Exit Venizélos; enter a dictator
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Some republican generals, sensing that the republic was tottering, tried to organize a coup on the day of the March, 1933 election, but it failed for lack of public support, and it got none from Venizélos, either (although this didn’t keep his opponents from believing that he was a party to it). Leaving office for the last time, he handed the premiership over to Panayís Tsaldáris, leader of the monarch-friendly Populist party.

Tsaldáris, though no extremist himself, brought several extreme royalists into his government. One was Gen. Geórgios Kondýlis, a former republican (and the leader of the coup that displaced Pángalos in 1926), whose impatience with government’s inability to get things done had driven him far to the right. Another was Ioánnis Metaxás, the general (and lifelong rightist) who had had to leave the country when his own coup failed in 1923. Like most military figures who got involved in Greek politics, they were strongly intolerant of opposition, and outraged that a Venizelist senate had the power to inhibit the actions of their royalist government.

Venizélos, now leading the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies, did and said nothing to cool them down. Royalist and Venezelist newspapers were, as usual, mutually and shrilly antagonistic. There were fistfights in the halls of parliament.
Venizelos' limousine after the attempt
On the evening of June 6, as Venizélos and his wife were being driven back to the city from the home of a friend in the northern suburb of Kifisiá, a car carrying several men forced itself between the Venizélos’ limousine and a carful of bodyguards who were following it. The men in the unknown car opened fire on the limousine with machine guns, and chased it for several miles, riddling it with bullets. There was no police interference. Details (at least in English) are hard to find on the Internet, but it seems that one of the bodyguards was killed, and both the chauffeur and Mme. Venizélos were wounded. (The latter is confirmed by all accounts; one says that she took four bullets.) But the gunmen missed Venizélos himself. The government’s director of public security (who was of course responsible for the police) was dismissed and arrested for having been involved in the plot, and another account says that 18 “officials and para-political individuals” in all were put under arrest—but the government saw to it that no trial took place.

Venizélos continued in opposition for another year, rejecting a couple of attempts on Tsaldáris’ part to work out a compromise. He may have been unsure of being able to keep his party together if he agreed, or he may have been too caught up in the spirit of political combat. One historian (who judges this stage of Venizélos' career rather harshly) suggests that “he had come to believe that he was indispensable to Greece” [Ioánnis Koliópoulos, in Venizélos: The Trials of Statesmanship, by several authors].

In October, 1934, Venizélos gave up the contest and retired to Chaniá.

The Tsaldáris government, though it continued the foreign policy Venizélos had established, began a gradual move toward restoration of the monarchy. In 1934, Greece signed the Balkan Pact, a resolution on the part of Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Romania to support one another in defense against aggression. But the agreement contained qualifications that made it less than fully effective, and Bulgaria (still disputing the borders) and Albania (still contending with Greece over northern Epirus) stayed out of it. With both Italy and Germany becoming ever more aggressive, most Greeks felt insecure, and Woodhouse considers that this insecurity was their decisive factor in the decision to restore the monarchy in 1935.

As restoration came to seem inevitable, some republican generals, led (as often before, including March, 1933) by the perennial firebrand Nikólaos Plastíras, organized yet one more coup attempt, and persuaded Venizélos to stifle his usual good sense and lend his name to it. General Kondýlis, the government’s Minister of War, suppressed the coup in short order. Venizélos and Plastíras fled the country, and were condemned to death in absentia. Venizélos was never to return; he died in Paris after a stroke in March, 1936.
Gen. Geórgios Kondýlis
Meanwhile, back in Greece, Kondýlis, acting as deputy prime minster in the aftermath of the failed coup, abolished the republican constitution, including the hated senate. An election in the summer of 1935 showed a decided swing toward restoration, but most of the deputies elected were followers of Tsaldáris, a cautious conservative who was in no hurry to abolish the republic, rather than radicals like Kondýlis, and a political struggle between the two leaders ensured, with first one, then the other, submitting his resignation. The eventual winner was Kondýlis, who as prime minister in October, 1935 proclaimed Greece to be a constitutional monarchy, subject to a plebiscite the following month. (The picture—the best I could find of Kondýlis in this stage of his career—can’t be made any bigger than this.)

That plebiscite produced a majority of 97% for restoration of the monarchy. This side would certainly have won, but the extent of its victory is suspect. The army was involved, and the ballot was anything but secret: according to Time magazine (quoted in a Wikipedia article): “one could drop into the ballot box a blue vote for George II and please General George Kondylis... or one could cast a red ballot for the Republic and get roughed up.”
King George II
King George II returned to Athens in the last week of November, 1935, where he expressed his intention to declare total and unconditional amnesty for all who had been convicted of political crimes. This put the king at odds with Kondýlis, who wanted limits imposed on the amnesty. The king insisted, the prime minister and his government resigned—and Kondýlis immediately lost all political power, since the king he had been so eager to bring back chose thenceforward to put his trust in other politicians. Appointing one of these, Constantínos Demertzís, as prime minister, George proclaimed the amnesty. Venizélos, from Paris, issued a statement praising the king’s wisdom and urging his countrymen to accept the constitutional monarchy. It was his last public act.

The king’s return unfortunately failed to produce any measurable improvement in the political atmosphere of Greece. An election was held, but it produced a nearly deadlocked parliament unable to agree on any significant action. The balance of power between the Liberal and the Populist sides was held by 15 Communists, no lovers of monarchy, but just as certainly no friends of democracy.
It seemed probably only a matter of time before one or another of Greece’s stronger leaders would again seize dictatorial power to combat the danger. By a strange coincidence, however, a number of leading figures died in rapid succession within a few months: Venizélos, Kondýlis, Tsaldáris, Demertzís. By a process of elimination, General Metaxás found himself promoted from Deputy Prime Minister to the premiership in April, 1936, although he had only six followers in parliament. [C. M. Woodhouse]
Ioánnis Metaxás
The king, still feeling his way in politics, invested a lot of trust in Metaxás, who had always been a loyal supporter of the monarchy. A brilliant man and a strong personality, he had the usual general’s impatience with the complexities and frustrations of parliamentary government. In May, the leader of the parliamentary opposition, who shared the general fear of a military coup, made the foolish suggestion that parliament adjourn for five months, during which the prime minister would rule by decree, guided by a parliamentary committee of 40 members. The committee, which duplicated the parliamentary stalemate, was ineffectual, but Metaxás took full advantage of his right to rule by decree. He began arresting labor leaders, dissolved the most militant unions, and declared strikes illegal. The communists responded with a series of strikes that approached the status of riots—in May one of these, in Salonika, took 30 lives.

The uproar went on over the summer, and the communists called a nationwide general strike for August 5. The leaders of the Liberal and Populist parties went to the king and offered to create a unity government if he would recall the parliament. A coalition of the two largest parties would have commanded a huge majority, but King George, choosing to share Metaxás’ belief that the nation was fighting for its life against the forces of Bolshevism, declined to cooperate. Instead, he endorsed the prime minister’s decrees declaring a state of emergency, suspending constitutional guarantees of personal liberty, and dissolving parliament with no date set for new elections.
Flag of the National Youth Organization
Greece was no longer a constitutional monarchy—this time it had been one for only eight months. It was now a dictatorship, albeit with a royal figurehead. According to Wikipedia, “In one of his first speeches, Metaxas announced: ‘I have decided to hold all the power I need for saving Greece from the catastrophes which threaten her.’” Greece was not the only small country in Europe to experiment with dictatorship in the 1930s. Like several other right-wing dictatorships, that of Metaxás (sometimes called the Fourth of August Regime for the date of the decrees that established it) displayed some of the typical characteristics of fascism. There was a youth organization with snappy uniforms; there were stirring invocations of the country’s glorious past and traditional virtues; there were stiff-armed Roman salutes and flags bearing a new national symbol: the double-bladed labrys of ancient Crete. (They were carried only by party organizations; Metaxás didn't attempt to change the national or royal flags.)
 António de Oliveira Salazar, Portuguese dictator 1932–1968
But although the government repressed liberalism and everything to the left of it, it generally exiled its prisoners to small Aegean islands, and never descended to political murder or mass executions. It’s significant that Metaxás cited the Salazar regime in Portugal as a major influence. Like Antonio Salazar’s, his regime was thoroughly authoritarian and certainly no friend to civil liberties, but comparatively restrained in its exercise of power. Salazar came from an academic rather than a military background, so it isn’t surprising that, as his country’s dictator, he never appeared in uniform, even though this was considered de rigeur for the well-dressed 20th-century dictator.
Metaxás being saluted by his followers
But Metaxás had been an army officer for most of his life, and a high-ranking general for some of that time, so it’s interesting that, in a big batch of Metaxás photos I found on the Web, he wears a uniform only in the obviously early ones, taken long before he left the army or got involved in parliamentary politics. Even in pictures where he’s receiving stiff-armed salutes from uniformed party members, the dictator is always dressed in civvies. Such comparative modesty certainly doesn’t justify this or any other dictatorship, but it could have been worse—examples from those years are easy to find.

Notwithstanding his respect for German military power, Metaxás’ heart belonged to Greece—at least, to the Greece he thought he was bringing back to life, where peasants and workers were content with their lot, and a virtuous people listened and danced to folk music in thoroughly traditional style—a custom he endeavored to encourage by censoring the “disreputable” lyrics of rebétika and other urban music that was played in Middle Eastern modes and associated with low life, poverty, and the refugees of 1923.
Rebétes in a Piraeus alley, 1933
Those who played, sang, and listened to these songs (which, before censorship, often dealt with drugs, prison, and love affairs unblessed by the church) were called rebétes, a term pretty much equivalent to ‘bums.’ It was bestowed on them by conservative bourgeois types of the sort that generally supported Metaxás, but they calmly appropriated it for their own use. The picture shows a gathering of well-known rebétes in Piraeus in 1933. Many Greeks cherish their memory and their music today.

On the good side, Metaxás shared none of the anti-Semitism that characterized so many of Europe’s right-wing dictatorships at the time. His government in fact repealed some anti-Semitic laws that previous governments had put on the books. He was also intelligently realistic in preparing for the war he knew would be coming soon. When Italy attacked Greece in 1940, the Greek military was better prepared for defense than any other European country had been. (Czechoslovakia might have been equally well prepared, but its defenses were concentrated in territory that France and Britain handed over to Hitler at the infamous Munich Conference.)
Metaxás with the king, the prince, and Gen. Papágos
Metaxás prudently tried to keep Greece out of World War II, but in 1940, when Mussolini delivered an ultimatum demanding that the country be essentially turned over to Italy for its military use, he responded with a forthright No! and rallied the country to resist. The Italians were defeated and pushed back into Albania, and Metaxás had won himself a place in his country’s heart, even among many Greeks who deplored his political excesses. Όχι Day—óhi is the Greek word for ‘no’—is still celebrated on October 28. Here, he confers with, from right to left, (1) Prince Paul, the king's younger brother and heir apparent because (2) King George was childless. They're talking to (3) General Aléxandros Papágos (with his back turned), who was in command of the army. Wikipedia says this meeting is taking place in Albania. It looks a bit flat for that mountainous country and a bit sunny for the time of year, but I have no alternative theory to propound.

In spite of his respect for German military power, Metaxás would certainly have resisted just as fiercely when the Wehrmacht invaded the following spring. But he died in January, with the Greek army bogged down in Albania and the country’s military capacity strained almost to its limit. To be realistic, it’s unlikely that Metaxás’ presence would have made the outcome very different.
Venizélos at rest
Elefthérios Venizélos, the hero of this narrative, didn’t live to see his country become a dictatorship; his death on March 18, 1936 came a few weeks before Ioánnis Metaxás became prime minister and a few months before he became dictator. Venizélos died in Paris, not yet having returned from exile under the newly declared amnesty. For a few days his body lay in state there in the bed he’d died in.
Venizélos' grave above Chaniá
According to the Wikipedia biography, a crowd of Greeks resident in Paris accompanied Venizélos’ body to the railway station. It was carried by train to the Italian port of Brindisi, taken on board the Greek destroyer Pávlos Koundoúriotis (named after the admiral who had been one of his political allies), and conveyed to Chaniá, where Venizélos was interred in the place he had chosen: on the height of Akrotíri above the city, near the spot where his rebels had raised the Greek flag in 1894. His son Sofóklis, who later headed the Liberal party and served briefly as prime minister during the years after World War II, lies in a grave next to his.