Ioannis Metaxas

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ioannis Metaxas
(Official Photo, 1937)
Ioannis Metaxas signature

Ioannis Metaxas ( Greek Ιωάννης Μεταξάς Ioánnis Metaxás earlier than Johannes Metaxás ; born April 12, 1871 in Ithaca ; † January 29, 1941 in Athens ) was a Greek general and dictator .


Ioannis Metaxas as a child with his parents
The house in Athens with the apartment that Metaxas lived in with his family

Ioannis Metaxas came from the noble Metaxa family, who originally came from Byzantium and had settled on the islands of Kefalonia and Ithaca . His father Panagis Metaxas was prefect of the island of Ithaca and settled on Kefalonia in 1879 after losing his office. As a count he was a respected man. A close relative of his was the spirits manufacturer Spyridon Metaxas , another of the politicians Andreas Metaxas .

Metaxas was considered a successful student with an extraordinary talent for mathematics. He dropped out of school at the age of 14 and attended the military academy in Athens on September 24, 1885. In 1890 he reached the rank of sub-lieutenant , then he studied mechanical engineering , but dropped out due to his appointment as lieutenant general . During the Turkish-Greek War in 1897, he made friends with the Germany-friendly heir to the throne, Constantine I , who arranged for him a scholarship to study in Germany. Ioannis Metaxas used the free time during his studies to visit numerous personalities from politics, business and the military as well as to visit operas and art exhibitions. After a few shorter relationships, he lived with Margarethe, whom he called Grete.

Ioannis Metaxas could never achieve very good performances in shooting, because of which he took strategic subjects and sports, where he was among the best and very often achieved first places in competitions. His ambition earned him the name “Kleiner Moltke” among fellow students. He graduated from the Prussian War Academy in 1902 with honors. He then went on a trip to Paris and Rome ; then he settled in Athens .

Back in Greece he worked on his own reform ideas for the army. On the advice of the army command, he ran as a candidate for parliament and was elected on February 20, 1905. For two years he worked for the royal family as a private lecturer and taught Prince Andreas and Prince Georg in military history and military strategy. Metaxas was open to his monarchist attitude and was therefore forcibly transferred to the provincial town of Larisa after the Goudi uprising . He was said to have had an intimate relationship with Sophie von Prussia , the wife of Crown Prince Constantine .

In the Balkan war he was from 1913 Deputy Chief of Staff , from 1915 Chief of General Staff and influential advisor of King Constantine I and was instrumental in the negotiations with the neighboring countries of Greece. He was an opponent of the war and expansion policy operated by Venizelos against the Ottoman Empire , which Venizelos pursued on the side of the Entente . Metaxas, like Constantine I, long believed in a victory for the Central Powers and therefore pleaded for Greece to be neutral; He also warned of the risks of a campaign on Asia Minor , as Venizelos intended in the long term. Venizelos' war policy retained the upper hand in public opinion, and the parliamentary election on June 13, 1915, was again sovereignly won by the willing Prime Minister. From 1917 to 1920 Metaxas was interned by the French in Corsica .


Ioannis Metaxas was married to Lela Chatzioannou (Λέλα Χατζηϊωάννου) since 1909. They had two children. His granddaughter Ioanna Foka-Metaxa (Ιωάννα Φωκά-Μεταξά) is a writer.

Rise to power

Ioannis Metaxas was not only a general, but had also been elected as a member of parliament since 1904 (with interruptions in exile). He had seen many demagogues from all political camps and was skeptical of the politics of Venizelos. After his return from exile he supported a royalist counter-revolution and in the following years was a member of several governments in various functions.

In 1935, the generals Georgios Kondylis and Ioannis Metaxas steered ever more openly towards a dictatorship and legalized their endeavors by proclaiming the monarchy in October 1935 . The 64-year-old Venizelos went into exile. King George II returned to Greece after twelve years in exile.

Appointment as Prime Minister

In the parliamentary elections in January 1936, Venizelists and anti-Venizelists achieved roughly the same number of votes; the Communists, with 15 MPs, were the third party that "tipped the scales". A grand coalition did not come about, nor would the military have tolerated a government with Communist participation; a stalemate resulted. As the head of the Liberal Party (which had only 7 seats in parliament), Metaxas was first appointed defense minister, and after Demertzis' death from the king to head of government and foreign minister. The government of Metaxas was given far-reaching legislative powers and was supposed to act only temporarily to stabilize the situation, a parliamentary committee served as a control. At the same time, there was ongoing unrest in the streets, and the influential tobacco workers' representatives announced a strike and large-scale protest for August 5th. Because of the domestic political unrest, the king endowed Metaxas with extensive powers and thus paved the way for the authoritarian-anti-democratic regime of Metaxas. After the bloody suppression of the strike - sung about by Giannis Ritsos in the lament Epitaphios - Metaxas suspended parliament and the constitution on August 4, 1936. New elections have been postponed until further notice. With this coup began his authoritarian so-called "regime of August 4th", which lasted until 1941. He met with little resistance, only Georgios Papandreou , who paid for his opposition by being exiled to Chios , and the communist party openly opposed Metaxas.


The "New State" ( Neon Kratos ) was supposed to establish a "Third Greek Culture", after the first in antiquity and the second in Byzantium . The attribute of cultural superiority and uniformity should strengthen the self-esteem of the population.

At that time, society was divided into two political camps, refugees from Asia Minor in Athens and the “new” northern Greece formed a heterogeneous and conflict-ridden society. A targeted standardization and reconciliation of society was a primary goal of his policy: “An ideal that is able to inspire the Greeks, to fill their souls, to give them purpose and meaning in life and all of them in solidarity towards the great achievement unites, [cannot] be anything other than the national ideal. ”Less the ethnic origin than a certain attitude should characterize the new person, the tran-territoriality was justified with the ancient world, which was not shaped by nation states either. The writings of Wilhelm Wundt had an influence on the program of the regime . Metaxas purposefully used the term Megali Idea of his opponents and redefined it.

A statutory minimum wage was introduced, the 8-hour day was supposed to reduce unemployment, in 1937 the social insurance institution Idryma Kinonikon Asfaliseon (Ίδρυμα Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, ΙΚΑ) was founded. Violations by employers were punished with harsh prison terms. A reform of the primary sector failed due to financial resources. Greece had to spend a large part of its foreign exchange on the purchase of wheat , necessary agricultural equipment could not be obtained. The emigration of farmers in order to enlarge the area was secretly promoted.

In addition, he started a state work program, which not least pushed the armament. On the one hand, career opportunities were created for previously disadvantaged social classes; on the other hand, individualistic profiling tendencies were punished. In order to prevent possible disruptions of his economic transformation program, he in fact forbade any oppositional political activity with laws on "anti-subversive statements" that resulted in banishment to islands. Oppositionists later retaliated by portraying Metaxas as a negative example of a dictator even decades later. Ioannis Metaxas always rejected a cult of leadership, he saw his claim to leadership as one of “people of fate who want and dare something” and saw himself as the father of the nation.

On February 22, 1938, Law No. 1092 was passed, which restricted media coverage. This was justified with their abuse by individual politicians and parties. The German Reich used this medium as foreign propaganda and gave material and financed reports to Greek newspapers. About 2000 drachmas were paid for a benevolent article. From then on, paid reporting was no longer legally possible. The regime controlled press coverage through the use of officials to provide the major newspapers with prepackaged information. There were also limits to foreign coverage of the country.

Members of the fascist youth organization EON pay homage to Ioannis Metaxas (center, without raised arm) with the fascist greeting (1938)

The State Chancellery for Press and Tourism was founded, it controlled and censored cultural activities and the film. Criticism took place both politically and qualitatively. The film companies benefited from government contracts for documentary films. German films were banned from cinemas' programs after pressure from the Jewish communities. The background was the professional ban for Jewish filmmakers in Germany and anti-Semitic content in the films. The photographer Nelly continued her photo series about the country, which she began in 1927 and which was shown as a Greek contribution at the 1939 World Exhibition in New York. A portrait she made of Metaxas shows him in a civil suit with his hat on; since 1915 he had not wanted to wear a uniform even on festive occasions. In 1939 he enabled the re-establishment of the Greek Opera as part of the National Theater , preceded by the closure of the royal theater in its old form and more than 10 years of efforts to reinstate operas under state direction. In contrast to the other dictatorships in Europe, the Metaxas reign is characterized by a complete lack of monumental representative buildings. The large school building program (which resulted in numerous modern functionalist buildings across the country) was discontinued and the work of the main architect Patroklos Karantinos was limited to museums. In 1937 the Acropolis Museum was built. Private buildings were characterized by a pluralism, ranging from classicism to the previously frowned upon Art Deco .

The youth organization EON (Ethniki Organosis Neolea), founded by Metaxas in 1936, was supposed to create “combative people”, not for a military purpose, but “intended for combat, for every kind of combat”. One of the concerns was to reduce social differences and to strengthen the collective. The organization competed with the Boy Scouts and was initially rejected by the royal court. Only 15,000 members registered in 1938. A separate Jewish department of the youth organization was set up for Jews . The background to this was efforts to assimilate the former Ottoman Jews of Northern Greece in particular and to encourage their identification with the Greek state.

In 1939 all youth organizations in the country were merged with the EON and the organization was placed under school administration.

On the other hand, there was complete equality and tolerance towards minorities. Greek Jews had a strong emotional bond with Greece. Metaxas called the Greek Jews "Children of Greece". He fought anti-Semitism through a strict press law and censorship. His ideas about Judaism were largely shaped by Zvi Koretz , with whom he was friends and who was elected chief rabbi in 1938 . Several hundred German Jews had also found refuge from Germany in Greece. The idea of ​​a denominational concept of religion and religious tolerance was an essential part of his domestic policy. Metaxas proclaimed: "Respect for the religious beliefs of non-Christians must be absolute". Metaxas was convinced that if there was complete equality and tolerance towards religious minorities, it would win good patriots.

Metaxas with Kemal Ataturk in Ankara , March 1938

In terms of foreign policy, despite a cautious approach to the Third Reich , he leaned mainly on Great Britain . In 1938 he signed a friendship and neutrality treaty with Turkey .

After the beginning of the Second World War , Metaxas and King George II strictly adhered to Greek neutrality. In mid-1940, provocations increased from Italy , which had become a military threat to Greece since the occupation of Albania in 1939. Metaxas, previously unpopular in domestic politics, gained importance during the war thanks to his army, which was reorganized and disciplined under the military regime . Now the demoted and exiled republican cadres were also taken up again. The social solidarity reached its peak in the last few years of the Metaxas reign, contemporary sources report an enormous feeling of national solidarity.

Ochi day

On October 28, 1940, Benito Mussolini asked Greece to set up Italian military bases on Greek soil. This would have Greece in fact brought to the status of an Italian satellite state or had the subsequent full occupation of the country by Italy consequence how the example of the recently performed annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union in 1940 after the Hitler-Stalin pact had been able to see . Metaxas is said to have responded to these Italian demands with just one word: "όχι" ( ochi : no!). This led to the Greco-Italian War : the Italian armies invaded Epirus from Albania , but were stopped after a short advance and even thrown back into Albanian territory by a Greek counter-offensive . The Ochi Day is today in Greece a national holiday.

When Metaxas died a little later in January 1941, he left a power vacuum in Athens . His death, allegedly due to the mistake of a British doctor in Athens, gave rise to speculation that he was brought about deliberately for political reasons through the influence of foreign secret services, in order to prevent Metaxas from taking sides with Hitler. There is no evidence for this. The Germany-friendly Metaxas could not win anything from Hitler and his anti-Semitism. He had instructed Ambassador Ragavis in Berlin not to negotiate with Hitler. In his diary he noted: "Better we all die than that we are subordinate to Hitler" ("καλύτερα να πεθάνουμε όλοι παρά να υποταχθούμε στον Χίτλερ").

From April 1941, German troops intervened on the Italian side in the war, and Greece was occupied by the Axis powers and their allies Bulgaria as a result of the Balkan campaign .


A tobacco factory in Chicago launched the “John Metaxas” cigar in 1941, the brand's logo is a portrait of Ioannis Metaxas.

See also


  • Joachim G. Joachim: Ioannis Metaxas. The Formative Years 1871-1922. Bibliopolis, Mannheim, Möhnsee 2000; ISBN 3-933925-11-8 .
  • Edgar Hösch: History of the Balkan Countries. From the early days to the present. CH Beck Verlag, Munich 2008; ISBN 978-3-406-57299-9
  • PJ Vatikiotis: Popular Autocracy in Greece, 1936–41: A Political Biography of General Ioannis Metaxas. 1998
  • Biography: EON, the youth of Ioannis Metaxas.
  • Marina Petrakis: The Metaxas Myth: Dictatorship and Propaganda in Greece ; International Library of War Studies; IB Tauris, London, 2005; ISBN 1-84511-037-4
  • Dimitris Michalopoulos, The "New State" in Portugal, Spain and Greece: Fascist in Style but not in Reality greece /

Web links

Commons : Ioannis Metaxas  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Susanne-Sophia Spiliotis: Transterritoriality and national demarcation ; P. 155
  2. Cf. Alexopoulou: Between Tradition and Revolution: The National Youth Organization of Greece (1936–1941) , p. 20 (PDF; 501 kB)
  3. Quoted in: Susanne-Sophia Spiliotis: Transterritoriality and national demarcation p. 166
  4. Quoted in: Susanne-Sophia Spiliotis: Transterritoriality and national demarcation ; P. 151
  5. Susanne-Sophia Spiliotis: Transterritoriality and national demarcation ; P. 166
  6. Marina Petrakis: Metaxas Myth ; P. 11
  7. Elene Psoma: Filmland Greece - Terra incognita ; Pp. 107-110
  8. Elene Psoma: Filmland Greece - Terra incognita ; P. 110
  9. Photo by Ioannis Metaxas (around 1940) ( Memento of the original from October 2, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  10. Nina-Maria Jaklitsch: Studies on Musicology: Supplements of the Monuments of Music Art in Austria ; 2003; P. 120
  11. Manos G. Birēs, Marō Kardamitsē-Adamē: Neoclassical Architecture in Greece ; P. 292
  12. Susanne-Sophia Spiliotis: Transterritoriality and national demarcation ; P. 175
  13. Constantin Mavromatidis: The Jewish policy of Italy and the Third Reich in occupied Greece ; P. 13
  14. Susanne-Sophia Spiliotis: Transterritoriality and national demarcation ; P. 165
  15. Report by Ert3 on youtube [1]
predecessor Office successor
Konstantinos Demertzis Prime Minister of Greece
Alexandros Koryzis