4th of August Regime

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The 4th of August Regime (Greek: Καθεστώς της 4ης Αυγούστου), commonly also known as the Metaxas Regime (Greek: Καθεστώς Μεταξά), was an authoritarian regime under the leadership of General Ioannis Metaxas that ruled Greece from 1936 to 1941. It took its name from a self-coup carried out by Metaxas, with royal support, on August 4, 1936.

There is some debate over how the regime relates to other authoritarian regimes of the era: those of Franco's Spain, Italian Fascism, and German Nazism. Richard Clogg argues that while the regime had "superficial trappings of Fascism" and Metaxas "did not disguise his admiration for Nazism and Fascism", it is "more correctly categorised as paternalist-authoritarian rather than fascist".[1]


Origins of the regime

Metaxas imposed his regime primarily to fight the turbulent social situation prevalent in Greece in the 1930s, in which political factionalization had disrupted Greek parliamentary democracy. The sinking credibility of the Parliament was accompanied by several coup attempts; in March 1935, a Venizelist putsch failed and the following October elections reinforced the Royalist majority, which allowed the exiled King George II to return to Greece. The king re-established the monarchy in the country, but the parliament, split into incompatible factions, was unable to shape a clear political majority so that the government could govern. Meanwhile, the increasing activity of the Communists, whose 15 deputies from the 1936 elections held the balance between 143 Monarchists and 142 Liberals, Agrarians, and Republicans, created a deadlock.

In May that same year widespread agrarian unrest (tobacco farmers) and industrial unrest in the north of the country erupted, which eventually brought the head of the government, General Metaxas, to suspend the parliament on the eve of a major strike, on August 4, 1936. Endorsed by the king, Metaxas declared a state of emergency, decreed martial law, annulled various articles of the Constitution and established a crisis cabinet to put to an end the growing riots and to restore social order. In one of his first speeches, Metaxas announced: "I have decided to hold all the power I need for saving Greece from the catastrophes which threaten her".

Thus the Metaxas dictatorship was born, and the period of time which would follow was named after the day Metaxas rose to absolute power: the 4th of August. The new regime was backed by small extreme political parties as well as conservatives with the expectation of a crackdown on the Communists.

Classical influences

Young members of the Greek National Organisation of Youth (EON) hail in presence of Ioannis Metaxas. [2]

The roots of Metaxas' "New State" were sought in Greece's classical history. Metaxas thought Hellenic nationalism would galvanize "the heathen values of ancient Greece, specifically those of Sparta, along with the Christian values of the Medieval empire of Byzantium".[3] Ancient Macedonia was also glorified as the first political unifier of the Hellenes.[4] As its main symbol, the youth organization of the regime chose the labrys/pelekys, the symbol of ancient Minoan Crete.

The traditional Greek values of "Country, Loyalty, Family and Religion", which Metaxas praised repeatedly, were also close to those of the ancient Spartans. The regime promoted the perceived Spartan ideals of self-discipline, militarism and collective sacrifice, while Byzantium provided an emphasis on a centralized state and devotion to the monarchy and Greek Orthodox Church.[5]

External influences

Metaxas considered Portugal's António Salazar his main inspiration, and surrounded himself with elements from this and other dictatorial regimes of the time. Thus the Fourth of August regime used its own military-like uniforms, greetings, songs and rituals, including the Roman salute.

In Metaxas' case we can speak as well of some characteristics typical of authoritarian states such as 1930s Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy: the regime's propaganda presented Metaxas as "the First Peasant", "the First Worker" and as "the National Father" of the Greeks. Metaxas adopted the title of Arhigos, Greek for "leader" or "chieftain", and claimed a "Third Hellenic Civilization" based upon ancient Greece and the Greek Byzantine Empire of the Middle Ages.

Greek authoritarianism

The Metaxas regime sought to comprehensively change Greece, and therefore instituted controls on Greek society, politics, language, and the economy. In each of these, the Metaxas government followed more closely the policies of Spain than of Nazi Germany or fascist Italy.

Attempts at social control

Having come to power with the stated intent of restoring public order, Metaxas' state largely achieved this goal, under the supervision of what can be described as its most fascist member, minister of public order Konstantinos Maniadakis.

Metaxas' policies such as the censorship of the media, the banning of political parties and prohibition of strikes copied contemporary European authoritarian regimes. As its contemporaries the USSR, Spain, Italy and Germany, the Greek State also had its political police force, the Asfaleia. The Asfaleia had as its objective the securing of public order.

The regime also banned Rebetiko music and favoured the traditional Greek folk music.

Soon after its inception the regime severely repressed the communists and leftists. About 15,000 people were arrested and jailed, or exiled for political reasons; some were subjected to torture. Metaxas' regime forced the Communist party underground, and also attempted to dismantle the old system of loyalties of the Royalist and Venizelist parties. Those major forces however remained, as they had for the preceding decades, and reemerged immediately after the four year Metaxas regime.

While Metaxas' regime did play up a supposed communist threat in order to justify its repression, it is notable that the regime is not known to have committed political murders and did not instate the death penalty. Dissidents were, rather, usually banished to tiny islands in the Aegean sea. For example, the liberal leader George Papandreou was exiled to Andros. The Greek Communist Party (KKE), meanwhile, which had already been outlawed, remained intact. Legal restrictions against it were ended in 1974 during metapolitefsi.

The role of youth

EON on parade (from its official magazine I Neolaia). The double axe, emblem of the organisation, is visible on the standard.

In order to keep and maintain the values of the regime in future years, Metaxas gave birth to the Ethniki Organosi Neolaias (Εθνική Οργάνωση Νεολαίας, National Organisation of Youth, EON).

The emblem of EON.
The flag which was used by EON during the Fourth of August regime.

The EON brought together youths of all economic and social strata into one single body. Boys’ education emphasized discipline and physical training, while girls were taught to become supportive wives and caring mothers to breed a stronger, healthier new generation. The EON published a fortnight magazine called Neolaia (Νεολαία, Greek for "Youth"), which had much influence both in schools and in higher education.

The EON was disbanded by the German-Italian occupying authority in Greece following its vigorous resistance of the invasion.


As in most other authoritarian regimes, the Fourth of August adopted a strong nationalistic program: Although Metaxas was opposed to the invasion of Asia Minor as part of the Megali Idea, he used strong nationalist language concerning Greek minorities in neighboring countries[citation needed] as well as in answering threats from Greece's neighbors in the still volatile southeast Europe. As with many nation states at the time, he used language exhalting his people's "race." Ethnic and religious minorities were persecuted under Metaxas' rule as was common throughout the region. The regime, however, was relatively tolerant to the Greek Jews, repealing the anti-Semitic laws of previous regimes. A large community of Sephardic Jews was present in the region of Thessaloniki which was annexed by Greece in 1913, and Jews were largely in opposition to Venizelism. Metaxas was firmly opposed to the irredentist factions of the Slavophones of northern Greece (consisting of Slavophone Greeks and Bulgarians mainly in Macedonia and Thrace), some of whom underwent political persecution due to advocacy of irredentism with regard to neighboring countries. Metaxas' regime continued repression of the use of Slavic languages both in public and in private as well as expressions of Slavic cultural distinctiveness. Despite their supposed disloyalty, however, Slavophone Greeks identified with the Greek state and fought ferociously for Greece on the Italo-Albanian front. Again in contrast to some authoritarian regimes, no mass killings were ever instituted and there is no evidence that any were planned.[6]

Economic policy

One of the 4th of August government's main objectives was the repudiation of the old capitalist system and its replacement with a corporatist economic system in order to promote both national and social solidarity. This idea "harmonized perfectly with Metaxas' convictions on social and national solidarity as well as his rejection of individualism and class struggle". The plan for the creation of a corporatist state was manifest in the early days of the regime by public declarations by Metaxas himself as well as government ministers. To this end, deputy Premier and Finance Minister Konstantinos Zavitsianos "published details about a horizontal (according to branches of production), not vertical (according to social class), syndicalist organization" of the state. However, due to the external crisis with Italy, the plan had to be temporarily postponed with the result that it never fully materialized.[7]

Metaxas' government, initially unpopular, also gained popularity through an elaborate program to socialize the Greek economy, including:

  • introduction of a minimum wage;
  • unemployment insurance and the creation of a public employment agency;
  • maternity leave;
  • a 5-day, 40-hour workweek;
  • guaranteed 2-week vacations with pay (or two weeks' double pay in place of the vacation);
  • stricter work safety standards.

Many elements of this program persist in Greek economic policy. Metaxas' regime also founded the Social Security Institute (IKA) as well as the Workers' Center, which was established to look after workers' housing and recreation, among other things.

The 4th of August regime also initially stabilized the drachma (later replaced by the euro), which had been suffering from high inflation. Exploiting the newfound solidity of the currency, Metaxas' government embarked on large public works programs, including land drainage, construction of railways, road improvements, and modernization of the telecommunications infrastructure.

Metaxas' economic program met with initial success, with a marked rise in per capita income and temporary decline in unemployment in Greece between 1936 and 1938 (unemployment skyrocketed after 1938). Capitalizing on this success, the government instituted debt relief for farmers and instituted price floors on some agricultural goods to redistribute wealth to the countryside.

The end of the Fourth of August regime

Foreign policy was one of the main concerns of the Fourth of August regime. Metaxas, who had studied in Germany as a youth was pro-German, as was the King. But the reality of 1930's Europe was that Greece's security depended on her traditional protector, Great Britain, which was the superpower dominating the Eastern Mediterranean Sea with her fleet. In addition, Mussolini's grandiose schemes to create a new Roman Empire in the Mediterranean directly clashed with Greek pretensions to control the Aegean Sea and the Dodecanese islands (by then under Italian control) and to exert stronger influence in Albania.

As the drums of war sounded increasingly stronger in Europe just before World War II, the situation was almost exactly the same as the position before World War One, when Greece had strong pro-German affinities in government, but it depended on Britain for its security. Most observers were anticipating Greece would attempt to remain neutral. Metaxas indeed attempted to maintain neutrality, but Italian expansionism eventually led to an Italian ultimatum and to the Greco-Italian War. Greek forces repelled the Italian invasion completely. Metaxas died and then a large scale German invasion of Greece occurred and a subsequent fascist puppet government was placed into power.


As the Axis occupation ended, Greece descended into civil war between the communist-dominated forces of the left, operating in Greece and out of bases in the south of Yugoslavia, and the U.S.- and UK-aligned forces of the political right. This was the first major protracted combat of the Cold War, one of the first exercises in U.S. policy of Containment, and a subject of the Truman Doctrine of U.S. President Harry Truman. The alignments were quite different from the Venizelist-Monarchist National Schism, as most Venizelists supported the right-wing alliance during the civil war.


  1. ^ Clogg (1987), p. 182
  2. ^ Metaxas Jugend - A picture album of the Greek Fascist Youth EON (2009), p.11
  3. ^ Clogg (1992)
  4. ^ Hamilakis, Y. (2007) The nation and its ruins: antiquity, archaeology, and national imagination in Greece, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0199230382, p. 177
  5. ^ Hamilakis (2007), pp. 177-178
  6. ^ Kallis
  7. ^ Constantine Sarandis, "The Ideology and Character of the Metaxas Regime", The Metaxas Dictatorship: Aspects of Greece, 1936-1940, pages 156-157.


  • Clogg, Richard. A Concise History of Greece; 1992
  • Clogg, Richard. Parties and Elections in Greece: the Search for Legitimacy; 1987
  • Hondros, John L. Occupation and Resistance; 1983
  • Aristotle A. Kallis, "Fascism and Religion: The Metaxas Regime in Greece and the 'Third Hellenic Civilisation': Some Theoretical Observations on 'Fascism', 'Political Religion' and 'Clerical Fascism'," Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 8,2 (2007), pp 229–246.
  • McNeill, William. The Metamorphosis of Greece Since World War Two
  • Woodhouse, C M. Modern Greece: A Short History; 1992

Further reading

  • Robin Higham and Thanos Veremis (eds), The Metaxas Dictatorship. Aspects of Greece 1936-1940 (Athens, Eliamep-Vryonis Center, 1993).
  • Pelt, Mogens (Winter 2001). "The Establishment and Development of the Metaxas Dictatorship in the Context of Fascism and Nazism, 1936-41". Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 2 (3): 143–172. doi:10.1080/714005461. 
  • Vatikiotis, P.J. (1998). Popular Autocracy in Greece, 1936-41: A Political Biography of General Ioannis Metaxas. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7146-4869-9. http://books.google.com/?id=mT5DO_cVSfMC. 
  • Papacosma, S. Victor, "Ioannis Metaxas and the "Fourth of August" Dictatorship in Greece," in Bernd J. Fischer (еd), Balkan Strongmen: Dictators and Authoritarian Rulers of Southeastern Europe (West Lafayette, IN, 2007) (Central European Studies), 165-198.

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