Eleutherios Venizelos

Eleftherios Venizelos (August 23, 1864-March 18, 1936) was probably the most significant politician of modern Greece. Born on Crete, he studied law at the University of Athens then returned to Crete where he was elected to the local Assembly for the Liberal Party. He became prominent during the Cretan uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1897 during which time he led an anti-Ottoman force in an effort to attain union with Greece.

The uprising ended with Crete being granted autonomy under the Ottoman Empire. Under pressure from the European powers, Prince George of Greece was made High Commissioner of the island with Venizelos serving as his councilor of justice. The two men soon had a falling out because George, a staunch royalist, assumed absolute power. Venizelos became leader of the opposition, and when matters came to a head, led an armed insurgency, which eventually forced the prince to leave the island. He was replaced by former Greek prime minister Alexandros Zaimis.

At 1910 in Athens the Parliament was dissolved in a political crisis. He moved there and through the elections of August 8, 1910, he and his team were elected members of the Parliament. At that time was founded his party, called “Komma Fileleftheron” (Liberal Party). On the October 2, 1910, he formed a government and started to reorganize the economical, political and national affairs of the country.

Because of his prudence to shake-up the army and fleet, the country was well prepared for the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.

So liberation of the Northern territories of Epirus, Macedonia and the Aegean Islands was possible. Very well known are the debates of Venizelos with Prince Constantine I on the route of the Army and which cities should be first liberated. It was the first conflict between Venizelos and Constantine who became a king after his father’s assasination in 1913. The next conflict between Constantine and Venizelos was during WWI.

Though Greece remained neutral for the first years, Venizelos supported the an alliance with the Entente, believing that Britain and France would win. On the other hand Constantine wanted to remain neutral. In a series of debates, Venizelos resigned at February 21, 1915.

On the elections Venizelos’ party won again and formed a government. Now, Venizelos promised to keep the neutrality, but Bulgaria’s attack to Serbia, with which there was an alliance treaty, obliged him not to stay neutral. He again disagreed with the king and resigned once more. At the next elections he didn’t take part as he considered the dissolution of the Parliament unconstitutional. At the meanwhile, with the excuse of saving Serbia, the Allies disembarked an army in Thessaloniki.

Speech of Eleftherios Venizelos in 1917.This debate between Venizelos and Constantine was the cause of the Great Division, which was a social wound for the country, over many decades. In 1916 Venizelos followers, organized a military movement in Salonika, called the “Temporary Government of National Defence”. There they founded a new state including Northern Greece and Aegean Islands.

In August of that year, the entire city of Salonika was mysteriously burned to to the ground, apparently to deport its native population — most of them Sephardic Jews and Turks — and allow it to be rebuilt as a Greek city, known today as Thessaloniki. Many of the victims blamed Venizelos for the disaster.

On May 1917, after the excile of Constantine (On the throne was ascended his second son Alexander), returned to Athens and allied with Entente. After the war he took part in Paris Peace Conference, 1919 and signed as Greece’s representative the Treaty of Neuilly(November 27, 1919) the Treaty of Sèvres(August 10, 1920). As the result of them Greece took Eastern Thrace (current European Turkey) and Smyrni (current Ismir). On the return to Greece he faced an assasination attack at the Lyon Rail Station. After his recovery returned in Greece, where he had a welcome of a hero.

But, besides of his victories, he lost the November 1920 and left for Paris withdrawing from politics. After the Asia Minor Disaster, he signed before Greece the July 24, 1923 Treaty of Lausanne with Turkey. At the July 5, 1928 elections regained power and made a goverment to make again elections at the 19 August of the same year and get 228 out of 250 places in the Parliament. He governed Greece until 1932. In 1933 he faced his second assasination attempt.

This was followed by disorder that ended to the militaty movement led by him and General Nikolaos Plastiras in 1935. The movement failed, so he left for Paris, where he died in 1936. His body was moved and buried in Akrotiri in Crete.

The Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Spata, near Athens, Greece is named after him.