10 questions about the EON
Shortly after raising to power, Metaxas created the Ethniki Organosi Neolaias (EON), Greek for “National Youth Organization”. The EON was officially founded in September 5, 1936 but some reactions against it didn’t let the organization work until the next year, where the first department was initiated. At the beginning, King George II was against the idea of starting up EON but later Metaxas convinced him to be the honorary leader of the organization and eventually agreed.
Which were its objectives?
The agenda of the organization was supposed to be related with cultural and athletic activities but Metaxas was actually trying to win support among the impressionable youth for his fascist regime. The EON was part of the 4th of August’s machinery and functioned as a tool for youth recruitment and endoctrinement. The EON operated as a mean to model the political and social thought of its members so that they could create a ‘Third Hellenic Civilization’ in the future. It was a critical role and was Metaxas’ pride, which made him proclaim ‘For me the success of EON is the success of all my political life or career.’ As an army of the Youth of Greece, which turned its members mentally and physically into (patriotic) Greeks, it could also be seen as a future combat army. In October 1939 it had 750,000 members, so this was no minor force by any means.
What was its ethos?
Based on the actual manuals or writings issued by the EON and on the and speeches performed by its leaders, the ethos of EON stressed nationalism and patriotism as well as denegration of democracy. EON had an aggressive militarism exhibited by other fascist groups.
Like most other similar youth organizations elsewhere, EON too became the cause of family divisions, and the alienation of children from their parents and vice versa.
Following the German example, there were public burning of books with Marxist content but also books of Bernard Shaw, Freud, Gorki, Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Gaite, Darwin, Papadiamantis… The list was long and included many of the same books banned by German National Socialism. EON played an active role in this, as did the Hitler Youth in Germany.
What was ‘H Neolaia”?
EON published a widespread magazine titled “H Neolaia” (The Youth) in which there were popular and theoretical articles about moral and practical issues concerning the Greek youth. The writers in many of these texts stress EON’s admiration for the civilization of ancient Sparta with its strict military education. Some writers in “H Neolaia” even suggested that the views expressed in the publication should be taught in schools.
Was it autonomous?
Metaxas, highlighted that the EON practiced autonomy in the management of its affairs and training programmes. But as Vatikiotis says, “Its is only fair though to point to the massive evidence, including the regime’s appointment of the Director of EON, its close control of the Organization’s finances, as well as the funding and organization of its summer camps, the control of the syllabus, the agenda of its Information and Education programs, all of which contradict the claim by Metaxas of EON’s autonomy. On the contrary; there was great social and political pressure as well as several attractive perks for Greek youth to join the EON.”
Furthermore, Metaxas himself kept a keen and close personal control over EON; it was, he thought, his greatest accomplishment, ‘kamari mou’, his pride and joy, and referred to its members as his children people [Diary, IV, pp.769-851].”
How was it organized?
According to the EON plan approved by Metaxas, all young people should be members of EON. This encompasses small children 1 year old to grown-up adults 35 years old.
Fallagites: The oldest group up to age 35 were organized in brigades (falanges) and they were called “brigaders”. The boys’ units were called in Greek falangites and the girls’ units were falangitisses.
Skapaneis: There was group for younger boys beginning at age 8. This would have been comparable to Cun Scouts. They were called “Skapaneis”.
Younger children: We have noted even younger children involved in EON, some look to be as young as 4 years old. We are not sure what this group was called. They appear to be younger children than normally involved in youth group activities. We are unsure how popular this program for the younger children was.
How were the uniforms?
A lot of children joined EON because of their impressive uniforms. Both boys and girls remember that they were very jealous of EON members walking or marching around with their clean and impressive uniforms at the time when many had no shoes to wear.
There were three different uniforms, depending on the diffent organizational level:
Fallagites: The “Fallagites” wore a formal uniform with blue long baggy trousers with straps around the ankles, blue shirt, white tie, white belt and a type of forage-cap with the EON badge.
Skapaneis: The “Skapaneis” had a uniform better suited suited for activities, especially during the summer. The uniform was blue short trousers and knee socks instead of longs. In this uniform the socks and tie were sometimes not used.
Younger group: There is also seem to existed a uniform for little boys and girls ages 4-7. We are not sure what this group was called. This uniform had a blue smock and white ankle socks instead of the trousers.
Who joined the EON?
Metaxas apparently wanted all Greek youth to be EON members. For such purpose, the EON adressed all young people from 8 to 20 years. But younger children as young as 1 year old were involved too in EON in a junior auxiliary.
Enormous numbers of boys and girls joined, EON relatively surpassed the levels of participation in countries such as Germany and Italy.
EON was lavishly financed by the Metaxas regime in order to attract new members.
As a part of the 4th of August’s “New State”, the EON was sponsored by the Metaxas regime and received Government support.
It is true that most democratic young Greeks joined EON, others because they were threatened and others because they were seeking something interesting to do. Some famous Greeks recall the years that they were members of EON: Mikis Theodorakis (a famous composer and for years member of the communist party) recalls in a recent interview: “I joined EON because I wanted to learn to play… ping pong!”. Dinos Dimopoulos (a lengedary director that directed more than 30 films) recalls: “These were strange times. I joined EON because I was forced to. Otherwise they would kick me out of school. But EON was giving free tickets to the cinema. So I had the opportunity to watch five films a day. This is how I learned about making movies”.
What were its activities?
Two of the major EON activities were gymnastics and gardening. Hundreds of physical education teachers were hired and gymnasiums were build and children and teenagers participated often in excursions were they planted trees. Falangists also participated in military training.
A sample daily program for the Phalangists at camp would be:
- 5:00 am – Wake up call.
- 5:30 am – Breakfast, cleaning of the dorms and beds
- 7:30 am – Meetings in groups, flag raising, EON anthem, reports
- 7:30-8:30 am – Gymnastics in groups
- 8:30-9:30 am – Military exercises
- 11:30 am – Swimming
- 12:00 noon – Showers and lunch then rest in the dorms
- 5:00-6:00 pm – Political “illumination”
- 6:00-7:00 pm – Practical usage of theory
- 7:00-8:00 pm – Games
- 8:00 pm – Dinner
- 9:00-10:00 pm – Entertainment
- 10:00-10:30 pm – Prayer
Did the EON participate in the Greco-Italian War (1940) and the Greco-German War (1941)?
During the attempted Italian invasion in WWII, EON male members in military age were recruited by the Army. Besides that, the EON played an important role the in war effort. The EON male kids collected clothes for the soldiers fighting in the Albanian front and helped in logistics. They were like soldiers at home. Meanwhile, the EON girls supported wives and children, helped as nurses in hospitals helping wounded soldiers, sewed clothes for the Army and made gifts which were sent to soldiers for Christmas.
And later with the Axis occupation of Greece?
Later on, with the German occupation, the EON was disbanded by the occupation authorities because neither the Germans nor the Italians would have tolerated groups of uniformed boys, some with good Metaxas-learnt military training, moving around.
Thus, part of EON’s structure entered the clandestine Resistence movement, and the male young Aetopula (“Little Eagles”) and female young Gerakines (“Female Hawks”) organizations were born.
The Aetopoula and Gerakines carried out many useful tasks in the war effort: they painted slogans on the walls, shouted defiant messages, took part in demonstrations, helped transport supplies, were particulary responsible for the organization of small scale sabotage, organized relief work and laid cultural events such as festivals, children’s theatre plays and football matches. Others (especially the younger ones who could easily pass under the enemy’s noses) were recruited as spies or carried secret messages. Some even volunteered for ELAS and fought with military units away from their homes.
According to estimates, the total number of Aetopoula at the end of the occupation period (1944) was around 200.000-300.000. Participation in the Resistance was appealing to the children who were “frustrated” when they were not allowed to carry arms.
Along with the Aetopoula boys and the Gerakines girls the EPON (Eniaia Panelladiki Organosi Neon – Unified Panhellenic Youth Organisation) was founded in February 1943 by several underground resistance and party organizations that had been organizing action against the Axis forces since the beginning of the Occupation. It was the bigger youth organization of the resistance, and many members had been trained by the EON during the 4th of August regime.