When the Mighty Play God


The Scrap of Paper that Determined the History of post-WWII Greece 


Leonidas Petrakis


It was Sir Winston Churchill himself that called it the "Naughty Document" -the scrap of paper that he passed to Stalin at their meeting in Moscow in 1944. It is arguably the most influential “document” that determined the course of history of post-WW II Greece (and of a few other countries). Official documents refer to it (Churchill’s Memoirs, Ref 1), attempts were made to destroy it even as  its existence was widely acknowledged, and recently has found its way as a photo-document in two important books (Ref 2 and 3). Churchill’s own account of the creation of this document makes fascinating reading.

On October 9, 1944, Churchill flew to Moscow to carve out “spheres of influence” for Great Britain and Russia in Southeastern Europe. The secret meeting was attended by Churchill, Stalin, and their foreign ministers. Averell Harriman was also present as an observer representing President Roosevelt. Prime Minister Churchill writes about the event (1): “The moment was apt for business, so I said, “Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans…. how would it do for you to have ninety percent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety percent in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?” While this was being translated, I wrote out on a half-sheet of paper (i.e., the Table below). I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us.

After this there was a long silence. The penciled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said, “Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper”. “No, you keep it,” said Stalin”.

Churchill did keep the “Naughty Document”, as he himself labeled  “The Percentages Agreement” reached with Stalin in their Realpolitik approach to the Balkans. Walter Reid (3), using official documents of the Foreign Office as published by the Cambridge University Press, shows how troubled the Prime Minister was by this scrap of paper and tried to “mitigate its brutality in a letter to Stalin that he dictated two days later:

“If they (the "Percentages") were made public they might appear quite crude, and even callous…” Averell Harriman told Churchill that Roosevelt and secretary of State Cordell Hull repudiated the letter , and it was never sent.”

 Lest we forget, history repeats, of course!






  ΧΡΟΝΟΣ 08 (12.2013)