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Eleutherios Venizelos

Venizelos, Eleutherios (ĕlĕfthârˈyôs vĕnēzĕˈlôs) [key], 1864–1936, Greek statesman, b. Crete. After studying at the Univ. of Athens, he returned to Crete and played a prominent part in the Cretan insurrection of 1896–97. In 1905 he led the Cretan assembly to declare the union of Crete with Greece; this union actually was not completed until 1913. In 1909 he was called to Athens by the members of the so-called Military League, who wanted political reform, and immediately won an extraordinary popular following. During his first term as Greek premier (1910–15), Venizelos completed the revision of the constitution (1911), undertook military and financial reform, and led Greece through the Balkan Wars (1912–13), in which its territory and population were approximately doubled. After the outbreak of World War I he strongly favored the Allied cause, and pro-German King Constantine I forced him to resign (Mar., 1915). An electoral victory made Venizelos premier again in August, but when the Allies landed forces at Thessaloníki (see Salonica campaigns), Constantine again compelled his resignation (Oct., 1915). In 1916 Venizelos established a provisional government at Thessaloníki, which declared war on Germany and Bulgaria, and in 1917, on Constantine's abdication, he became premier for the third time. Greece fully entered the war on the Allied side, and Venizelos won major territorial concessions for it (in Thrace and Asia Minor) at the Paris Peace Conference. A war-weary population rejected his party in the Nov., 1920, elections, and King Constantine was restored. The catastrophic Greek defeat in the war with Turkey (Sept., 1922) caused Constantine to abdicate, and Venizelos became (1924) premier after an overwhelming electoral victory. Soon afterward a plebiscite declared Greece a republic. Having fallen out with the military leaders, Venizelos retired from office even before the plebiscite took place. After several years of political chaos, he was recalled (1928) to the premiership. Venizelos, now elderly, tended to govern less effectively and idealistically than before. Nevertheless, he carried out a major program of economic modernization and educational reform between 1928 and 1932. He also completed the settlement of the 1.2 million refugees who had inundated Greece after the 1922 Asia Minor disaster. His foreign policy was also notable; he secured rapprochements with Italy (1928), Yugoslavia (1929), and Turkey (1930). Growing royalist opposition forced his resignation in 1932; he returned to power briefly in 1933. Fearing the restoration of the monarchy, Venizelos joined a last desperate attempt at stemming the royalist tide by armed uprisings (1935) in Athens, Macedonia, and Crete. Crete held out longest against the government forces, but the rebellion was soon put down by General Kondylis. Venizelos fled to France, where he died. He is generally regarded as the greatest Greek statesman of modern times.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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