With the recent return of "General" Markos Vafiadis, Greece has become the last Western European country to turn the page on the convulsions of World War II and its violent aftermath.
Taking advantage of an across-the-board amnesty announced by Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou last Christmas, the 77-year-old former Communist commander in the 1946-49 Greek civil war has come in from the cold of a Soviet exile.
His Russian stainless-steel teeth glinting in the Athenian spring sunshine, the still handsome Markos, as he is called here, made no secret of his joy in returning to the capital he admitted he no longer recognized when he arrived after a 34-year absence.
Grinning with vigor, he receives well-wishers who wait amid the red carnations and roses in his hotel sitting room to reminisce with one of the modern masters of guerrilla warfare. Adored by his troops, grudgingly respected as a master tactician by his victorious nationalist foes, Markos now holds court to men and women of his generation who for years could do no more than dream of his returning home.
"All these years I've been living in Greece in my mind," he said of his exile in the Ural mountains as a watch repairman, "but I've always hoped the circumstances would allow me to return."
"Markos was a great figure of Greek communism," remarked Evanghelos Averoff, a former defense and foreign minister in an interview. He is now leader of the New Democracy conservative opposition and historian of the Greek civil war. But when asked if he would meet the communist, Averoff replied, "I'd be interested to see him as a historian, but that could hurt me politically."
Markos made no effort to hide the Communist errors in opting for the civil war. He said the Communists, who at the end of World War II controlled all of Greece except Athens, thanks to their fight against the German occupation, should have instead participated in the 1946 election. There and then the war was lost, he said, and perhaps 50,000 Greeks died in the fighting.
He readily agreed with suggestions that American military and economic aid for the Greek nationalists, starting in 1947, sealed the Communists' fate. Three years earlier, Joseph Stalin had accepted British prime minister Winston Churchill's proferred 90 percent western influence in Greece for a similarly preponderant Soviet sphere in Bulgaria and Romania.
Nor did Markos gloss over dispute with Greek Communist Party leader Nico Zachariadis, who forced him to abandon successful hit-and-run guerrilla tactics for conventional warfare, then invoked the ensuing defeats to remove him from command.
The Communist army finally collapsed in 1949 after Yugoslavia's marshal Tito broke with Moscow and eventually closed his country's border to the Greek Communists, who had relied on sanctuary there and in Albania and Bulgaria.
Markos bitterly recalled "that perhaps the hardest thing was to leave Greece in disgrace, charged with being an agent for British intelligence and Tito," who was then the devil incarnate in Stalinist eyes.
"As a revolutionary," said the one-time tobacco worker, "this was great torture." Expelled from the party and kept under house arrest in the Albanian capital of Tirana in the winter of 1949, he appealed for help to the Soviets who transferred him to Moscow after three months.
After Stalin's death in 1953, Markos and some disgraced companions were rehabilitated at the sixth Greek Communist Party congress, which excluded Zachariadis.
Ever since, Markos had dreamed of returning to Greece, "never imagining" the depth of resentment that centrist and rightist Greek governments felt toward him and the more than 75,000 Communist and leftist Greeks who fled in 1949 for fear of reprisal.
He estimated that about 25,000 Greeks--including many children of the original exiles--remain in the Soviet Bloc, principally in the Soviet central Asian city of Tashkent, where a large Greek exile community has kept up its culture and traditions.
Many of those still abroad are elderly and would like to return, he said, but their Iron Curtain currencies at the official exchange are not enough to live on in Greece and the Greek authorities have not agreed to pay them retirement benefits.
Markos returned on March 25, the anniversary of Greece's declaration of independence from the Ottoman Turkish empire in 1821, but he insisted that the date was pure coincidence, the day his documents were finally deemed in order.
Leaders of Greece's two communist parties--the pro-Moscow organization and a smaller Eurocommunist group--staged activities to mark his return. He has said he would like to heal their rift.
Papandreou, in granting the amnesty, is credited with both statesmanship and expert practical politics. The return of the exiles, especially such major figures as Markos, is likely to exacerbate the rift between the two rival communist organizations.
Impressed by the size and opulence of Athens, by the cars, and the general standard of living "unattainable" in his pre-exile days, Markos nonetheless rejoiced most "on hearing the sound of the Greek language being spoken."
When reminded that Odysseus, the quintessential Greek hero of antiquity, finally returned home after a long exile, Markos laughed and said, "Yes, but it only took him 20 years, not nearly 40, as for me."