Metaxas – conservative, reactionary or reformist?
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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 from Athens to Sparta.*
An hyperactive reformist, in just 5 years he implemented dozens of reforms, most notably:
- Founded EON, a massive non-political youth organization in attempt to imbue the youth with the ideas and values of Hellenism
- Established the Social Insurance Institute (IKA), which still exists today
- Created a public employment agency and an unemployment insurance fund
- Founded the Workers’ Center (Ergatiki Estia), which was established mainly to look after workers’ housing and recreation
- Implemented, for the first time in Greece, the 8-hour working schedule and a 5-day and 40-hour workweek
- Established holidays with full pay (guaranteed two-week vacations with pay or two weeks’ double pay instead of the actual vacation)
- Set up new restrictions on the employer’s right to fire employees and the institution of syndicate contracts
- Put into effect stricter work safety standards and a minimum hourly wage
- Banned child labour and built child care centres
- Established maternity leaves
- Implemented the official days off-work and pension organization
- Established hospitals and medical offices for the treatment of many diseases such as malaria
- Set up kindergartens, schools and enacted food rationing programs for millions of children and unemployed people
- Created the airports of 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
- 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 the 12.452.980 acres of 1922
- Enforced Greek culture by establishing organizations, institutions and cultural centres, most notably the Stegi Grammaton kai Technon and organized theatrical presentations for the first time in ancient theatres
- Founded the national organization for publishing school textbooks (OESV).
- 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 the promotion of the country abroad
- Cancelled the Greek national debt
- Implemented the Price Control Code, by which the State could control the prices of all products in the country, so 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 to express ambitions against Greece’s territorial integrity
- 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.
- 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.