A confused and seemingly defeated Greek Defense Ministry has shelved a controversial bill to draft women into the armed forces after being besieged by opposition from the country's embryonic women's groups.
Ranging from militant feminists to conservative housewives, spanning the political spectrum from left to right, the modern-day Lysistratas, who found some support within the conservative ranks of the army and took on the generals in an unprecedented fusillade of protest. They inundated Athens with pamphlets, sent letters to the press, engaged in house-to-house canvassing and sponsored stormy "teach-ins."
Their reasoning was as disparate as their education, their background and their political bent. Some objected to military service generally, others to the auxiliary roles that women had been asked to play. Still others said absolutely no induction until women first receive equal rights.
The bill was drafted in February 1976 to bolster Greece's outnumbered military manpower in the face of continuing confrontation with Turkey. It would, according to Defense Ministry sources, have released thousands of men for front-line duty and reduced their present 32-month enlistment time.
Anticipating an initial induction of 12,000 women who, during peacetime, would have been mainly volunteers, the bill provided for the draft of all women between the ages of 20 and 32 during general mobilization, plus others up to age of 50 who had specialized training and skills.
The ministry argued that the bill was a recognition of a new female status, as the 1974 constitution, for the first time in Greek history, gave women equal rights.
From the days of Aristophanes' famous heroine Lysistrata, who persuaded Athens women to stay away from their husbands until the men quit fighting the Peloponnesian War, the battle of sexes is nothing new in Greece. But there is nothing new in Greece. But there was an ironic twist in the present feminist movement, still in its infancy, subduing the generals who had held the nation firmly in their grip during the 1967-74 dictatorship.
"They're asking us," said one outraged woman, who refused to be identified because her husband is on the Defense Ministry staff, "to walk behind a soldier, carrying his equipment in the army, just as we've always walked behind a man on a donkey, as we've gone to plow the fields."
Many of the seven female members of Parliament also bolted party ranks, when all political leaders except the Communists came to the controversial bill's defense.
"I'm delighted that it was abolished," said Lina Koutifari, a member of Parliament and deputy minister of education. Only the third woman to hold a Cabinet position since the end of World War II, Koutifari was not consulted by the Kramanlis government concerning the draft legislation.
"I was against it from the beginning, and I'm not much of a feminist," she said. "A woman's first responsibility is to her children . . . Drafted into the army? Living in barracks? It couldn't happen. A woman must remain at home."
What most outraged many women - 62 per cent of whom, according to a magazine poll, said they would enter the military in the event of general mobilization - was that the defense legislative committee, in relegating them to auxiliary positions, found that they were "genetically incompetent to carry arms."
"That's pure nonsense," said actress Aspassia Papathanossiou, one of Greece's most recognized interpreters of ancient tragedy. During the Nazi occupation in the 1940s, Papathanassiou was commanding a brigade in Athens. At 23, she was a brigadier in the Communist resistance army.
"We don't like war," she said, "but when it's needed we know how to fight, and certainly not in auxiliary positions."
Reflecting the growing movement among Greek women who are demanding equality, journalist Lena Doukidou, in her late 30s, said: "Let them integrate us into the armed forces, and allow us to become generals and chiefs of staff. But only after we've received substantial equal rights in all other areas, and men assume equal burdens at home. Perhaps," she said "if decision-making were collective, included women, we wouldn't always be involved in wars."
Such reasoning was anathema to the conservative members of the armed forces, who for their own reasons, jumped on the bandwagon to abolish the bill. They argued that there would be problems in creating new barracks. And who would guard the installations, since women could not carry arms? The ultraconservatives reportedly protested that there was a danger of immorality, of young girls' losing virginity, and prostitutes' taking advantage of the situation.
The Moscow-line Communist Party charged that it would further disrupt the demographic imbalance. The implication was that women must have babies and should remain at home.
One of the few outspoken proponents of the legislation was parliamentarian Eleni Vlachos, publisher of the prestigious newspaper, Kathimerini.
"Greek men must be relieved of their heavy family and military duties," Vlachos said. "I don't see why this bill created such an uproar, since it was concerned primarily with volunteers. Will it be revived? Certainly not under this government.
"A pity," said the 66-year-old publisher. "I was sorry I was too old for induction. I would have loved to join the air force."