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Greece » Sterea » Attica » Athens » Athens History » After the collapse - The Inter-war period (1923-1940)
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After the collapse - The Inter-war period (1923-1940)

When the refugees arrived in Greece, the country was in a desperate economic condition as war lasted for more than ten years; and now it had to feed and take care of more than one million and a half people, the majority of which had abandoned their homes without being able to take any of their possessions. In every free space in Athens and elsewhere makeshift houses were improvised for the refugees. Kesariani, Byronas, Dourgouti (actually Neos Kosmos), Nea Smyrni, Nea Ionia, Nea Erythraea and Nea Philadelphia in Athens, Kokkinia, Drapetsona, Keratsini in Piraeus, up to then fields and free space, turned to towns, in only a few days; refugees also settled in areas of the city center, as Plygono and Kountouriotika. All of them were in fact favelas; only in Nea Smyrni things were a bit better, as some of the people had achieved to bring some money along.

Life was really hard for the refugees and things got worse as the locals did not welcome the arrival of some one million and a half desperate, starving and ragged people from Asia Minor and Thrace. Many people called them Turkish-born and considered them as b-class citizens. However, the refugees were better educated and sometimes more civilized than the natives, although their desperate condition had forced them to accept the worst works and much lower payment. As a result the labor cost decreased, from which Greek economy, especially industry, benefited a lot, since abundant, cheep and specialized work force was available, especially in Athens, Piraeus, Salonica and Volos. Life in Athens, in Piraeus and in the areas around changed a lot; although worse in economic terms, it was enriched culturally and socially by the values and customs introduced by the refugees.
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Meanwhile the defeated Greek army, led by the colonels Plastiras and Gonatas and by the admiral Phocas who formed the “Revolutionary Committee”, arrived in Attica, assumed the role of government and appointed professor Krokidas as prime minister; before that the Committee had forced King Constantinos to leave the country, had arrested the political and military leaders and brought them to a court-martial. After a short trial, the court sentenced six of the accused to death: these were Hadjianestis, the last commander in chief of the Asia Minor campaign, and five politicians, among whom Gounaris, the chief of the royalist party; the rest of the accused were sent in prison. Despite the international reaction and pressure against the executions and the opposition of Venizelos from Paris, the six were executed at Goudi. This fact made the already existing schism between the political parties of Greece deeper and broader, impossible to recover. A bit later, in March 1924 the dynasty was abolished, as King George II had been forced to abandon the country, following the failure of a royalist coup and Greece became a Republic. In the same period it was introduced the so-called “New Calendar” (the Gregorian one). The innovation resulted in a schism of the Greek Church: many people did not accept the new calendar and formed the sect of Palaeoemerologites (“the followers of the old calendar”) who are Orthodox, but celebrate the religious feasts 13 days later. The sect still exists and has several followers, especially in Eastern Attica.

During this period the “Royal Garden” became public and accessible for all residents of Athens. In 1932 it was established the monument to the Unknown Soldier and a bit later the Parliament and the Senate moved at the building of Syntagma Square, the actual seat of the Parliament, which up to then was the king’s palace. From the 1st of January 1924, when the military Revolutionary Committee conceded power to the National Assembly which elected El. Venizelos as its first president, until 1936 when Ioannis Metaxas became dictator, the country suffered continuous political instability and several military coups took place. It is only in the period 1928-1932, when a powerful government under Venizelos was established, that the country was stable and had a global program of economic and social development. A wide plan of constructions of schools was then carried out; some 3.500 school buildings were constructed. However, apart from his concern about economy and his diplomatic activities Venizelos introduced several measures against democratic people and especially against communists, as the so-called law of “idionymo” according to which people could be condemned not for one’s actions, but for one’s ideas.

The economic crisis of 1929-1933 that broke out in the U.S.A had severely affected industry world wide and, of course Greece; the crisis resulted in a recession of the exports of agricultural products and to economic decline. This fact brought back the periods of instability and of military coups. By the end of 1935 general Kondylis, now a royalist restored monarchy and installed King George II on the throne. But even this did not solve the problems; thus on the 4 th of August 1936 Ioannis Metaxas, having obtained the consent of the king and of the British, established a dictatorship in the country. Metaxas banned all political parties and persecuted relentlessly all democratic people, most of all the communists. In these times several small and secluded islands of the Aegean became the place of exile for thousands of communists and of democratic people. The regime tried to attract young people by abolishing all the existing organizations (even the scouts’ associations) and establishing EON (National Organization of Youth); moreover the dictatorship had declared the foundation of a ‘new civilization” as had done the fascist and nazi regimes which Metaxas had as models. However, despite his political preferences, Greece remained bound to the British policy, to which the dictator owed his power.

Thus, although he had never respond to the challenges of Italians, not even to that of the torpedoing of the cruiser “Elli” at Tinos on the feast of Virgin Mary (15 of August 1940), on the 28 th of October 1940 when the Italian ambassador gave him the ultimatum of his country, the dictator was forced to answer negatively to the demands of Italy. So, Greece entered the war against Italy, which was better equipped and had much better arms in every field.
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