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Modern History Sourcebook:
William Miller:
Modern Greek Politics, 1928

"Man," said Aristotle, "is a political animal," and his Saying is especially true of the Greeks. Just as Englishmen open a conversation by a remark about the weather so in Greece the question, "What is your view of the situation?" is a quite usual beginning. In towns and villages, in clubs and monasteries, politics form the most natural theme of conversation. To people with acute minds and a love of dialectics public affairs have always been a favorite subject for discussion. Ancient Athens was intensely political; in Roman Athens, when there were no politics, University questions took their place, and parties rallied round this or that celebrated professor; just as in medieval Byzantium they discussed theology, and today in the Dodekanese the ordinary people, cut off from politics, are keenly interested in the question whether or no the Church shall be autocephalous. Even in the Turkish days, as travellers have recorded, there were parties in the then-small world of Christian Athens, and with the dawn of freedom, and still more after the abolition of Bavarian autocracy by the September revolution of 1843, politics became an all-engrossing topic. Three parties, the "English," the "French," and the Russian," were formed under leaders, approved and sometimes inspired by the Ministers of the three protecting Powers, and Athens became the battleground for British, French, and Russian intrigues, the favorite British leader being Mavrokordatos, the French Kolettes, and the Russian Metaxas. The French diplomatist Thouvenel is recorded to have sometimes actually composed the declaration of Ministerial policy, when the French protege was in office, and Sir Edmund Lyons and his Russian colleague, Catacazy, openly took part in internal politics. This unfortunate practice finds parallels in the cases of the rival Austrian and Russian parties in Serbia under Milan, the Russian intervention in Bulgaria under Alexander, and the Austro-Italian squabbles at Durazzo during the reign of William of Wied. Greece, like Jugoslavia and Bulgaria, has long outgrown this system of foreign parties. The Barlaioi, as the "English" partisans were called, from a Herculean Anglophile delegate to the Assembly of Hermione; the Moschomangai, as Kolettes' adherents were named, from the "hooligans" who frequented the "bastion of Moschos" near the harbour of Nauplia; and the Napaioi, as the "Russians" were nicknamed after the Moreote Napas, although there were German and Entente parties and leaders, including the Communists, are neither "English," "French," nor "Russian," but Greek.Those who knew Greece some years ago notice, however, a decline in political interest among young people. The rising generation has seen so many and such drastic political changes that it has become surfeited of politics. Besides, the capital, now a big cosmopolitan city, offers diversions from politics which Ottonian and even Georgian Athens could not present. Social functions are numerous; sport, especially football, tennis, and golf, has become acclimatised; horse-racing is an institution; the cinema occupies a large place in the public eye. As for the people, they are weary of politics, and only want peace to go on with their work. This was the explanation of the indifference with which they looked on at the departure of George II., the proclamation of the Republic, the coups d'etat which made and unmade Pangalos. This was the reason why at a recent municipal election in some places there were no candidates for the mayoralty, whereas at Pylos years ago the late Dr. Burrows found 123 candidates standing for 15 seats on the Municipal Council. Moreover, the growing industrialization of Greece offers more remunerative and attractive careers than place-hunting.A generation ago Greek Governments were fairly stable, for Trikoupes remained three and again four and a half years in power, and Theotokes also three, just as Kolettes and Miaoules had done half a century earlier, while Kriezes was nearly five years Premier. Mr. Venizelos beat all records by remaining once five years and then three continuously in office; but since 1920 Cabinets have come and gone with rapidity. The young Republic has known already seven Prime Ministers, but this is not a special characteristic of the Republican regime, for in the early times of the second Monarchy there were nine Cabinets in thirteen months. At present thirteen politicians have filled the Premiership---Messrs. Zaimes, Skouloudes, Venizelos, Trianaphyllakos, Charlampes, Gonatas, Kaphandares, Papanastasiou, Sophoules, Michalakopoulos, Pangalos, Eutaxias, and Kindyles---the first six times and the third thrice. There seemed, therefore, no need for the article embodied in the draft Constitution forbidding the tenure of the Premiership for more than a year, just as the first Greek Constitution, that of Epidauros in 1822, limited that of the Executive. However short be the Premier's term of office, he is styled Kyrie Proedre ("Mr. President") for the rest of his life---a form of address highly prized in the absence of all titles (except the old Venetian titles of nobility still used locally in the Ionian Islands), and after the recent abolition of decorations (except for medals) for Greek subjects. Since the introduction of constitutional government in 1843 there have been forty-seven different Prime Ministers (many of whom held the office repeatedly) and eighty-seven Ministers of Foreign Affairs, likewise recurrent, since 1829. The causes of these frequent changes are the personal character of Greek political parties, mostly based upon men rather than measures, and consequently liable to crumble away according to the feelings of the followers towards their leaders, and still more the individualism (atomismos) deeply engrained in the Hellenic character. When Kleon, as reported by Thucydides, said that "he, and not the other fellow, ought to be general," he expressed an eternal truth of Greek politics. George I., when an unknown Greek was presented to him, used to ask where he was "president." The very laudable ambition to be first makes teamwork difficult; but there are notable exceptions, such as the loyal outside support given by Mr. Kaphandares to the Michalakopoulos Premiership, and the heroic self-sacrifice of General Kondyles in 1926. It is not material gain, but rather the love of power that makes Greek politicians desire the Premiership. Deligiannes, after his repeated tenure of that office, left little more than his top hat and frock-coat behind him when he died. One of his rivals spent a considerable part of a considerable fortune on politics. A recent Premier remarked to me that Greek history contained no example of a Prime Minister who had enriched himself. Many of the heroes of the War of Independence lived in poverty, and one of the few commemorative tablets in Athens informs the passer-by that in a certain insignificant house in the then suburb of Kypsele "lived and died" Constantine Kanares, the most famous of them all. Another cause of the fluidity of parties and the consequent changes of Cabinet is the lack of a party caucus, which in our Parliament makes the private member toe the party line or lose his seat, and the absence of party "whips." Hence the reader of the Athenian press becomes accustomed to such announcements as that "Mr. So-and-So has made declaration of his political friendship to such-and- such a leader," or that several deputies belonging to a particular party have ''skipped off." The individualism above mentioned makes parties fissiparous; proportional representation, introduced at the elections of 1926, further favors this tendency, and 65 parties entered the lists then for 286 seats! These parties consisted, however, in two notorious cases of one candidate each, and a party leader once said to me that at a meeting of chiefs one "leader" present "had no need to leave the room in order to consult his party"! It was himself! In practice, however, parties have simplified themselves into two main groups---Republicans and Royalists---each containing several subdivisions. The Republicans consists of a "Conservative" a "Progressive," and an advanced group (the "Republican Union"), under Messrs. Michalakopoulos, Kaphandares, and Papanastasiou respectively. There are also a few independent Republicans like Mr. Sophoules, the Speaker of the Chamber. The Royalists include a moderate and an advanced wing---viz., the party of "Free Thought" under Generas Metaxas, and the "popular" party under Mr. Tsaldares. The latter, however, contains certain intransigent Royalists, who must at times try the patience and require all the diplomacy of its leader. They are the "die-hards" of Greek politics, the men who still look to the "king over the water," as our Jacobite ancestors said, and who will have no compromise with the Republic. There are also independent Republicans from Mytilene and independent moderate Royalists, like Mr. Demertzes. Outside the Chamber, General Kondyles has recently re-entered politics and made a political tour of the Peloponnese. At the extreme back of the Chamber sit the nine Communists--now for the first time appearing in Parliament as a party, mostly young men with a large dose of theoretical principles, whose leader is Mr. Maximos, but whose god is Marx. Owing to the individualism of the Greek character, the cutting-up of the large estates in Thessaly, and the wide diffusion of small properties, Greece would seem to be an unfavorable soil for the growth of Communism. The Communist party is chiefly recruited from the "new" provinces, where there are many refugees, and notably from the tobacco workers at Kavalla; but there was a big Communist poll at Larissa (of which the President's would-be assassin was a native), due it is said, to the personal influence of one apostle. Greek Communism has its journal and its historian, Mr. Koradatos; it fishes in troubled waters, as on 9 September, 1926, and in the strike of 10 March 1927; a few University students have made demonstrations against "capitalist" professors, and the University Senate proposes to exact a written statement from every undergraduate that he will join no Communist organization, under pain of expulsion. Other more stringent measures have been invoked in consequence of the attempt on the President; but Bolshevik propaganda, despite the exaggerated staff of the Soviet Legation, seems likely to fail in "atomistic" Hellas, where at the last election only 40,988 Communist votes were polled out of 961,437. The vehement feud between Republicans and Royalists has died down. Royalist and Republican ladies---the ladies were usually more intransigent than their husbands---play cards together, and Royalist damsels find Republican partners at dances. Athens---thank heaven!---is no longer divided up into an Elysee and a Faubourg-St-Germain. The "Ecumenical" Government was at once a sign, and a cause of this much-desired and most desirable "reconciliation." Royalists are now seen at the parties of Government House, just as the Jacobites went to the Court of George III. Besides, the feud was not so much between Republicans and Royalists as between Venizelists and anti-Venizelists. The Greeks in politics are usually rather "anti" than "pro"; the Republicans are not so much enamored of the ideal beauties of a Republic as opposed to the House of Glucksburg; the Royalists are less enthusiastic about George II, than resentful of Mr. Venizelos and General Plastiras. At the elections of 1926 in some constituencies the contest was over a dead issue---Constantine versus Venizelos---and the electoral literature was what English politicians would call "ancient history." Now that Constantine is physically and Mr. Venizelos politically dead, all of the life has gone out of this historic controversy. One past event, the execution of "the Six," still casts a malign shadow over the political situation and causes Ministerial crises. Nor is this remarkable; for that terrible affair is barely five years old, and in Athens, where relationships have wide ramifications, the number of persons connected with the executed men is legion, and the brother of one of them is an influential deputy. The practice of the newspapers to publish frequent articles on the history of yesterday tends to revive smoldering disputes, and the return of Mr. Venizelos in 1927 to reside in Greece, even as a private individual, immediately made the Royalists suspicious. They would never believe that he had come back merely to bask in the Cretan sun or to translate Thucydides, but would scent some political intrigue in his presence among them, just as they saw another military plot in the sojourn of General Plastiras at Kephissia. Nor were the Royalists alone offended at the return of the Cretan, even to his native Crete. New political vested interests have grown up within his own party; new men have arisen with new claims to the leader ship, and not at all disposed to be kept in leading strings; and there are stalwart Republicans who regard him as a tepid adherent who would have preferred a really constitutional monarchy which reigned, but let an all-powerful Premier govern. Mr. Venizelos belongs to history; as far as politics are concerned, he is magni nominis umbra.

Source:

From: William Miller, Greece, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928 [Copyright Expired]) pp. 139-146, 292, reprinted in Alfred J. Bannan and Achilles Edelenyi, eds., Documentary History of Eastern Europe, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970), pp. 291-297. Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.


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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu