George II, King of the Hellenes,
1922-1924, 1935-1941, 1944-1947
Under pro-Venizelos colonels Nikolaos Plastiras and Stilianos Gonatas, the committee landed 12,000 troops at Lavrion, south of Athens, and staged a coup. They demanded and received the resignation of the government and the abdication of King Constantine. George, Constantine's elder son (who had refused the crown when Constantine left in 1917), was crowned as king, and the coup leaders began purging royalists from the bureaucracy and the military.
In 1923, by the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne between the Allies and Turkey, Smyrna reverted to Turkey, and more than 1 million Greek residents of Asia Minor were repatriated, as were the Turks resident in Greece. Strongly antiroyalist, the Greek refugees and the powerful military faction agitated ceaselessly against King George II, who left Greece under pressure in 1923. After a plebiscite favoring a republican form of government, the parliament proclaimed Greece a republic in 1924.
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.
King George II made the right-wing general Ioannis Metaxas prime minister. Nine months later, in 1936 Metaxas assumed dictatorial powers with the king's consent under the pretext of preventing a communist-inspired republican coup. General Ioannes Metaxas led a coup d'etat, made himself dictator, and proclaimed a state of martial law. In 1940, during World War II, Greece was attacked by Italian troops in October, 1940. Although the Greek army was unexpectedly successful against the Italians, German troops overcame Greek resistance in April 1941 and entered Athens, establishing a National Socialist government.
King George fled and established a government-in-exile, first in Cairo, Egypt, and later in London. The Greek monarchy fled to England where it established itself as a government-in-exile. After the flight of the Tsouderos government and of King George II from Crete on 23 May 1941, the official Greek political leadership continued to be in close contact with the British government from Alexandria, London and Cairo. The strengthening of British influence upon the exiled Greek government was an extension of the already developed political and military contacts between the two states in the last years of the 1930s and, especially, during the Balkan war.
Although the British were keen to re-establish King George II to the Greek throne after the war, the major Resistance forces in occupied Greece in 1942 were either Communist or Republican. The National People's Liberation Army (ELAS) and its political wing, the National Liberation Front (EAM) grew out of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and was actively engaging in Resistance operations across the Greek countryside. Meanwhile, a Republican resistance force known as The National Republican Greek League (EDES) wasalso engaging in its own resistance operations.
The Greek royal family was intensely unpopular with the British Left and none too popular with anybody, including the British ministers who had assisted its postwar restoration. With the resignation of Tsouderos - a vehement supporter of the monarchy - from the position of the Prime Minister and the arrival of George Papandreou in Egypt, a new equilibrium of political forces was formed inside the exiled government which favoured the anti-royalist camp.
An issue of a constitutional nature became a bone of contention for the Greek political leadership during the 1943-44 period. The place of monarchy in postwar Greece became the symbolic battlefield for the ideological conflict within the Greek political leadership. Undoubtedly, this debate for the form of state was not a unique phenomenon in the political history of Greece: the split between the pro- and anti-royalist sections of the Greek population constituted one of the oldest political-ideological conflicts in modern Greek politics. The 1940-41 war had only temporarily overshadowed this problem, given the unanimous agreement among the constitutional and political (including the KKE) leadership of the country on the need to fight until the end.
However, with the cessation of hostilities in the Balkans and the occupation of the country, the debate for the future of postwar Greece once more brought the issue of monarchy to the surface. For many Greeks, politicians or not, the role of George II in the imposition of, and support for, the Metaxas dictatorship was a sufficient reason to justify the abolition of the institution of monarchy in the postwar era.
However, at this crucial conjuncture, the intervention of the British government was of decisive importance for the subsequent developments. Keeping George II firmly on the throne of Greece and ensuring his automatic return to the country after the liberation were the two constants of the British government's policy to Greece. This attitude openly defied the growing anti-royalist orientation of the majority of the Greek exiled government from 1943 onwards and the pressure from EAM/ ELAS for a plebiscite before the return of George II to the country.
As it became obvious that the last solution (plebiscite) had won over the majority of the Greek political leadership in Egypt, the British government advised George II to continue rejecting the condition of plebiscite. Nevertheless, the die had been cast: the Papandreou government had essentially accepted the condition as the basis for the Lebanon agreement. Isolated from the Greek political leadership, the King was forced to accept the plebiscite formula in 1944.
In September 1946, under conditions of extreme duress and fraud, no one was surprised when the monarchy received the support of a majority in a rigged referendum. King George promptly returned to Greece, but died in March 1947, to be succeeded by King Paul.
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