Articulating political sentiment through postage stamps has been common theme throughout philatelic history and continues to this day. In some cases this is blatant – imperial and propaganda stamps of the early twentieth centre immediately spring to mind. In other cases, it’s more subtle as is evident in the featured image of a 2.5dr stamp issued by Greece – part of a set that is often referred to as the Enosis issue.
The War of Independence (1821-1832) ended the Ottoman domination of Greece that had existed since the mid- 15th century. Greece emerged as a modern nation state and reclaimed many of the lands that had once been part of the former Byzantine Empire. The centenary of the proclamation of independence was celebrated in 1932 by a substantial issue of 18 stamps ranging in denomination from 10lep to 50dr. The 4dr stamp in that set depicted the extent of Greek territory in 1830 and subsequent expansion by 1930. However, conflict remained and most notably in Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean located south of Turkey and west of Syria.
Cyprus too had been part of the Byzantine Empire and later, the Ottoman Empire. At the end of the Russo-Turkish War in 1878, Cyprus was leased to the British Empire under the terms of the Congress of Berlin in exchange of guarantees that would protect the Ottoman Empire against Russian aggression. The island would serve Britain as an important military base in the Mediterranean but in 1915, it was offered Cyprus to Greece on condition that it join the World War I allies – the offer was declined. Following World War I, Turkey relinquished any claim to Cyprus and the island was declared a British Crown Colony.
Following World War II (during which many Greek and Turkish Cypriots had enlisted in the allied Cyprus Regiment), the Greek Cypriot population were hopeful that the British administration would support the ambition of the Greek state to expand into territories inhabited by Greek populations including Cyprus – known as the Enosis movement. Indeed, many supported Enosis as part of a broader political ambition known as the Megali Idea, to reclaim the lands of the Byzantine Empire covering the Southern Balkans, Asia Minor and Cyprus. Initially Turkish Cypriots favoured the continuation of British rule although by the early 1950’s the situation had deteriorated into conflict between Greek and Turkish-backed military factions.
The ongoing situation prompted Greece to issue the curious set of 1954 propaganda stamps that became known as the Enosis issue. The stamps, with different border colours, all feature an extract from Hansard, the official report on proceedings of the British parliament. The text, comprising 691 words, cited the debate on Cyprus in the House of Commons on 28th July 1954.
The text refers to the speech by Labour Member of Parliament (MP), Lena Jeger, who quoted the remarks of Sir Winston Churchill in 1907 when he was then Undersecretary of State for the Colonies, during a visit to Cyprus.
“I think it only natural that the Cypriot people who are of Greek descent should regard their incorporation with what may be called their mother country as an ideal to be earnestly, devoutly and fervently cherished. Such a feeling is an example of the patriotic devotion which so nobly characterises the Greek Nation.”
In 1954, Sir Winston Churchill was now Prime Minister and whilst many MPs spoke in favour of a referendum for the island’s union with Greece, the debate was inconclusive. In a gesture of Greek contempt for the proceedings, a large black ink-blot was splashed over the stamp. So contentious was the prospective stamp issue with the British at the time, that it is referenced in official government papers that can now be viewed in the National Archives (1955 FO371/117620/1081/9 ‘Proposed issue of Greek Enosis postage stamps’).
The Greek Prime Minister, Field Marshall A. Papagos, had asked the United Nations to provide a resolution on Cyprus’ independence which had been set for 22 November 1954. The Enosis stamp issue was prepared for issue the same day and in multiple languages – 1.2dr denomination was printed in Greek; 2dr, 2.5dr and 4dr denominations were printed in English; and 2dr and 2.4dr denominations in French. The Greek delegation to the UN then caused a diplomatic storm by presenting participants with a set of the Enosis stamps. In retaliation, all letters posted from Greece to the UK bearing the Enosis stamps were returned to Greece as ‘unacceptable’.
- 1.2dr Greek text [Yellow border]
- 2dr English text [Orange border]
- 2dr French text [Blue border]
- 2.4dr French text [Lavender border]
- 2.5dr English text [Rose border]
- 4dr English text [Green border]
Cyprus attained independence on 16 August 1960 following the London and Zürich Agreements between the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey. However, inter-communal violence continued to erupt throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.
To view postal issues of Greece, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.