Interwar Athens II
Chaos and Tyranny (1925-1940)
Under the stresses which society was subjected to, it was inevitable that political instability would result. In June 1925 General Pangalos seized power and imposed censorship of the press. On 5th January 1926 he was declared Prime minister without elections.
On 22nd August, Pangalos was imprisoned while in Crete by General Kondilis. Demonstrators marching down Vassilisis Sofias were fired upon from Rigilis Street. The leaders of the demonstration negotiated with the Prime minister and a confrontation was avoided.
On 1st March 1925, a group of republican army officers tried to seize power to prevent the restoration of the monarchy. The instability only ended with the return of Venizelos to power in 1928. Unfortunately, he was not to enjoy quiet times.
In 1928 there was another influx of homeless people into Athens; this time from Corinth, where a massive earthquake had levelled almost every building.
The Wall Street Crash and the subsequent depression inevitably had their effects in Greece. The Athens Stock Exchange closed in October 1929.
In late October 1930 some conspirators planned to overthrow the government of Venizelos while he was in Turkey effecting a historic rapprochement with Ataturk. Twenty-seven were arrested and tried.
Ây 1931 the national finances had picked up somewhat. Athens became a port of call for civil aircraft. The Turkish premier Ismet Pasha and his foreign minister arrived in Athens on 3rd October, repaying a visit to Turkey by Venizelos. On 6th June 1933 Venizelos' car was riddled with bullets when driving back to Athens from Kifissia. The attackers chased his car for three miles. His wife and chauffeur were wounded and a passenger killed.
After Venizelos lost an election in 1932, instability with attempted coups and assassinations returned.
In 1935 a plebiscite on the return of the monarchy with a 98% voting for the restoration of the monarchy in the form of King George II. According to the official results, only 2% per cent voted against the monarchy. The vote was so blatantly rigged that it fooled no one, but King George returned anyway. The Republicans immediately won an election in 1936, in which the Communists held the balance of power. In the same year Eleftherios Venizelos and Panayiotis Tsaldaris, who best represented anti-Venizelism, both died.
Improvement and Plenty amidst Poverty
Despite the refugee crises, the political chaos and the economic slump, there had been some remarkable developments during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1925 the Piraeus Monastiraki and Vßctïria Kifissia railways were linked underground, and the station built in Omonia Square. In 1926 the Gennadeion was built to house the rare book and manuscript collection of John Gennadius. The Marathon Reservoir was completed in 1929-30, solving Athens' water problem.
Amidst all the poverty and desperation, the wealthy, as always, enjoyed themselves. The Inter-war years were the heyday of Kifissia. Osbert Lancaster later described it as a 'folk museum' of the more extravagant examples of twentieth century domestic architecture without rival in Europe. Among the styles he noted were Turkish Art Nouveau, Minoan Revival, Island Style, and especially Hellenistic Temple, Monte Carlo Casino and Swiss Chalet. He missed some. People of rival political persuasions patronised the different hotels. During the 1920s wealthy Athenians also began to use their new motor cars To drive out to Glyfada and Vïulßagmeni. Át the same time, new luxurious residential suburbs were laid out in Psihiko, Holargos, Filothei, Ilioupolis and Vïula.
On 4th August 1936,General Metaxas, a sympathiser with the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis, who believed that parliamentary politics would 'throw us into the embrace of Communism' was seized power with the with the approval of King George ÉÉ, and put the entire country under martial law.
He propounded the notion of a 'Third Hellenic Civilisation': the first being that of the city states of the fifth century and the second the Byzantine Empire. He would found the third golden age of Hellenism. Attempting to be a populist leader, he styled himself 'First Peasant', 'First Worker', 'National father' and Duce. The new society would be achieved through discipline, as on the ancient Spartan model. Young people were pressured into joining the uniformed National Youth Organisation. His regime was quasi-fascist in its mix of nationalist populism and glorification of the state over the individual, but authoritarian and paternalistic, like many other regimes at that time in the Balkans, in its rallying call to traditional values of king, country, religion and family. Prison camps were set up on islands for political dissenters, and the leadership of the Communist Party quickly arrested.
© John L. Tomkinson