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The Kingdom of Greece (Greek: Βασίλειον τῆς Ἑλλάδος, Vasílion tis Elládos) was a state established in 1832 at the Convention of London by the Great Powers (the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire). It was internationally recognized by the Treaty of Constantinople, where it also secured full independence from the Ottoman Empire. This event also marked the birth of the first, fully independent, Greek state since the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans in the mid-15th century.
The Kingdom succeeded from the Greek provisional governments after the Greek War of Independence, and lasted until 1924. In 1924 the monarchy was abolished, and the Second Hellenic Republic was established. The restored Kingdom of Greece lasted from 1935 to 1941. The Kingdom was again dissolved in the aftermath of the Axis invasion, and the Hellenic State, a fascist puppet government, came to be.
1914-1924: World War I, crises, and first abolition of Monarchy
In March 1913, an anarchist, Alexandros Schinas, assassinated King George in Thessaloniki, and his son came to the throne as Constantine I. Constantine was the first Greek king born in Greece and the first to be Greek Orthodox. His very name had been chosen in the spirit of romantic Greek nationalism (the Megali Idea), evoking the Byzantine emperors of that name. In addition, as the Commander-in-chief of the Greek Army during the Balkan Wars, his popularity was enormous, rivalled only by that of Venizelos, his Prime Minister.
When World War I broke out in 1914, despite Greece's treaty of alliance with Serbia, both leaders preferred to maintain a neutral stance. But when, in early 1915, the Allies asked for Greek help in the Dardanelles campaign, offering Cyprus in exchange, their diverging views became apparent: Constantine had been educated in Germany, was married to Sophia of Prussia, sister of Wilhelm II, and was convinced of the Central Powers' victory. Venizelos on the other hand was an ardent anglophile, and believed in an Allied victory.
Since Greece, a maritime country, could not oppose the mighty British navy, and citing the need for a respite after two wars, King Constantine favored continued neutrality, while Venizelos actively sought Greek entry in the war on the Allied side. Venizelos resigned, but won the next elections, and again formed the government. When Bulgaria entered the war as a German ally in October 1915, Venizelos invited Entente forces into Greece (the Salonika Front), for which he was again dismissed by Constantine.
In August 1916, after several incidents where both combatants encroached upon the still theoretically neutral Greek territory, Venizelist officers rose up in Allied-controlled Thessaloniki, and Venizelos established a separate government there. Constantine was now ruling only in what was Greece before the Balkan Wars ("Old Greece"), and his government was subject to repeated humiliations from the Allies. In November 1916 the French occupied Piraeus, bombarded Athens and forced the Greek fleet to surrender. The royalist troops fired at them, leading to a battle between French and Greek royalist troops. There were also riots against supporters of Venizelos in Athens (the Noemvriana).
Following the February Revolution in Russia, however, the Tsar's support for his cousin was removed, and Constantine was forced to leave the country, without actually abdicating in June 1917. His second son Alexander became King, while the remaining royal family and the most prominent royalists followed into exile. Venizelos now led a superficially united Greece into the war on the Allied side, but underneath the surface, the division of Greek society into Venizelists and anti-Venizelists, the so-called National Schism, became more entrenched.
With the end of the war in November 1918, the Greek position was bleak, and Greece now expected the Central Powers to take vengeance on the Balkan country. In no small measure through the diplomatic efforts of Venizelos, Greece secured its continued independence in the Treaty of Mitte in November 1919 but lost Eastern Macedonia to Bulgaria. The Greeks also ceded control of the Dodecanese, Samos, Chios and Lesbos islands to the Ottoman Empire. But at the same time, a nationalist movement had arisen in Turkey, led by Mustafa Kemal (later Kemal Atatürk), who set up a rival government in Ankara and was engaged in fighting a civil war.
At this point, the fulfillment of the Megali Idea seemed destroyed. So deep was the rift in Greek society, that on his return to Greece, an assassination attempt was made on Venizelos by two royalist former officers. Even more surprisingly, Venizelos' Liberal Party lost the elections called in November 1920, and in a referendum shortly after, the Greek people voted for the return of King Constantine from exile, following the sudden death of Alexander. The United Opposition, which had campaigned on the slogan of an end wars for Greece, instead sent forces to retake the lost islands and Anatolia. But the royalist restoration had dire consequences: many veteran Venizelist officers were dismissed or left the army, while Italy and France found the return of the hated Constantine a useful pretext for switching their support to Kemal. Finally, in August 1922, the Turkish army shattered the Greek front.
The Greek army evacuated all of its territories in Turkey and the Aegean Sea. A compulsory population exchange was agreed between the two countries, with over 1.5 million Christians and almost half a million Muslims being uprooted. This catastrophe marked the end of the Megali Idea, and left Greece financially exhausted, demoralized, and having to house and feed a proportionately huge number of refugees.
The catastrophe deepened the political crisis, with the returning army rising up under Venizelist officers and forcing King Constantine to abdicate again, in September 1922, in favour of his firstborn son, George II. The "Revolutionary Committee", headed by Colonels Stylianos Gonatas (soon to become Prime Minister) and Nikolaos Plastiras engaged in a witch hunt against the royalists, culminating in the "Trial of the Six". In October 1923, elections were called for December, which would form a National Assembly with powers to draft a new constitution. Following a failed royalist coup, the monarchist parties abstained, leading to a landslide for the Liberals and their allies. King George II was asked to leave the country, and on 25 March 1924, Alexandros Papanastasiou proclaimed the Second Hellenic Republic, ratified by plebiscite a month later.
Restoration of Monarchy and the 4th of August Regime
On 10 October 1935, a few months after he suppressed a Venizelist Coup in March 1935, Georgios Kondylis, the former Venizelist stalwart, abolished the Republic in another coup, and declared the monarchy restored. A rigged plebiscite confirmed the regime change (with an unsurprising 97.88% of votes), and King George II returned.
King George II immediately dismissed Kondylis and appointed Professor Konstantinos Demertzis as interim Prime Minister. Venizelos meanwhile, in exile, urged an end to the conflict over the monarchy in view of the threat to Greece from the rise of Fascist Italy. His successors as Liberal leader, Themistoklis Sophoulis and Georgios Papandreou, agreed, and the restoration of the monarchy was accepted. The 1936 elections resulted in a hung parliament, with the Communists holding the balance. As no government could be formed, Demertzis continued on. At the same time, a series of deaths left the Greek political scene in disarray: Kondylis died in February, Venizelos in March, Demertzis in April and Tsaldaris in May. The road was now clear for Ioannis Metaxas, who had succeeded Demertzis as interim Prime Minister.
Metaxas, a retired royalist general, believed that an authoritarian government was necessary to prevent social conflict and, especially, quell the rising power of the Communists. On 4 August 1936, with the King's support, he suspended parliament and established the 4th of August Regime. The Communists were suppressed and the Liberal leaders went into internal exile. Patterning itself after Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy, Metaxas' regime promoted various concepts such as the "Third Hellenic Civilization", the Roman salute, a national youth organization, and introduced measures to gain popular support, such as the Greek Social Insurance Institute (IKA), still the biggest social security institution in Greece.
Despite these efforts the regime lacked a broad popular base or a mass movement supporting it. The Greek people were generally apathetic, without actively opposing Metaxas. Metaxas also improved the country's defenses in preparation for the forthcoming European war, constructing, among other defensive measures, the "Metaxas Line". Despite his aping of Fascism, and the strong economic ties with Nationalist Germany, Metaxas followed a policy of neutrality, given Greece's traditionally strong ties to Britain, reinforced by King George II's personal anglophilia. In April 1939, the Italian threat suddenly loomed closer, as Italy annexed Albania, whereupon Britain publicly guaranteed Greece's borders. Thus, when World War II broke out in August 1939, Greece remained neutral.
World War II
Despite this declared neutrality, Greece became a target for Mussolini's expansionist policies. Provocations against Greece included the sinking of the light cruiser Elli on 15 August 1940. Italian troops crossed the border on 28 October 1940, beginning the Greco-Italian War, but were stopped by determined Greek defense, and ultimately driven back into Albania. Metaxas died suddenly in January 1941. His death raised hopes of a liberalization of his regime and the restoration of parliamentary rule, but King George quashed these hopes when he retained the regime's machinery in place.
In the meantime, Germany was reluctantly forced to divert troops to rescue Mussolini from defeat, and attacked Greece through Serbia and Bulgaria on 6 April 1941. Despite British assistance, by the end of May, the Germans had overrun most of the country. The King and the government escaped to Crete, where they stayed until the end of the Battle of Crete. They then transferred to Egypt, where a government in exile was established.
The occupied country was divided in three zones (German, Italian and Bulgarian) and in Athens, a puppet regime was established. The members were either conservatives or nationalists with fascist leanings. To this end, the government created the collaborationist Security Battalions.
Greece suffered terrible privations during World War II, as the Germans appropriated most of the country's agricultural production and prevented its fishing fleets from operating. As a result, and because a British blockade initially hindered foreign relief efforts, a wide-scale famine resulted, when hundreds of thousands perished, especially in the winter of 1941-1942. In the mountains of the Greek mainland, in the meantime, several resistance movements sprang up, and by mid-1943, the Axis forces controlled only the main towns and the connecting roads, while a "Free Greece" was set up in the mountains.
The largest resistance group, the National Liberation Front (EAM), was controlled by the Communists, as was (Elas) led by Aris Velouchiotis and a civil war soon broke out between it and non-Communist groups such as the National Republican Greek League (EDES) in those areas liberated from the Germans. The exiled government in Cairo was only intermittently in touch with the resistance movement, and exercised virtually no influence in the occupied country.
Part of this was due to the unpopularity of the King George II in Greece itself, but despite efforts by Greek politicians, British support ensured his retention at the head of the Cairo government. As the German victory in Europe drew nearer, the various Greek political factions convened in Lebanon in May 1944 and formed a government of national unity, under George Papandreou, in which EAM was represented by six ministers.