"1906-1910, The Preparation and Emergence of Venizelos on the Greek Political Stage - Venizelos as Prime Minister "

Following the Therisso revolution of 1905 it was recognised that the Cretan Question was essentially a National Question and not simply a dynastic affair. As a result of this recognition the Great Powers in August 1906 granted King George Ist of Greece the right to appoint the Cretan High Commissioner without the prior approval of the Ottoman government, a development which constituted a significant step in the advancement of the Cretan Question. Thus, following the resignation of Prince George on 12th September 1906, King George Ist appointed as High Commissioner of Crete Alexandros Zaimis, a former Prime Minister of Greece and later President of the Greek Democracy. Zaimis assumed office on 18th September 1906 with authority for a five-year tenure. At the same time the Cretan Militia, which also constituted the island's army, was established. At this time, too, Venizelos re-opened the law office which he maintained in Chania but which he had closed during the period of the Therisso revolution and which he was to close finally in 1909 on the eve of his departure for Greece.

On 2nd December 1906 the Second Constituent Assembly, which had been established in June 1906 by joint agreement of the Therisso revolutionaries and the representatives of the Cretan Parliament, submitted to Alexandros Zaimis the new Cretan Constitution drafted with Venizelos' participation. Zaimis took an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and formed a new government.

In 1908, while the Cretan Polity was in the process of developing, international events occurred which were to play an important role in the Cretan Question. In July 1908 the uprising of the Young Turks took place in the Ottoman Empire. On 22nd September 1908, amidst the climate of international uncertainty which prevailed on account of the changes in Constantinople, Bulgaria proclaimed itself a Kingdom and simultaneously annexed Eastern Roumelia. On the 23rd of the same month Austria announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Occasioned by these events, a mass demonstration took place in Chania on the 24th September demanding the proclamation of the Union of Crete with Greece. The Cretan Parliament endorsed the resolutions for Union and passed its own resolution. At the same time it proceeded to the abolition of the office of High Commissioner. The Cretan Constitution was revoked and the Greek Constitution adopted. A cross-party Executive Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Antonios Michelidakis and with Eleftherios Venizelos, Minoos Pitichakis, Emmanuel Logiadis and Charalambos Pologiorgis as members. The Greek government with Prime Minister Georgios Theotokis did not, however, recognise the Union in order to avoid the reactions of Turkey and international complications. The Great Powers in turn failed to recognise the new regime, but they gave assurances that they would deal with the matter favourably if order was kept and the security of the Muslim population guaranteed. Calm returned to the island and the Great Powers withdrew their forces in the middle of July 1909. Immediately after the evacuation of the troops from the island the Greek flag was raised over the Firka fortress, an event which provoked an internal crisis. The Executive Committee, with Eleftherios Venizelos as its Foreign Minister, refused to give in to pressures to strike the flag and resigned. International landing-parties came ashore and replaced the Greek flag with the flag of the autonomous Cretan Polity. For three years Crete was administered by the system of three-member commissions. But even Venizelos himself, who had taken charge of the Directorate of Cretan Foreign Affairs, believed that the conditions were not favourable at that specific time for the realisation of Union with Greece and he also feared that the withdrawal of the international forces from the island might be revoked.

At this time Venizelos was 44 years old. His personal life inevitably felt the strain of his feverish public activity. He avoided remarrying in order to be able to devote himself to the service of his country. His marriage to Maria, however, had given him two children and he devoted whatever remaining energies his public life allowed to their upbringing. He also continued his professional activity as a lawyer in order to earn his living.

In the meantime on the international scene the expansion of the ties between the Cretan Polity and the free Kingdom of Greece developed alongside the gradual release of the autonomous regime from the fetters of international control. This was finally brought about by the Great Powers with the withdrawal of their last forces on 15th July 1909 but did not thereby give the Cretan people the ability to dictate their fate of their own volition.

On mainland Greece, early in the morning of 15th August 1909 a revolutionary uprising took place. The protagonists in this uprising were graduates of the Officer Training College, officers, infantry soldiers, a number of police officers and some civilians. Without any great militancy they proclaimed their opposition to the government. The entire movement was modelled on the uprising of the Young Turks. This had produced a strong repercussive effect on the Greek officers and on those who were fighting in Macedonia (and who had to face the Bulgarian comitadji who were terrorizing the Greeks of that area) and indeed on all ranks in the army who were enraged by the criminal neglect of the country's military preparations following the defeat in the Greco-Turkish war of 1897. At the same time the Greek state at the beginning of the 20th century was gradually acquiring an urban complexion with the development of industry and trade. And there was slowly commencing the organisation of the workers: commercial, professional and labour associations were founded, and the landless peasants working on the large estates in Thessaly started to stand up for their rights. In the meantime changes came about on the political stage when at the beginning of the summer the government of Theotokis resigned and a new government under Dimitrios Rallis was formed. In this circumstance, following the resignation of the government, Parliament should have been dissolved. This, however, was impossible because Venizelos had set as a condition that if there were to be elections in Greece, elections would be held simultaneously in Crete and Cretan representatives would be sent to the Greek Parliament. Venizelos therefore advised the government to postpone the elections.

In this general context a "Military League" had been established in the year 1908 and in August 1909 it carried out a military uprising at Goudi demanding the removal from the armed forces of the heir to the throne and of the other members of the royal family, the reduction of the tax-burden on the Greek people and a series of reforms in the army. On the 14th September 1909 the Military League organised a popular demonstration in conjunction with professional associations and trade unions. It is worth noting that the Military League made a proposal for cooperation with Venizelos. Venizelos, however, did not accept the invitation and refused to assume the office of Prime Minister claiming that his presence in Crete was essential. Moreover, he thought that it would be disadvantageous to the country for him the take charge of the government at that specific time because he was a Cretan, and technically a foreigner, and would encounter opposition both from the Greek political parties and from the King since he was reputed to be opposed to the dynasty. He agreed, however, to assume the role of mediator. He declared, "The people of Greece have an obligation to remain loyal to the idea of national restoration and to provide every moral and material support at their disposal so that the task of revolution be brought to a successful conclusion, because on the outcome of this struggle depends not only the union with Crete but the very existence of Hellenism".

Among the necessary measures for the improvement of the situation of the country which Venizelos proposed and which King George adopted were the calling of elections for the convocation of a "Reforming Parliament", the formation of a government by Stefanos Dragoumis and the dissolution of the Military League. In January 1910 Venizelos returned to Crete having laid the foundations both for extricating the country from its political crisis and also for establishing his credentials as a leader. In March the Greek Parliament decided to convoke a Reforming Parliament. The Dragoumis government responded positively to the demands of its dual mission: to secure a smooth path towards the process of reform and to complete its legislative programme.

In Crete Venizelos was sworn in as Prime Minister of the Cretan Polity. The holding of elections on the 8th August allowed the multifarious currents of opinion in the social and ideological sphere to seek political expression and recognition in the parliamentary forum. Many saw in the person of Venizelos the representative of the demand for political change. In spite of the fact that Venizelos at the time was absent abroad, his political friends presented him as parliamentary candidate for Attica-Boeotia.

The process of political change in the years 1909-1910 was the outcome of the social ascendancy of the bourgeoisie. The deeper social processes which accompanied the phenomenon of the economic development of the country, in conjunction with the resurrection of national consciousness following the humiliating defeat of 1897, made the pressure from the weaker social strata more perceptible in the first decade of the century and, after 1909, enabled them to advance onto the political stage.

Venizelos had not returned to Athens when the electoral verdict of the 8th August 1910 was made known. He was he was informed of his election in Lucerne where he was at the time, and, after a short stay in Rome, he returned to his homeland of Crete where he resigned from the leadership of his party there. On the 5th September he arrived in Piraeus where he was warmly welcomed by friends and supporters. In Constitution Square he proclaimed the founding of a "party of principles" which would be the vehicle of reforms. Here he also asserted his unshakeable belief in the principle of reform. To the appeal from the crowd for a Constituent Assembly he responded by repeating thrice over: "A Reforming Assembly". The gathering on the 5th September underlined Venizelos' authority as a leader in Greek political life and confirmed his elevation to the role of regulator of the situation. When the Dragoumis government resigned on 12th September Venizelos' candidacy for the post of Prime Minister was unassailable. King George Ist invited him to form a government, because "he represents today the vision of the restoration of our political ethics, the vision of renaissance, and everyone rests on him their hopes for the rescuing of our country from the anarchy and distress into which it has descended".

Reconciliation between the King and Venizelos was not an impossibility. Venizelos, who was animated by a political realism, perceived that there were conservative forces in the electoral body which he was obliged to take into consideration. Moreover, the restoration of domestic concord and national unity was a precondition for the solution to the national question. For his part, George appeared very flexible and trusted him completely.

On the 6th October 1910 the government of Eletherios Venizelos was sworn in. Venizelos himself took over the Ministry of the Army and Navy. N. Dimitrakopoulos was appointed to the Minstry of Justice, L. Koromilas to the Ministry of Finance, A. Alexandris to the Minstry of Ecclesiastical Affairs and Education, and I. Gryparis to the Foreign Ministry. The realisation of the programme of reform occupied the centre of government interest. The question as to whether the body should be named a Reforming Parliament or a Constituent Parliament remained unresolved. This matter was made more complex because it was connected also with the dispute concerning the principle and the conditions for excercising the right to dissolve the Parliament. When Venizelos perceived that he was unable to secure the required number of votes he submitted his resignation to the King and indirectly proposed the dissolution of the house, a proposal which was not accepted. The second ballot produced a favourable result for Venizelos, but the size of the majority was not judged satisfactory by the government. George, perceiving the swing of opinion in favour of Venizelos, accepted his proposal and published the decree for the dissolution of the First Reforming Parliament and proclaimed elections for the Second Reforming Parliament. This provoked the ire of the old parties of G. Theotokis, D. Rallis and K. Mavromichalis. They condemned the "violent" dissolution of the Parliament, regarding the action of the King as unconstitutional, and they boycotted the electoral contest of November 1910.

The outcome of the elections of 28th November was decisive for the delineation of the new political complexion of the country. The Venizelist party prevailed with 307 seats out of 362. This victorious electoral configuration, which was soon to be named the "Liberal Party", aimed to introduce new rules into the political life of the country. In his pre-election speech in Athens on the 26th November 1910, Venizelos proclaimed his belief in the need for a "political" party in contradistinction to the "personal" parties, a party which would be able to draw strength from a wider organized base. The Cretan leader reverted to his earlier idea for the establishment of a "party of principles" with leaders responsive to the need for the substantive popular participation in the party organisation.

The short life of the Second Reforming Parliament was concerned with the passing of a new constitution and the adoption of bold legislative measures. Its legislative work laid the foundations for the safeguarding of justice and the restoration of healthy administration, the improved performance of the public economy, the more effective organisation of the armed forces and the implementation of social policy. The formulation of the new constitutional provisions, without expressing the most radical tendencies, corresponded to the demand for a renewal of the spirit and methods which defined the relations between the state and the individual. This general thrust of policy bore the hallmarks of the ideological principles and political tactics of Eleftherios Venizelos as they had been expressed in the field of both Greek and Cretan political life. The steadfast principle of his ideological positions must be sought in the balanced combination of individual freedom and political order, the safeguarding of human rights and respect for the law. The dynamic element in Venizelos' thought and action was represented by his belief in the need for the adaptation of the liberal views of the 19th century to the new social reality, the strengthening of the regulatory role of the state and the balancing of the conflicting demands among the social and professional groups.

Stefania Archontaki

a. "Venizelos the Cretan. His roots and his family".
b. "Eleftherios Venizelos: His path between two revolutions 1889 - 1897".
c. "Eleftherios Venizelos during the High Commissionership of Prince George, 1898 - 1906".
d. "The Preparation and Emergence of Venizelos on the Greek Political Stage - Venizelos as Prime Minister, 1906 - 1910".
e. Period 1910 - 1914
f. The First World War 1914 - 1918
g. Period 1920 - 1922
h. The Treaty of Lausanne and the political situation in Greece, 1923 - 1928
i. The Venizelos Administration during the four years 1928 - 1932