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Stefanos Skouloudis: An Unknown Premier

Stefanos Skouloudis was born in the Pera district (Beyoglu) of Constantinople, on November 23, 1838. In 1852 his parents sent him to Athens to complete his high school studies. He attended the Medical School of the University of Athens in 1856 but found it not to his liking and returned to Constantinople to work in the family business.

In 1859 he was hired by the famous Ralli trading house and in 1863 was appointed manager of all the company stores in the Ottoman Empire. He was one of the founders of the Bank of Constantinople, together with Andreas Syggros, Georgios Koronios, and Antonios Vlastos in 1868. The bank participated in 1873 in the creation of the Lavrion Metallurgical company together with individuals Vassilios Melas, Evangelos Baltazzis, Ioannis Skaltsounis, and Ari Papadof. He had established close ties with the Greek government and was regarded as an ‘authority’ on Ottoman diplomatic relations. Having acquired a large fortune, he decided to settle in Athens in 1876.

Premier Alexandros Koumoundouros dispatched secret envoys to Epirus and Corfu to communicate with Albanian chiefs, to organize a combined revolt against the Turks. Discussions were also opened with certain Albanian political leaders “among them Abdul Bey Frasheri, Mehmet Ali Vrioni, and others.” These talks started in July 1877 and continued into December with Skouloudis as the Greek negotiator. They failed in Corfu in February 1878 just as the Russo-Turkish war was coming to an end due to Greek distrust of the Albanians, who harboured their own territorial ambitions. The Greek government believed that the Albanians, being Muslim, would support the Turks in the end. After the Congress of Berlin in June 1878, Skouloudis travelled to Constantinople in August 1879 representing the city of Ioannina in the negotiations which ceded Thessaly and part of Epirus to Greece.

In 1880 he was elected advisor to the National Bank of Greece and remained there until 1883. He founded a company in Paris with his partner Vouros that undertook the drainage of Lake Copais in 1882.

He gradually reduced his business activities and devoted his time to politics. In 1881 he was elected Member of Parliament for the first time, representing Syros. From November 1882 to December 1884, he served as Greek envoy to the embassy in Madrid. In 1886, after the Bulgarian occupation of Eastern Rumelia, Premier Theodoros Deligiannis appointed Skouloudis as his representative in the negotiations in Constantinople. In 1892 he was re-elected to parliament in the party of Charilaos Trikoupis, this time representing Thebes. He took up ministerial duties for the first time as Minister of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs and then later as Minister of the Navy.

During the years 1893-1896, Skouloudis undertook various overseas missions to obtain loans, participating in the efforts of the Trikoupis and Deligiannis governments to settle the country’s economic problems and avoid the inevitable bankruptcy. In 1896 he participated in the organizing committee of the First Olympic Games, despite his objections to the cost of the Games, which far exceeded the estimates of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. In 1897 he took over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under prime minister Dimitrios Rallis and from this position, he experienced the unfortunate Greek-Turkish war and the negotiations for the preliminary peace treaty between Greece and Turkey. In 1905 he was re-elected member of parliament for Thebes.

Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) staged a revolution in Goudi in August 1909 demanding the resignation of the Crown Prince from the army “who was said to have shown favouritism” and the reinstatement of NCOs “who had been dismissed three months earlier.” Their demands included wide-ranging political and military reforms which were eventually accepted by the government of Mavromichalis. Skouloudis and Dragoumis were touted as potential premiers until the advent of Eleftherios Venizelos to power in October 1910. Skouloudis was invited by Eleftherios Venizelos in November 1912 to attend the Balkan peace conference in London as a plenipotentiary of Greece.

In October 1915, Greece was in the middle of a major political crisis over foreign policy differences between Venizelos and King Constantine when the latter dismissed the former from office. The short-lived Zaimis government refused the allied request to go to Serbia’s aid and even rejected the British cession of Cyprus. They lost the vote in parliament, with Zaimis tending his resignation to the King. In response, Constantine appointed Skouloudis as premier on November 5 with new elections being held two weeks later. The Venizelists boycotted the election stating the dissolution of parliament by the King was unconstitutional. Skouloudis continued as prime minister and was consumed with issues related to the war and the maintenance of Greek neutrality.

Skouloudis’ eight months in office caused problems for the Anglo-French when the Royalist government refused to transport Serbian troops via a land route from Corfu to Thessaloniki. They were eventually transported via sea to Salonika in May 1916. He even threatened to disarm Anglo-French forces if they entered Greek soil from Serbia. The allies were very angry with the surrender of Fort Rupel in Eastern Macedonia to a German-Bulgarian force in May 1916. Skouloudis claimed that he had no knowledge of this event but the documents in Greek White Book show that he did have prior knowledge of it. He was forced to resign by the Allies on June 9, 1916, and was replaced by Alexandros Zaimis.

On June 27, 1917, Eleftherios Venizelos returned to power and Greece soon entered the war on the side of the Anglo-French. Venizelos deemed the November 1915 election unconstitutional and Skouloudis was accused of high treason because he collaborated with the king. He was remanded in custody and referred to the Special Court together with his cabinet. The trial lasted until November 1920 with charges eventually dropped after the elections of November 1920 which resulted in the electoral defeat of Eleftherios Venizelos. In 1921 the Parliament officially declared the accusation and the whole procedure invalid.

His banking and business activities made him one of the most important Greek capitalists of his time and contributed to the creation of a large personal fortune of movable and immovable property. He had many personal acquaintances and connections with prominent figures of the banking and political world in Constantinople, Greece, and Europe.

Skouloudis developed an important charitable activity, bequeathing many of his assets to various institutions. An avid collector of paintings, he compiled a great collection, which he donated to the National Gallery in Athens. He was unmarried and lived in a luxury residence in Syntagma Square, where the King George Hotel is located today. At the same time, he maintained a country villa in Freattida of Piraeus and a hunting lodge in Sounion. He died of old age and was almost blind in Athens on August 20, 1928.

 

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