The whole world seemed to be going up in flames. As the summer of 1922 drew to a close, a wave of massacres engulfed the Greek communities of Asia Minor, as the Turkish army advanced towards the coast. Hundreds of thousands of civilians crammed the waterfront of Smyrna as the city burned to the ground behind them. Countless men, women, and children were killed during these apocalyptic days; many more escaped to Greece, terrified and destitute. The government in Athens seemed utterly paralysed, while a revolutionary committee forced King Constantine to abdicate, and executed six politicians and senior officers deemed responsible for the Asia Minor Catastrophe.
The man responsible for prosecuting the overthrown administration was Theodoros Pangalos, a staff officer with a distinguished military career during the Balkan Wars and the First World War. Pangalos supported Eleutherios Venizelos and had been dismissed from the army after the pro-royalist faction won the elections in 1920. He insisted that the revolutionary committee proceed with the execution of the condemned politicians before the British government could intervene on their behalf. As for himself, on 14 November 1922 (on the eve of the execution) he was named Minister for Military Affairs and departed for northern Greece on a mission of the utmost importance.
The last line of defence
The war with Turkey had not ended with the destruction of Smyrna. The Greek army had been disastrously defeated in Asia Minor but the situation was quite different in Thrace. The Armistice of Mudanya forced the demoralized Greek army to withdraw west of the River Evros. Pangalos was able to reorganize the so-called “Army of Evros” by restoring its shuttered order and discipline in preparation for a possible advance into eastern Thrace towards Constantinople. The presence of an efficient military force enabled the Greek delegation in Lausanne to overcome Turkish intransigence and contributed to the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in July 1923.
Surrealism in power
The Army of Evros was disbanded soon after, but Pangalos remained a potent force in Greek politics. In October 1923 he assisted in the suppression of a pro-royalist coup d’état; in December he was elected to parliament; and in March 1924 he was appointed Minister for Public Order. By then it was evident that the nascent Hellenic Republic was in serious trouble. Financial debts, the cost of settling the refugees, the loss of national purpose, and the relentless animosity between monarchists and Venizelists resulted in chronic political instability; short-lived governments and coup attempts became the norm. Pangalos, never a fan of the parliamentary system, decided to act. On June 1925 he overthrew the government in a bloodless coup and remained in power until August 1926, when a counter-coup deposed him.
The dictatorship of Pangalos is mostly remembered for a string of surreal decisions. He attempted to regulate the length of womens’ skirts (the hemline could not be more than 30cm from the ground); he occupied parts of Bulgaria in response to the death of a Greek soldier who was chasing after a dog; he organized public executions, by hanging, of corrupt public officials; he cut paper notes in half in an effort to save billions of drachmas; he tried to form an alliance with Mussolini against Turkey in order to overturn the Treaty of Lausanne; and he awarded himself the Grand Cross of the Order of the Redeemer.
The saviour of Eleusis
Eleusis benefited greatly during Pangalos’ dictatorship. He was born in Salamis but his mother, Katigko Hadjimeleti, was the granddaughter of Ioannis Hadjimeletis, the influential landowner from Dervenochoria who played a prominent role in the Greek War of Independence. Pangalos was therefore very interested in the well-being of the community, where he maintained a residence. On 16 February 1926 he issued a Decree Law that established a specific tax on industrial products being exported from the port and railway station of Eleusis. According to the decree, all cement products were taxed at a rate of 1 lepton per kilogram; rosin at 3 lepta per kilogram; white spirit, wine, ethanol, and other industrial products at 5 lepta per kilogram; while clay tiles and bricks were taxed at 5 drachmas per thousand.
The tax generated an annual income of more than 700,000 drachmas, a bonanza that enabled local authorities to invest in public projects that improved the quality of life for the residents of Eleusis. The water supply and electricity networks were improved, new schools were constructed, trees were planted, and garbage services were upgraded. By 1932 the community had an annual budget of 1.4 million drachmas and was well on its way to becoming a comfortable and prosperous city.
Part of the cost for the schools of Eleusis came from the casino of Eleusis, established on the initiative of Pangalos himself. But this casino became the biggest scandal of his short tenure. The deputy Interior Minister awarded the tender to a bidder who offered 3.9 million drachmas for the rights to operate the casino, when there were bidders who were willing to pay 7 million drachmas. The main benefit of the casino was the paving with asphalt of the road that connected Eleusis to Athens.
During the trial in 1930, a fisherman from Eleusis claimed that the general was generally poor before 1926, but he was subsequently able to spend substantial amounts of money on his house in Eleusis. He also purchased adjoining plots of land and built an impressive stone wall around his property. Other witnesses detailed how Pangalos’ friends and relatives benefited financially. The casino was established in a house belonging to a relative of Pangalos; the building was unsuitable but the owner rented it for 200,000 drachmas, when more convenient houses could be had for 30,000 drachmas. Another friend was able to build a house that cost more than a million drachmas. After three months, the court found Pangalos guilty of a decision detrimental to the interests of the State and sentenced him to two years in prison.
The missing bust
Theodoros Pangalos died in 1952. When the municipal council of Eleusis received the news of his death, it was decided to lower the flag at half-mast for three days, to attend his funeral, to erect a bust in one of the town’s public squares, and a cenotaph in the municipal cemetery. The bust was created by the famous sculptor Michael Tombros, but it only remained in place for fifteen years. After the municipal elections of 1975, the new council decided to remove it; it has since disappeared without a trace. General Theodoros Pangalos remains a controversial figure, but his contribution to the prosperity of Eleusis serves as a fitting testament to a multifaceted personality that shaped the history of his hometown and Greece.