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This Week in History: April 9th to 15th

April 11th:

On this day in 1990, Konstantinos Mitsotakis became Greece’s Prime Minister after his New Democracy party won the elections. Born in Chania, Crete, Mitsotakis came from a political family – his father and grandfathers were members of parliament, and the statesman Eleftherios Venizelos was his uncle. Mitsotakis studied law and economics in Athens. He was active in the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Crete (1941-44) and was arrested twice and sentenced to death. Mitsotakis was first elected to parliament in 1946 as a member of the Liberal Party. In the early 1960s, he joined the new Centre Union, a centre-left coalition organized by Georgios Papandreou, and he became minister of Finance in Papandreou’s government. In July 1965, Papandreou became involved in a power struggle with Greece’s King Constantine II. Mitsotakis, with other Centre Union deputies (the ‘July apostates’), defected from the party and joined the pro-monarchist forces in a series of coalition governments. Mitsotakis’ action incurred the lasting animosity of Papandreou’s son, Andreas (who also eventually became prime minister of Greece). Mitsotakis was arrested in 1967 by the military junta but managed to escape to Turkey with the help of the Turkish foreign minister. He lived in exile with his family in Paris, France, until his return to Greece in 1974 following the restoration of democracy. In 1977, he founded the centrist New Liberal Party, and in that same year he was elected to parliament. One year later, Mitsotakis accepted a cabinet post in the government of Konstantinos Karamanlis, and shortly afterward, he joined Karamanlis’ centre-right New Democracy Party. In 1984, Mitsotakis became party leader, and then prime minister in 1990.

April 13th:

On this day in 1970, Greek composer and political figure Mikis Theodorakis was released after having been arrested during the 1967 military coup in Greece. Born on July 29, 1925 on the island of Chios, Theodorakis studied at both the Athens and Paris conservatories. He was a member of the wartime resistance and remained active in politics, serving several times in the Greek Parliament. He is best known outside of Greece for his music for the films Zorba the Greek (1964), Z (1969), and State of Siege (1972). Theodorakis has also composed much concert music, including seven symphonies, four operas, ballets, and more than 1,000 songs. Even during his exile, Theodorakis served as the greatest ambassador of Greek music, playing thousands of concerts around the world. Theodorakis is now retired and mainly spends his time publishing texts on his earlier work and contemporary political events. Many in Greece still hail him as a national hero.

April 15th:

On this day in 1946, Stylianos Kyriakides won the 50th Boston Marathon. Kyriakides was the first and only Cypriot athlete to win the event. Born near Paphos in Cyprus, Kyriakides was the youngest of five children. He left home at an early age so that he could find work to help his poor farming family. He landed a job working for Dr. Cheverton, a British medical officer, who encouraged the young Kyriakides to start running. An athlete himself, Dr. Cheverton saw potential in Kyriakides and bought him his first set of running gear, gave him coaching advice, and taught the young Cypriot how to speak English. In 1938, Kyriakides came to the United States by ship to run in the Boston Marathon. However, he had to drop out of the race because of blisters he developed from running with a new pair of sneakers and no socks. It has been said that he promised Jerry Nason, the Boston Globe sports editor at the time, that he would return to America and win the race. After World War II, Kyriakides, now 36-years-old, decided to sell his furniture in order to buy a ticket to come back to Boston for another chance at winning the Marathon. When he crossed the finish line of the race, he shouted, “For Greece!” As a result of his win, the United States sent Kyriakides back to Greece with the ‘Kyriakides Aid Package,’ which included 25,000 tons of supplies and $250,000 in cash for the war-stricken Greek nation. Today, at the 1-mile mark of the Boston Marathon stands a 12-foot-tall statue called the ‘Spirit of the Marathon.’ The statue depicts Spyridon Louis, the Greek winner of the first modern Olympic marathon in 1896, and Kyriakides, one of Boston’s greatest underdog stories.

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