Metaxas – conservative, reactionary or reformist?
Ioannis Metaxas has been described as a conservative and as a reactionary force against the reformist activity of Venizelos. But, is that true?
The truth is that while in office, Metaxas was responsible for some of the most important and innovative restructurings of the Greek State in every field – from agriculture to education and culture.
Indeed, we can safely say that he was a natural born reformer. A paradigmatic example of his reformist character was his attempt to move the nation’s capital to Sparta.*
An hyperactive reformist, in just 5 years he implemented dozens of reforms, most notably:
- Founded E.O.N., a non-political youth organization in attempt to imbue the youth with the ethnic ideas and values of Hellenism, which had been subjected to years of political propaganda.
- He established the Social Insurance Institute (IKA)
- Created a public employment agency and a an unemployment insurance
- Founded the Workers’ Center, which was established to look after workers’ housing and recreation, among other things.
- He implemented for the first time in Greece the 8-hour working schedule and a five-day and 40-hour workweek
- He established holidays with full pay (guaranteed two-week vacations with pay or two weeks’ double pay instead of the actual vacation), new restrictions on the employer’s right to fire employees, the institution of union contracts,
- He put into effect stricter work safety standards, a minimum wage
- Banned child labour and built child care centres, established maternity leaves
- He implemented the official days off-work and pension organization.
- He established hospitals and medical offices for the treatment of many diseases such as malaria, kindergartens, schools, organizations for the promotion of Greek culture (Ergatiki Estia), food rationing for millions of children and unemployed people.
- Created airports in Thessaloniki and Crete
- Developed the Piraeus-Kifissia Electric Railway
- Ignited anti-flooding constructions, created aqueducts, roads, tunnels, pavements, erected schools, offices and other buildings.
- Built homes and districts for the Asia Minor refugees.
- He established the first National Parks in Greece – among them Olympos National Park and hired guards for the protection of the wildlife and flora.
- Enforced agriculture. By 1938, the cultivable acres of Greece had increased to 25.841.400 from 12.452.980 that was since 1922.
- Enforced Greek culture by establishing organizations, institutions and cultural centres, most notably Stegi Grammaton kai Technon, organized theatrical presentations for the first time in ancient theatres
- Founded the national organization for publishing school books.
- Built 1,739 new schools and hired 3,288 teachers.
- Changed the official language from the puristic form ‘Katharevousa” to Demotic Greek, putting an end to the decades-old linguistic question in Greece.
- Developed tourism in Greece and organized promotion of the country.
- Cancelled the Greek national debt.
- Implemented the Price Control Code, by which he could control the prices of all products in the country. This way there was a regulation in the profit between the merchant and the intermediary.
- Established protection and restoration of every archaeological artifact and monument in the country. It is interesting to note that during wartime, Metaxas ordered the protection of as much archaeological artifacts and monuments as possible by hiding them underground.
- Fought against communism, which had begun expressing anti-Hellenic ideologies.
- Fought against crime and drugs. He deployed units which uncovered drug dealing companies and confiscated huge amounts of imported drug substances.
- Reduced criminality. In just 5 years robberies had dropped from 82 to 13 and assassinations had dropped from 360 to 67.
- He organized, educated and armed the Greek Army so well that in 1940 everybody in Europe was amazed from its triumphant victories in the mountains of Epirus to such an extent that the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill proclaimed “From now on, we will not say that Greeks fight like Heroes, but that Heroes fight like Greeks”.
A reformist, no less.
*Aristotle Kallis, “Neither Fascist nor Authoritarian,” p. 314.