Ioannis Metaxas is among the most prominent personalities in Greek history since the War of Independence, but outside Greece he is a quite unknown figure. What follows here is a short biography of Metaxas, intended to be a quick overview of him and certainly not an indepth article.
Ioannis Metaxas was born born in Kefalonia, Greece, an island of wonderful beauty in the Ionian Sea. A career soldier, he served in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, studied military science in Germany and fought again in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, in which he was assistant chief of the general staff. He was later chief of staff, but was exiled (1917) to Italy, along with most other prominent figures of Constantine I's government, as pro-German when Greece joined the Allies in World War I.
He returned in 1920 and became prominent as a royalist politician during the Republic of 1924-35. After the monarchy had been reestablished in Greece, Metaxas became premier in April, 1936. With the support of King George II, Metaxas dissolved parliament on August 4th, 1936 and established a National Socialist regime. Hence the name of his regime.
Metaxas' grandiose vision was to create a Third Greek Civilization based on its glorious Ancient and Byzantine past, but what he actually created was more a Greek version of the Third Reich. Within 6 years, he implemented dozens of social, industrial and economic reforms while stabilizing the tumultuous political situation of those years. Furthermore he gained estability for the country's macroeconomic figures and engaged himself in an intensive diplomatic activity with foreign countries and especially those in the neighbourhood. As a curiosity but also as a remarkable trait of his personality, Metaxas, despite being nationalist, favoured demotiki, the folkish dialect of the Greek language.
But Metaxas is remembered chiefly for his reply of "OKHI" (no) to Mussolini's request to allow Italians to go across Greece at the beginning of WWII, thus maintaining Greece's policy of strict neutrality. The Italian ambassador to Greece Grazzi, had visited Metaxas and had handed to him Mussolini's ultimatum. Mussolini was demanding his troops to occupy Greece throughout the war claiming to ensure Italy's safety against any English incursion. If refused to do so, Italy would attack Greece.
Metaxas response, expressing the wish and the spirit of the Greek people, was simple and worthy of the one Leonidas, the Spartan King, gave the Persians two thousand and five hundred years earlier: "MOLWN LAVE" ("COME AND GET ME"). It was worthy of the one Konstantinos Palaiologos, the last emperor of Constantinople gave the Ottoman Turks when asked to surrender the city: "ELATE NA THN PARETAI" ("COME AND TAKE HER").
Metaxas response was OKHI - NO.
The Italians then attacked but Metaxas, who had been long aware that the greatest foreign threat to Greece was Italian expansionism, had long prepared the Army and the Nation in general for a war eventuality. After Mussolini's attack, Metaxas personally took command of the Army, leading and organizing it in such an efficient way that the Greek army, being much weaker (8 times smaller in numbers) than Italy's, humiliated the Italians, bringing them back to Albania, the Italian headquarter from which the attack had been enacted. The victory proved Metaxas' skills on military strategy and raised him as a new, contemporary Leonidas.
It was during his succesful leadership of the military operations against the Italians that Metaxas died. It was a mysterious death, and some rumours circulating at the time pointed out that he was in fact assassinated by either the Italian secret services or the British, the latter because he had refused the British to intervene in Greece. In fact, after his death the king replaced Metaxas with Alexander Koryzis, who agreed to allow British forces to enter Greek soil, so the picture is nothing but suspicious. The fact is, that Metaxas died as a true hero and as an ancient Greek chieftain, leading his fellow men to defense the Fatherland. Either naturally died or murdered, Metaxas' decease meant that Greece would have lose the greatest man of modern Greek history since the Independence War in 1821.