John Metaxas


Ioannis Metaxas was a Greek politician, military leader and dictator.

As an officer of the Greek Army he took part in the Balkan Wars. He also played an important role in the National Schism by siding with the anti-Venizelist Royalist faction and in 1917 he was exiled to Corsica. On his return he founded the Eleuthero party, which managed to enter parliament several times, but with low percentages.

In 1936, following various circumstances, he was appointed by King George as Prime Minister of Greece, in place of the deceased Demertzis, and subsequently took the lead in imposing the dictatorial regime of 4 August in collaboration with the King. He ruled until his death in January 1941. Metaxas is remembered for his rejection of the Italian telegram of 28 October 1940, served on him by the Italian ambassador Emmanuel Grazzi. This act crystallized symbolically in official state discourse and public history, and was also imprinted in collective memory as ”NO”.

He was born in Ithaca, where his father served as prefect. He was the son of Panagios Metaxas, a senior civil servant, and Eleni Trigoni from Agrinio. He was descended from a decadent economic branch of the Anzoulakats of the aristocratic Metaxas family and was the grandson of Marinos Metaxas, a lawyer and senator, the first cousin of Menelaus Metaxas, an army officer, and the nephew of Agamemnon Metaxas and Nicholas Metaxas, an army officer and politician. He had two other siblings, Marianthi and Konstantinos, who studied medicine but, relatively young, was taken to a mental hospital. He grew up in relative economic comfort until 1879, when his father lost his political position and they settled in Kefalonia. In Kefalonia he completed his secondary education and attended primary school in the local school of Ithaca.

On 24 September 1885, at the age of 14, he entered the Military School of Evelpidon, from which he graduated in 1890 with the rank of second lieutenant of the Engineer. In September 1892 he entered the School of Army Engineers and two years later he was transferred to Nafplio, where he began to write the first pages of his diary. In 1897 he was transferred to the Ministry of Military Affairs in a staff position next to the then Minister of Military Affairs and his uncle, Nikolaos Metaxas. After pressure from him, he was transferred to the staff of the then Lieutenant General, to the position of the head of the staff”s confidential files. There he had the opportunity to meet the heir to the throne, Constantine, and became friendly with him. In 1898 he succeeded in obtaining a scholarship from the King for military studies in Germany. In 1902 he graduated from the Berlin War Academy with distinction [i], receiving obvious influences from Prussian militarism. According to the Academy”s records of officers who attended the Academy during the same period, Metaxas attended the same class as three later German Chiefs of Staff (Wilhelm Heye, Otto Hasse and Georg Wedzel), the later First Minister of War and founder of the Reichswehr, General Walter Reinhardt, Paul von Letov-Forbeck (later commander of the German forces in East Africa during the First World War), and it seems that Nureddin Pasha, later commander of the Turkish army during the Smyrna Catastrophe, also attended the same class. [citation pending]

Upon his return to Greece he was assigned to the then newly established by foreign standards General Staff of the Army, contributing significantly to the organization of the army. There he collaborated with Victor Dousmanis in the drafting of the new military regulations, which were passed by the Parliament in 1904, on the recommendation of Georgios Theotokis. Two years later, in 1906, he was promoted to Captain First Class. As a member of the staff he developed a close friendship with Prince Andreas, brother of the Crown Prince Constantine, and in 1907 he was asked to take over the military training of the future King George II. For the next two years John Metaxas taught him military history and tactics.

With the outbreak of the military movement in Gudi, the revolutionaries transferred Metaxas to Larissa, since he was known for his contacts with the royal family. Characteristic of his close relationship is that Queen Sophia called him “Giannakis”[citation pending]. On 19 October 1910 he was recalled back to Athens by order of Eleftherios Venizelos himself, with whom he met at the hotel where the latter was staying. At the meeting he offered him the position of his first aide-de-camp, which he accepted.

In 1912, shortly before the outbreak of the First Balkan War, Venizelos sent Metaxas to Sofia to negotiate the military treaty between Greece and Bulgaria. After the signing of the treaty, he left for Belgrade and finally on 17 October he arrived in Larissa, where the General Staff had set up its headquarters. Ioannis Metaxas was fourth in the hierarchy of the General Staff, but he can be considered as its head[citation needed]. He participated in all the battles of the First Balkan War, and together with Dusmani negotiated the surrender of Thessaloniki from Taksin Hassan Pasha. The relevant protocol was signed on 26 October 1912 by which the Turkish general Taksin Hassan Pasha surrendered with the entire army corps he commanded. In December 1912 Metaxas went to London as a military adviser to the then Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos to negotiate the terms of the peace agreement with Turkey. However, on 16 January 1913 Metaxas was recalled from the government and was immediately sent to Epirus, where the army was facing problems. He is considered the initiator and creator of the plan to take Bizani, which included the largest bombardment in history up to that time, and was also the Greek representative in the surrender of Ioannina.[ii] In April 1913 he was promoted to the rank of Major by virtue of his seniority and appointed Commander of the Staff. From this position he took part in the Second Balkan War, and after the end of these wars he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was appointed Director of Operations of the General Staff of the Army, as well as Director of the Higher Military Academy. Shortly afterwards, in October 1913, he was decorated by the King with the Golden Cross of the Saviour. During the crisis with Turkey in the summer of 1914 over the question of the East Aegean islands, Metaxas drew up a possible plan for a surprise invasion and occupation of the Dardanelles Straits.

The conflict with Eleftherios Venizelos was inevitable because of their different mentality and ideology. Metaxas was pro-monarchy and believed in the military supremacy of the German Empire, while Venizelos preferred government autonomous from the King”s interference and believed in the political, military and economic supremacy of France and England. They were therefore diametrically opposed. At the time of their acquaintance Venizelos was powerful, while Metaxas was a marginalized royal military man. Nevertheless, he managed, because of his great military knowledge of military tactics, to be appointed Venizelos” first aide-de-camp and to be involved behind the scenes in the major events of the time.

During the National Schism Metaxas played an important role in developments, openly supporting the maintenance of neutrality. In February 1915, after the removal of Dusmani, he assumed the command of the General Staff. On 17 February, immediately after the meeting between Venizelos and the King, Metaxas disagreed with Greek participation in the Gallipoli campaign, as well as with Venizelos” proposals to cede territory in eastern Macedonia to Bulgaria to enter the war. He announced his resignation while submitting a letter of resignation and a memorandum explaining why he believed that the Allied operation in the Dardanelles Strait would fail.

Moreover, as Metaxas stated in this letter, an attempt to conquer territories by Greece in Asia Minor would have been doomed from the outset, since on the one hand it would have weakened the military front on the border with Bulgaria, and on the other hand, dealing with the almost entirely Muslim population in its hinterland would have created intractable problems in controlling the territories. Besides, he argued that the territories of western Asia Minor, being lowland, were vulnerable and lacked suitable points of defence against an attack from the hinterland. For Metaxas, the only definitive solution would be the sudden occupation of the whole of Asia Minor and the complete annihilation of the Turkish state, which Greece was, however, in no way capable of achieving alone. After his departure Metaxas seems to have proceeded to publish unsigned articles in the newspaper “The New Day of Trieste”, in which he leaked part of the contents of the secret negotiations with the Entente, while characterizing the intervention in Asia Minor as a colonialist action, which provoked reactions from the Asia Minorists and Venizelos.

It should be noted that at that time Metaxas, together with George Strait, Dusmani and Queen Sophia, had a decisive influence on King Constantine, and maintained constant communication with Berlin, to which they channelled secret documents, with officials of the German embassy in Athens.

On 27 June 1916, at the request of the Great Powers, a decree of general demobilization was published. With the personal involvement of Metaxas himself and members of his staff, the conscripts” associations were created, which were staffed by retired soldiers and constituted the first mass political organisation in Greece, with 200,000 members. The conscript associations functioned in support of the royal institution throughout the events of the National Schism. On 12 August 1916 the King proceeded to remove Metaxas from the Staff, in response to a request from the Great Powers. At the same time, negotiations with the Great Powers were continuing, but they reached an impasse, with the result that the French Vice Admiral Fourne landed with 3,000 soldiers at Faliro and marched towards Athens, where he encountered fierce resistance from the Pistratos, resulting in his retreat. The withdrawal of the allies was followed by persecution of the Venizelists, whose followers were arrested in several cities in Greece. These incidents have been recorded as the “Novembriana”.

Immediately after the King”s deposition, the “high commissioner of the patron powers”, Charles Zonnar, sent to the Prime Minister Alexander Zaimi a list of undesirable Constantinian citizens who were to be immediately exiled. The list included the most prominent anti-Venizelists, as well as Colonel John Metaxas. On 20 June 1917 he boarded the Greek steamer “King Constantine” bound for Corsica. On board the same ship were Dimitrios Gounaris, Georgios Pezmazoglou, Konstantinos Esslin and others. On 29 June, after a nine-day voyage, it arrived in Ajaccio. Metaxas had taken with him his family, which consisted of his wife and their two daughters. They stayed at the Grand Hotel with other important exiles. In Corsica Metaxas was learning French, while teaching his daughters Greek with an alphabet he had compiled himself. News of the Central Powers” armistice alarmed the exiles. Shortly afterwards news arrived that the Liberals had asked the royals back to put them on trial. This news greatly affected Metaxas and forced him to consider the possibility of escape for the first time.

In the months that followed, Metaxas contacted freemasons and politicians in order to find a way to escape. It was decided to steal the prefect”s car because it was the only one that could be driven at night. Dimitrios Gounaris and Georgios Pezmazoglou participated in the plan, while Ioannis Sayas refused to participate. On December 6, 1918, the three exiles secretly left the hotel after travelling a long distance and boarded a boat bound for Sardinia. After disembarking and after a long hike they landed in a hotel at the request of Gounaris and Pezmazoglou. Finally, at eight o”clock in the evening, the local police authorities arrived at the hotel and arrested the fugitives. The Italian government, however, refused to extradite them to France. At the same time Venizelos was in Rome to meet the Prime Minister regarding Greece”s territorial claims, at which time the issue of the fugitives was discussed. Despite all his pressure, the Italian Prime Minister refused to extradite the fugitives to Greece. The intention of the Italian government was to use them as a means of blackmail on the Dodecanese issue. On 21 December they were transferred to the Sardinian capital of Cagliari. There they remained under police surveillance. Metaxas, being a Mason,[iii] sought the help of Italian freemasons regarding their safe return home and received satisfactory guarantees. After pressure from the Freemasons on the Foreign Minister Tittoni, the Italian government allowed the fugitives to settle in one of the cities of Perugia, Siena or Lucca. Eventually Metaxas and his family, who had fled France, settled in Siena. There he remained for about a year. Meanwhile on 7 November the trial of the former general staff began. Metaxas and Victor Dusmanis were charged with high treason. The result was that on 14 February 1920 they were sentenced to death in absentia by a decision of the special military court. In May 1920 the three exiles ceased to be considered prisoners of the Allies. On 27 September of the same year Metaxas and his family moved to Florence. During his stay in Italy he had regular correspondence with the royal family, especially with Queen Sophia and Prince Andrew.

After the return of the royals to power, Metaxas decided to take a short trip to visit some friends. In Athens, he met with the Minister of Military Affairs Gounaris, with Prime Minister Rallis, with former Prime Minister Skouloudis, his friend Xenophon Stratos, former Prime Minister Stefanos Dragoumis, and visited the grave of the murdered politician Ion Dragoumis. After these meetings he left Athens for Kefalonia in order to visit his native land. At the port of Sami he was well received by the inhabitants of the island and the bishops. On 30 November 1920 he visited Argostoli, where the town had prepared an enthusiastic reception. In the following days he made visits to the surrounding villages and to Ithaca. Before departing from Kefalonia he founded the “Political People”s Association” which was intended to supervise the island”s deputies.

In the following days the Metaxas family left Florence and settled in Faliro. On January 7, 1921, Ioannis Metaxas was recalled to the army, promoted to lieutenant general and immediately retired. On 25 March 1921 the Minister of Finance Protopapadakis invited Metaxas to his home. The meeting was attended by the Minister of Military Affairs, Nikolaos Theotokis, Prime Minister Gounaris and Metaxas” fellow student and colonel, Athanasios Exadaktylos. At first, after discussing the Asia Minor campaign, they offered him the position of military advisor to the Commander-in-Chief. After Metaxas” refusal, Protopapadakis did not hesitate to offer him the Chief General Staff position in Asia Minor itself. However, Metaxas refused, saying that Greece could not win the war in Asia Minor, even if it achieved some short-term victories. In 1914 he had submitted a memorandum to the General Staff in which he discounted the defeat of the Greek army in the event of an intervention in Asia Minor. Metaxas advised them to concentrate the army in defensive positions around the Smyrna Zone and to withdraw gradually over time from Asia Minor, with the emphasis on maintaining eastern Thrace. Gounaris retorted that in the event of evacuation of Asia Minor, the British would withdraw their support for the Greek presence in eastern Thrace. A second meeting followed on 29 March without result.

Eventually, and after the prevalence of the King”s expansionist strategy, the Asia Minor campaign resulted in the total destruction of Hellenism in Asia Minor. On 14 September 1922, the King invited him to the palace in Tatoi. Constantine asked Metaxas to draft his letter of resignation to the Greek people. The situation was worrying for him as well, because he was constantly receiving death threats.

On 12 October 1922 he founded the Eleutherophone party, which presented itself as a third solution between Venizelist and Anti-Venizelist. His party did not meet with the response he expected, and as a result he became disillusioned and joined the pro-monarchist Leonardopoulos-Gargalides Movement of Leonardopoulos and Gargalides. Thus, at midnight on 21 October 1923, the movement against the then military government broke out. This movement was led behind the scenes by Ioannis Metaxas, who feared that the forthcoming elections would lead to an unconstitutional regime. At first it seemed that the militants had the upper hand, since all cities except Athens had been occupied, but after the concerted efforts of Kondylis and Pangalos they managed to contain them in Corinth. Finally the movement ended ingloriously on 28 October and Metaxas managed to escape immediately after its suppression, on a Norwegian ship from Patras bound for Italy.

In 1924 he returned to Greece and accepted the new political scene. The situation he encountered was truly dramatic, since his party had been dissolved by the Venizelists. “My party was destroyed”, Metaxas wrote in his diary. In the 1924 referendum on an unrestricted democracy, Metaxas and Chaldaris represented the royalist political world. In order to rebuild his political party, he began touring all the major cities of Macedonia and Thrace. Under the Pangalos dictatorship he was imprisoned and deported. He returned, however, in the elections of 11 November 1926, where he collected 151,044 votes and won 51 seats out of 286. Thus on 4 December he was appointed Minister of Communications in the 1926 government of Alexandros Zaimi. As minister Metaxas was responsible for the issue of the contract signed under the dictatorship of Pangalos with the Power Electricity Company on terms unfavourable to the Greek state. The British government made it clear to the Greek government that if the contract was not ratified it would not have access to borrowing from the British money market. As the minister responsible, Metaxas managed to persuade reluctant members of parliament to vote in favour of the convention, arguing that Greece”s self-reliance ”from a legislative point of view” was limited ”by the omnipotence” of the states with which it had relations. In February 1928, however, many members of the party withdrew, resulting in a loss of electoral strength. Thus in the 1929 senatorial elections the Freethinkers won only 22,518 votes and elected two senators. Much the same happened in the 1932 parliamentary elections, in which the Freethinkers won 18,591 votes and three seats. Nevertheless, Metaxas participated in the Chaldari government, taking the position of Minister of the Interior.

On 11 October 1934 Venizelos, from Chania where he lived, decided to launch a series of articles in the newspaper Eleftheron Vima on the events of the National Schism. After a few days Metaxas responded to Venizelos” ”fictions”, according to him, by launching his own series of articles in the newspaper Kathimerini. The two men”s columns ended on 23 January 1935, with Metaxas” last article. In total, Venizelos published 37 articles, while Metaxas published 70. Through the articles, one can see the dislike that each had for the other. Some modern historians consider Metaxas” claims to be more credible. In his defense Metaxas cites a document from the German government, in which the German government gave guarantees to the King in case the country remained neutral.[citation pending] On the other hand, the historical precedent of the Second Bulgarian Occupation of Eastern Macedonia 1916-1918 with the persecutions and deportations of the Greek population of An. The historical precedent of the persecution and expulsion of the Greek population of Macedonia by the Bulgarian allies of the Germans after the unchallenged surrender of the fortress of Rupel by King Constantine, prove any guarantees of neutrality to be unworkable.

In 1935 Metaxas” party won seven deputies, with 152,285 votes, while in 1936 it won seven seats again, with 50,137 votes. His desperation was evident. In his diary he wrote: “Election. Since yesterday I have had the feeling of failure. Desolation of home. Center, relaxed, only the faithful Cephalonians. No manifestation outside. Today also, despite all the hopes of family and friends. By night the failure was fully manifested. Everywhere. Except in Elis and Messinia, and there only something. In Cephalonia, success not complete. In Athens, failure miserable. In conclusion, anti-Venizelism doesn”t want me, it has expelled me from its midst. Better”. Everything indicated that Metaxas” political career was coming to an end.

After the elections of 26 January 1936, the Venizelists and the anti-Venizelists were unable to form a government because of disagreements mainly over the question of the reintegration of the defected democratic officers of the 1935 movement. Through a series of initiatives, King George II managed to play a decisive role in shaping the political scene: on 5 March George, unbeknownst to the prime minister, appointed Metaxas as minister of the military, a position he would hold until his death in 1941. The political significance of the act was great, as Metaxas, in addition to being a committed pro-royalist, was one of the few politicians who had supported the imposition of an authoritarian, non-parliamentary regime in Greece. On 14 March, the Demertzis government was sworn in, with Ioannis Metaxas as vice-president and minister of the military. Demertzis died suddenly on 13 April and on the same day the king, without informing the political leaders, appointed Metaxas as prime minister.

After another failure of the Liberals to reach an agreement with the anti-Venizelist parties, the Metaxas government secured a vote of confidence from the Parliament on 27 April with 241 votes in favour, 4 abstentions and 16 against, the deputies of the K.K.E. and Georgios Papandreou. Three days later, the Parliament, by a resolution, suspended its work for five months, authorizing the government to issue legislative decrees on all matters, with the consent of a parliamentary committee, which never functioned.

The unfavourable working conditions and the reduction of wages increased the discontent of the working strata and led to constantly escalating mobilisations in many cities, with Thessaloniki at the centre.The government proceeded to authoritarian and repressive action in the face of the unprecedented upsurge in the manifestations of the labour movement during this period. The culmination of this was the bloody repression of the strike on 9 May in Thessaloniki, where twelve people were killed (including the 25-year-old motorist Tasos Toussis) and more than 280 injured.

Metaxas was quick to take advantage of the situation, drawing attention to the danger of a communist uprising and staffing the state apparatus with close associates. In mid-July, an agreement on the disarmament issue and the formation of a government was reached between the anti-Venizelist Theotokis and the leader of the Liberals, Themistocles Sofoulis, who announced it to George. The agreement was to be implemented with the resumption of the work of the Parliament. However, on 4 August 1936, on the eve of a 24-hour nationwide strike, Metaxas, citing the danger of internal unrest and the unstable international situation, called an extraordinary cabinet meeting and announced his decision to suspend indefinitely the application of several provisions of the Constitution that guaranteed personal and collective freedoms and, without calling elections, to dissolve Parliament with the consent of the King, who issued two illegal decrees abolishing parliament and imposing a dictatorship.

Character and ideology of the regime

Metaxas”s dictatorship had many of the outward traits of fascist regimes, but it was essentially classified by modern observers as an “undefined” rather than a pro-fascist regime. The EON was created, a youth organisation – membership of which was not initially compulsory – in which dark blue uniforms were used (the Italian fascists wore black uniforms respectively), the salute by raising the right hand was adopted (as in Hitler”s Germany). Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini fought in World War I as corporals, rose to power by winning elections through the mass political parties they ran, created assault groups that terrorized their opponents, and were responsible for a large number of political assassinations. Metaxas also did not hesitate to collaborate and use associations that advocated and implemented dynamic, violent politics, but he embedded these tools in a traditional framework of political organization. Metaxas” anti-parliamentarism did not entail the plebeian elements of German National Socialism and Fascism, which repelled him. Also, the latter”s rhetoric was distinctly imperialist, unlike Metaxas”. Metaxas did not ally himself with any fascist country, while maintaining good relations with Britain. The main difference between Metaxas”s regime and the fascist ones was that it relied on the strength of the army, which was satisfied with the certainty that Venizelist officers would not return.[citation needed] Although it was an anti-communist, violent and anti-parliamentary regime, it was not totalitarian, since it did not seek the general coordination of the whole society.

Metaxas created and disseminated the ideology of the “Third Greek Civilisation”, on which the state of August 4th was based, which was inspired by the ideology of the “Third Reich” but had more traditional elements, such as religious faith. The supporters of the regime believed that modern Greeks ought to be the continuators of Ancient (A) and Byzantine (B) civilisation and that they should aim at the racial unity of the nation and the preservation of traditions. The ideal constitution according to Metaxas was not the Athenian Republic, but the militaristic Sparta and ancient Macedonia which politically unified ancient Greece. Metaxas sought to project himself as the only hope of salvation in a divided nation, while turning hostile to the “old-partyism” and parliamentary tactics of the past. The Metaxas regime did not implement and did not believe in an imperialist policy and the ideology of the “Third Greek Civilization” did not find wide appeal in Greece as much as the National Socialist ideology did in Germany. [citation pending]

Persecution – anti-communism

One of the main features of the dictatorship was police terrorism, which was directed with particular cruelty against communists, but also against democratic citizens. Also against some conservative politicians, who, having contacts with the court, sought the overthrow of Ioannis Metaxas. There are many who have been subjected to medieval martyrdom”. Parties were banned, politicians were exiled or placed under house arrest, trade unions were dissolved and torture was a daily occurrence in police stations. The living conditions of the exiles were so bad that some died of disease. Among them was the former Prime Minister Andreas Michalakopoulos. It is characteristic of the terrorism that the GSEE was dissolved and replaced by the National Confederation with the Minister of Labour himself as its president. In addition, by royal decrees it succeeded in having the election of the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece made by the King.

John Metaxas tried and succeeded in imposing a systematic persecution of the communist element. This “operation” was undertaken by the Minister of Security, Konstantinos Maniadakis, who attempted to limit its expansion by torture, persecution and certificates of conviction. The surprise of the KKE and the unorganized reaction resulted in the easy elimination of the former by the Metaxas dictatorship, but not in its dissolution.

From the very first day the regime closed down Rizospastis and made the first wave of arrests. In September 1936 they arrested and imprisoned Nikos Zachariadis in Corfu in the notorious “Aktina I”. By mid-1938 he arrested almost the entire leadership of the KKE. In the prison of Akronafplia, which had been in operation since the spring of 1937, he imprisoned the largest group of communists, about 600 people. He also deported to the small islands of Agios Stratis, Anafi, Folegandros, Kimolos, Gavdos and elsewhere many cadres and members of the KKE. By the end of 1939, very few members of the KKE had remained elusive. The KKE practically did not exist.

In 1939 Maniadakis set up the Provisional Administration of the KKE with leading party members who had joined the regime, such as Michael Tyrimos and Manolis Manoleas. The Provisional Administration even published its own fake Rizospastis and managed to rally several members of the KKE within its ranks. At the same time, however, there was also the old leadership of the KKE, the so-called Old Central Committee, which published its own Rizospastis.

At the end of 1939, on the orders of the imprisoned Zachariadis, the member of the Political Bureau of the KKE, Yannis Michaelides, signed a statement of repentance and was released from Corfu in order to clear the party of the informers and to help in its reconstruction. However, he was caught in the net of the Security and joined the Provisional Command, with the result that the incarcerated Zachariadis also supported the Provisional Command as the real leadership of the KKE.The mutual accusations of the two leaderships disoriented the members of the KKE, creating an unprecedented confusion and the landscape was cleared towards the end of 1941, when the so-called New Central Committee of the KKE was formed in the middle of the Occupation.

Social profile

The social welfare sector is considered as the only sector in which the August 4th regime presented a comprehensive and consistent policy with the regulation of agricultural debts in 1937, the completion of the agrarian reform, the introduction of the institution of compulsory arbitration between workers and employers and collective labour agreements and, above all, the implementation of decisions of the period of unrestricted democracy on the operation of the Social Security Foundation in 1937, which, however, had potential value due to the lack of resources and the lack of a social security system. Agricultural products began to be sold more expensively, while in terms of investment the period of 4 August can be considered favourable, since 567 factories were established in the period 1936-1938.

Education – EMN

On the other hand, the educational system suffered a significant setback, as the main orientation of the Metaxas educational policy was to stimulate the National Youth Organisation (NNO) and to displace progressive teachers. Furthermore, compulsory education was effectively shrunk, as secondary education became eight years long, while primary education was segmented. The regime allocated substantial sums of money to support the National Youth Organisation (NYO). John Metaxas considered the EON a particularly important weapon in shaping young people into supporters of the regime, and for this reason he gave it special support through systematic actions and strong funding. Through the EON a systematic effort was made to educate and propagandize for the regime. The government attached particular importance to the Orthodox faith, as well as to the institution of the family, which it believed it was promoting through this organisation.

Anti-dictatorial events

During the Metaxas dictatorship, the leaders of the democratic parties Papanastasiou, Papandreou, Sofoulis, Kafantaris etc. put up a significant resistance with official petitions to George II. On June 30, 1938, a military group of non-commissioned officers planning to overthrow Metaxas was revealed, while a few days later, namely on July 17, 1938, a revolutionary movement took place in Crete by a group of residents and some political leaders of Greece. Finally, twelve days later, the movement collapsed, resulting in the arrest of its leaders and a climate of terror on the island. The most important anti-dictatorship organizations that were active were: Friendly Society, Federation of Public Employees, People”s Welfare, United Front of Workers and Union of the Youth of Greece, as well as the groups of the K.K.E.

In October 1938 Metaxas proposed to the British government the conclusion of a defensive alliance, which the British government diplomatically refused, reserving the right to formally associate itself with a regime which it considered to have an uncertain future because of its unpopularity and calculating that such an alliance would be seen as a challenge by Italy and might provoke a Greek-Bulgarian war, at a time when Greece”s defence was inadequate. By 1939 Greece was fully aligned with the British, who accepted Greece”s neutral stance because of their inability to provide substantial military support. In contrast, relations with the German government were formal, since Greece benefited greatly from German economic investment. The attitude of Italy also played an important role in the diplomatic relations between the two countries, due to its constant provocations. The event of the sinking of Ellia marked the end of friendly relations with the Axis powers. Nevertheless, the policy of neutrality prevented Metaxas from taking further measures.

The Venizelists considered Metaxas to be close to the German side, while the Royalists considered King George to be closer to Britain. It seems, however, that in the interwar period Metaxas changed his political line towards the British Empire. He had even stated at the generals” conference (May 1940) as well as in various interviews that Greece”s recurring doctrine was that it could not be in an opposing camp other than that of Britain. . England had military superiority in the Mediterranean and a British blockade would be the end of economic development in Greece. Indeed, this was later proved by the British blockade during the occupation which caused the starvation of the Greek population.

Metaxas initially showed restraint in the face of Italian challenges, while at the same time preparing for a military confrontation on the side of the Allies. Metaxas”s secret weapon was the conscription with the march sheets. It was a pioneering method for the time, where within 2-3 weeks he could quickly assemble the army and send it to the front. This combined with the fact that he did not conscript earlier was the element of surprise for the Italians,[citation needed] who thought that war with Greece would be easy. On 28 October 1940, at 3 a.m., the Italian ambassador visited Metaxas and gave him an ultimatum, requesting that Italian forces be allowed to enter Greece. Metaxas refused to obey the Italian ultimatum for the free entry of Italian troops into Greece.[iv] The response to the Italian ultimatum is considered by many historians to be the result of pressure from public opinion, by others a personal action and decision. Contemporary historians believe that Metaxas” decision was the result of the government”s foreign policy, since Greece had been preparing for years for an imminent attack by enemy forces. Greece in November 1940 was the recipient of proposals from Germany to intervene to make peace with Italy, which Metaxas rejected, consistent with his strategy of alignment with Great Britain. By refusing to bow to the Italians he gained, even if only temporarily, general acceptance, which greatly aided the nationwide effort to repel and repel the Italians. George Seferis would write a year later: “When the 28th came, he could not see that only then, and not on the celebrations of the Stadium, the whole people were with him, together with the answer he gave to Grazzi at dawn. He could not see that that day did not validate but abolished the 4th of August.” According to other opinions, he was forced to say NO either because of pressure from the people or because he was forced to. Others stress that the OXI was a pretext, as Metaxas just wanted a few rifles to be dropped “for the price of arms. “On October 31, 1940, Zacharias wrote a letter published in the newspapers calling on the Greek people to stand united against fascist Italy. This letter was considered by some leading members of the KKE as a forgery.

Metaxas in his diary analysed his decision in detail in a communication to the owners and editors-in-chief of the Athenian Press at the General Headquarters (Hotel “Great Britain”) on 30 October 1940. If he accepted the ultimatum, the National Schism of 1916 would be repeated, with the result that Greece would find itself in the war weakened and with its forces divided. Naturally, Italy, Bulgaria, England and Turkey would take advantage of this and occupy disputed territories such as Macedonia, the Aegean, Thrace, etc. It was therefore, in his view, the last resort to secure the interests of his Homeland. Moreover, he believed in the certain victory of the Anglo-Saxon forces and that Greece would gain the Dodecanese.

In January 1941 the British made a proposal to Metaxas to bring forces to the front of Epirus.Metaxas asked the British for 10 divisions with the appropriate air force. The English retorted that they could offer 2 divisions with only a small air force. Then Metaxas replied “You had better not send us anything. All you will succeed in doing in this case is to provoke an attack by the Germans.”

Ioannis Metaxas became ill with a severe inflammation of the pharynx, which resulted in a paranoid abscess with toxaemic phenomena and complications, and died on 29 January 1941 at 6:00 a.m.

The official medical bulletin of January 29, 1941 stated the following: “The President of the Greek Government developed an inflammation of the pharynx ten days ago, i.e. the Saturday before last, which resulted in an abscess of the pharynx. Despite its timely opening, as well as appropriate post-operative treatment, he subsequently developed toxic symptoms and complications, as gastric bleeding and urea, and died today at 6 a.m. The attending physicians, Marinos Geroulanos, B. Bensis, M. Georgopoulos, M. Makkas, E. Fokas, D. Demetriades, I. Chrysikos, C. Karagiannopoulos, D. Komnenos, N. Lourandos, G. Economides, N. Georgopoulos”.

Alexandros Koryzis took over as Prime Minister. The funeral took place on 31 January. It has been suggested by many that his death may have been due to the intervention of the British who did not want Greece to capitulate to Germany. However, this view is not borne out by the writings in his diary, where Metaxas wrote that “it is better for all of us to die than to submit to Hitler” and rejected exhortations by the Greek ambassador to Germany, Ragavis, for Hitler”s mediation. According to Minister Konstantinos Maniadakis, Metaxas” death was caused by medical errors (“If Metaxas had been treated in the third class of a public hospital, he would have been saved”).

Also, Spyros Paxinos, director of the General Security of Athens (1936-1941), in 1942 during a reception at the British Embassy in Cairo, confided to a British diplomat his desire to write a book that would reveal everything about the death of Metaxas and which he would publish after the war. The next day he was arrested by the British and transferred to the Syrian prison in Akron as an agent of the Germans.At the end of the war he was transferred to a prison in India and in 1958 he was assassinated in Pakistan, without the crime being solved.

Ioannis Metaxas was married from 1909 to Lela Hatzioannou (1883 – 5-10-1984), with whom he had two children:

The daughter of Ioanna Metaxas is the writer Ioanna Foka – Metaxas, wife of Aristomenes Perrotis, MP for Messinia.

Although Metaxas came from a family of modest economic status, he had a rich intellectual culture and artistic interests in music, painting, theatre and cinema. This culture seems to have been acquired during his studies in Germany and during his exile in France and Italy (1917-1920). During his time in power, he continued to follow the artistic events in Athens, as testified by Pantelis Prevelakis, Director of Fine Arts under the August 4th regime. During the dictatorship, he did not seek to ”enlist” artists to produce propaganda work, as was the case in other totalitarian regimes of the interwar period. It kept an equal distance from the artistic movements of the time, prohibiting only the production of those that were ideologically opposed to the regime.


  1. Ιωάννης Μεταξάς
  2. Ioannis Metaxas
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