Guest Writer: Master Ajax
Greece since the 4th of August became an anticommunist State, an antiparliamentary State, a totalitarian State. A State based on its farmers and workers, and so antiplutocratic. There is not, of course, a particular party to govern. This party is all the People, except of the incorrigible communists and the reactionary old parties’ politicians. —Ioannis Metaxas
The Fourth of August regime is at first glance thought to be by the general public a typical Greek democratic-monarchal state; as Americans, we are taught about how the Greeks stood against the German-Italian war machine, and that the Greeks were the greatest ally of the British in the Adriatic sea. This, however, is incorrect: The Greek state was in fact a Fascist-Monarchal state, and is arguably the only successful state of its kind. Yes, Mussolini’s state was also a Fascist-Monarchal state, but King Viktor and Benito were at odds with each other; the moment Benito seemed to be losing the war with the Allies, King Viktor turned on him. This was far for the case in Greece, however.
Let me set the stage for you. The year is 1935; the liberal lead government has led the country to economic ruin and into a depression. The Greek people, in a last-ditch effort to save the nation, hold a vote to return the twice-exiled Greek Monarchy, hoping that King George would restore order by putting a strong hand in charge of the recovery. Many believed that the King would put in power Georgios Kondylis, due to the fact he had already been the prime minister and was a renown Greek General during the Great War.
King George, however, wished for an ally not a rival; he wished for someone that would bind the people and the armed forces to himself, not wishing for a third exile of the Monarchy. He wished a National Father to stand side-by-side with him as the Spiritual father. As such, he elected to place Ioannis Metaxas in power, naming him Vice-President of the government and Minister of Defense; a month later Metaxas was named as Prime Minister as well. Now to understand King George’s decision to appoint Metaxas, you need to know the background of Metaxas.
Ioannis Metaxas was born in Ithaca in 1871. His family was inscribed in the Libro d’Oro of the Ionian islands, previously a Venetian possession, while its roots originated in the Byzantine nobility. The Metaxas family were entered into the Libro d’Oro in the 17th century. Metaxas was very proud of his aristocratic family and throughout his life, he had rather snobbish views towards ordinary Greeks, observing that their ancestors were not notable enough to be included in the Libro d’Oro. Following studies at the Hellenic Military Academy, he became a career military officer, being sworn as an Engineers 2nd Lieutenant on 10 August, 1890.
He first saw action in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, attached to the staff of the Greek commander-in-chief, Crown Prince Constantine. Metaxas became a protégé of Constantine, and much of his rise up the ranks of the Hellenic Army was due to the patronage of the Crown Prince. Greece was characterized by a clientist system at the time, and having a powerful patron in the form of Constantine was a powerful boost to Metaxas’s career. After the war, he continued his military studies in the Berlin War Academy in 1899–1903. Metaxas was part of the Modernizing of the Greek Military before 1912, where he fought in the Balkan Wars and then fought in the Greco-Turkish crisis of 1914. Metaxas then returned to active duty during the Great war, even though he was very much against Greece entering the war.
Due to the fact that he was a Royalist, he was exiled once the war had ended along with the Monarchy, but he returned and began to start a new party in Greece that mirrored Adolf Hitler’s in Germany and Benito Mussolini’s in Italy, to counter the growing Communist threat in Greece.
Metaxas was know as “the First Peasant,” “the First Worker,” and “the National Father” of the Greeks. Metaxas adopted the title of Arkhigos—Greek for “leader” or “chieftain”—and claimed a “Third Hellenic Civilization,” following ancient Greece and the Christian Byzantine Empire of the Middle Ages. Metaxas was also seen as “Savior of the Nation,” bringing unity to a divided country.
On August 4th, 1936, Metaxas declared a state of emergency, and set about saving the Kingdom of Greece from total economic collapse and a Communist revolution. Under Metaxas’ leadership all political parties in Greece were outlawed, and the economy was fast-tracked into recovery by the implementation of the Social Insurance Institute, as well as the following: Unemployment Insurance, Maternity Leave, five-day 40-hour work weeks, a guaranteed two-week vacation with pay or two weeks with double pay in place of vacation, and much stricter work safety standards. He also gave birth to the Ethniki Organosi Neolaias youth organization that gave rise to the extreme nationalism that led to Greek resistance after the German-Italian Occupation in 1941.
In foreign policy Metaxas followed a neutral stance, trying to balance between the UK and Germany. Metaxas’ efforts to keep Greece out of World War II came undone when Mussolini demanded occupation rights to strategic Greek sites. When the Italian ambassador Emanuele Grazzi visited Metaxas’ residence and presented these demands on the night of 28 October 1940, Metaxas curtly replied in French (the language of diplomacy), “Alors, c’est la guerre” (“Then it is war”). A popular story, promoted by Metaxas’s widow Lela, was he simply told Grazzi “Ochi!” (“No!”) and the image of Metaxas shouting “Ochi!” upon the presentation of the Italian ultimatum made the previously unpopular prime minister into a national hero. A few hours later, Italy invaded Greece from Albania and started the Greco-Italian War.
When the Italian’s issued their ultimatum for a Greek surrender, both the King and Metaxas rallied the Greek people and led a very successful counter-invasion of Albania, that would have pushed the Italian armed forces into the Adriatic Sea without the intervention of the Third Reich. Even after the death of Metaxas and the fall of Greece and the King, the people of Greece made sure that the Fourth of August Regime was held in the highest regard; many of the policies that were established by Metaxas and King George kept Greece’s economy growing until they were finally repealed or replaced in the mid 2000’s.
In closing, this first brief look into the creator of the Fourth of August Regime, Metaxas remains admired to this day for his patriotism and defiance to the aggression of the Great War and World War II. He is also viewed alongside his regime as the ideal leader and nationalist by the current-day Golden Dawn party in Greece.
In Metaxas’ own words: Trust in King, Fatherland, Family, and then God, my children.