Greece like neigboring countries was swept up in the 1930s with highly nationalistic sentiment. Fascist political parties fed on this sentiment. We know of one natioinalist uniformed groups, the Ethniki Organosi Neolaias (EON--National Organization of Youth) which operated from 1936-40. This was a Fascist organization sponsored by the filo-fascist dictator, Joannes Metaxas. EON was rather an anomally among European Fascist youth groups. This was because a Fascist dictatorship was established before World War II and then attacked by both the Italians and Germans. Greek's Fascist dictator successfully resisted the Italian invasion in 1940, but died before the German invasion in 1941. Greece's Fascist
Government still wound up fighting against the Fascists in World War II. EON was very popular and boys and girls from democratic and even communist families joined. Unlike the Scouts, even children from poor families could participate in Scouting.
After the false referendum of 1935 (the number of votes was greater than the number of voters!), the Second Helanic Republic came to an end and King George II returned to Greece. In the elections of January 1936 the Royalist wing had 143 seats, the Liberal wing 142 seats and the Left had 15 seats. When the Liberal wing tried to make an agreement and form a governmet with the Left, the King and the Army didn't agree. Seeing that no one could form a government, King George II appointed Ioannis (Joannes) Metaxas as the prime minister. This was an interesting developmentment in that it was Metaxas as Chief of the General Staff who had been instrumental in the overthrow of the monarchy and the founding of the Republic in 1925.) Metaxas as head of the Free Opinion Party appointed close friend to high positions and when he found the right chance (August 4, 1936) he abolished the Constitution, dissolving the Boule (Greek Parliament), abolished political parties, civil liberties, anf freedom of the press thus establishing a dictatorship. King George II continued as the nominal ruler.
EON a a youth movement had a very short history. Very large numbers of children, however, participated in the movement. As it received Government support, children of all social classes could join, including many children who could not afford to participate in Scouting.
EON was officialy founded in September 5, 1936 but the public outrage didn't let the organization work until the next year where the first department was initiated. At the beginning, King George B was against the idea of EON but later Metaxas convinced him to be the honorary leader of the organization. Metaxas apparently wanted all Greek youth to be EON members. While large numbers of boys and girls joined, EON never approached the levels of participation in countries liked Germany and Italy. We do not, however, have actual membership numbers
EON sought to be the sole Greek youth group. Organizers in 1939 convinced the Metaxas dictatorship to abolish the Scouts and Guides. Metaxas became convinced that there should be one single youth movement for Greek children. This was the same approach taken in other Fascist countries (Germany, Spain, and Italy) as well as the Communist Soviet Union. Metaxas like other Fascists wanted to use EON to model the political thought of its members. Metaxas did not want a rival organization influencing youth that he could not control. Therefore, step by step, he moved to ban the Greek Scouting Movement in Greece in 1939.
In many places in Greece there were public ceremonies to showcase EON's victory over
Scouting. Many Boyscouts at the time remember that they had to present their flags and uniforms to the members of EON. Some others remember that they were beaten and their
uniforms were torn apart. After 1939, the only youth group that Greek boys and girls could join was EON. One boy remembers: "I went to join the Boyscouts but I found their offices closed. An older friend took me there. I found out that the same day the Boyscouts were banned. Therefore I joined EON. I realised that the trick to recruit members was that EON was closer to the poor children than the elitistic Boyscouts. But I still remember that EON's meetings were very boring in comparison to what I have seen in the Boyscouts. Boyscouts used to do perfect marchings even under the pouring rain."
Greece attempted to remain neutral when World War II erupted in 1939. Italy seized Albania in 1939 and then from Albanian bases moved against Greece in 1940. The Greeks put up a valiant resistance and in fact repulsed the Italians. EON must have played a role in war effort, but we do not have any details at this time. Metaxas led the resistance to the Italians, but died before the Germans invaded. Germany came to the assistance of the Italians in 1941, involving Bulgaria in an invasion designed to secure their southern flank before launching Barbarosa--the massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Despite British assistance, the Germans quickly overran Greece and seized Crete in a daring, but costly paratroop drop. The Italian-German invasion of Greece was unusual as it amounted to Fascists fighting fellow Fascists.
HBU does not yet have information on what happened to EON after Greece was occupied by Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria in 1941. We assume that EON was disbanded by the occupation authorities, but we have no actual information on this. It is unlikely that the Germans or Italians would have tolerated groups of uniformed boys, some with military training, moving about the country side. An acctive resistance movement developed in Greece which was brutally supressed, often with the hanging ofr shooting of civilian hostages. It almost would have been dangerous for boys, especially older boys, to appear in EON uniforms. In many other countries the Germans supported the formation of right-wing youth groups. This does not appaear to have occurred in Greece, for a variety of reasons. First, the Germans had attacked the Fascist Metaxas dictatorsgip. Thus they had alienated right-wing elements as well as the rest of the political spectrum. Even the Fascist elements in Greece would not have wanted their children to participate in any German-inspired youth movement. Second, the Germans for racial reasons may have less interested in molding Greek youth. Thirdly, the German invasion of Greece occurred later than in more northerly countries. The countries over run in 1940 (Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France) had little hope of liberation in 1940 and 1941. Many thought that the Germans had won the War and resistance was useless. Thus was different in Greece as only a few months after the Geman occupation, the Germans not only suffered massive losses in the Soviet Union during December 1941, but America entered the War.
Greece was liberated by British forces in 1944. The British landings were not as important in driving out the Germans, who were already withdrawing, but preventing the Soviet Red Army from entering Greece. The Germans retreated north so as not be cut off by the advancing Soviet Red Army and Bulgarian Army (which had switched sides). With liberation, Scouting was reestablished in Greece. We know of no effort to resestablish EON.
According to the EON plan approved by Metaxas, all young people from 8 to 20 years old should be members of EON. We have, however, noted much younger children in EON uniforms, so there appears to have been some kind of junior auxilery.
Fallagites: The oldestv group up to age 20 were organized in brigades (fallages) and they were called "brigaders". The boys' units were fallagites and the girls' units were fallagitisses.
Skapaneis: There was group for younger boys beginning at age 8. This would have been comparable to Cun Scouts. They were called "Skapaneis".
Younger children: We have noted even younger children involved in EON, some look to be as young as 4 years old. We are not sure what this group was called. They appear to be younger children than normally involved in youth group activities. We are unsure how popular this program for the younger children was.
There were three different uniforms for the boys, depending on the diffent organizationl level. A lot of children (boys and girls) remember that they were very jealous of EON members walking or marching around with their clean and impressive uniforms at the time when they had no shoes to wear. A lot of boys joined EON because of their impressive uniforms.
Fallagites: The "Fallagites" wore a formal uniform with blue long baggy trousers with straps around the ankles, blue shirt, white tie, white belt and a type of forage-cap with the EON badge.
Skapaneis: The "Skapaneis" had a uniform better suited suited for activities, especially during the summer. The uniform was blue short trousers and knee socks instead of longs. In this uniform the socks and tie were sometimes not used.
Younger group: There is also seem to existed a uniform for little boys and girls ages 4-7. We are not sure what this group was called. This uniform had a blue smock and white ankle socks instead of the trousers.
EON was widely financed by the Metaxas regime in order to attract new members. The agenda of the organization was supposed to be related with cultural and athletic activities but Metaxas was actually trying to win support among the impressionable youth, for his Fascist regime. Following the German example, there were public burning of books with Marxist content but also books of Bernard Shaw, Freud, Gorki, Dostogiefsky, Tolstoy, Gaite, Darwin, Papadiamantis etc.). The list was long and included many of the same books banned by the NAZIs. EON played an active role in thi, as did the Hitler Youth in Germany.
Membership in EON was much more inclusive than Scouting. Scouting in Greece and other countries has always been a largely middle-class movement. Scouting has never ideologically sought to limit itself to the middle class, but this was the result primarily because of the costs of particiapting. Scouting was not financed by the Government and thus the parents had to find the funds. In countries with large middle classes (America, England, France, and others), large numbers of boys could participate. In pooer countries like Greecem with smaller middled classes, participation was much more limited. Not only does a uniform have to be purchased, but there are also costs assiciated with participation. EON in contrast actively sought to attract a much wider cross-section of boys and could with Government support, attract the large number of children from poor families that could not afford to be Scouts or Guides.
It is true that most democratic young Greeks joined EON, others because they were threatened and others because they were seeking something interesting to do. Some famous Greeks recall the years that they were members of EON: Mikis Theodorakis (a famous composer and for years member of the communist party) recalls in a recent interview: "I joined EON because I wanted to learn to play... ping pong!". Dinos Dimopoulos (a lengedary director that directed more than 30 films including Ta delfinakia tou Amvrakikou) recalls: "These were strange times. I joined EON because I was forced to. Otherwise they would kick me out of school. But EON was giving free tickets to the cinema. So I had the opportunity to watch five films a day. This is how I learned about making movies". So it is not strange that many members of EON joined the communist youth (EPON) during the Axis Occupation years.
Two of the major EON activities were gymnastics and gardening. Hundrends of
physical education teachers were hired and gymnasiums were build and children and teenagers participated often in excursions were they planted trees. Fallagites were also participated in military training.
A sample daily program for the Fallagites at camp would be:
5:00 am -- Wake up call.
5:30 am -- Breakfast, cleaning of the dorms and beds.
7:30 am -- Meetings in groups, flag raising, EON anthem, reports
7:30-8:30 am -- Gymnastics in groups
8:30-9:30 am -- Military exercises
11:30 am -- Swimming
12:00 noon --Showers and lunch then rest in the dorms
5:00-6:00 pm -- Political "illumination"
6:00-7:00 pm -- Practical usage of theory
7:00-8:00 pm -- Games
8:00 pm --Dinner
9:00-10:00 pm -- Entertainment
10:00-10:30 pm -- Prayer.
We do not have a great deal of information about the ethos of EON based on actual mannuals or writings and speeches by EON leaders. Images of children giving the EON salute certainly have the look of the Hitler Youth or Italaian Bilail. Other images of EON give the same impression. Certainly EON stressed nationalism and patriotism as well as denegration of democracy. Whether EON included the hatred for other groups and aggressive militarism exhibited by other Fascist groups we do not yet know. EON no matter how it postured as a Fascist youth group had severe limitations. First Musolini had expanionist designs in the Balkans. Second Hitler wanted to bring Turkey into the War and Greek natioanlism and ireendetism was primarily directed at Turkey.
EON also published a magazine with the title "Neolaia" (Youth) in which there were popular and theoretical articles about moral and practical issues concerning the Greek youth. The writers in many of these texts stress EON's admiration for the civilization of ancient Sparta with it's strict military education and even express support for the murders of handicapped born children and eugenics. (There was also a NAZI eugenics program which envolved killing the mentally and physically handicapped children and adults. The NAZIs also launched the Lebensborn program which eventully involved kidnapping several hundred thousand children. Eugenics was a recurrent theme in Fascist literature.) Some writers in "Neolaia even suggested that the views expressed in the publication should be taught in schools.
Eleni Machaira. "I neolea tis 4is Augoustou: fotografies" [The 4th of August (Metaxas) youth: photographs] (Athens: 1978). This is a book about EON in comparison with German and Italian fascist youth groups.
Neolaia magazine, various issues.
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