Historical Observations: Nikolaos Stratos: From Venizelist to Royalist

Nikolaos Stratos was born in Athens in 1872, studied law at the University of Athens, and held several ministerial portfolios – including that of premier in May 1922. This article will focus on particular episodes of his political career.

As Minister of Marine (1912-13), Stratos was an advocate of naval power as a tool of Greek foreign policy. Having a long coastline made Greece susceptible to an attack by Turkey. The best way to overcome this problem was the acquisition of battleships that could be procured from British or French firms. Stratos suggested that Greece acquire battleships whereas premier Eleftherios Venizelos opposed it.

Venizelos confided to Lt. Ioannis Metaxas that “we are not going to embark on a naval policy alone, but only allied to the great powers. Our naval dispositions should therefore be made [by] their wishes. The English do not need Greek dreadnoughts.”

In his book titled: ‘Greek naval strategy and policy 1910-1919’ Zisis Fotakis states that “Stratos’ argument for procuring battleships was sound as long as Turkey also built a battleship.” Stratos also failed to understand that Britain was increasing its use of submarines to protect its territory.

He was forced to resign in November 1913 under Venizelos because of a coal contract and immediately left the Liberal party. After this, he opposed Venizelos and joined the royalists.

When Dimitrios Gounaris replaced Venizelos as premier in March 1915, Stratos was appointed as Minister of Marine. The New York Times reported on an interview that Stratos gave to the correspondent of the Corriere Della Sera, Olindo Bitetti, in April, 1915 regarding his changed position over Greece’s participation in the Dardanelles campaign. He stated that: “It is true that before I accepted office I was in favor of Greece taking part in the operations in the Dardanelles” and claimed that members of the Venizelist Cabinet assured him of allied promises of territorial compensation in Asia Minor, by Greece joining the allies. Allied overtures to Greece were mere promises, not guarantees according to Stratos. Similar promises were made by the allies in connection with Greece going to strengthen Serbia’s defence against Austro-Hungary.

During March-April 1915, Bulgaria’s attitude to the war was unclear, with one group supporting Austro-Hungary and the other Russia. If Bulgaria joined the allies, then Greece would immediately follow suit. Declaring war on Turkey meant that Greece would achieve its long-cherished dream of occupying Constantinople. However, the Russians opposed it as the city with adjacent territory had been promised to them by the Anglo-French in one of the secret treaties of World War I (WWI). The secret treaties were negotiated by the allies and divided Ottoman territory into spheres of influence at the end of the war.

King Constantine pursued a neutral foreign policy until his abdication was forced by the French in June, 1917.

When Venizelos returned to power in June, 1917 he won a vote of confidence on August 11, 1917, in Parliament. The Royalist politicians and military officers known for their pro-German proclivities were exiled to Corsica for the remainder of WW I, whereas Stratos remained active as the leader of the conservative party.

At the end of WW I, Venizelos presented Greece’s territorial claims in Paris in February, 1919. In April, 1919, Stratos and Kalogeropoulos wrote a long letter to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson supporting Greek claims at the peace conference. The sole aim was to promote national claims and he believed that the only solution to the eastern problems concerning Hellenes lay in the re-establishment of a single national state made up “from the present kingdom, North Epirus, Thrace, Constantinople with Gallipoli Peninsula, Vilayets of Aidin and Brusa, the Dodecanese, Cyprus, and assuring the Greeks of [Pontus] an independent political life.” Strangely, Stratos opposed Venizelos personally and yet supported the latter’s territorial claims.

Venizelos lost the November, 1920 election to the royalists, paving the way for the return of ex-King Constantine to Greece. On December 20, 1920, the Washington Post suggested that Stratos, the leader of the conservative party, would become premier at this time. Stratos intended to “smash Kemal’s army and retain Smyrna,” and believed Greece would still be able to finance its military campaign in Asia Minor. He denied being pro-German, noting he had supported the Dardanelles expedition. On January 25, 1921, the British Minister in Athens, Lord Granville reported that “Gounaris secured a very large majority of anti-Venizelists and Stratos recognized this fact and agreed to vote for the Gounarist candidate for the presidency of the Chamber.” Constantine and Prince Nicholas told a British journalist that Gounaris, however, was viewed unfavorably by the allies. The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, then agreed with Constantine that Stratos was acceptable to the allies as premier.

In May 1922, Gounaris resigned as premier despite having secured “a majority of one in a division following a financial debate.” The resignation occurred over differences in taxation policy between Gounaris and his finance minister Petros Protopapadakis. Stratos became premier for less than a week with the Gounarist deputies opposing his policy agenda, prompting him to tender his resignation to King Constantine. Afterwards, Gounaris and Stratos put their differences aside and agreed that Protopapadakis would become premier and Constantine swore in the Protopapadakis Cabinet.

After the Greek debacle in Asia Minor, Stratos, along with other royalist politicians and military officers, were arrested by the Revolutionary Committee and charged with treason in October, 1922. They were executed the following month at Goudi, just outside Athens.

In conclusion, Stratos’s resignation from the Liberal Party in 1913 and the subsequent political events which followed led to his execution in November, 1922.



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