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Theodore Christidis Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Theodore Christidis

Greek economist. Director of Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 1924-45; General Secretary, Ministry of National Economy, 1946; Counsellor, 1948-50, General Counsellor, 1950-53, and Deputy Head, 1953-55, of Greek Permanent Delegation to OEEC, Head of Delegation, 1956-71; concurrently Ambassador to European Economic Community, 1959-62.

Paris, France
July 6, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened September, 1981
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
Theodore Christidis

 

Paris, France
July 6, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson

[1]

WILSON: Would you recapitulate generally what were the effects of the aid programs in Greece in particular? What were the motives in your view of the United States in providing them?

CHRISTIDIS: This is a very general question; I would be very glad to answer it, but in a particular way.

WILSON: Yes.

CHRISTIDIS: Immediately after the end of the war the whole of Europe was in ruins and communism was invading all the Western World. That is a

[2]

fact that nobody can argue.

In Greece we had sustained two invasions and we were facing at that moment a third one. The two invasions were the Fascist, and the Nazi.

The first, the Fascist invasion, we dealt with successfully and gave to humanity the first joy of a victory in the bleak years of the 1940s. Concerning the second, naturally, it was impossible for a country of nine million inhabitants to face two powerful Fascist and Nazi empires. So, we fell. We fell completely in ruins, for we fought from our borders up to the stopping point of Greece, which was Crete. The Battle of Crete we lost in 20 days, which gave the time for the greatest ally of Russia to come into play, that is, winter and snow. If we didn't delay the rush of the Nazis to clear out that thorn on their back, Greece, then the ally of the Russians would not have been able to intervene in front of Moscow, exactly at Mosaisk, and stop the German invasion. That was the stopping point of the disaster which crushed the Nazis later.

[3]

When we were liberated, after peace was signed, the world war continued for Greece, for we had to face the third invasion, which was as bleak, as strong, as hard, and as ruthless as the previous two. That was the Communist invasion. We had again to fight and again we won. When we at last crushed it, there was another factor. Everybody in this world has forgotten that when the Communists were withdrawing from Greece, they kidnapped 28 thousand children. Since then they have disappeared from their families, from their villages, from their religion, from their country; and nobody knows where they are, or rather, we know where they were -- they are in Tashkent where they became what we used to call in the Byzantine times, the Yenitsars. They were Greek children, kidnapped by the Turks, made Moslems from their early age and were thus the most frantic opposers of the Greeks. Nobody in this world ever thought of raising his voice to inquire, "Where are those 28 thousand children?"

When we fell in ruins, after this big disaster,

[4]

if we had been able to stand on our feet, to rebuild our country, to reconstruct our roads, our bridges, our homes, our factories, and to rebuild our industries, we owe all this to the vitality of the Greek people. Yet vitality by itself could do nothing without the material element that came from the United States. It was a phenomenon in the history of the world, of the United States of America, which after sending its sons, fathers, and brothers, to fight from one end of Europe up to Berlin and further, to come once more and give the great aid which was known as the Marshall plan aid and the Truman dogma.

This was a phenomenon which very few people could understand and very few people have managed to keep in their minds and have the necessary moral sentiment of gratitude. I express today the gratitude of the Greek people for the American aid and to the memory of General Marshall and to Harry Truman.

WILSON: Thank you.

[5]

CHRISTIDIS: Greece obtained a fairly good share of this aid, and thanks to that share we survived. As I told you previously, we have been able to reestablish ourselves and work within this society.

WILSON: What responsibilities did you hold in this period?

CHRISTTDIS: In that period I was a counselor of this delegation, and I participated in the sharing of the Marshall plan aid, the direct and indirect aid. As you may recall, there was another fact which was an enormous proof of the greatness of the historical role of the United States.

Aid was divided into direct and indirect forms, What was the difference between these two types of aid? The direct aid was given in dollars by the United States, and broken down into shares for each industrial and non-industrial country. The share of direct aid given to the industrial countries was much greater. The principle was this: Europeans, who have

[6]

traditionally been industrial countries, will get a bigger share in order to reestablish, reconstruct and modernize their industries, set the people to work, give work to the labor population, and then take the responsibility to give indirect aid to the developing member countries. The United States gave to the Europeans money to work, and in return they (the Europeans) gave products under the form of indirect aid to the underdeveloped European countries. Direct aid, known as contributions in dollars, was convertible and with which one could buy everything from wherever one liked. Yet, there again was another gesture of the United States. In Greece whenever we wanted to buy goods with that direct aid, which were cheaper in the United States, the administration used to tell us, "No, don't buy rice from us though it is cheaper; buy it from Italy so that you may indirectly help Italy to survive and to reorganize itself. We will pay you the difference. Don't buy it from us, buy it from Italy." That happened in the case of

[7]

rice and sulphur. Sulphur, as you know, was absolutely necessary for the maintainance of our vineyards.

That was another phenomenon of the mentality, of the high moral spirit of the United States during the immediate postwar period. Then there was the indirect aid. The United States gave more aid to France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the industrialized countries under the condition that they would give to developing member countries indirect aid, known as drawing rights. That was the terminology used.

What were these drawing rights? I handled that question for Greece. We had to establish for instance, hypothetical balances of payment with each of our partners, France, England and so on. We found out what would have been the intra-European deficit, or the bilateral deficit if you prefer, for each of these hypothetical balances of payments. Then we started bargaining and every country gave us what was called drawing rights,

[8]

that is to say, a credit margin of five million, seven million, 20 million, etc., dollars on which we drew under the obligation to buy certain industrial products produced by these countries, through the direct aid given by the United States of America. This was a simple mechanism established by the United States representatives in Paris with the aid of the European economist, Ansiau, then Governor of the Bank of Belgium. At that time he was the chairman of the Joint Trade and Payments Committee of the then OEEC. That's how it worked.

WILSON: A remarkably successful mechanism, wasn't it?

CHRISTIDIS: It was a remarkably successful mechanism, and quite different from what had happened after the First World War, when the United States closed the doors, obliged the Europeans to pay back all their debts, put on custom duty barriers, and quantitative barriers. The result was the great crisis which occurred.

[9]

WILSON: Some people in Europe have said that they wished that this system of drawing rights still existed, for they think it would work better today than the so-called convertibility system which was developed in 1958.

CHRISTIDIS: I don't think that that is true. The system of drawing rights was effective and very realistic at that time when bilateralism was in full action, but it fell as soon as we set up, within the OEEC, the first payments agreement, which was followed by the European Payments Agreement and by the European monetary agreement of today. From a very small venture, we started with the first payments agreement, and we came to full convertibility of the European money, abandoning completely bilateralism. Bilateralism is the enemy of progress and of economic development. The result is that you block balances, either active or passive, with as a result that that at a certain moment the whole movement breaks. I remember during the period of 1932-40, Greece had bilateral agreements

[10]

with all the European countries. At that time the general rule was bilateralism.

What happened was this: Germany, by that time, was buying all kinds of goods from Greece in order to constitute an enormous active balance. The result was that when we wanted to buy wheat, for instance, to feed our people, we had to pay in cash, in dollars, and in sterling, for Germany had no wheat. We had German marks which we could not use to buy indispensable foodstuffs and raw materials, and we had to buy all sorts of useless things from the Germans to cover the balance. On the other side, we had enormous debit balances with France with as a result at a certain moment the French had to close us the doors and stop exporting to Greece. I am talking about Greece, but bilateralism was then a general phenomenon all over the world. Now, bilateralism is dead. Some people are trying to have it survive for there are other interests, which are combined with bilateralism.

[11]

WILSON: Am I correct in saying that the United States took the position for multilateralism from the beginning?

CHRISTIDIS: Yes.

WILSON: It stood very strongly in favor of the kinds of policies which were set up by the European Payments Union and which ultimately ended in convertibility.

CHRISTIDIS: Exactly. You have people like Havlik here, like the Ambassador of the United States now in Athens, Harry Tasca, and so many others, like Mr. Harriman, who was here at the head of your delegation. They worked with all their heart to push Europe toward multilateralism and liberalization of visible and invisible transactions, that is to say, trade and invisibles.

WILSON: Since you've raised this fascinating issue of multilateralism versus bilateralism, one of the holdovers for a time of bilateral arrangements was that of the joint export-import agency in Germany,

[12]

controlled by the military authorities of the United States, Great Britain and France. Did that cause difficulties in the period? That was considerable German reliance for a time on imported Greek tobacco for example.

CHRISTIDIS: That's right. We had great troubles at the beginning. We faced great troubles for reviving our tobacco exports in Western Germany, or rather as it was called then, the "Bizone.”

WILSON: Yes, that is correct.

CHRISTIDIS: Germany was not united into one federation, but there were three zones, and within the OEEC there were three delegations. I forget what you called that institution you had in Germany; it was a particular name, export-import.

WILSON: Joint Export-Import Agency. The OMGUS was the American Military Government.

CHRISTIDIS: We always faced great difficulties, because the Joint Export-Import Agency tried to push forward

[13]

American tobacco in order to change the smoking taste of the people. But by abandoning bilateralism and by coming back to a multilateral trade we have regained our tobacco market in Germany, not detrimentally to the exports of American tobacco, for American tobacco is largely exported now in Germany. We recuperated our trade because the consumption of cigarettes and smoking in general has increased all over the world, so there is a place for everybody with some good will. Yet, we lost the United Kingdom market, and since the end of the First World War, we have not been able to reintroduce ourselves into the United Kingdom tobacco market.

WILSON: They sold it to Virginia to buy tobacco there.

CHRISTIDIS: Yes.

WILSON: Do you recall anything of your reaction to President Truman's decision to extend aid to Greece, the Truman dogma, at the time the British recognized and informed the Greek Government, that

[14]

they no longer could give satisfactory assistance? Was it a great surprise to you that the U.S. would step in so soon?

CHRISTIDIS: We always expected that that would come, and we are thankful to the high morality and to the good understanding of the American people. Particularly, when we heard about the Truman dogma, we breathed with some ease because we knew and we understood that the United Kingdom could not continue for obvious reasons to support our country in the state in which it was, and we could not possibly survive without aid. So Greek people were absolutely expecting this gesture, emanating from the Truman dogma and they had reason to do it because they believed in the high morality and in the magnanimity of the United States administration and the United States people. We are now very grateful t