Eleftherios Venizelos

Summary

Elefthérios Kyriákou Venizélos (Modern Greek: Ελευθέριος Κυριάκου Βενιζέλος), born on August 11, 1864 (August 23 in the Gregorian calendar) in Mourniés, Crete, and died on March 18, 1936 (age 71) in Paris, France, was a Greek politician, considered, as early as 1921, as the “founder of modern Greece.

The youth of Venizelos is marked by the struggles in Crete against the Ottoman presence and in favor of an attachment to Greece, the enosis. After studying in Crete and in Greece, he became a lawyer in 1887, settled in Chania, and launched himself into journalism and politics. Elected liberal deputy to the Cretan general assembly in 1889, insurgent during the revolt of 1897-1898, he drafted the constitution of the autonomous Crete at the end of the revolt. Minister of Justice from 1898 to 1901 in the local government of the high commissioner Prince George, he opposed the latter on the question of the attachment to Greece. It is in this context that in the spring of 1905, he took the lead of an insurrection that ended with the departure of Prince George. His reputation then exceeds the limits of his island, and even gains an international fame.

Thus, when the Greek military organized the coup de Goudi in the summer of 1909, Venizélos was asked to take the destiny of the nation into his hands. He accepted only after his supporters had won democratic elections in the summer of 1910. As Prime Minister, he pursued a policy of modernization of the kingdom, mainly with regard to the army and the navy, in order to enable the country to face the conflicts that were emerging. Greece came out victorious in the two Balkan wars. However, it enters a very serious conflict with the commander in chief of the Greek troops, the crown prince Constantin. The opposition between the two men continues during the First World War. Constantine I, who came to the throne in 1913, was rather close to the Triplice while Venizelos leaned towards the Entente. The opposing influences of the belligerents ended up cutting Greece in two during the “National Schism”. Venizélos, dismissed by the king, created a second government, in Thessalonica, under the protection of Entente troops. France finally pushed the king into exile and, in June 1917, Venizelos installed his government in Athens. He succeeded in reconciling the imperatives of a foreign policy linked to the war with a whole series of modernizing reforms.

Thanks to his action, the kingdom of Greece appears in the camp of the victors. During the peace negotiations, his talent as a diplomat allowed him to partially realize the Great Idea with the treaties of Neuilly and Sevres. Welcomed as a hero on his return, he lost the elections in November 1920. This failure marked for him the beginning of a succession of exiles in France and political returns in a country in the midst of political instability where, on two occasions, he still appeared as a providential man. After the military defeat in the war against Turkey, he negotiated the Treaty of Lausanne in 1922-1923. Then, in 1928, in a troubled political and social context, he became Prime Minister again. For the third time, he led a policy of modernization of the country, mainly in the agricultural sector. But, accused of dictatorial tendencies, he lost the 1932 elections. Finally, discredited after supporting two failed military coups, Venizelos died in exile in 1936.

He was a member of the Freemasonry.

A “small” state

In 1864, Greece was a young and small state, just emerging from the war of independence. Independent since only 1830, its borders were far from those of today. On the mainland, the Peloponnese, Attica and Boeotia are the main provinces of what is called “Old Greece”. The Greek territory also includes the Cyclades, Skyros, Evia and the islands of the Saronic Gulf. In 1863, Great Britain gave the Greeks sovereignty over the Ionian Islands.

However, a large part of the Greek population lives outside Greece. Since antiquity, there has been a Greek presence mainly on the eastern coasts of the Aegean and Black Seas. From the eighteenth century onwards, these settlements developed and strengthened again, due to a certain commercial and naval boom in the region, with the Greeks providing a large share of Ottoman trade. This movement affected the entire Mediterranean basin throughout the 19th century, as evidenced by the development of Greek communities in Constantinople, Alexandria, Odessa and southern Russia in particular. The idea of a Hellenism going beyond the borders of the Greek territory, gathering all the Hellenic communities, a vision known under the name of the Great Idea, which became a major spring of the Greek politics for several decades.

In 1833, Athens replaced Nafplio as the capital of the kingdom led by Otto I of Greece. The monarchy was imposed in 1832 by the “Protecting Powers” that were France, Great Britain and Russia, and was founded on the European model. Othon”s Greece was marked by a strong Bavarian influence and this strong foreign presence was badly felt by the population even if, from 1837, the Prime Minister was Greek. Added to this foreign influence was a strong fiscal pressure which increased popular discontent.

In 1843, a coup dӎtat forced Othon to convene a constituent assembly and, in 1844, to promulgate a constitution for the country. Despite these changes, Othon was overthrown in 1862. A Danish prince, elected king by the National Assembly on March 30, 1863, took the throne as George I of Greece. When he took office, he discovered a country with very weak economic development and where many jobs were in the administration. Political life remained rudimentary, with parties structured around the most prominent figures. Greece is burdened with debts incurred from the great powers since the war of independence. The country is finding it increasingly difficult to repay its debts, especially since it still frequently resorts to borrowing, including to pay its civil servants.

The country has few natural resources. The land is arid, agriculture struggles to feed the population, the valleys are narrow and landlocked, and the communication routes have difficulty in developing. The great merchant ports that are Smyrna, Constantinople, Salonika are the places where the Greeks deploy their commercial activity the most, but they are in Ottoman territory. Greece of 1864 also struggled to build a real unity between its different regions. If the Orthodox Church seems to have made it possible to preserve an identity common to all the Greeks, the regrouping in village communities, even regional, was the rule during the centuries of Ottoman occupation, which explains why the successive governments have difficulties in building a real national unity. In 1864, the National Assembly passed a new constitution, more liberal than the one of 1844 (it was even considered one of the most liberal in Europe at the time), but one in which the king retained many prerogatives. George I took the oath of office on this text in November 1864, thus taking office.

The case of Crete

Crete was the last major Ottoman conquest of Greek territory, after a conflict that lasted from 1645 to 1669. During the Greek War of Independence, the island also rose, but despite some promising beginnings, none of the major cities were taken by the insurgents, who soon had control only of the fortresses of Kissamos and Gramvoussa. With the help of the Egyptians, the Ottomans regained control of the island.

After the signature, in 1827, of the treaty of London, the revolting leaders think they know that the Greek-speaking regions fighting against the Ottoman Empire will be part of the new Greek state. The goal of the insurgents is thus to maintain Crete in a state of permanent revolt which would guarantee its independence. But the treaty of Andrinople of 1829, leaves Crete outside the new Greek state and in the lap of the Ottoman Empire. Great Britain was very much opposed to the independence of Crete and worked hard for this solution, and this despite the protests of the Cretan Assembly. Indeed, the United Kingdom wants to avoid that Crete becomes again a den of pirates and especially that Russia can increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean, at a time when the diplomacy of this country triumphs in the Balkans and where the liberation of Greece seems linked to the victory of the Russian armies.

Eleftherios” father, Kyriakos, is a glass merchant. He owns a store in the old town of Chania, not far from his home. Kyriakos is known for his political commitment and his support for the attachment of Crete to Greece. In 1821, he took part in the Greek war of independence and participated in the siege of Monemvasia. He was later awarded the medal of the revolutionary struggle. Three of his brothers died in battle during the revolution, while a fourth and two Cretans were sent at the beginning of the conflict to the Greek warlords to negotiate with them the entry of the island in the conflict. In 1843, he is banished from Crete and all his goods are confiscated to punish him for his activism. Kyriakos returns in Crete only in 1862.

From the union of Kyriákos and Styliani were born nine children: three who died in infancy, four girls (Maria, Eleni, Ekatherini and Evanthia) and two boys (Elefthérios, the fourth of the family, and Agathoklis). Agathoklis contracted typhoid at the age of two and was physically and psychologically affected by the disease. He is thus the object of all the attentions of his parents. He dies at the age of twenty-one.

Youth and studies

Eleftherios Kiriakou Venizelos was born on August 11, 1864 (August 23 in the Gregorian calendar) in Mournes, the main town of the demesne that now bears his name, in the nome of Chania, Crete. While the Venizelos family spends the winter months in the neighborhood of Topanas in Chania, the small village of Mournies is the holiday resort of the Venizelos. Many inhabitants of Chania have a pied-à-terre outside the city, both to escape the hustle and bustle of the cities and to find a little coolness during the hot summer months.

The date of Eleftherios” birth is not certain and many legends accompany it. Chester says that Eleftherios” mother went to the monastery of the Virgin Mary, near Chania, to pray to Heaven to have a son. She promised to give birth in a stable as Mary did. Kerofilas writes that when Styliani was about to give birth, two hodjas and two orthodox priests prayed in different languages for the salvation of the unborn child. Kyriakos is said to have even asked the hodja of Mournes to pray to calm the spirit of Mohammed himself. There is also talk of white light in the sky on the day of his birth. On this subject, Eleftherios Venizelos is said to have said: “Do not repeat such nonsense. People will think that I am God!

Eleftherios Venizelos himself gave a version of the story of his birth. Desperate after having already lost three sons, his parents are asked to follow a local custom of adopting a foundling. Only a child raised in this way could live. Thus, after giving birth, the mother is separated from her child and the child is laid on a mattress of leaves on the front porch of the house. Friends of the family, in secrecy, pass by the house and carry the child to the parents, asking them to accept this gift and raise it as their own. Eleftherios survives.

The origin of his first name Eleftherios (which refers to the idea of deliverance and freedom) is surrounded by mystery. A first version simply evokes the church Aghios-Eleftherios of Mournes, where the child is baptized. A second version says that Styliani went to pray to Aghios Eleftherios to implore him to facilitate the birth, in exchange for which she would name her son Eleftherios. According to a third version, the priest, at the time of the baptism of the child would have chosen to name him Eleftherios so that this one delivers the island from the Ottoman tyranny.

In 1866, Crete rose again against the Ottoman occupation. Greece, for fear of reprisals from the Great Powers, could not support the Cretan struggle. However, and in spite of the Turkish military superiority, the fights are prolonged and find an international echo after the massacre of the monastery of Arkadi, where hundreds of Cretans choose to die rather than to surrender. In this context, and taking into account the political positions of Kyriakos, the Venizélos family takes the road of exile. The role of Kyriakos during the revolt is not very clear. Kyriakos is suspected of being part of insurrectionary movements and of having refused to pledge allegiance to the Sultan. For others, on the contrary, he would have called his compatriots to patience and moderation and would have left Crete only by fear of being wrongly implicated. Towards the end of August 1866, he embarked with his family and his friends, Costis Foumas, Spyros and Andonis Markantonis, for the island of Kythera.

In Cythère, the young Elefthérios becomes the friend of Costis Foumas, of three years his elder, and who becomes, thereafter, his collaborator within the government of Crete and his brother in arms during the revolt of Thérissos.

In 1869, after the Cretan uprising, many exiled families could not return to the island, or did not feel safe enough to do so. The Venizelos family chose to leave Kythera for Syros, where they resided for three years. They returned to Chania only in 1872, after the amnesty granted by Sultan Abdülaziz. Eleftherios is now eight years old and has Greek nationality.

On the island of Syros, Ermoúpoli, then one of the most flourishing cities of Greece, offers numerous schools, heirs of an ancient presence of catholic congregations. It was in one of these elementary school that Eleftherios began his education. Back in Crete, he joined the Greek elementary school of Chania. He obtained his school certificate in 1874. He continued his education in Chania until his first year of high school. Afterwards, he worked with his father for two years, and even thought of joining the army. But, in the summer of 1877, George Zygomalas, the Greek consul in Crete, convinced Kyriakos to let Eleftherios pursue longer studies, convinced of his abilities. Eleftherios then went to Athens, to the Antoniadis High School. There, his education was enriched with new subjects, with a complete program including, among others, mathematics, French, German, ancient Greek and Latin. In Athens, he became increasingly interested in politics and the personalities of the time left an indelible mark on the teenager”s mind. Thus, he developed a strong sympathy for Alexandros Koumoundouros, and later for Charílaos Trikoúpis, whose social and economic measures he admired as well as his moderation in foreign policy.

For his last year of high school, he returned to Ermoúpoli in 1880. After graduating, he went back to Crete for a few months and convinced his father again to let him continue his university studies. In 1881, he entered the National Capodistrian University of Athens, where he studied law.

Towards the end of his second year of study, in 1883, his family asked him to return to Crete. His father”s health deteriorated and he died a few days after Eleftherios” return to Crete. He was then forced to work to provide for his family and took over his father”s business. In 1885, when he felt that his family was safe, he resumed his law studies and obtained his law degree in 1887.

During this second Athenian stay, Elefthérios has the occasion to be noticed for the first time on the political scene. In November 1885, Joseph Chamberlain is in Athens and declares in the press that Crete does not wish the attachment to Greece. A delegation of five Cretan students obtained to meet him. Venizélos, who is part of it, even seems to be the spokesman. A one-hour meeting was organized at the British hotel, during which the British politician questioned the students about the situation in Crete. Statistics in support, Venizélos insists in particular on the bad administration of the island by the Ottomans. He considers that the refusal of the Great Powers, via their consuls present in Chania, to take into account the expectations expressed by the Assembly of Crete is a hardly disguised support to the Ottoman policy. Impressed by the knowledge of their island and by the sobriety of their speech, Chamberlain would have declared at the end of the interview, to the governor of the Bank of Greece, himself Cretan: “With men like those who visited me yesterday, you should not worry about your country being freed from the Turks”.

From then on, the journalists of the capital consider Eleftherios as the spokesman of Crete. Some newspapers such as Kairoi do not print any more articles on Crete without consulting him.

On January 15, 1887, Eleftherios obtained his law degree.

The lawyer and the journalist

After graduation, he returned to Crete on March 10, 1887. He lived in Chalepa, east of Chania, with his family, for whom he was responsible. He worked as a lawyer in a law office in the center of Chania, first as an assistant to a well-known lawyer of the time, Spyros Moatsos, and later as a partner of Yagos Iliakis, who later became one of his political collaborators. Twice he tried to be elected as a judge at the Court of Appeal of Chania, but only succeeded in obtaining a position as an assessor, from which he quickly resigned, undoubtedly disappointed by this subordinate role.

Eleftherios practices all branches of law, civil, criminal and commercial, although he has a weakness for constitutional law. Having for customers Christians and Moslems, he is accused of turcophilia. This accusation became more serious in the mid-1890s, when the bey Tevfik Bedri was assassinated in the village of Loutraki. Two Greeks were accused of the murder and Eleftherios was the only Christian lawyer who agreed to intervene against them. The two accused are condemned to death and hanged on January 7, 1894. For many, Venizélos betrayed. For others, it is the mark that the man knows the difference between justice and loyalty towards his compatriots.

Eleftherios is also a journalist. On December 19, 1888, he founds the newspaper The White Mountains (Lefka Ori), with among others Costas Foumis. This new tribune allows him to spread his ideas. He develops what could be the social, economic and cultural reforms which Crete needs. As during his interview with Joseph Chamberlain in 1886, he criticizes the inertia of the Ottoman administration and its incapacity to ensure the development of the island. This publication stops in June 1889.

Venizelos obtained his first elective mandate in April 1889. Under the liberal label, he became deputy to the Cretan General Assembly for the province of Kydonia. Several editors of the newspaper the White Mountains also enter there. He made a name for himself in the first parliamentary session on April 27, 1889. While the members of the Liberal Party, representing the great majority of the chamber, wished to oust their few conservative opponents, Venizélos refused such a provision and invited them to behave otherwise. It was the first political victory of the young Venizélos: the assembly recognized the legitimacy of all the members of the opposition.

However, the conservatives did not look favourably on the arrival in power of the liberals with the young Venizélos at their head. On May 6, five conservative deputies tabled a motion for the union of Crete with Greece in order to embarrass the majority and to attract the sympathy of the Christian population. Trouble broke out between the two parties, even leading to murders. These disorders seem maintained by Turkey which seizes the occasion to react with authority and to reinforce its sovereignty. Forty thousand soldiers disembarked in Crete in August 1889, while the firman of October 26, 1889 removed all the advantages granted by the Pact of Halepa.

The martial laws are lifted in Crete on April 16, 1890 and a general amnesty is declared. Venizélos is among the many political leaders in exile who return then on the island. They do not benefit from the amnesty, but are under the implicit protection of the Great Powers. Crete does not find for all that its parliamentary assembly. This one is authorized again only from 1894. His first mandate thus interrupted, Elefthérios then resumes his legal activities.

During this period when Venizélos is far from the public life, the political situation deteriorates in Crete. On September 16, 1895, a new revolt broke out, so much so that the European powers enjoined the Sultan to return to an autonomous status for the island. A new governor was appointed in March 1895, Georges Karatheodori Pacha, a Christian. The policy conducted by the latter satisfied Venizelos. But the Cretan population asks again for the autonomy of the island. Then, it was the turn of the Turkish community to be alarmed; in May 1896, the consuls of Greece and Russia were assassinated by the angry Muslim crowd. To prevent further unrest, the European powers sent squadrons along the coast. They asked the Sultan to return to the Pact of Chalepa. In January 1897, new clashes broke out, Christians were massacred in Réthymnon and Héraklion. On February 4, the Christian quarter of Chania was set on fire and its inhabitants massacred.

From July 1, 1898, the admirals of the great European powers authorized the formation of an executive committee, charged to organize the island before the arrival of prince George. Elefthérios Venizélos is part of it.

With his arrival, prince George appoints, on December 25, 1898, a committee of sixteen members charged with the drafting of the constitution of Crete. Venizélos is again part of it. He takes an active part in the drafting of the constitution of which he is finally the principal author.

On January 24, the first legislative elections of the autonomous Crete were held. Venizelos won the seat for the constituency of Chania and entered the parliament. The Assembly of Crete approved the new constitution in March 1898. In April, Prince George appointed him Minister of Justice. Enter also in the government his friends Constantinos Foumis and Manoussos Koundouros. During the next two years, he reorganized the courts, modernized the judicial system and organized the gendarmerie. Perhaps his greatest task was the establishment of 335 modifications in the Cretan legal procedures, which later formed the basis of the entire Greek judicial system. He revised in turn the civil, commercial, criminal and procedural codes. He established twenty-six justices of the peace, five courts of first instance, one court of appeal and two courts of assizes.

Very quickly, dissensions appear between Venizélos and the high commissioner. Their first quarrel would be due to the construction of a palace for Prince George. Shortly after his arrival on the island, the latter announced his desire to build a palace. Venizélos as for him protests, because a palace would be a symbol of permanence for a power which he judges transitory while waiting for the union with Greece. The prince, vexed, does not build his palace.

But the main point of disagreement was how to govern the island. Although he was the main drafter of the constitution, Venizelos felt that it was far too conservative and gave too many rights to the prince. The assembly had few rights and met only once every two years. Moreover, the ministers were more advisors to the prince and only the prince could ratify laws. Venizelos himself said a few years later: “I bear a great responsibility for the autocratic behaviour of the prince, while my influence was great in the drafting of the 1899 constitution. However, the articles of the constitution protecting individual guarantees or the equal treatment of Christians and Muslims are also mainly his work.

In matters of international relations, the prince was the only one authorized to deal with the great powers; moreover, the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs did not exist. He took on the annexation of the island by Greece without consulting his advisors and initiated discussions on this subject with the Russian, French, Italian and British foreign ministers. In the summer of 1900, when he was preparing to tour the European courts, George declared: “When I travel to Europe, I will ask the Powers for annexation, and I hope to achieve this through my family connections.

Venizélos thinks premature the union of Crete of Greece, especially as the Cretan institutions are still unstable. He advocates on the other hand the creation of a Cretan army, then the withdrawal of the European troops. Less and less under international control, the island could thus unite with Greece. This approach is badly perceived by the public opinion and the Athenian newspapers.

In February 1901, the Powers refused any change concerning the status of the island. Although Prince George admitted that Venizelos was right, it was nevertheless the minister who suffered the attacks of the press. He therefore handed in his resignation on 5 March 1901, claiming medical reasons. Then, on the 18th, he explained that he could not work while being in permanent disagreement with his colleagues and the high commissioner. Prince George refused to see him resign and preferred to dismiss him for insubordination. On March 20, posters on the walls of Chania announced the dismissal of Venizelos by the prince.

After this dismissal, a campaign against Venizélos is led in the newspapers. Articles, undoubtedly written by the secretary of the prince, name him the “insolent adviser”. Venizélos did not retort at first. In December 1901, he answers however to the accusations by five articles in the newspaper Kirix. The prince then makes close the newspaper and makes put his former minister in prison.

A period opens then where Venizélos is removed from the political life of the island. However, during this period, his vision of the future of the island changes again. Whereas in 1897, he defended Enosis, before preferring the solution of autonomy when he was in power, he advocates again, from his eviction, the idea of the union to Greece. But, he judges that Prince George is unable to carry out it, for lack of having been able to make accept the idea near the Great Powers. He takes again these grievances and denounces the corruption of the entourage of prince George in spring 1905, when an insurrection of which he is the leader bursts against the Cretan government.

In February 1905, Venizélos prepared his coup d”état with a group of seventeen Cretan leaders who became the nucleus of his movement. They were joined by three hundred revolutionaries who, although they did not constitute a great threat from a military point of view, proved to be very difficult to dislodge, hidden in the throats of Thérissos. On March 10, 1905, approximately 1 500 Cretans meet in Therisos, which becomes then the center of the revolt. From the first moments, one reports clashes between the gendarmerie and rebels. The leading idea of this rebellion is the attachment of Crete to Greece. The first day of the uprising, Venizélos declares that the Enosis is not possible as long as prince George remains high commissioner of the island.

The Great Powers, present on the island since the revolt of 1897, intervened militarily. But, realizing little by little that Prince George was losing the support of the population, they organized negotiations. On July 13, the leaders of the insurgents were invited to meet the European consuls. These discussions led to nothing except the declaration of martial law by the powers that be and the occupation of the main towns on the island. With the arrival of winter and the lack of means, in mid-October, Venizélos and his companions recognize that it is difficult for them to maintain the revolt, more especially as the last military operations are from now on directly directed against them, notably those of the Russians. They announce that they are ready to give the fate of the island in the hands of the powers. Venizélos engaged new negotiations with the consuls in order to obtain a maximum of concessions. In a letter to the Great Powers, he affirms his intention to lay down arms in exchange for honorable conditions. Most of the insurgents were ready to give up their arms and, for those who refused to lay them down, it was proposed to send them to Greece without being disarmed. On November 25, the camp of Thérissos was raised and the amnesty proclaimed.

In February 1906, the great powers commissioned a mission to study the questions of administration and finance in Crete. At the end of March, the members of the commission finished their study, which they gave to the powers. In May, the elections gave only a minority to the party of Venizélos. However, in September 1906, Prince George finally left the island and his post of high commissioner and Aléxandros Zaïmis replaced him. For Elefthérios Venizélos, it is a success: he knows the union with Greece is inevitable. After the episode of Thérissos, he appears as a political figure impossible to circumvent and his fame exceeds the borders of Crete and Greece.

In 1908, the Young-Turkish revolution shook up the Ottoman political landscape and strained relations between the Ottoman Empire and Crete. The new rulers wished to go back on the past agreements concerning the status of the island and wanted it to reintegrate the Empire. On October 10, taking advantage of the absence of Aléxandros Zaïmis, the committee that replaced him proclaimed the union of Crete with Greece, a position subsequently approved by the parliament. The post of high commissioner was abolished and the Greek constitution adopted. Eleftherios Venizelos took the opportunity to make his return to politics. An executive committee was formed, in which he was put in charge of foreign affairs. The Greek government of Geórgios Theotókis did not risk ratifying this union. However the Great Powers only protest softly.

From the end of August 1909, Venizélos made known his support to the action of the Military League. In September, he published a series of articles in a newspaper of Chania, Keryx, where he suggested the convocation in Greece of a National Assembly (name given to the Hellenic parliament when it is gathered for exceptional reasons, in this case, the number of elected deputies is the double of that of the usual parliament) to fight against the plutocratic and dynastic oligarchy as well as the installation of a dictatorship (temporary) to fight against the political putrefaction. In October, the military of the League, via their agents in Crete, invited Venizélos to come to Athens to bring them help. In December, they go further and offer him the post of Prime Minister of Greece. However, he refused because he did not want to appear as the man of the military, in the eyes of the Greeks as well as those of the rest of the world. He also did not want to clash head-on with King George I of Greece and the “old” political parties.

He finally stayed in Athens from January 10 to February 4, 1910. He first went to the Military League to share his assessment of the situation. He then refused the installation of a dictatorship, considering that it was too late for this energetic solution. He also refused any abdication of the sovereign. He insists on the necessity to proceed to legislative elections and to entrust to a National Assembly the care to carry out the program of reforms. He again refuses the post of Prime Minister but suggests the creation of a transitional government led either by Stéphanos Dragoúmis or by Stéphanos Skouloúdis. He then played the role of mediator between the League and the “old” political leaders of the main parliamentary groups, Dimítrios Rállis and Geórgios Theotókis, to convince them to accept his proposals. More or less convinced, the two men then presented these solutions at a Council of the Crown which brought together, on 29 January, the main political players (Mavromichális, Rallis, Theotokis, Dragoúmis, Zaimis and the president of the Vouli) under the aegis of the king. Venizélos, without political role in Greece nor legitimacy, is absent. However, the solutions he proposed were adopted: the convening of a National Assembly to revise the constitution; the resignation of the government of Kyriakoúlis Mavromichális, replaced by a transitional government and entrusted with the organization of legislative elections. It was entrusted to Stéphanos Dragoúmis, considered “independent”. The head of the Military League, Nikólaos Zorbás, was appointed Minister of the Army. In exchange, Venizélos succeeded in convincing the Military League to dissolve itself so as not to interfere with the political game. The sovereign called new elections on 31 March 1910; three days later, the League announced its dissolution.

Before leaving, Venizélos answers to the Athenian journalists about the enosis of his native island. He considers then that it became a “military” question and that it is not possible any more to trust the diplomacy of the Western Powers. That is why he called for a rapid reform of the army. He remained in the background during the campaign for the elections to the Cretan assembly in April 1910. When his supporters won, he suggested moderation towards the Muslim deputies, mainly. The troubles are thus avoided. Venizelos became, even for the Western Powers, an increasingly appreciated and popular “thorn in the side”. However, he could not get involved any more: he suffered from phlebitis and went to rest on the Gulf of Corinth.

This appointment is not a foregone conclusion. To journalists who questioned him in the spring, Venizelos replied that he had too many differences with the sovereign to agree to govern with him. Moreover, many of those close to him are anti-monarchists. Finally, at the beginning of October, a republican revolution drove the king from his throne in Portugal. It is believed that the same thing will happen in Greece. Venizélos surprises therefore when he declares, at the beginning of October: “The dynasty is indispensable to Greece and the present king renders services to the country which he cannot do without. If I have to take part in the political life of Greece, I am resolved to support the throne as energetically as possible. However, this attempt to conciliate the sovereign does not succeed and this one continues to be cold.

Venizélos surrounded himself with collaborators who were committed to the policy of reform and began to apply the program of the Goudi revolutionaries, supported by a strong popularity. The Austrian ambassador noted on October 28, 1910: “Venizelos is a sort of popular consul and almost dictator of Greece. The enthusiasm of the people, who acclaim him everywhere, is obvious. Venizélos decided to immediately call for new elections to establish his majority. They take place in December 1910. He took care to present himself as the adversary of the “old” parties (who boycotted the election and accused him of abandoning Crete, where they would prefer him to have remained), but also as free from the influence of the Military League which had gone to seek him out after the Goudi coup. Thus, he does not hesitate to take as aide-de-camp Ioánnis Metaxás, one of the bêtes noires of the League, which had succeeded in removing him. He also takes care to spare the Ottoman Empire which is worried about his accession to the power, always about the status of Crete. He decides that the island does not take part in the Greek legislations and that if Cretans are elected, their election will be cancelled. It is especially a means of avoiding a military conflict whereas Greece is not yet ready. He also participated actively in the electoral campaign, unlike the previous summer. He made numerous tours, especially in Thessaly, where he ardently defended his land reform program in a region of poor peasants living next to large estates. Venizelos won the elections with a majority of 300 out of 362 deputies.

As Prime Minister, Venizelos has the honor to participate in the second flight in the history of Greek aviation. On February 8, 1912 (Julian calendar), after a first flight, Emmanuel Argyropoulos took Venizelos as a passenger in his Nieuport.

The wars

Elefthérios Venizélos, by his policy of reforms, prepares the Greek army and the navy in order to face the international tensions which are looming. This preparation allowed Greece to emerge as a great winner from the two Balkan wars of 1912-1913. However, King George I, with whom Venizelos had finally established a cordial relationship, was assassinated during a visit to Thessaloniki, which had become Greek. Relations between Venizelos and his successor, King Constantine I, were often conflictual. Since the first Balkan war, the disagreements were great, especially about the route of the army or the cities to be liberated in priority. Later, the stumbling block between the sovereign and his Prime Minister is the neutrality (wanted by Constantine) during the First World War. Venizelos resigned on 21 February 1915 from his position as Prime Minister. This resignation caused a deep political schism in Greece.

The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 worried non-Turks in the Ottoman Empire, as well as neighbouring countries. The first hopes raised by this liberal revolution which had promised equality between the various ethnic groups of the Empire began to fade in the face of the policy of Ottomanization. The question of Macedonia is posed with more and more acuteness. This region is populated by Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Albanians, Turks and Vlachs. All countries with ethnic minorities in the region try to advance their interests as much as possible. However, Ottomanization threatens to make the Turks regain ground in Macedonia, which the other Balkan countries cannot accept.

At the same time, Italy, seeking a colonial empire, attacked and defeated the Ottoman Empire and seized Libya and the Dodecanese in 1911. Giolitti had promised Venizelos to return these islands to Greece, but did not keep his promise. If Venizélos did not join Greece to the anti-Ottoman movement which was taking shape, it risked being excluded from the future sharing of Macedonia, as it had been refused the Dodecanese by Italy. Venizélos hesitates however to attack openly the Ottoman Empire, because of the Greek nationals present everywhere on the territory of the Empire and potentially at the mercy of Ottoman reprisals.

The other states in the region were trying to reach an agreement. A whole series of agreements was signed. On February 22, 1912, Serbia and Bulgaria signed a treaty of alliance against the Ottoman Empire, which provided for a division of its European territory. Montenegro then signed agreements with Serbia and Bulgaria. Greece, for its part, already had agreements, unwritten, with Serbia and Montenegro. The problem is then to close the circle between Bulgaria and Greece, which have been indirectly confronting each other for twenty years in Macedonia. Elefthérios Venizélos finally succeeded in convincing his interlocutors in Sofia by suggesting to postpone the question of the sharing of the spoils to after the victory. The agreement is finally signed on May 16, 1912 (Julian) and completed on September 22 (Julian). It was above all a defensive agreement valid for three years, directed against the Ottoman Empire, and therefore not very precise as to the sharing of the territories in the event of victory. Romania does not enter then in the Balkan League because Venizélos expressed great reluctance to the entry of this country in the alliance against the Ottomans.

The first phase of the first Balkan war ended on December 3, 1912 when Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro signed an armistice with the Ottoman Empire. Greece continued the war alone, mainly in Epirus, around Ioannina. However, this armistice allowed peace negotiations to begin. The belligerents were invited to London for talks at St. James Palace. Venizélos represents his country there, in company of Stéphanos Skouloúdis. The problem is not so much the conditions made to the Ottomans as the sharing of the booty between the allies. Each one wants indeed the biggest share, mainly in Macedonia. In order to maintain the alliance, Venizélos negotiated often and directly with his Bulgarian counterpart Stoyan Danev to reconcile the appetites of the two countries as well as possible. The fighting resumed at the end of the armistice, on 3 February 1913. Venizélos then left London and returned to Greece via Belgrade and Sofia, where he was very warmly welcomed. He found King George in Thessalonica. In Athens, he was attacked by the deputies of the Hellenic Parliament during a very stormy session. One reproaches him all the concessions which he would have promised to Bulgaria during the negotiations. The wildest rumors had indeed been spread: he would have promised to make Thessalonica a free port; he would have promised a Greek-Bulgarian border fourteen kilometers from Thessalonica; he would have promised Dráma, Kavala, Serres… He must put things in order: he does not wish that Greece goes east of Strymon, which is above all a natural border, but also because the country does not have the physical means to occupy all Thrace. Moreover, it prefers a border going up north in Macedonia than extending eastward in Thrace. In parallel, he began secret negotiations, through the intermediary of Prince Nicolas, with Serbia. It would be a question of agreeing in order to limit the Bulgarian power.

The Treaty of London of 30 May 1913 did not satisfy anyone and tensions rose between the former allies. The skirmishes multiplied and led to the second Balkan war, which began in the night of 29 to 30 June, when Bulgaria turned against its former allies. It is very quickly and very heavily defeated. During the peace negotiations in Bucharest, the main problem between Greece and Bulgaria is the outlet to the Aegean Sea for the latter. The Bulgarians do not want to be satisfied with Dedeağaç, but want a longer stretch of coast including Kavala. Venizelos is in favor of the minimal solution. He comes into conflict with his new ruler Constantine I, who became king after the assassination of his father in Thessaloniki in March 1913, who, on the other hand, is ready to grant the Bulgarians what they ask for. The position of Venizelos was difficult during the negotiations and what he could not express in public, he did in private where he exploded. The Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Demetriu Ionescu, witnessed one of these tantrums and reports it in his Memoirs. The Treaty of Bucharest finally granted the Bulgarians only the port of Dedeağaç.

After the signing of the Treaty of Bucharest, Venizélos went to Romania, to the cities of Galaţi and Brăila, where very large Greek minorities resided at the time. This trip is, on his part, a gesture of friendship towards the Romanian ally. The Romanian Prime Minister, in return, makes the reception reserved for his Greek counterpart is triumphal, in order to demonstrate the good relations between the two countries. The reticence of Venizélos in 1912 is forgotten.

During the twelve months that separated the end of the Balkan wars from the beginning of the First World War, France and Germany tried to draw Greece into their respective alliances. Sometimes they did so in a symbolic way: William II made his brother-in-law Constantine, who had been trained in the German army, a field marshal to reward him for his victories in the Balkan wars; France immediately offered Venizelos the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. In the spring of 1914, France and Germany interfered in Greece”s difficult relations with Italy over the Dodecanese. A French squadron stopped at Rhodes. As soon as it left, a German squadron took its place. Similarly, relations between Greece and the Ottoman Empire remained tense, until the situation was unblocked, after a French loan and pressure from German military advisors on the Porte. In June, Venizélos was to meet the Grand Vizier in Brussels, with the aim of détente. But he did not go any further than Munich and returned to Greece in a hurry: François-Ferdinand had just been assassinated in Sarajevo.

At the beginning of the First World War, Greece remained neutral, but the great powers tried to obtain its participation in the conflict. The country then underwent a serious internal crisis. The Court, and especially Constantine, who was married to the sister of William II, leaned towards the central powers. Eleftherios Venizélos preferred the Entente.

However, at first, the neutrality of Greece was accepted by both men, for different reasons. Venizélos did not want to engage his country in the conflict until he had obtained guarantees from the Entente concerning Bulgaria. He wanted, at first, to commit himself to the Entente only if Bulgaria also committed itself, or at least to remain neutral. He feared Bulgarian territorial appetites. Indeed, Bulgaria paid for its membership of the Triple Alliance or the Entente according to what was offered to it in terms of territorial gains. Venizelos refused to grant him Greek territories in Thrace (the Kavala problem), even if the Entente asked him to, without very strong guarantees that Greece would obtain the Smyrna region in exchange. On the other hand, he was ready to give up Serbian or Romanian territories. Moreover, as with the Balkan wars, Venizelos was afraid to declare war on the Ottoman Empire. He remains concerned about the well-being of the very numerous Greek populations living in this empire.

Also, as soon as the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia was issued, Venizelos decided on a very diplomatic course of action. He anticipated a request for aid from Serbia, in accordance with the terms of the alliance signed at the time of the Balkan wars. This is indeed directed against any state attacking one of the two allies. It is planned then against the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, but without specifying it. Venizelos and the king decided, between July 25 and August 2, to gain time by using the pretext that the Prime Minister was still abroad, and then to inform Serbia that Greece was on its side, by remaining neutral in the event of war with Austria and by committing itself militarily in the event of an attack on Serbia by Bulgaria. Greece, contrary to what the alliance foresees, does not mobilize its army, in order not to provoke Bulgaria. This attitude of Venizelos is also due to the fact that Serbia had not supported Greece in the spring of 1914 during the rise of tensions with the Ottoman Empire.

On June 13, 1915, Venizelos won the legislative elections with a majority of 184 out of 316 deputies. He became Prime Minister again on August 16. On October 3, he authorized the Allied forces that were retreating from the Dardanelles to disembark at Thessalonica, a logical base for Serbia, which was under attack from all sides. He justified this decision during a long and stormy debate in the Hellenic Parliament on 4 October. He insisted on the need to help Serbia, which the 150,000 Franco-British soldiers were more capable of doing than the Greek soldiers. He also compared the situation of this autumn 1915 with that of before the coup de Goudi of the summer 1909. His policy was approved by the Chamber. The next day, 5 October, the king summoned him to Tatoi and informed him of his dismissal. The Entente, of which he had become the man in Greece, then wondered if it should not intervene to demand his recall. On 4 November, Venizélos provoked a debate in the Hellenic Parliament. He insisted on the fact that the Bulgarians had entered the war on the side of the Reich and the double monarchy and that Thessalonica was threatened. He succeeded in bringing down the government of Aléxandros Zaïmis who had succeeded him, but he was not recalled to form a government. The debate also definitively put face to face the policies of the king and Venizelos, accentuating their opposition. The king then dissolved the chamber. In the December legislative elections, the king”s party won a very large majority: Venizelos and his supporters refused to take part in the vote. The confrontation left the democratic channels.

The French diplomats in Athens then put their means of propaganda at the service of Venizélos. The analysis was clear: the king was pro-German; his neutrality was a sign that he wanted Germany to win; the Army of the East, trapped in Thessaloniki, could not open a real second front that would relieve the front in France at the time of the battle of Verdun; Venizelos was pro-Entente; it was therefore necessary to put Venizelos back in power in Greece. He was so popular that, during the great demonstration in his honor on January 3, he shook so many hands that he had to bandage his own the next day. He multiplied the demonstrations (like the one of the national day on March 25) to push the king either to recall him, or to abdicate, unless the Entente finally agreed to depose the pro-German sovereign.

King Constantine, not wanting Entente troops on his territory, authorized, in April-May 1916, the Bulgarians to advance into Thrace and to occupy a certain number of strongholds there in order to threaten the allies. In response, Venizélos proposed to the representatives of the Entente, on 30 May, to go to Thessalonica where he would raise the army, convene the old chamber (from before the elections of December 1915) and form a provisional government. Aristide Briand agreed. The fleet of the admiral Dartige du Fournet is authorized to go to Athens to prepare this venizelist pronunciamiento. Great Britain, Russia and Italy, then make known their opposition to the project. France is satisfied to send a note asking Greece to demobilize its army and to proceed to new elections. This ultimatum was accepted. The rumor runs then that the king will make arrest Venizélos. France placed a torpedo boat at his disposal to allow him to leave Athens quickly. The electoral campaign increased the tension in August. The partisans of both camps opposed each other more and more violently in the streets of Athens. On August 27, the venizelists gathered 50 000 people there. The royalists answered with an equivalent demonstration two days later.

The Franco-British presence in Thessalonica, the evolution of the conflict and the entry into the war of Romania pushed a certain number of inhabitants of Thessalonica and Greek officers to side with the Entente. A “Committee of National Defense” was created on August 31 (August 17) 1916 and immediately received (and thus recognized) by the commander in chief of the Franco-British forces, General Sarrail. Elefthérios Venizélos left Athens in the night of September 24, with the help of the French and British embassies, for Crete.

He then joined Thessaloniki on October 9 (Julian 26) and joined the “Committee of National Defense” transformed into the “Government of National Defense” which he led with Admiral Pávlos Koundouriótis and General Danglís. However, this government was not officially recognized by the Entente: Russia and Italy were opposed to it, although France would have liked it. It was diplomatically considered as a “de facto government”, which irritated Venizélos.

Greece was then cut in three by the “Ethnikos Dikhasmos” (the “National Schism”): in the south, the zone dependent on the royalist government with Athens as its capital; in the north (and, between the two, a neutral zone controlled by the allied forces to avoid the civil war which threatened as shown by the events of December 1916. A Franco-British fleet, commanded by Admiral Dartige du Fournet, occupied the bay of Salamis to put pressure on the royalist government, to which various successive ultimatums, mainly concerning the disarmament of the Greek army, had been sent. On December 1, 1916, King Constantine seemed to give in to the demands of the French admiral, and the troops disembarked to seize the requested artillery pieces. The army loyal to Constantine had however secretly mobilized and had fortified Athens. The French were welcomed by a heavy fire. The massacre of the French soldiers was nicknamed the “Greek Vespers”. The king congratulated his minister of war and his troops. The anti-Venizelists then attacked their political opponents very violently. It is the first episode of the “civil war” which opposes partisans and adversaries of Venizélos.

Venizélos declared war on Germany and Bulgaria on 24 November 1916. He travelled through the regions that were loyal to him to try to set up an army. The day after the events in Athens, he again asked that his government be formally recognized by the allies. The United Kingdom, Russia and Italy still refused to do so, but sent representatives to Thessalonica, the French government having appointed M. de Billy to represent it.

The development of the conflict ended up serving Venizelos. After the Rome Conference of 6 and 7 January 1917, the Entente expected a German attack in the Balkans in the spring, to support its Bulgarian ally. Great Britain wanted to withdraw its troops from Salonika to use them in Palestine. Italy wanted to do the same to better occupy Northern Epirus. The only solution, on the Eastern Front, would be to replace the departing troops with Greek troops, but to do so, it would be necessary to recognize the Government of National Defense. In May, the Frenchman Charles Jonnart was appointed High Commissioner of the Allies in Athens, with the first task of recreating Greek national unity. Agitation rose in the capital. The supporters of the king promised more serious riots than those of December if Venizelos was imposed on them. From Thessaloniki, he bombarded the allies with telegrams urging them to act as quickly as possible. At the beginning of June, it becomes obvious that it is no longer possible to reconcile the king and Venizélos. It is thus decided to deposit the king and to ask Venizélos who to put on the throne in his place.

Elefthérios Venizélos then established a quasi dictatorship. Martial law was decreed “until the end of the war”. The Chamber of May 13, 1915 was recalled (it had been dissolved by the king in October of the same year). He took authoritarian measures to prevent the return of his enemies, both political and military. Supporters of the king, such as Ioánnis Metaxás or Dimítrios Goúnaris, were exiled or placed under house arrest. These “exclusions” were due to the moderating intervention of France, which itself organized the deportations to Corsica, whereas the venizelists would have preferred to set up emergency courts that pronounced death sentences (which they did at the end of the war). Military revolts in Lamia or Thebes were put down in blood. Venizélos had the royalist professors excluded from the University. He suspended the security of tenure of judges to punish those who had persecuted his supporters and 570 of them were dismissed, as were 6,500 civil servants, 2,300 officers, 3,000 non-commissioned officers and troops of the gendarmerie and 880 officers of the navy. Venizélos also decided the general mobilization and declared war to all the enemies of the Entente, even if he did not have the means to proceed and then to lead fights.

This decision enables him to obtain the withdrawal of the troops of the Entente which had gradually settled in Greece to control king Constantine. Venizelos obtained the restitution of the arsenal of Salamis, the Greek torpedo fleet, the island of Thasos and the port of Lesbos. In 1915, to attract Greece to its side, Great Britain had offered Cyprus to the Zaimis government. Venizelos claimed the island in 1917, and provoked the British anger. He demanded and obtained the Italian withdrawal from Epirus (Ioannina and Korçë were occupied).

From Thessaloniki, the Government of National Defense had declared war to Germany and Bulgaria. But, these two countries did not recognize this government, so the declaration remained a dead letter. Moreover, the Greece of Thessalonica never had a real army. In 1917, this government does not exist any more. It is thus necessary again that Greece declares the war to the enemies of the Entente. However, the latter had forced Athens” Greece to dismantle its army in 1916. Beyond the necessary general mobilization, the Greece of Venizélos in 1917 needed money. Without financial means, no mobilization, no army and above all, no possibilities for Venizélos to govern. He made this known to his allies.

France lent thirty million gold francs in August 1917 to raise twelve divisions. But there was the question of equipment, which could only come from the arsenals of the Entente, which was slow to provide it. Venizélos became impatient, especially as he felt his public opinion was failing him. He made a long nervous crisis with dizziness and violent angers in September. In October, he starts a tour in the West. He met Lloyd George and then Clemenceau who had just come to power. He also went to the front, near Coucy, then to Belgium. He got what he came for. The Entente granted him a loan of 750 million gold francs in exchange for 300,000 soldiers placed at the disposal of General Guillaumat, who had replaced Sarrail in Thessaloniki. Venizélos had the sovereign sign the general mobilization on January 22, 1918. The Greek troops took part, from 29-31 May, in the battle of Skra-di-Legen. The Prime Minister then made it very clear to the Entente that he wanted to know what Greece could gain from its commitment, in terms of territorial gains. Bulgaria tried to obtain a separate peace and to keep Thrace and Kavala. France, through the voice of Raymond Poincaré, its President, gave Venizélos “its most formal assurances” without being more precise.

State finances were reorganized. Law no. 1698 of January 28, 1919, is intended to create the necessary conditions to attract foreigners to Greece and facilitate their stay. It was the first law to develop and regulate tourism in Greece. Laws were put in place to encourage industrial development, which had already been stimulated by the conflict. Factories multiplied in Piraeus, Phaleros and Eleusis. The large groups that were created in wine, alcohol, colors, chemical fertilizers, glass, cement or soda were encouraged. The working, living and hygienic conditions of the population were also taken into account. A law provides for compensation for work-related accidents. Practical schools were founded. The training of engineers, technicians and architects was regulated with the creation of a Polytechnic School. The agricultural sector was again the object of measures by the Venizélos government, as in 1910-1911. A Ministry of Agriculture and Public Lands was set up. In 1917 the Faculty of Forestry was created. The Faculty of Agronomy followed in 1920. A new agrarian reform was prepared to distribute the land of the large domains that were not very well exploited among the poor peasants.

Greece being in the camp of the winners, after the war, Elefthérios Venizélos takes part in the six months of conferences of the conference of Paris. He presents there the claims of Greece. These claims clash with the Italian claims, about Northern Epirus or the Dodecanese.

For Northern Epirus, he is ready to give up part of the territory, such as the region of Tepelen, in order to keep the rest, such as Koritsa. In order to avoid the argument that the Greeks of Albania speak Albanian more than Greek, he reminds us that the argument of language to attach a region is a German argument. It is a barely concealed reference to the problem of Alsace-Lorraine: French by choice for the French; German linguistically for the Germans. Venizélos specifies that the leaders of the war of independence or members of his government, eminent Greeks, such as General Danglis or Admiral Koundouriotis, have Albanian as their mother tongue, but have chosen Greece.

For Thrace, Venizélos recalls the Greek moderation towards Bulgaria during the Balkan wars, especially at the treaty of Bucharest, where the region had been left to him. He shows that, in spite of everything, it sided with the Triplice during the First World War, whereas he himself had been ready to make new concessions to keep it in the Entente camp. He then describes the Bulgarians as the Prussians of the Balkans.

Venizélos avoided making Constantinople the main objective of his diplomacy. He suggests of course that the city returns to Greece, 304 459 Greek inhabitants, 237 Greek schools, 30 000 Greek pupils, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; but he avoids recalling the memory of the Byzantine Empire and of Constantine XI Palaeologus. If the city cannot be Greek, he refuses that it remains Turkish. Venizélos wants to push back Turkey on the Asian continent. Therefore, if the city cannot be Greek, he suggests the creation of an autonomous state under the aegis of the SoN which would also control the Straits.

Asia Minor is in fact the main objective of Venizelos. He had already shown himself ready, a few years earlier, to give up the 2,000 km² of Drama and Kavala for the 125,000 km² of Anatolia. He relied on the twelfth point of Wilson granting Turkish sovereignty to the Turkish regions of the Ottoman Empire, but autonomous development to other nationalities. Venizelos proposed on the one hand an Armenian state and on the other hand to attach all the coast and the islands: 1.4 million Greeks, 15 dioceses, 132 schools, to Greece.

A specific commission called “Greek affairs” was chaired by Jules Cambon.

There, Italy expressed its opposition to Venizelos” point of view, mainly on Northern Epirus. France gave its full support to the Greek Prime Minister, while the United Kingdom and the United States adopted a neutral position. Venizélos again used an argument inspired by Wilson: the will of the people. He recalled that in 1914, a provisional Greek autonomist government had been created in the region, which thus expressed its desire to be Greek. He adds an economic argument: according to him, Northern Epirus is rather turned towards the south, towards Greece. On July 29, 1919, a secret agreement was signed between Eleftherios Venizelos and the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tommaso Tittoni. It settled the problems between the two countries. The Dodecanese would return to Greece, except Rhodes. In Asia Minor, the demarcation line between Italian and Greek forces was drawn, leaving a large part of the region, although claimed by Greece, to Italy. The agreement recognizes the Greek claims on Thrace. It cedes Northern Epirus, then occupied by Italian troops, to the Greece of Venizelos. In exchange, the latter promised to support the Italian claims on the rest of Albania. On January 14, 1920, the session of the Conference, chaired by Georges Clemenceau, ratified the Tittoni-Venizélos agreement, specifying that its application was suspended until the conflict between Italy and Yugoslavia was resolved.

Bulgaria, for its part, tried to plead its cause concerning Thrace by sending a “Memorandum” to the Peace Conference. But, in the camp of the defeated, it is not invited to Paris and has difficulties in making its claims in front of those of Greece of Venizélos. The latter made public a petition from the Muslim deputies to the Sofia parliament requesting the occupation of the country by Allied and Greek troops in order to relieve their suffering. Venizélos confronts the opinion of the Moslems of Greece (sixteen Moslem elected members of the Hellenic Parliament from Macedonia) and Crete: they are, according to Venizélos, happy in Greece. He receives the support of Great Britain and France (by the voice of Jules Cambon directly). Italy plays the Bulgarian card for a while to obtain concessions in Albania. The United States made some modifications of detail. On the whole, Venizélos obtained what he wished for his country in Thrace in the treaty of Neuilly of November 27, 1919, which granted to Greece Western Thrace. In the following spring, following the Turkish insurrection against the Western presence in Eastern Thrace, Venizélos obtained from the “Council of Four” the authorization to occupy militarily the region to “maintain order”.

The negotiations for Asia Minor are also very complicated. Turkey was not in a strong position, because of the Armenian genocide and the equivalent policy towards the Greeks of Pontus and because of its commitment to Germany during the war. But the Entente made equivalent promises (the Smyrna region) to Greece and Italy to draw them into its camp. In addition, the United States was considering settling the issue by creating a more or less autonomous state for the Greeks of Asia Minor, who they did not want to be attached to Greece. Each country then used contradictory statistics to make its point. It was finally agreed to place the region under various international mandates (including a Greek mandate for the Smyrna region) and then to hold a referendum, according to Wilson”s second point. Venizélos then mentioned the troubles that were developing in the region, suggesting that they could degenerate into the same form as in Armenia. He asked for authorization to send troops preventively to prevent any atrocity. The “Council of Four” gave its approval. On 15 May 1919, Greek troops landed in Smyrna where they behaved in the way they had come to avoid. These events placed Venizelos at odds with the “Council of Four”. He defended himself on 20 May by saying that his high commissioner had exceeded his instructions. But it was he who expressly ordered the recapture of Aydın in early July. This Greek counter-attack led to the destruction of the Turkish quarter of the city. In November, the international commission of inquiry, which had been sent there in the spring, returned its conclusions and suggested that the Greek troops be replaced by allied troops. Venizélos then complained that the commission had only adopted the point of view of the Turkish nationalists. He supported his high commissioner who, according to him, had to ensure all the functions of a disappeared administration and try to maintain order. On November 12, Clemenceau made the Greek authorities responsible for all the troubles in Asia Minor. The next day, Venizélos refused an interallied commission placed alongside his high commissioner to “assist” him. He obtained a victory. He was then at the height of his diplomatic influence. In January 1920, the new President of the French Council, Alexandre Millerand, rather turcophile, announced that he would prefer a simple Greek economic sphere of influence over the region of Smyrna and that he was not ready to start the war again for such a cause. The answer of Venizélos is direct: Greece does not need the allied help to impose itself militarily in Asia Minor. Millerand then cedes Smyrna to Greece, but demands that it does not leave it, even to impose the treaties to the Turks of Mustapha Kemal. One thinks then to be able to sign the agreement settling the fate of Turkey.

On May 17, 1920, the Senate of the United States recognized the rights of Greece on Northern Epirus, within the framework of the Tittoni-Venizélos agreement. However, on July 22, 1920, the new Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlo Sforza, denounced this agreement. The conference of peace, in front of the Italian hostility, sends back the problem of Northern Epirus in front of the conference of the Ambassadors.

The Treaty of Sevres (signed by Venizelos on August 10, 1920) confirmed to Greece all these conquests since 1913 and granted it Eastern Thrace (except Constantinople) and sovereignty rights over the whole region of Smyrna, while waiting for a referendum within five years on the subject of the region”s attachment to Greece. On the same August 10, Venizelos signed an agreement with Italy, which renounced the Dodecanese, except for Rhodes, which was to remain Italian until a referendum within fifteen years on its attachment to Greece. This agreement does not speak about Northern Epirus nor about Albania. The Conference of Ambassadors settled the question and granted Northern Epirus to Albania on November 9, 1920. However, the Turkey of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk did not recognize the Treaty of Sevres. It is then agreed to impose it militarily. Venizélos deploys on this subject again treasures of diplomacy so that his country does not find itself alone facing the Turkish armies in Anatolia.

Crossing the desert and return to power

Venizelos was at the height of his diplomatic success, especially since the Treaty of Sevres put an end to the compulsory “protection” that the Great Powers had put in place by various treaties in 1832, 1863 and 1864. The end of this “protection” is also credited to Venizelos. On August 12, however, he was the victim of an assassination attempt at the Gare de Lyon by two Greek royalist officers. He was wounded in the hand. This attack triggered riots in Athens where the Venizelists attacked their political opponents. The houses of opposition leaders were ransacked and Íon Dragoúmis, a nationalist opposition figure, was murdered at a roadblock by public security men. Venizélos was reportedly shocked by the news of Dragoúmis” assassination. His secretary reports that he would have cried. He sends a telegram of condolences to Stéphanos Dragoúmis in which, after the requirements of the kind, he ends with a sincere “His frightful death fills me with sorrow.” The murderers, accused of disobeying orders, are later arrested and punished by their own officers.

After his recovery, Venizélos returns to Greece, where he is welcomed as a hero. The crowd cheered him. He is called the “Savior”, the “Father of the Fatherland”. A great ceremony was organized in his honor in the Panathenaic Stadium, where King Alexander I placed a golden laurel wreath on his head.

On October 12, 1920 (October 25 in the Gregorian calendar), the young king Alexander died of septicemia. Despite the military and diplomatic victory, Eleftherios Venizelos lost the parliamentary elections of November 1, 1920 (November 14 in the Gregorian calendar). The royalists, supporters of the deposed sovereign Constantine I, campaigned on the theme of the regime of terror that the Prime Minister had imposed during his three years in power. The defeat of the Venizelists was total. Venizélos himself was not re-elected in his own constituency. A referendum recalled to the throne King Constantine, Venizelos” opponent, who, because of his defeat, left for Nice and withdrew from political life for some time.

Venizélos married a second time in London on September 14, 1921. Since the death of his first wife, he had had a few female adventures, including an ongoing relationship dating back to before the First World War with Helena Schilizzi (en), the daughter of a wealthy Greek businessman in London. He married her during his exile.

The application of the Treaty of Sevres led to war between Greece and Turkey under Mustafa Kemal. The monarchists in government reneged on their electoral program of peace and, under the guise of maintaining order, began an expansionist policy. However, since Constantine”s return to power, the West distrusted Greece and it could no longer count on their help. All the requests of loans, weapons, ammunition, even food are rejected. Turkish troops put up strong resistance to Greek soldiers. The Greek offensive on Ankara, in March 1921, was a disaster. In March 1922, Greece declared itself ready to accept mediation by the League of Nations. The attack led by Mustafa Kemal on 26 August 1922 forced the Greek army to withdraw before the Turkish army, which massacred all the Greeks present in the region. Smyrna, evacuated on September 8, was burned. It is estimated that 30,000 Christians were killed.

After the military defeat, officers stationed with their troops on Chios and Lesbos, under the command of Nikólaos Plastíras and Stylianós Gonatás, carried out a coup d”état on September 11, 1922, which forced King Constantine to abdicate and leave Greece on September 14. In a declaration on September 25, they announced their intention to preside over a provisional government, before a return to normalcy. In the months which follow, a court of exception is set up to judge the military and the politicians regarded as responsible for the defeat of Asia Minor. The trial of the Six resulted in the death sentences of former prime ministers Pétros Protopapadákis, Nikolaos Stratos and Dimítrios Goúnaris and generals Georgios Baltatzis, Nikolaos Theotokis and Georgios Hatzanestis. In spite of the attempts of intercession of Venizélos in their favor, they are executed.

Elefthérios Venizélos, still in voluntary exile in France, was nevertheless chosen to represent Greece during the peace negotiations which took place in Lausanne from November 21, 1922. They counted on him to transform the military defeat into a diplomatic victory. He fought mainly to keep Thrace and the islands of the north-east of the Aegean for Greece, the regions of Asia Minor being considered as definitively lost. He also negotiated on the exchange of populations, required by the victorious Turkey. Venizélos defends the idea of a voluntary migration of the populations. On this subject, he saw his own arguments turned against him. Indeed, in 1913, when it was question of giving Kavala to Bulgaria, he had suggested an “ethnological rectification” by evacuating the Greek populations of the region. The stumbling block of the exchange of populations is of course Constantinople, where the Ecumenical Patriarchate is located. In the negotiation, Venizélos agrees that the migrations are obligatory, but obtains that the Greeks of Constantinople and the Turks of Thrace are not concerned.

While the negotiations were coming to a conclusion, at the end of January 1923, the Turkish representative, İsmet İnönü, asked for a rectification of the borders (he wanted the Greek-Turkish border to pass at the talweg of the Maritsa and not on its left bank) and he demanded that Greece pay war reparations to Turkey. Venizélos indeed recognized that Greece could pay compensation for the destruction it had caused. But he raised two points: that the other powers were also responsible because they had abandoned Greece in Asia Minor at the beginning of the conflict; that Greece, bankrupt, could not pay any money. An agreement was finally reached in July: Greece recognized that it owed war indemnities to Turkey; Turkey noted that Greece could not pay them; the border was rectified, the town of Karagatch (near Andrinople), Greek in the first version of the treaty, became Turkish in the new version. Venizélos thus signs, as representative of Greece, on July 24, 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne with Turkey.

On October 22, 1923, royalist officers, indirectly supported by Ioánnis Metaxás, attempted a counter-coup. Its failure led to the expulsion of 1,284 officers from the army. Above all, this attempt convinced the democratic generals to abolish the monarchy. On 18 December 1923, against the advice of Venizélos, Nikólaos Plastíras removed King George II. On December 25, 1923, Venizélos returned to Greece. He was almost immediately appointed Prime Minister, on January 11, 1924. But the political struggles were too fierce for his fragile health. He fainted twice in the middle of a parliamentary session. He had to resign on February 3, 1924. He immediately went into exile. On March 25, 1924, the Republic was proclaimed.

In the following years, Venizelism dominated political life, its opponents being leaderless. The various political parties that competed for power were the heirs of the Liberal Party created by Venizelos in 1910, and they all claimed to be his followers. The democratic experiment was interrupted in June 1925 by the military coup of General Pangalos who seized the Presidency of the Republic in a rigged referendum. A new military coup, this time democratic, led by General Geórgios Kondýlis, took place in August 1926. The elections that followed did not produce a clear majority. An “ecumenical” government, gathering all the political tendencies (Alexandros Papanastasiou, Georgios Kaphantaris, Andréas Michalakópoulos and Ioánnis Metaxás) under the direction of Aléxandros Zaïmis was organized. It carries out a whole series of reforms concerning agriculture. It is however the following government, that of Venizélos, which benefits from the positive effects of this policy.

Indeed, the government, with its agreement of opposing tendencies, is too unstable to hold on for long, especially since Greece is still heavily indebted to the outside world. Venizélos then tried to take advantage of these circumstances which could be favorable to him. He returned to Greece on March 20, 1927, after eight years of voluntary exile, and he appeared again as the providential man in the eyes of the population. He settled in the family house, in Halepa, the suburb of Chania. Very quickly, the Greek politicians make the “pilgrimage of Halepa” to come to consult him. In spite of his assertions to have definitively withdrawn from the political life, he does not cease criticizing the government, which ends up falling.

Venizelos still shines in his specialty: foreign policy. Greece had been kept in diplomatic isolation since the early 1920s. He succeeded in bringing it out of it. He normalized relations with Italy. Leaving aside the problems of the Dodecanese and Northern Epirus, Venizelos signed a “treaty of friendship, reconciliation and judicial settlement” with Mussolini on September 23, 1928. Yugoslavia then felt more directly threatened by Italy and drew closer to Greece, which it had been beating cold until then. A Greek-Yugoslav friendship treaty was signed on 27 March 1929. The great diplomatic success of Venizélos was however the rapprochement with Turkey. Renouncing definitively to carry out the Great Idea, he proposed and obtained the signature of a “treaty of friendship, neutrality and arbitration” on October 30, 1930. On the same day, Venizélos and Mustafa Kemal also signed a commercial agreement but above all a convention which should allow to avoid a direct military confrontation between the two countries. For the signing of these various agreements, Venizelos went to Turkey himself. He returned the following year to Constantinople, now Istanbul, to visit the Ecumenical Patriarch. He also visited Ankara, the Turkish capital, in 1930. Turkey then offered its good offices to bring Greece and Bulgaria together. The talks did not lead to the restoration of a friendship between the two countries, but Venizélos accepted, because of the world economic crisis, a stop to the payment of Bulgarian reparations (linked to the destruction of the First World War). In October 1931, in order to maintain good relations with the United Kingdom, he disapproved of the Cypriot uprising.

The opposition, however, is very critical of Venizelos because of his domestic policies. It accuses him of behaving like a dictator and of wasting public funds at a time when the world is in crisis. The government of Venizélos finances indeed great works: irrigation of the agricultural plains around Thessalonica, Serres and Dráma, which improves 2,750,000 acres; draining of the lake of Giannitsá which enters into the vast policy of fight against the malaria. The government also attacked tuberculosis. Aid to agriculture was provided through the foundation of an agricultural bank, a semi-public organization that lent money to farmers and cooperatives, sold seeds and financed major works. Agricultural research centers were created. Agriculture is the government”s main concern: the majority of the population is made up of farmers. However, few had fields or sufficient income. Their equipment is still very archaic. They struggle to feed themselves and cannot meet the needs of the whole country. Finally, these peasants are heavily indebted. The settlement of refugees from Asia Minor, resulting from the exchange of populations under the Treaty of Lausanne, increased the misery in the countryside. The policy of Venizélos allows to complete their economic and social integration to Greece. It is primarily to these that the agrarian reform benefits. Roads, railroads and ports were created and developed. Education was modernized, with the help of his young minister Georges Papandreou. The two universities were reorganized. New schools and libraries were built. Vocational and technical schools were created in order to move young Greeks away from classical high schools. Venizelos considered that the classical high schools formed cohorts of young men incapable of doing anything, except beg for civil service jobs. He wants to reduce the mass of this “intellectual proletariat”. Finally, the demotic language enters the teaching: in the elementary school and in a course of “modern Greek” in the high school.

The country”s finances were reorganized thanks to a concentration of the plethoric administration (because it was the only outlet for the “intellectual proletariat” of the classical high schools). These savings made it possible to finance the policy of major works. This policy earned Venizelos the reputation of being considered by his opponents as a megalomaniac waster. But it also reduced unemployment and brought money to the population, which regained confidence in this period of economic crisis. However, the crisis that began in 1929 in the United States eventually reached Greece. Indeed, the vast market constituted by the large number of refugees from Asia Minor maintained economic activity for a time. However, as credit shrank worldwide, Greece could no longer borrow to finance its policies. Exports of agricultural products, the main source of income, are declining. The other major source of capital, remittances from Greek emigrants, is drying up. Maritime transport, one of greece”s strong points, with its shipowners, is also affected by the crisis, which limits international trade. Finally, prices are soaring in Greece. Venizélos tried, at first, to remain optimistic. In November 1931, he even blamed the opposition, whose attitude he believed would endanger the currency. He was finally forced to acknowledge the situation when he could not obtain the loan of eighty million dollars he had requested from the Council of the League of Nations. On April 25, 1931, he abolished the freedom of exchange and imposed a forced exchange rate for the drachma. On March 1, 1932, he stopped the repayment of loans taken out with Great Britain, France and Italy. Criticism from the opposition became increasingly virulent. To save his majority in the chamber during the upcoming legislative elections, Venizelos decided to reintroduce proportional representation, which he had criticized in 1928 as having led the country to anarchy. He also went so far as to limit the freedom of the press to moderate the attacks.

Failure in the 1930s

In the parliamentary elections of September 25, 1932, the party of Venizélos was defeated. However, no party had a majority. Coalition governments were formed. The government of Panagis Tsaldaris lasted two months. On January 16, 1933, Eleftherios Venizelos was called to form a new government, his last. He announced elections for March 5. His defeat was bitter. The Populist Party (monarchist) obtained 135 seats against 96 for the Venizelist liberals. Beyond the political defeat, this return to power of the monarchists, with Panagis Tsaldaris as Prime Minister, worried the republican military, who feared being replaced in their posts by royalists. General Plastiras then organized, in the emergency, an attempted coup d”état. He had time to proclaim himself dictator before failing. Venizélos, who did not participate directly in the attempt, was suspected at least of being an accomplice, if not of having encouraged the coup. He faced another assassination attempt. On June 6, 1933, his car was attacked by men armed with machine guns. Although he escaped unharmed, his driver was killed. The car of the assailants belongs to the chief of the police force of Athens, J. Polychronopoulos.

A period of turmoil ensued. Venizélos, in the opposition, criticized the government”s policy, mainly in terms of international relations. He considered that the Balkan treaty of mutual guarantee of borders of February 1934 linking Romania, Yugoslavia, Turkey and Greece risked dragging his country into a war with a non-Balkan great power. General Plastiras made a new coup attempt on March 1, 1935. Venizélos gave it his full support. But, badly prepared, the insurrection failed. The Venizelist newspapers were banned. Pursued, Venizélos had to flee, on board the cruiser Averoff. Completely discredited, he sees ending his political career. Via Kassos, he reached Naples, then Paris where he settled. There, he learns, in turn, of his death sentence, the return of King George II of Greece to power and then his amnesty. Ill, he died in exile in Paris on March 18, 1936. A religious service was held in the Greek cathedral of Saint-Etienne in Paris in the presence of the highest dignitaries of the French Republic. The coffin was then transported by train to Brindisi. For fear of riots and unrest, the destroyer Pavlos Koundouriotis escorted by the Psara repatriated his body from Brindisi to Chania without even stopping in Athens. On March 27, Prince Paul of Greece and four members of the Greek cabinet attended the funeral of Venizelos on the hill of the Prophet Elijah overlooking Chania, at the place where, thirty-nine years earlier, he had raised the Greek flag in the face of the cannons of the fleets of the Great Powers.

Venizelism

One of the main contributions of Venizélos to Greek political life was the creation, in 1910, of his party, the Liberal Party (Phileleftheron Komma), which contrasted with the traditional Greek parties. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the Greek parties had been parties inspired by the protecting powers (French Party or English Party for example) or grouped around a political personality (like Charílaos Trikoúpis). The Liberal Party was founded around the reform ideas of Venizélos (and the military of the Goudi Coup), but it outlived its creator. Moreover, the birth of this party entails, in reaction, the birth of an opposite party, conservative, certainly around the personality of the king, but which survives the various abolitions of the monarchy. Vénizélisme, from its beginnings, was therefore a liberal and essentially republican movement, hence the monarchist and conservative anti-Vénizéliste bloc. The two clashed and succeeded each other in power during the interwar period.

Its main ideas, inspired by those of the creator, are: opposition to monarchy; defense of the Great Idea; alliance with Western democratic states, especially with the United Kingdom and France against Germany during the First and Second World Wars, and with the United States against the Soviet Union during the Cold War; and a protectionist economic policy.

Themistoklis Sophoulis is, since the 1920s, the successor of Venizelos at the head of the Liberal Party which thus survives the political failures, exiles and finally death of its historical founder. In 1950, Eleftherios Venizelos” own son Sophoklis Venizelos succeeded Sophoulis as head of the Liberal Party, at a time when an agreement was formed with the populists (the name of the royalist party) against the communists during the civil war. The Union of the Center (Enosis Kendrou) of George Papandreou, founded in 1961, is one of the descendants of the Liberal Party of 1910 and gave it a new lease of life when it was almost at the end of its life. The Centre Union eventually faded away in the late 1970s, replaced by a more left-wing party, Andreas Papandreou”s PASOK, while its centrist and liberal ideas became those of the New Democracy.

Other representations

The French painter Albert Besnard makes his portrait (oil and etching).

Prime Minister”s offices and government positions

In addition to his position as Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos held various governmental functions, often linked to the major political context. Thus, he was “Minister of Defense” from October 18, 1910 to March 6, 1915 (the last months he was also Minister of Foreign Affairs), then from August 27 to September 26, 1917, then from January 11 to November 26, 1918, then from November 11 to December 23, 1930; Minister of Foreign Affairs from August 30, 1914 to March 6, 1915 (while being Minister of Defense), then from August 23, 1915 to October 5, 1915.

Sources

  1. Elefthérios Venizélos
  2. Eleftherios Venizelos
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