King George II of Greece
George II (Greek: Γεώργιος Βʹ, 1890–1947) was the eldest son of Prince Constantine of Greece and his wife, Princess Sophia of Prussia. George pursued a military career, training with the Prussian Guard at the age of 18, then serving in the Balkan Wars (together with Metaxas) as a member of the 1st Greek Infantry. When his grandfather was assassinated in 1913, his father became King Constantine I and George became the crown prince.
During the Greek invasion of Asia Minor, Crown Prince George served as a colonel, and later as a major general in the war against Turkey. When the Turks defeated Greece at the Battle of Dumlupinar, the military forced the abdication of Constantine, and George succeeded to the Greek throne on 27 September 1922.
However, a republic was proclaimed in Greece in 1924 and he was officially deposed and stripped of his Greek nationality, and his property was confiscated. Yet in autumn 1935, General Georgios Kondylis arranged a plebiscite both to approve his government and to bring an end to the republic. 98% of the votes supported restoration of the monarchy, so George returned to Greek soil on November 25.
Almost immediately he and Kondylis disagreed over the terms of a general amnesty the King wanted to declare, and George appointed an interim Prime Minister, Konstantinos Demertzis. New elections were held in January, which resulted in a hung parliament with the Communists (who were naturally anti-monarchist) holding the balance of power. A series of unexpected deaths among the better-known politicians (including Kondylis and Demertzis), as well as the uncertain political situation, led to the rise to power of veteran army officer Ioannis Metaxas.
Metaxas had seized power after asserting that the nation was on the verge of being taken over by the communists, and George II gave him carte blanche to suspend parliament and rule by decree, effectively establishing a dictatorship – the Fourth of August regime.
In fact, George’s second reign was marked by the ascendancy of Metaxas. George signed decrees that dissolved the parliament, banned political parties, abolished the constitution, suspended constitutional rights and aided Metaxas to establish a quasi-fascist regime in which political opponents were arrested and strict censorship was imposed.
The regime almost functioned as a duumvirate of King George II and General Metaxas, at least for the first two years. “We need the Royal throne as a symbol and guarantee of national unity”, Metaxas always said. And the King needed Metaxas for his formidable leadership abilities. Although the King’s support of Metaxas put the throne in a controversial position, George thoroughly condoned the dictatorship and worked closely with the Archigos throughout the years of the dictatorship.
Although formally a duumvirate, it was Metaxas who held the reins. Metaxas had used the Royalists to gain power but after the 4th of August, he established his parallel ministers and placed there his loyal people. For instance, he created a sub-ministry for Konstantinos Maniadakis, the almighty boss of the security forces, and another sub-ministry for Theologos Nikoloudis, the powerful chief of propaganda. These sub-ministries held more power than other ordinary ministries, and from their deliberately humble denominations as “sub-ministries” one could not deduct that they were in fact the pillars of the regime.
By replacing Royalists with Metaxists, the skillful Cephalonite expanded his personal power at the expense of the King. And by creating an alternative structure, he gradually became politically autonomous and eventually almost independent of the King. This phenomenon did not pass unnoticed: neither the British nor the Americans thought that Metaxas was under control of George.
Since Metaxas was also the self-appointed foreign policy minister, he also controlled the country’s foreign relations. “The British was disturbed by Metaxas’ expanding his power on the State apparatus even in foreign policy but at most by his sympathy for Germany. The US ambassador MacVeagh described the situation as the King’s being in a feeble position while his fascist Frankenstein, the German educated General Metaxas was holding the control” (Pelt 2002, p.163).
Additionally, Metaxas held the economical institutions of the state under his control: he developed close relationships with the Bank of Greece and the private institution of the National Bank of Greece, and all the trade with Germany was done through these banks while the King stayed in the dark. It is also significant that the regime’s biggest creation, the paramilitary youth organisation EON, was the brainchild of Metaxas and was developed into a behemoth in spite of the King, who was always reluctant to it.
The differences in the weight of power in the alleged duumvirate were even more obvious after the summer of 1938, when Metaxas expanded his power on the State apparatus. The US ambassador in Greece noted, on September 1938, that the King’s influence with the government was now nil and that he was no longer in control of the Army, which was now even more under Metaxas’ tight control. And not only the Army: although the King was always ceremoniously present, the whole State was under the effective rule of Metaxas. The King lamented the fact that he was losing “that love of his people which (was) the strength of his house”, and he compared his own significance to the dictator to that of a kind of buffer or “scapegoat”.
The King thought that Metaxas’s 1938 announcement of the regime as permanent was “ridiculous” but according tothe American ambassador MacVeagh, the King showed “neither the ability nor the willingness to alter the situation”. Moreover, MacVeagh commented that the King had told the Brazilian ambassador that he had been to Germany and Italy and was familiar with the kind of oppression existing there, and that he hated the position he was now in because he was seen as the one personally responsible for having established similar conditions in Greece.
Despite the strong economic and military ties of the Metaxas government to Nazi Germany, King George had pro-British feelings at the start of World War II. On 28 October 1940 Metaxas rejected an Italian ultimatum demanding the stationing of Italian troops in Greece, and Italy invaded, starting the Greco-Italian War. The Greeks mounted a successful defense and eventually occupied the southern half of Albania (then an Italian protectorate).
Metaxas died in January 1941, yet the King did not dissolve the 4th of August regime. On the contrary, the regime survived under the King’s auspicies with a new prime minister, Alexandros Koryzis, until April, when the Germans invaded Greece. On April 23 George and the government left the Greek mainland for Crete, but after the German airborne attack on the island he was evacuated to Egypt. Once again he went into exile to Great Britain.
Although the King would later effectively renounce the Metaxas regime in a radio broadcast, a large section of the people and many politicians rejected his return on account of his support of the dictatorship, and he was soon succeeded by his younger brother, Paul. On account of his many exiles, he is said to have remarked that “the most important tool for a King of Greece is a suitcase.”