Origins of the regime[edit | edit source]
Metaxas imposed his regime primarily to fight the turbulent social situation prevalent in Greece in the 1930s, in which political factionalization had disrupted Greek parliamentary democracy. The sinking credibility of the Parliament was accompanied by several coup attempts; in March 1935, a Venizelist putsch failed, and in the following October, elections reinforced the Royalist majority, which allowed the exiled King George II to return to Greece.
The king re-established the monarchy in the country, but the parliament, split into incompatible factions, was unable to shape a clear political majority so that the government could govern. Meanwhile, the increasing activity of the Communists, whose 15 deputies from the 1936 elections held the balance between 143 Monarchists and 142 Liberals, Agrarians, and Republicans, created a deadlock.
In May 1935 widespread agrarian unrest (tobacco farmers) and industrial unrest in the north of the country erupted, which eventually brought General Metaxas to suspend the parliament on the eve of a major strike, on 4 August 1936. Endorsed by the King, Metaxas declared a state of emergency, decreed martial law, annulled various articles of the constitution and established a crisis cabinet to put to an end the growing riots and to restore social order. 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."
Thus the Metaxas dictatorship was born, and the period of time which would follow was named after the day Metaxas rose to absolute power: the 4th of August. The new regime was backed by small extreme political parties, and by conservatives expecting a crackdown on the communists.
Classical influences[edit | edit source]
The roots of Metaxas' "New State" were sought in Greece's classical history. Metaxas thought Hellenic nationalism would galvanize "the heathen values of ancient Greece, specifically those of Sparta, along with the Christian values of the Medieval empire of Byzantium". Ancient Macedonia was also glorified as the first political unifier of the Hellenes. As its main symbol, the youth organization of the regime chose the labrys/pelekys, the symbol of ancient Minoan Crete.
The traditional Greek values of "Country, Loyalty, Family and Religion", which Metaxas praised repeatedly, were also close to those of the ancient Spartans. The regime promoted the perceived Spartan ideals of self-discipline, militarism and collective sacrifice, while Byzantium provided an emphasis on a centralized state and devotion to the monarchy and Greek Orthodox Church.
External influences[edit | edit source]
Metaxas considered António Salazar's Estado Novo of Portugal his main inspiration and surrounded himself with elements from this and other dictatorial regimes of the time. Thus his main ideological slogan was also "New State" (Neon Kratos) and the regime used its own military-like uniforms, greetings, songs and rituals, including the Roman salute (which Metaxas considered Greek in origin as a salutation to the sun god Apollo, and he referred to it as the "Hellenikos Hairetismos" ("Hellenic Hailing")).
In Metaxas' case some characteristics typical of authoritarian states such as 1930s Italy and Germany: the regime's propaganda presented Metaxas as "the First Peasant", "the First Worker" and as "the National Father" of the Greeks. Like his contemporaries Hitler with Führer and Mussolini with Duce, Metaxas adopted the title of Arhigos, Greek for "leader" or "chieftain", and claimed that his regime had to lay the foundations for the appearance of a glorious "Third Hellenic Civilization" combining the best of ancient Greece and the Greek Byzantine Empire of the Middle Ages.