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Historical Observations: Vlasis Gavriilidis’ Story

Vlasis Gavriilidis, whose father Gavril was a goldsmith, was born in Constantinople in 1848. He graduated from the Great School of the Nation and studied political science and philosophy at the University of Leipzig with a scholarship from Baron George Sinas (banker and benefactor).

Upon his return to Constantinople, he used the pages of the magazine Eptalofos to publish a series of articles covering the ‘General History of Greek Tragedy’ and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In 1868, he founded the newspaper Omonoia, which later merged with Neologos. His next publication Reform (Metarrythmisis) got him into trouble with Ottoman officialdom for publishing an article describing the persecution of Greeks in Constantinople. Sultan Abdul Hamid II didn’t take too kindly to his article and Vlasis was sentenced to death in absentia by an Ottoman court.

He left Constantinople secretly in 1877 and arrived in Athens where he spent the remainder of his life. At first, he worked as an editor in the Journal of Debates which was the mouthpiece of politician Epaminondas Deligeorgis. The latter served as prime minister for 14 days, October 20- November 3, 1865.

His next venture was the publication of the satirical leaflet Rambagas, first published on August 12, 1878, whose aim was to awaken the Greeks from their laziness and indifference. Vlasis and his friend Cleanthis Triantaphyllos were arrested for insulting the king and held in remand. They were both acquitted by the Athens Criminal Court on December 16, 1879.

He left Rambagas in 1880 and published the bi-weekly political-satirical newspaper ‘Mi Hanese’ (Do not get lost). Vlasis borrowed the title Mi Hanese from Greek politician Alexandros Koumoundouros, who used it against his political opponents when things got difficult and complicated. Among the collaborators of the new newspaper was Alexandros Papadiamantis, who subsequently published his historical novel, The Merchants of the Nations. Three years later, it changed its name to the daily Acropolis, which published militant articles that challenged the political status quo. Its first edition was published on October 30, 1883. Vlasis was an admirer of the British press whose journalistic style of reporting and interviews of the leading political leaders modernized Greek journalism.  At the same time, he brought to Greece the latest type of printing machines, such as the cylindrical printing press, named Mammoth, which were used for printing for many years not only Acropolis but also other newspapers and magazines.

In one of the last editions of Do Not Get Lost, Gavriilidis outlined his new vision in publishing. “We want to make Acropolis one of the main organs of social culture and economic struggle as Public Opinion must fight for the good of the Homeland. We will not belong to a Party, alternately supporting and fighting, alternately co-opting and opposing. When the shipwright and the doorman of the hotel and the caretaker of a square appear every morning with a newspaper in hand, then we can say that Greece is a civilized place,” Vlasis said.

His radicalism continued to land him into trouble with institutions and individuals. Two examples will be cited. In one case, enraged officers of the Athens Guard destroyed the offices of Acropolis on August 20, 1894. In a series of articles, Gavriilidis had called for the reorganization of the Army and the cessation of military involvement in politics. The second issue involved the controversial publication of the Gospel of St Matthew into demotic Greek which greatly annoyed the Orthodox Church and led to what became known as the Gospel riots in 1901.

In 1904 he was arrested again for using the columns of his newspaper to accuse King George I of excessive spending and circumventing the Constitution. Vlasis was tried on January 12, 1905, in the Criminal Court of Syros and was acquitted by the jurors. He wholeheartedly supported the movement in Goudi (1909) and was one of the supporters of Eleftherios Venizelos, although at first, he was cautious towards the future Greek premier.

From 1915, Vlasis faced serious financial problems because he was above all a journalist and not a businessman. Circulation of Acropolis was low and his other publications, newspapers Evening Acropolis and Patriotis, and magazines Kyriaki and Adodo (From All to All) didn’t fare any better either. He was offered financial assistance, which he declined to maintain the independence of opinion of his newspaper. Vlasis was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away on April 12, 1920, in the offices of Acropolis. Some months later, Acropolis ceased publication but it restarted again in 1929.

Four prominent Greeks: the politicians Emanuel Repoulis and Alexandros Papanastasiou, Kostis Palamas (Poet), and Paul Nirvanas (journalist whose real was Petros Apostolidis) commented on Gavriilidis’s life, giving him a very good report card for his contribution to journalism.

Repoulis stated that “Gavriilidis combined great power of speech and exceptional artistic mood. This gave excessive charm to what he wrote.” On the other hand, Papanastasiou revealed said, “in his moments as a journalist, librarian, satirist, scholar, dreamer, painter, poet – refreshed and warmed by all the currents of spiritual life – he gave flesh to his ideas and movement to his impressions.”

Palamas noted “he was a teacher, with a torch on the right, with which he constantly circled in the darkness, illuminating, revealing, guiding, catechizing to all points, to all directions, and all paths. The instrument of speech has never become such an instrument of culture as it did in the service of this journalist.”

Finally, Nirvanas said “a few days ago, Athens still saw a white-haired ambassador, with red cheeks, eyes full of lightning, with a smile on his face, barefoot, with his hat in his hand walking in the parks, on the streets, in the countryside… What did he write? Nothing whole, scattered leaves, scattered columns, scattered lines in the fierce journalistic wind. So mixed up, confused with the events of the day, inseparable from them, hidden under them and animating them in their ephemeral radiance. What is happening today overturned the next day. He lived in constant transformation. This unfamiliar rule was a teacher to a few. It was a time when dozens of journalists wrote as he, that is, in black, cheerful, cool whistles, because no one could beat him.”

Gavriilidis was no stranger to controversy and revolutionized Greek journalism by challenging the political status quo of his time.

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