Jul 22 2013

The one day Cretan Rebellion of 1938


By the early 1930s, after four years in power the ruling ‘Liberal’ party of Eleftherios Venizelos had failed to solve the ever growing economic crisis in Greece; one of the symptoms of which was the April 1932 default on Greece’s foreign debt. On 25th  September 1932 a general election, held under a newly introduced proportional representation system, a system introduced by Venizelos for the sole purpose of minimising what were seen to be the inevitable electoral losses of the Liberals, resulted in deadlock; neither the Liberals nor the anti-Venizelos People’s Party  having sufficient power to rule on their own. Negotiations between the two parties, and the eventual acceptance by the People’s Party of the 1924 constitution which had removed the monarchy and established the Second Greek Republic, resulted in a minority People’s Party government. The following year however, after the reintroduction of a first past the post electoral system, a new election gave the People’s Party a clear majority. The response from the Venizelos camp was an attempted coup. However, the coup failed and using the notorious Greek system of political patronage to replace Venizelos supporters with those of their own, the new government started to dismantle the Venizelos Republican regime.

In June 1933 there followed then what appeared to be a government inspired, if not government sanctioned, assassination attempt on the life of Venizelos and by late 1934 Venizelos supporters were preparing a further coup against the government; a coup which was attempted in March 1935 and was an abysmal failure[1]. In the backlash against this mistaken adventure, Venizelos fled the country amidst a further purge of his supporters throughout the Greek state. With the country still under martial law, in the general election held in June 1935 the People’s Party gained 65% of the vote and 95% of the seats in parliament, a feat assisted by the decision of the Liberals to boycott the poll. The communist KKE received 10% of the vote, their highest in the interwar period, but gained no seats.[2]  However, the adherence  of the People’s Party under Tsaldaris  to the 1924 Republican constitution was too much for  the extreme Royalists in the army and under pressure from the army to either hold a plebiscite on the return of the monarchy or resign, Tsaldaris resigned to be replaced by General  Kondylis. On 3 November 1935, the General engineered a rigged plebiscite the result of which was 1,491,992 votes for and 32,454 votes against, the restoration of the monarchy[3] and a return to the Royalist 1911 constitution. Accordingly, on 25 November 1935, George II was reinstated, promising to rule as a constitutional monarch.

However, ‘Put not your trust in princes.’[4]

One of George’s first steps on returning to power was to dismiss Kondylis replacing him with a caretaker Prime Minister, K. Demertzis.  In January 1936, a further election, this time again under proportional representation, proved inconclusive, the Liberals  and People’s Party being tied, the KKE supported ‘Popular Front’  potentially holding the balance of power. Although both major parties were vehemently anti-communist, this didn’t stop either of them from secretly offering to form a coalition with the Popular Front, who had polled 6% of the vote and held 15 seats, offers which the KKE made public. The, supposedly, constitutional monarch’s response was to appoint Ioannis Metaxas, a former army general and leader of a minute right-wing ‘Free Thinkers Party’, as Minister of War and then, on the death of Demertzis, appoint him as Prime Minister, taking up office on 13th April .

This undemocratic move of offering the premiership to the leader of a miniscule party which had polled less than the Popular Front, was for the most part welcomed by politicians of the two major parties since it got them out of the difficulty of forming a government, but the response from a significant portion of the population resulted in strikes and mass demonstrations, events which were suppressed with extreme violence by the police and army. On 4th August, faced with the prospect of a general strike, Metaxas, having first obtained a vote of confidence from parliament and then persuaded parliament to suspend its sitting until October, acting with royal consent, used the strike as a pretext to establish a dictatorship. Major parts of the constitution were suspended, political parties outlawed, censorship imposed and strikes declared illegal.

Opposition to the Metaxas regime was widespread and Metaxas, with the unwavering support of the king and the British government, reacted swiftly. Using the Idionymo Law, an anti -Communist law brought in by Venizelos in 1929 which effectively made it illegal to advocate or even think about changing the existing social or economic order, even if the change was to be produced by democratic means, the regime began a round- up of potential opponents. After the alleged discovery a plot against Metaxas’ life in January 1938, 12 politicians, including 4 ex-ministers, were arrested and exiled and Communists started to be detained, and in May a further 70 Communists including 4 deputies were detained.[5] However, the only major serious attempt to overthrow the regime took place in Crete on 29th July that year.

Under the political leadership of M. Mitsokaitis, a former minister and a nephew of Venizelos, and the military leadership of General Emmanuel (Manolis) Mantakas who had been dismissed from the Army following Kondylis’ 1935 Royalist coup, 400 or 500 armed men, the number varies depending on the source, seized Canea and, via a captured radio station, issued a revolutionary proclamation declaring they were seeking the restoration of democracy.[6]However, the attempted coup appears to have been ill planned and within a day, with the despatch to the island of Navy and Air Force units loyal to the Metaxas dictatorship, the uprising had collapsed.

General Manoils Mantakas

The politicians fled Crete and into exile but Mantakas took to the mountains and, in spite of being condemned to life imprisonment and stripped of his rank in absentia, remained in hiding in the Samaria Gorge. During the German occupation Mantakas, who according to several sources had secretly joined the Communist Party,[7] joined EAM/ELAS, The National Liberation Front/ The National People’s Liberation Army, and, alongside his daughters,[8] fought against the Germans in Crete. In March 1944 he became Secretary (Minister) of Military Affairs in the PEEA, the Political Committee for National Liberation, the Provisional Government set up within Greece in opposition to both the collaborationist government and the Royalist Government in exile.

PEEA Leaders in the Greek Mountains. 1944. Mantakas is fourth from the left

After the war, as was the case for so many of those who resisted the Germans through the means of their involvement in EAM/ELAS, Mantakas was arrested by the British and American supported right- wing government of the King George; the king who had introduced the Metaxas dictatorship. From 1947 to 1949 he was exiled to the concentration camp on the island of Makronisos.[9] After his eventual release he stood for parliament, becoming deputy for Piraeus and the Islands in 1950 for the Democratic Alignment and in 1951 for the United Democratic left, EDA. General Mantakas died in Athens in 1968.

[1] Veremis T. (1997) The Military in Greek Politics: From Independence to Democracy. Hurst & Co. London. pp. 113 – 130

[2]Clogg R. (2nd Ed. 2002)  A Concise History of Greece.  Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. P.113

[3] Ibid.

[4] Psalm 146:3

[5] Seymour Forster E. A Short History of Modern Greece pp.199-200

[6] The Gorge of Samaria (2008) Samaria National Park Management Body. Chania p.135

[7] Mazower M. (1995) Inside Hitler’s Greece. Yale University Press p.292 & Close D.H.(1995) The Origins of the Greek Civil War Longman London p.107. However, writing nearer the events and from the perspective of one intimately involved, C.M.Woodhouse implies that Mantakas was a fellow traveller rather than a Party member. Woodhouse C.M (N.D. 1948?) Apple of Discord: A Survey of Recent Greek Politics in the International Setting. Hutchinson & Co. London pp.184-185

[8]Chimbos P.D.  (2003) Women of the 1941-1944 Greek Resistance Against the Axis: An Historical and Sociological Perspective. Atlantis Vol.28.1 Fall/Winter 2003 p.31. At: journals.msvu.ca/index.php/atlantis/article/download/1261/1160

[9] For further information on Makronisos see: Becoming a Subject: Political Prisoners During the Greek Civil War. P.Voglis. Berghahn Books. New York. 2008 and also :

 Blessed are the Merciful: For They Shall Obtain Mercy: A Story. Nikos Kasdaglis and N. C. Germanacos: Source: boundary 2, Vol. 1, No. 2, A Special Issue on Contemporary Greek Writing (Winter,1973), pp. 470-506 Published by: Duke University Press. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/302536. A fictionalised account of the brutality inflicted on communists and socialists by the Greek government.

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