- Eleftherios Venizelos: The Trial of Statesmanship
One of the most peculiar features of modern Greek historiography is the glaring absence of definitive biographies of the country's major political figures. While library bookshelves around the world sag under the weight of massive tomes devoted to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Otto von Bismarck, and other major political leaders, one looks in vain for comparable biographies of Greece's most famous politicians, such as Harilaos Trikoupis and Eleftherios Venizelos. Whether in English or Greek (or any other language, for that matter), the absence of such biographies in Greek historiography is striking, especially considering how prominent a role the genre of political history has [End Page 435] played, and to some extent still plays, in it. To be sure, there are some recently published works that examine certain periods of these men's careers, such as A. Lily Makrakis's excellent account of Venizelos's early years, or that focus on certain aspects of their policies, like Lydia Tricha's examination of Trikoupis's public works policy or the collection of essays edited by Dimtris Panagiotopoulos and Dimitris Sotiropoulos on Venizelos's agrarian economic policies. By and large, however, the most comprehensive studies available on Trikoupis and Venizelos are some older collections of essays, most of which are in Greek. Until a full-blown, comprehensive biography of Venizelos appears, this superb collection of essays by some of the leading historians of modern Greece will be the starting point for anyone interested in the career of Greece's greatest and most controversial politician.
The volume is divided into four sections of variable length. The first, "Setting the Stage," consists of two chapters, one by Leonidas Kallivretakis and the other by A. Lily Makrakis. In his contribution, Kallivretakis provides the reader with a broad overview of the Cretan Question from the 1820s to 1910, regarding whether Crete should remain autonomous or be annexed to Greece after its independence from the Ottoman Empire. This is one of the best brief overviews of the Cretan issue available in English. In addition to conveying the complexity and fluidity of the situation on the ground, the author also manages to give the reader a concise and lucid, yet firm, understanding of the key issues shaping the situation on Crete. Especially noteworthy is the way in which Kallivretakis revises widely-held views regarding the factors that determined identity and political allegiance and how these shifted over time. Perfectly complementing this piece is Makrakis's discussion of Venizelos's early life and career. This lengthy (49 page) summary, drawn from her book, shows how the political skills and statesmanship-like qualities that would serve him so well later in life were forged in the crucible of the Cretan Question. In 1900, she argues, "Venizelos was at the height of his physical and intellectual powers" (p. 71). The successes and failures, the trials and tribulations that would mark his later life, were yet to come.
The second cluster of essays, entitled "The Drama of High Politics," covers Venizelos's political career from his entry into Greek politics after the Goudi coup to the debacle of the failed coup of 1935 that ended it. The essays are arranged in such a way that they present a sequential, chronological narrative while also focusing on different areas of the political arena. Helen Gardikas-Katsiadakis begins the section with a detailed discussion of Venizelos's emergence on the Greek political scene. She shows how Venizelos passed his first trial of statesmanship and displayed, not for the last time, his considerable political acumen. Rather than challenging the monarchy directly, further antagonizing the old party politicians, or giving France and Great Britain a pretext to intervene, he advanced democratic restoration with the suggestion that an assembly be convened to modify the constitution. By so doing, he achieved his goal of restoring parliamentary rule—but on his own terms. The next essay, co-written by Gardikas-Katsiadakis and Thanos Veremis, covers the period from 1912 to...