The EON against the Scouting movement
Greece, like other European countries, was swept up in the 1930s by a highly nationalistic sentiment, and a fascist regime was established in 1936 by General Metaxas. As in Germany and Italy, the Metaxas dictatorship established a youth organization, the Ethniki Organosi Neolaias (EON, National Organization of Youth).
Although it only lasted 5 years, until the regime’s demise in April 1941, the growth of the EON was impressive and quickly became a gigantic organization. Over the years it came out to be a mass youth movement even bigger, in relative terms, than the Hitlerjugend or the Balille in Germany and Italy respectively.
One of the reasons of the EON’s impressive growth was that the EON was the most critical tool in Metaxas’ plans for a Third Hellenic Civilization, the regime’s ultimate and supreme objective. Metaxas’ hopes in a renewed Greece were laid in the Greek youth, and hence the EON became the dictator’ pride and joy.
Of course, in his totalitarian view Metaxas believed that the EON had to be the only youth organization of the country, and therefore one of its first victims was the Greek Scouts and Guides, which fell prey to the EON’s voracius appetite.
This was the same approach taken in other Fascist countries as well as in the Communist Soviet Union. Metaxas, like other totalitarian leaders, wanted to use EON to model the political thought of its members, and he did not want a rival organization that he could not control influencing Greek youth.
Therefore, step by step, he moved to dismantle the Greek Scouting movement and finally banned Scouting in Greece in June 1939. A similar fate awaited the YMCA and YWCA soon thereafter. To showcase EON’s victory over Scouting, in many places in Greece there were public ceremonies where boyscouts had to present their flags and uniforms to the members of EON. Some sources claim that Scouts were beaten and their uniforms were torn apart, but evidence is missing.
In any case, after 1939, the only youth group that Greek boys and girls could join was EON. And since the EON had government support, children of all social classes could join, including many children who could not afford to be Scouts or Guides (Scouting has never been elitist, but lower classes traditionally have not joined the movement because of the costs of participating: uniforms, activities, yearly fees..). In contrast, backed by the government, EON attracted a much wider cross-section of boys and therefore membership in EON was far more reaching than in Scouting.
Over time, EON membership became compulsory, and the EON member figures skyrocketted. Towards the end of its existance in 1941, no less than one sixth of the Greek population wore the navy blue uniform of the EON – an impressive feat. During the Axis occupation of Greece (1941-1944), the EON was dismantled and the Scouting movement continued to be unexistant until Greece’s Liberation in 1944, when Scouting was reestablished in the country.
– Andreas Markessinis