Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936)
Considered by most as the greatest Greek of modern times, he is the man whose name you’ll encounter almost everywhere: from the Athens International Airport to hundreds of streets all over the country.Born in Ottoman occupied Crete, he studied law in Athens, took part in several revolutions and fought for the independence and union of Crete with Greece (1913).He was elected prime minister of Greece and served on and off between 1910-1920, 1924 and subsequently 1928-1932. He established himself as the anti monarchist - republican pole on the Greek political scene and his confrontation with the royalists became so fierce at times, that it led to the deep division of the nation known as the National Schism. During WWI he insisted, against the king’s wishes who wanted neutrality, that Greece enter the war on the side of the Allies. Army officers loyal to him proclaimed a ‘Temporary Government of National Defence’ based in Thessaloniki, the Allies recognized them as the legitimate government of the country, the King went to self-exile and Greece entered the war. The country subsequently doubled its size with the liberated territories awarded by the allies under the Treaty of SËvres. Venizelos, despite his diplomatic success (the creation of a ‘five seas and two continents’ state), lost the elections of 1920, and his royalist opponents continued the disastrous campaign deep into the Turkish hinterland that ended with the humiliation of the Greek army and the complete destruction of the prosperous Greek community of Smyrna in Asia Minor in 1922. Venizelos was called back to sign the Treaty of Lausanne which resulted in a massive exchange of populations and the cessation of certain territories to Turkey.The biggest achievement of his second term after 1928 was the improvement of Greek-Turkish relations, something that didn’t go down well among certain parts of the population. A second assassination attempt and an unsuccessful anti-royalist coup led Venizelos to Paris, where he died a few days after suffering a stroke, in March 1936. He was buried in Acrotiri, just outside his birthplace of Chania, Crete.