Eleftherios Venizelos was born in 1864 in the village of Mournies Crete and studied law at the University of Athens at a time when Crete was still under the Ottoman Empire. Venizelos was in favor of enosos, or Union with Greece and fought in the rebellion of 1897. When Crete was given its autonomy he helped draft the constitution and became a member of the government under Prince George, the high commissioner of the island. His belief that Crete should be a part of Greece caused friection between him and Prince George and Venizelos moved to Greece. He becomes President of the Assembly of Cretans and then becomes Prime Minister of the Cretan State. In August Venizelos is elected to Parliament for Attica-Boeotia and on the 6th of October he is sworn in as Prime Minister of Greece. and leader of the new "Liberal Party". His leadership leads to many reforms and alliances with Greece's northern neighbors and as a result of this the size of the country doubled after the Balkan Wars. In World War I his support of Britain, France and Russia created antagonism between Venizelos and King Constantine who wanted Greece to remain nuetral, and twice he resigned over disagreements in foreign policy. After his resignation Great Britain offers Cyprus to Greece in exchange for Greece entering the war on the side of the Allies. The Government rejects this proposal.
Finally in 1916 Venizelos established a rival provisional government in Thessaloniki. This was known as the National Schism and would influence politics in the country for decades. When Constantine was forced to leave Greece by Britain and France and is replaced by a new King Alexander who is more favorable to the allies cause. Venizelos becomes prime misnister and brings Greece into the war just in time to win a few battles and represent Greece at the Paris peace conference. Greece was rewarded for her contribution to the war by being given the High Commissionership of Smyrna .Greek troops were sent to Asia Minor to protect the Greek population. The Treaty of Sevres in August of 1920 gave Greece almost the whole coast of Asia Minor as the Ottoman Empire was broken up. This is known as to megalo idea or the great idea of a Greece of two continents. A return to the borders of the Byzantine empire, a new Hellas with its capital in Constantinople.
But Greece's fortunes change during this period. King Alexander is bitten by a pet monkey and dies. King Constantine returns to Greece and Venizelos loses the election. Shortly thereafter the Greek army loses the support of the allies and is routed in Turkey by the Nationalist led by Kemal Attaturk. This is known as the Asia Minor Catastrophe. The burning of Smyrna and exchange of population which follows is the end of Christianity in Turkey and an enormous refugee problem in Greece. Venizelos represented Greece at the Lausanne conference which ended the war and the megalo idea. He returned to power again in 1928 and during this period the Bank of Greece, the Agricultural Bank, the State Council and the National Theatre are founded, 3,000 schools are built and important works of infrastructure are carried out. Even so he loses the elections of 1933 due to the international economic crisis caused by the Great Depression in the USA. After several attempts on his life and involvement in an attempted coup in 1935 he had to leave the country for France. After he leaves trials and executions of prominent supporters of Venizelos are carried out along with the Abolition of "Kingless Democracy" and return of George II to the throne following a rigged referendum. Venizelos dies a year later, his body taken by the destroyer "Pavlos Kountoyriotis" to Chania, avoiding Athens so as not to cause unrest.
Venizelos was arguably the greatest leader in the history of the modern Greek state, perhaps one of the great leaders of the world. And yet in Greece as much as he was loved there were those who reviled him just as passionately. He was a realist and a visionary, intelligent, flexible and daring, possessing an impressive personal charm. Some say he was the most charismatic statesman in all of Europe. Had he not had so much opposition from his own countrymen it is possible that Greece would now include Cyprus and the coast of Asia Minor including Constantinople with an educational and social system that other countries would be envious of. It was the right time, the right place and the right leader but sometimes in Greece even that is not enough.
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