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Historical Fiction: The Elias Panoussos Story – Part 1

February 14, 2021

My name is Elias Panoussos and I was born into an upper-middle-class Athenian family. My father, Panagiotis was a successful businessman who owned an emporium in the center of Athens. He sold carpets, furniture, rugs, clothing, beds, mattresses, and appliances. He supported Eleftherios Venizelos' rise to power and also was a member of the Liberal Party. Our mother, Eleftheria was an excellent homemaker and treated the servants with kindness and respect. However, she was a stickler for the servants to complete their duties promptly. She didn't like hearing excuses.   

My father's party membership proved invaluable in helping him to expand his business contacts with other parts of Greece. He considered opening stores in Patras and Salonika but internal politics prevented him from doing so. So long as Venizelos remained in power life was beautiful for our family.

During the great war, our nation was torn into two halves with each one trying to destroy the other. We survived with Venizelos winning his battle for supremacy against King Constantine in June 1917. At this time, I completed my law degree at the University of Athens. My father always wanted me to become a lawyer. It was said that lawyers made lots of money. In time, I would find out the truth the hard way.

I furthered my legal studies by attending the Sorbonne University in Paris and graduating in June 1920. As a law graduate, I sought to work as a lawyer. I applied to several leading Athenian law firms only to be told there were no available positions. I didn't want to work in my father's business. I needed to work to show my independence from my parents.

I saw an advertisement for a journalist in the Athens daily newspaper Ethnos which caught my attention. I applied and got the job as a reporter for this Venizelist newspaper in September 1920. Initially, I was covering the social events of the Athens elite. I found this boring and unstimulating. I needed something more exciting to show off my writing skills. Yes! the opportunity came with the November elections of 1920. 

One day my editor, Kostas Demertzis, called me into his office and told me that my social event reports were uninteresting. Some wealthy elite complained to the newspaper owner, Spyros Nikolopoulos that I should be fired. These rich people thought I was insulting them in the way I wrote about their lifestyles. I told my editor that I wasn't happy reporting on social events.

Kostas said, "I should fire you, but since your father is known to Venizelos, I will give you another chance." That was sweet music to my ears. During October, the Venizelists and Royalists were sharpening their knives for an election that would have dire consequences for Greece.

I was allowed to report on the November election. I was in total shock when Venizelos lost. On the bright side, I was happy seeing my news reports being well received on both political sides. The Royalists were exuberant with their win and asked the Greek people to approve the return of King Constantine from his exile in Switzerland to Greece. The Venizelists abstained from the referendum whereas the royalists voted enthusiastically for Constantine's return.

Our newspaper adopted an independent editorial and news reporting policy. We didn't want our offices raided and destroyed like December 1916. During that time, royalist thugs damaged the printing presses of the Venizelist newspapers in Athens. Nikolopoulos wanted to ensure that we supported our government's foreign policy in Asia Minor. In domestic politics, our reports tried to be even-handed as much as possible without offending the venizelists and royalists.

My editor was so pleased with my reports that he decided to send me to London to cover the Allied conference to amend the Treaty of Sevres in February/March 1921. I was over the moon ready to mingle with the leading political figures of Great Britain, France, and Italy. Of course, my job was to get exclusive interviews with our Greek delegation led by Nikolaos Kalogeropoulos and Dimitrios Gounaris. While we weren't allowed inside to cover the conference proceedings, a daily press bulletin of the day's discussion was issued to journalists.

I secured an exclusive interview with the prime minister, Kalogeropoulos to find out what was being discussed in camera. He didn't divulge everything but stated that our allies wanted to amend the Treaty of Sevres in favor of the Turks. He mentioned that our army in Asia Minor was ready to sweep the Kemalists into the dustbin of history. Kalogeropoulos mentioned the duplicity of the French and Italians supporting every Kemalist claim. They hated King Constantine, especially the French. As a Greek, I was disheartened that our allied friends had conspired to deprive us of our lawful gains arising out of the recent Great War.

I filed daily reports of the conference to my newspaper in Athens. I did my best to present a favorable position regarding our nation's case. I spoke with French, Italian, British, and American journalists who covered the conference for their respective journals. I found the French and Italian journalists opposed us on every count whereas the British tendered to be more sympathetic to our cause. The conservative Times of London didn't like us very much whereas the Manchester Guardian tended to be pro-Greek because of the British prime minister, Lloyd George.

The conference finished and I was back at my desk in Athens in late March. We received a news report that our army had suffered an unexpected reversal in Asia Minor. I can imagine the Kemalists being ecstatic with their victory. Kalogeropoulos's claims rang hollow in my ears. I wondered whether we were capable of winning our war in Asia Minor. I was also concerned about the fate of our fellow Greeks in Smyrna and Pontos should the Kemalists win in the end. A loss would mean slaughter and Turkish reprisals against our Greek compatriots.

I considered writing a book about my experience at the London Conference. I decided against it at this stage as I felt that our presence in Asia Minor was uncertain. I hoped that our recent military rebuff could be converted into a stunning victory bringing glory to Greece. I dreamed of our army occupying the Kemalist capital, Angora (Ankara). The next chapter would be exciting and disastrous.

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