Eleftherios Venizelos (Ελευθέριος Κυριάκου Βενιζέλος) was probably the most prominent politician in Greece’s modern history. Born on the 23rd of August 1864 in Chania, Crete he was the fifth child of Kyriakou Venizelou and Stylianis Ploumidiaki.
Venizelos was an eminent leader of the Greek national liberation movement, remembered for his promotion of liberal-democratic policies. As leader of the Liberal Party he was elected several times as Prime Minister of Greece, serving from 1910 to 1920 and again from 1928 to 1933. He had a profound influence on the internal and external affairs of Greece and is credited with being “the maker of modern Greece.”
His first entry into the international scene was with his significant role in the autonomy of the Cretan State and later in the union of Crete with Greece. Soon, he was invited to Greece to resolve the political deadlock and became the country’s Prime Minister.
Venizelos initiated constitutional and economic reforms that set the basis for the modernisation of Greek society, and also reorganised both army and navy in preparation of future conflicts.
Before the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913, Venizelos’ catalytic role helped gain Greece entrance to the Balkan League, an alliance of the Balkan states against Ottoman Turkey. Through his diplomatic acumen, Greece doubled its area and population with the liberation of Macedonia, Epirus and the rest of the Aegean islands.
In World War I (1914–1918), he brought Greece on the side of the Allies, further expanding the Greek borders. However, his pro-Allied foreign policy brought him in direct conflict with the monarchy, causing the National Schism.
The Schism polarised the population between the royalists and Venizelists and the struggle for power between the two groups afflicted the political and social life of Greece for decades. Following the Allied victory, Venizelos secured new territorial gains, especially in Anatolia coming close to realising the ‘Megali Idea.’
In the vital elections of November 1920 Venizelos was defeated and he withdrew from politics to return after the Asia Minor disaster of 1922. With two of his radical initiatives (1923) – the mandatory exchange of Greek and Turkish populations and the Treaty of Lausanne which defined the boundaries between Greece and Turkey – he changed the orientation of Greek policy and laid the foundations for peaceful development.
His last term of office as Prime Minister (1928-1932) was a period of stability and creativity. His major achievement was the signature of the pact of friendship between Greece and Turkey (1930). The end of his career was marked by the attempt against his life (June 1933) and the failed “Venizelist” coup of March 1935. He went into self-exile in Paris where he died on the 18th of March 1936.