Christmas Day, said it was designed to end ''the civil war and to fraternize all Greeks.''
The premier said his government will prepare the groundwork for absorbing returning refugees. He hopes to reach an agreement with communist countries for the transfer of their social security rights to Greece.
But diplomats who have accompanied both President Constantine Caramanlis and Premier Papandreou during their visits to the Soviet Union and other communist countries have strong doubts about such a settlement.
''The Soviet-bloc countries, with the exception of Bulgaria (which) pays small pensions to those who have returned, have a very negative attitude on the subject,'' says a diplomat.
According to statistics of Greece's Central Committee of Political Refugees, there are 29,940 refugees in East-bloc countries. Czechoslovakia, with 8,200 of them, leads the list. There are also 4,900 in the Soviet Union, 4,600 in Poland, 3,900 in Bulgaria, 3,800 in Romania, 3,470 in Hungary, and 1,270 in East Germany.
Without a settlement of their pension problems and with increasing unemployment that will make it difficult for their children to find decent jobs, only a small percentage of the former guerrillas still out of Greece are expected to return.
Even Vafiadis, will come here for a long visit and will return to the Soviet Union, his friends claim.