Venizelos, Eleutherios

Venizelos, Eleutherios
   A dynamic Greek statesman who presided over transformation of Greece from a tiny and poor kingdom to a modern and enlarged state in a matter of years. Divisions between himself and the monarch, King Constantine, over the participation of Greece in World War I undid much of his major achievements. After studying law in Athens, Venizelos founded the Liberal Party in Crete and in 1896 led the movement against Ottoman rule. In 1909, Venizelos decided to enter the Greek parliament, but in August a group of disgruntled Greek military officers presented an ultimatum to the Athens government demanding military and political reorganization that precipitated the government’s collapse. The Military League was inexperienced and called on Venizelos. He established a National Assembly that revised the constitution and led the league to dissolve. Elected to parliament in August 1910, within two months he became the prime minister. When the old leaders obstructed him, Venizelos coolly called an election in which his Liberal Party won 300 of the 364 seats. He then instituted reforms. In 1911, the British were contracted to reorganize the navy, the French the army, and the Italians the gendarmerie.
   Venizelos’s ambition to see a modern, liberal Greece take its place alongside other Mediterranean powers gathered pace. Because of his prudence in shaking-up the army and fleet, the country was prepared for the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and was able to seize parts of Epirus, Macedonia, and some of the Aegean Islands. Prince Constantine became king after the assassination of his father, King George I, in 1913. Although in 1914 Venizelos supported an alliance with the Entente, believing that Britain and France would win the war, Constantine wanted to remain neutral. Venizelos resigned in February 1915.
   Venizelos’s party again won the elections and formed a government, although he promised to remain neutral. Bulgaria’s attack on Serbia, with which Greece had an alliance treaty, obliged him to abandon that policy. Again the king disagreed, and again Venizelos resigned. He did not take part in the next election, as he considered parliament’s dissolution unconstitutional.
   In 1916, Venizelos’s supporters organized a military movement in Thessaloniki, called the Temporary Government of National Defense. There they founded a new state including northern Greece and Aegean Islands. On May 1917, after the exile of Constantine, Venizelos returned to Athens and allied with the Entente. After the war he took part in Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and signed, as Greece’s representative, the Treaty of Neuilly in November 1919 and the Treaty of Sèvres in August 1920.
    Dakin, D. The Unification of Greece, 1770-1923. London: Benn, 1972;
    Forster, Edward Seymour. A Short History of Modern Greece. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1977.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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