Statue of Eleftherios Venizélos

Statue of Eleftherios Venizélos

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see the statue of Elefthérios Venizélos which stands in front of the Embassy of Greece, located at 2217 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.

Elefthérios Kyriákou Venizélos was born in Mournies near Chania, in then–Ottoman Crete in 1864.  When the Cretan revolution broke out two years later, his family fled to the island of Syros.  Because of his father’s involvement in the revolution, they were not allowed to return to Crete, and stayed in Syros until 1872, when they were granted amnesty.  He later returned to Syros, where he spent his final year of secondary education before enrolling at the University of Athens Law School.  He then returned to Crete in 1886 and worked as a lawyer in Chania.

Early on, Venizélos felt that he was faced with a career decision, which he later described when he stated, “I had to decide whether I would be a lawyer by profession and a revolutionary at intervals, or a revolutionary by profession and a lawyer at intervals.”  Influenced by his father and profoundly affected by his earlier experiences of living in exile, he opted to be a revolutionary.

Venizélos became a leader of of the Greek national liberation movement in Crete and in 1896, as a member of the Liberal Party, he took a prominent role in the Cretan rising against Turkish rule.  In 1905 Venizélos becoming the island’s first independent prime minister.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Venizélos favored an alliance with Britain, France and Russia against the Central Powers.  He wanted Greece to give military aid to the Allies, and when King Constantine refused to agree, Venizélos resigned from office.

When he was again elected Prime Minister after a landslide victory in March 1915, he ordered mobilization of the Greek Army.  But when Venizélos invited the Allied forces to Salonika, he was dismissed by the king.  Venizélos then returned to Crete where he formed a provisional revolutionary government.

With the support of Allied forces, Venizélos made plans to march on Athens and overthrow King Constantine.   But in June of 1917, the king was deposed and Venizélos was able to regain power without resorting to force.

Venizélos led the Greek war effort until the Armistice in November 1918.  At the Versailles Peace Conference, he won substantial territorial gains for his country from Bulgaria and Turkey.

However, despite his achievements, Venizelos was defeated in the 1920 general election, and the new pro-royalist government invited King Constantine back to power.

Venizelos was elected prime minister again in 1924, 1928-32 and 1933.  And again in 1935, Venizélos came out of retirement to support another revolt in Crete.  When this failed Venizélos was forced to flee to France, where he died in 1936.

It’s impossible to know how successful Venizélos might have been had he made a different career choice and remained a lawyer.  But the statue in front of the Greek Embassy honoring him as a prominent and illustrious statesman who is credited with being “the maker of modern Greece” would seem to indicate he made the right decision.

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