Thousands turn out to bid farewell to Greece’s former king – FOX23 News


ATHENS, Greece — (AP) — To chants of “long live the king” and “Constantine, Constantine” from a crowd of thousands, the casket carrying the former and last monarch of Greece emerged from Athens’ metropolitan cathedral Monday after a funeral service attended by royalty from across Europe.

Constantine’s wife Anne-Marie, the sister of Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II, and his eldest son Pavlos, followed at the head of the funeral procession. The casket, draped with the Greek flag, was loaded into a hearse for the trip to Tatoi, the former royal estate north of Athens where Constantine will be buried near his parents and ancestors.

Once a richly forested site popular with Athenians for picnics and nature walks, Tatoi was ravaged by a wildfire about two years ago and had been mostly blackened and derelict ever since. Cleanup crews worked feverishly since Constantine’s death last week at the age of 82 to clean up the site in time for Monday’s funeral.

European royals, many closely related to Constantine, descended on Athens for the funeral, including Margrethe and nearly the entire Spanish royal family. Constantine’s sister Sophia is the the wife of Spain’s former King Juan Carlos, and mother of Spain’s current monarch, King Felipe VI. Constantine was one of the godparents of Prince William, heir to the British throne. The British royal family was being represented by Princess Anne.

Juan Carlos, walking with the aid of a walking stick, attended with Sophia at his side. It was a rare public appearance for the former king, who has been living in Abu Dhabi since being cut off from the Spanish royal family in 2020 amid financial scandals.

Greece’s monarchy was definitively abolished in a referendum in 1974, and Constantine, a controversial figure during a turbulent time in Greek history, spent decades in exile before returning to settle in his home country once more in his waning years.

The government announced Constantine would be buried as a private citizen without honors reserved for former heads of state. A limited lying in state was allowed in a chapel next to the cathedral, with the public allowed to visit from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Thousands turned out, some traveling from across Greece and lining up for hours in the pre-dawn darkness and winter chill.

“He was a constitutional leader of the country. It was a monarchy then, so we must honor this man who stayed in Greece for so many years and who is Greek,” said Athens resident Georgia Florenti, waiting to pay her respects to the former monarch.

Some mourners expressed disappointment that Constantine was being buried without the honors awarded to former heads of state.

“I feel anger because I consider it petty for funerals to be held at public expense for actors and singers, and for us not to honor a person who, for better or for worse, was king of Greece,” said Irene Zagana.

Constantine acceded to the throne in 1964 at the age of 23, already an Olympic sailing gold medalist. The young king and his wife enjoyed huge popularity, which quickly eroded because of Constantine’s active involvement in the machinations that brought down the elected government of then Prime Minister George Papandreou.

“There was social adoration for the young king. Any dislikes there were concerned his mother,” said Thanassis Diamantopoulos, professor of political science at Athens’ Panteion University. “He himself was beloved, but unfortunately, through the mindless and thoughtless management of the 1965 crisis, he managed to squander this sympathy very quickly.”

The episode involving the defection from the ruling party of several lawmakers destabilized the constitutional order and led to a military coup in 1967. Constantine eventually clashed with the military rulers and was forced into exile.

When the dictatorship collapsed in July 1974, Constantine was eager to return to Greece, but was advised against it by veteran politician Constantine Karamanlis, who returned from exile to head a civilian government.

After winning November elections, Karamanlis called for a plebiscite on the monarchy. Constantine wasn’t allowed to return to campaign, but the result was widely accepted: 69.2% voted in favor of a republic.

Constantine “should be given credit for something that other deposed monarchs have not done: he never threatened, challenged or undermined the state not headed by a king after he was dethroned,” Diamantopoulos said. “He accepted the 1974 referendum. He did not create a party of monarchy nostalgics. … Thus with his silence he contributed to cementing the new system of government.”

There have been no opinion polls measuring possible support for the former king since the monarchy was abolished, and public discourse in Greece tends to be significantly negative concerning the monarchy.

The prevailing judgment on Constantine “is not exactly unfair, it is one-dimensional,” Diamantopoulos said.

Constantine’s “mistakes were glaring, and they were significant in delegitimizing and undermining smooth political life, especially in how he handled the resignation of (then Prime Minister) George Papandreou,” Diamantopoulos said. “But a discourse that was politically dominant and not altruistic came to treat him negatively for everything, without any reference to the positive contributions he made.”

The size of the crowd waiting patiently for hours in Athens to pay their final respects suggested Constantine was still much loved by a segment of society.

“He is a former high-level official to whom we should certainly show the necessary honors, a person who is serious, who is noble, who is decent,” said lawyer Giannis Katsiavos, who was among the crowd. “We will remember him forever.”

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Raphael Kominis contributed to this report.



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