Tuesday, November 3, 2015

80th Anniversary of King George II’s Restoration to the Greek Throne

November 3 marks the 80th anniversary of a Greek plebiscite in which George II, who had been living in exile for twelve years, was voted by a majority to return as King of the Hellenes.

George II was the eldest son of King Constantine I of Greece and Queen Sophia, the former Princess Sophia of Prussia. He had first come to the Greek throne in September 1922 in the midst of turmoil within his country. King Constantine I had just been restored to the throne two years earlier, but following Greece's humiliating defeat in the Greco-Turkish Wars of 1919-1922 and the devastating massacre at Smyrna, he was forced to step down in favor of George. King George's position was far from secure, as a revolutionary committee had taken control of the government and sought to curtail the role of the monarchy as much as possible. A failed royalist coup aimed at dislodging the committee in October 1923 damaged the monarchy's credibility and led the government to formally ask the King and his wife, Queen Elisabeth, to absent themselves from the country until the mood had settled. The royal couple departed from Greece in December 1923 and the monarchy was abolished three months later.

Initially settling in Romania with Queen Elisabeth's parents, King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, George II gradually spent more time away from his wife, either in London or to visit his mother at her exiled home in Florence. King George and Queen Elisabeth were to have no children and divorced in 1935.

While the Greek royal family settled into a decade of exile, the republican government back home lurched from crisis to crisis. Over twenty-four changes of government, thirteen coups and a dictatorship took place between 1924 and 1935. Finally, in October 1935, General George Kondylis, having lost his patience with the troubled republic, staged a coup d'etat and successfully overthrew the sitting government. In its stead, Kondylis proclaimed his intention to restore the Greek monarchy and to invite the exiled George II back to mount the throne once again. A plebiscite was scheduled for November 3, 1935 to allow the Greek people the chance to vote on restoring the monarchy or maintaining the republic.

It was far from a clean vote, however. While a large number of people were dissatisfied with the unstable republic and many did profess loyalty to the exiled king, there were many cities which reported intimidation at the voting polls against those who intended to vote for the republic. Time Magazine reported in its November 18, 1935 issue that "a voter one could drop into the ballot box a blue vote for George II and please General George Kondylis, or one could cast a red ballot for the Republic and get roughed up."

In the end, an astonishing (and undoubtedly inaccurate) tally showed 98% of the votes were in favor of restoring the monarchy. Despite the methods used to obtain this majority vote, George II accepted the results and return to Greece on November 25. It was not to be the end of his troubles, however. Just six years later, the invasion of Nazi Germany forced George II and other members of the royal family to flee. They would not return to Greece until 1946, and King George II died the following year at his palace in Athens.

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