The Rise of Venizelos to Power. The first two years: 1910-1912
The political developments which occurred in 1910 represent a turning point in Modern Greek history. On the 18th January 1910 Stefanos Dragoumis assumed the office of Prime Minister, taking over from Kyriakoulis Mavromichalis who had governed as proxy of the Military League following the Military uprising of Goudi on 15th August 1909. The priorities of the Dragoumis government were to extricate the country from the political impasse by means of a reform of the non-fundamental provisions of the Constitution of 1864 and to revive the economy. The emergency sitting of the Parliament defined the articles of the Constitution which were to be reformed and on the 17th March, in its final session, King George read the Royal Decree for the convocation of the Reforming Parliament. The next day, as had been agreed, the Military League announced its own dissolution. The dissolution of the Military League marked the end of an exceptionally fluid political period which commenced with the Military uprising of Goudi, a period which, though marked by uncertainty, rash actions and political and social retrogression, functioned as a catalyst, setting in motion the reforming activity which was undertaken with effect from the government of Dragoumis. Dragoumis at once took legislative measures for monetary reform and for obtaining a foreign loan of 240 million drachmas and, after the dissolution of the Parliament, he expedited the procedures for inviting French organizers for the army and for the reorganization of the administrative services and also set the foundations for a closer cooperation with Bulgaria.
The elections of the 8th August 1910 for the return of the representatives for the Double Reforming Parliament resulted in the disapprobation of the old "unified parties" and the triumph of Eleftherios Venizelos, then President of the Executive Committee which was governing Crete and independent candidate for the electoral district of Attica-Boeotia. The commanding personality of Venizelos came at once to dominate the political stage in Greece. With the opening of the parliamentary deliberations on the 1st September the political conflict as to the nature of its proceedings came to a head. The old parties claimed that the Parliament was a Reforming Parliament and its task was to reform the non-fundamental articles of the Constitution of 1864. The small but vocal group of radicals and socialists, on the contrary, regarded it as a Constituent Assembly and demanded the review of even the fundamental articles which defined the form of government. Venizelos put an end to the dispute when, on the 5th September, from a husting in Constitution Square in Athens, he succeeded in imposing acceptance of a Reforming Parliament by the crowd that had gathered to demonstrate in favour of a Constituent Assembly.
Nonetheless, the political map that had emerged from the elections was confused. The old parties retained the numerical majority in the new Parliament, but the triumph of the independent candidates made clear the demand from the electorate for renewal. Thus, King George, overcoming his initial reservations, entrusted Venizelos with the task of forming a government. Venizelos, however, unsatisfied with the result of a vote of confidence in the Parliament (208 out of 266 present, out of a total of 362 MPs), asked for and received from the King a decree ordering the dissolution of the Parliament and the proclamation of new elections. In the elections of the 28th November 1910 Venizelos no longer appeared as an independent candidate but as the leader of a unified party which was later to become the Liberal Party. The leaders of the old parties, G. Theotokis, D. Rallis and K. Mavromichalis, condemned the dissolution of the Parliament and chose to abstain from the elections. The complete predominance of Venizelos in the new Parliament (with 307 representatives) allowed him to proceed without great trouble to reform the Constitution and to realize the programme of reforms which he had announced.
The reform work of the first Venizelos government assimilated certain of the tendencies of a more general current of renewal which cannot be defined within the narrow framework of a four-year term of office. This current of renewal had appeared from the beginning of the century and was perceptible in the realms of political and social ideologies, of education and the arts, especially literature. Venizelos tried to advance his reform programme by adopting practically viable compromises between often conflicting tendencies. In education, for example, the dynamic current in favour of the use of the popular spoken language (demotiki) provoked conservative reactions which led to the constitutionally embedded decision (Article 107) in favour of a formal "purified" language (katharevousa) which looked back to classical precedents.
The revision of the Constitution which was completed on the 20th May 1911 was focussed on the strengthening of individual freedoms, the introduction of measures to facilitate the legislative work of the Parliament, the establishment of obligatory elementary education, the legal right for compulsory expropriation, the safeguarding of the permanence of civil servants, the right to invite foreign personnel to undertake the reorganization of the administration and the armed forces, the re-establishment of the State Council and the simplification of the procedures for the reform of the Constitution. The same Parliament extended its remit beyond the revision of the Constitution to the tasks of a regular Parliament and continued its legislative work until the end of the session towards the end of 1911. The aim of the reform programme was the consolidation of public security and the rule of law as well as the development of the wealth-producing potential of the country. In this context, the long planned "eighth" Ministry, the Ministry of National Economy, assumed a leading role. This Ministry, from the time of its creation at the beginning of 1911, was headed by Emmanuel Benakis, a wealthy Egyptian merchant and friend of Venizelos. Venizelos' immediate priority was the introduction of pro-labour legislation in 1911 - progressive for its time even by European standards. This prohibited child labour and night-shift work for women, regulated the hours of the working week and Sunday closing, and provided for labour organisations. Venizelos also took measures for the improvement of management, of justice and security and for the settlement of the landless peasants of Thessaly.
The most important achievement of Venizelos' first government, however, was in the reorganization of the army and in economic recovery. Venizelos, who himself assumed the Ministries of the Army and of the Navy, finalised arrangements for the invitation of foreign administrators for the Army, and in the middle of January 1911 General Eydoux arrived in Athens. A major achievement for Venizelos was the restoration among the armed forces of the discipline and harmony which had broken down as a result of the activities of the Military League. The crowning expression of this effort was the decision in June 1911 to reinstate the heir to the throne Konstantinos as General Inspector of the Army. As far as the rearming of the navy was concerned, Venizelos expedited a programme of naval orders. First of all he made an urgent plea for a British Naval Mission to reorganize the navy. On the 11th April 1911 Admiral Tufnell arrived in Greece as head of the British Naval Mission. The dreadnought "Georgios Averof" which had been ordered at the end of 1909 sailed into Piraeus harbour on the 1st September 1911. Venizelos' programme of naval orders was completed in the summer of 1912 with the order from Germany for two cruisers, six destroyers and a further dreadnought. The arming of the navy was made possible thanks to the remarkable recovery of the Greek economy. The political stability and economic reforms of the Dragoumis government allowed the new Minister of Finance, Lambros Koromilas, to secure a major foreign loan of 110 million francs which had been negotiated with France by the then Deputy Governor and later Governor of the National Bank of Greece Ioannis Valaoritis. Thus the year 1911 closed with a surplus. And in spite of the fact that the planned war with Turkey broke out earlier than anticipated, the Greek economy, thanks to the policy of Koromilas, was not found unprepared. The capital available in the National Bank and abroad was sufficient for the state to be able to meet the initial needs of the war without economic troubles.
Political stability, military preparedness and economic recovery were for both Dragoumis and for Venizelos the preconditions for dealing with the foreign dangers which coalesced ever more threateningly in the period after 1908. The internal turbulence in the Ottoman Empire following the revolution of the Young Turks and in particular the international crisis of October 1908 portended the imminent dissolution of the Empire. At the same time, the centralizing policy of Turkification which was put into practice by the new regime in Constantinople pushed the hitherto rival Christian national communities towards cooperation. The Balkan states were forced to seek closer understanding in order, on the one hand, to deal with Turkish nationalism and, on the other hand, to prepare for the dismemberment of European Turkey. The first contacts for Greek-Bulgarian cooperation were made by Stefanos Dragoumis in the summer of 1910, but they took on a specific form a year later following new unrest in the east.
On the 16th [29th] September, Italy, seeking a share in the distribution of North Africa among the Great Powers, declared war on Turkey and sent troops to Cyrene. Faced with the prospect of a generalization of the conflict, Venizelos sounded out the Bulgarian government as to the position it would adopt in the event of a Turkish attack on Greece. This Greek overture did not find an immediate response since Bulgaria's negotiations for an alliance with Serbia had almost been completed. Thus Greek-Bulgarian negotiations entered a substantial phase only at the beginning of March 1912 and concluded with the signing of a treaty of defensive alliance on the 16th May. This treaty provided for common action to protect the rights of the Christian communities in European Turkey, but did not include terms relating to the distribution of territories in the case of war and did not oblige Bulgaria to support Greece in the case of a conflict provoked by the Cretan Question.
From the time he assumed office as Prime Minister, Venizelos avoided any action that might create problems with the Porte. Above all, in consultation with the Protecting Powers, he refused to allow Turkey to be given a casus belli on account of the insistence of the Cretan deputies that they be received into the Greek Parliament. On the 19th May 1912, when the Cretan deputies attempted to force an entrance into the Parliament, Venizelos averted a premature war with Turkey by suspending the session of Parliament until 1st October.
The Cretan Question had reached a dead end and Venizelos sought for a solution that could be found before October. In the meantime, however, the Balkan horizon had darkened. In June the Albanian uprising assumed explosive dimensions and spread to the adminstrative vilayets of Ioannina, Kossovo and Monastiri and threatened even Thessalonika. Faced with the threat of Albanian territorial claims and with the governmental crisis which had erupted in Constantinople, the Balkan states reacted. Bulgaria had completed her network of alliances with a military pact with Serbia and an understanding with Montenegro. On the 13th August Bulgaria decided, in consultation with the other Balkan states, on military intervention. It was agreed that the provocation to Turkey would be the entrance of the Cretan deputies into the Greek Parliament. In spite of the Greek reservations, events unfolded swiftly: On the 18th September general mobilisation was proclaimed. On the 22nd September the Greek-Bulgarian Military Pact was signed in Sofia. On the 25th September Montenegro declared war on the Porte. On the 1st October the suspended session of the Greek Parliament was resumed and the Cretan deputies were accepted. On the 4th October Turkey declared war on the Balkan states (with the exception of Greece) and on the 5th October Greece entered the war.
The Balkan Wars 1912-1913
From the outset of the military operations, all the forces of the state were absorbed in the war and diplomatic effort. With swift actions Venizelos took both hesitant Europe and the unprepared Ottoman Empire by surprise. In Crete, the administration of the island was taken over by Stefanos Dragoumis. In the Aegean, the fleet under Paul Koundouriotis established complete hegemony over the islands and sea lanes. On the mainland, the main body of the army, some 100,000 men under the command of the heir to the throne Konstantinos , crossed the borders of Thessaly and entered Macedonia. At the same time, the Serbian forces moved towards the Adriatic and North-west Macedonia, while the Bulgarian army marched towards Thrace and Eastern Macedonia. The Greek army moved north towards central Macedonia and Thessalonica. Hard-fought battles at Sarandaporos (9th-10th October) and at Yiannitsa (19th-20th October) opened the way. On the 26th October, the Turkish military governor Hasan Tahsin Pasha surrendered Thessalonica to Konstantinos who entered the city in triumph on the 28th October, just as Bulgarian forces coming from Serres were approaching. The Bulgarian commander Theodorov, although he had received permission for only two Bulgarian battalions to enter the city, brought a whole division towards Thessalonica. The liberation of Macedonia was completed with the taking of Florina on the 7th November.
With the completion of the liberation of Macedonia the military operations were moved to Epirus where the Greek army , following the liberation of Preveza (21st October) and the seven-day long battle at Pente Pigadia (24th - 30th October), was brought to a halt in front of the Bizanio fort which protected Yiannena. The armistice which was signed in Tsataltsa on the 20th November by all the warring parties with the exception of Greece found Macedonia liberated from the Turks and the Greek army laying siege to Yiannena.
The conference which was convoked in London on the 3rd December to sign the peace ended in failure because of Turkey's unwillingness to accept the new status quo. On the 21st January 1913 the war entered its second phase. Yiannena fell to Konstantinos on the 21st February. A few days later on the 5th March Greece and indeed the whole of Europe was shocked by a tragic event, the assassination of King George in Thessalonica by a psychopath called Alexandros Skinas.
In the meantime the Great Powers had accepted the Turkish appeal for mediation and after negotiations with the victors lasting months they imposed a peace treaty which was finally signed in London on the 17th May 1913. The treaty prescribed that Turkey cede to the allies the mainland territories west of the Ainos - Mideia line (with the exception of Albania) and also her rights over Crete. It also laid down that the warring parties authorized the Great Powers to decide on the status and boundaries of Albania and on the fate of the Aegean islands.
With the ending of the war there thus remained unresolved questions: the establishment of the Greek-Albanian borders, the fate of the Aegean islands and the distribution among the victorious allies of the territories of what had formerly been European Turkey. This last question had been a bone of contention among the allies from the very first moment of the coexistence of allied troops on Macedonian soil. Every day problems were created in Thessalonica by the presence of the Bulgarian forces which made no secret of their intention to establish themselves as final masters of the city. Bulgaria's disputes both with Serbia and with Greece over the distribution of the territories led these two countries to closer agreement leading to the signing of a Military Pact (1st May) and a treaty for joint action in the face of Bulgarian provocation which was ratified only two days after the signing of the peace treaty with Turkey (19th May). All attempts to reach a compromise over the territorial division, including mediation and arbitration by the Tsar of Russia, ended in failure. Thus, when on the 16th June the Bulgarian General Savoff ordered a simultaneous attack against the Serbian positions in Yevyeli and the Greek positions at Eleftheres and Tsayezi, Greece and Serbia mounted a joint counterattack on 19th June. The clash developed into an overwhelming victory for the allied armies over the Bulgarian forces which, during their retreat, engaged in the slaughter of civilians and the destruction of villages.
The Greek army, after hard-fought battles (Kiklis 19th -21st June), advanced northwards towards Doirani (23rd June), Beles and Stromnitsa (26th June), and eastwards beyond the Strymona river towards Serres (28th June), Drama (1st July), Kavala (26th June) and Nevrokopi (5th July). The signing of the armistice on 17th July found the Greek army outside Machomia and the burning town of Tzoumayia. In the meantime the conflict had spread: While Serbia was in turn advancing eastwards, on the 27th June Roumania also attacked Bulgaria, and then on the 29th Turkey entered the war occupying Adrianopolis on 8th July and advancing into Thrace. Faced with the danger of vanishing from the map altogether, Bulgaria asked for terms and, with the mediation of Romania, it was decided to convene a new peace conference in Bucharest.
For Venizelos, this conference presented an opportunity to achieve a lasting peace based on a balance of powers and more specifically on a closer cooperation between Greece and Romania. In this context - in spite of the opposition of King Konstantinos who insisted on the complete debilitation of Bulgaria - Venizelos was prepared to make territorial concessions in relation to the initial Greek claims. Thus, when Bulgaria refused to accept the proposed line up to Makri and made the counterproposal of a line drawn along the length of the river Strymona, Venizelos at once conceded and accepted the line from Kouslar to Porto Lagos as the boundary. The negotiations nevertheless encountered the stubborn refusal of Bulgaria to cede Kavala. This refusal was overcome only because of the support given to Greece by Romania and the German Emperor. The peace treaty was finally signed on the 28th July. In recognition of Romania's assistance in securing Kavala and also in order to cement Greek-Romanian relations, Venizelos accepted Romania's claims in regard to the rights of the Vlach minority.
The Treaty of Bucharest settled the issues which had remained unresolved among the allies at the end of the First Balkan War. Other issues, however, specifically the fate of the Aegean islands and the borders between Greece and Albania, remained unsettled. The ambassadorial conference in London which had undertaken to resolve the issues discontinued its work on the 29th July [11th August] and referred the resolution of the southern Albanian border to an international boundary commission with instructions to cede Korytsa, the Stylos peninsula and the island of Sassona to Albania. As far as the Aegean islands were concerned, it decided that all the islands, with the exception of Imbros and Tenedos, would be ceded to Greece. The implementation of these decisions, however, was delayed for many reasons.
On the 1st November the final Greek-Turkey Treaty was signed in Athens. This settled all the issues between the two countries (with the exception of the Aegean question) which had remained outstanding following the Treaty of London. As far as the Greek-Albanian borders were concerned, the Protocol of the international commission (Protocol of Florence 17th December 1913) laid down that Northern Epirus was ceded to Albania. On the 31st January [13th February] 1914 the Great Powers advised the Greek government of their decisions concerning the Aegean and Albania and prescribed that Aegean islands would come under Greek sovereignty following the evacuation of the Greek forces from Northern Epirus. The Northern Epirus issue was resolved (Protocol of Corfu 4th [17th] May 1914] with the ceding of autonomy to the regions of Agryokastro and Korytsa, but the resolution of the Aegean island issue continued to encounter the demand of the Porte for the return of Chios and Mytilene. At the outbreak of the First World War this issue was still unresolved.
The two Balkan wars radically changed the face of Greece, her international standing and her economic needs. Her territorial extent was increased by 68% and her population by 80%. On the Balkan peninsula Greece now represented the major military power. More important, however, was her role as an emerging naval power. The Ottoman Empire could no longer ignore the fact of Greek dominance in the Aegean. But for Italy also, Greece represented an impediment to her plans for hegemony in the southern Adriatic and the south Aegean. This new role meant that Greece now entered an intense period of competition with the Ottoman Empire in naval rearmament.
The new territories, the exploitation of the wealth of Macedonia and especially of the rich tobacco producing areas around Serres and Kavalla, represented an important challenge for the Greek economy. Immediately following the establishment of the first administrative authorities in the new territories, a team of state officials devoted itself to studying the potential for the public, agricultural and industrial exploitation of these areas. The government showed immediate interest in overcoming Greece's isolation from the rail network which for decades had impeded the development of Greek international trade. The section of the line which was to have united old Greece with Europe via the Balkan network had been completed by 1909, but the Porte had consistently refused to construct its own section up to the Thessalonica-Monastiri line. Immediately after the liberation of Thessalonica, the plans for the connecting railway line were drawn up by Demetrios Diamantidis, the director of the Thessaly Railway Company, who moved to the Macedonian capital as Royal Commissioner for Railways.
The Greek economy, moreover, had been seriously damaged by the ten-month war. In the private sector no significant decline was noted: the satisfactory harvest of 1912, the state subsidies for the needs of the war, the continuation of cultivation by women during the absence of the men and the harvest of 1913, all contributed to making the economic consequences of the war less severe. The state, however, had in the meantime undertaken exceedingly burdensome economic obligations since its initial capital resources were exhausted by the end of October 1912. Thereafter it resorted to short-term loans, private contributions and the postponement of payments. The foreign loan of 500 million francs which the Greek exchequer agreed in Paris at the beginning of 1914 was destined for the settlement of these outstanding economic obligations from the Balkan Wars, as well as for the development of the new territories and the increased defence obligations for the Aegean islands. Only the first installment of this loan, received in April, was ever paid. In the spring of 1914 the international and domestic political horizon was still bright. And the expectation of a militarily and economically strong Greece was an incentive to creative efforts.
This expectation, however, was not realized: the outbreak of the First World War cancelled the payment of the second installment of the loan, put a break on development and created the preconditions for the new military and political adventures.