Monday, June 18, 2007

Ioannis Kapodistrias in Wiki

Ioannis Capodistrias was born in Corfu, (Κέρκυρα - Kerkyra in Greek), one of the Ionian Islands, which at the time of his birth were a possession of Venice. He studied medicine, philosophy and the law at Padua, in Italy. When he was 21 years old, in 1797, he started his medical practice as a doctor in his native island of Corfu. He was throughout his life a deeply liberal thinker and a true democrat, though born and raised as a nobleman. An ancestor of Capodistria's had been created a conte (count) by Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy, and the title was later (1679) inscribed in the Libro d'Oro of the Corfu nobility; the title originates from Capodistria, a city on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Venice, now Koper in Slovenia. His mother's family, the Gonemi, had been listed in the Libro d'Oro since 1606. In 1802 Ioannis Capodistria founded an important scientific and social progress organisation in Corfu, the "National Medical Association", of which he was an energetic member. In 1799, when Corfu was briefly occupied by the forces of Russia and Turkey, Capodistria was appointed chief medical director of the military hospital.
After two years of revolutionary freedom, triggered by the French Revolution and the ascendancy of Napoleon, the seven Ionian islands were recognised in 1801 by Russia and the Ottoman Empire as a free and independent state — the Septinsular Republic — ruled by its nobles. Capodistria, substituting for his father, became one of two ministers of the new state. Thus, at the age of 25, Capodistria became involved in politics. In Cephallonia he was successful in convincing the populace to remain united and disciplined to avoid foreign intervention and, by his argument and sheer courage, he faced and appeased rebellious opposition without conflict. With the same peaceful determination he established authority in all the seven islands. He listened to the voice of the people and initiated democratic changes to the "Byzantine Constitution" that the Russian-Ottoman alliance had imposed, which caused the Great Powers to send an envoy, George Motsenigo, to reprimand him. However, when the envoy met Capodistria, he was impressed by the political and ethical worth of the man. When elections were carried for a new Senate, Capodistria was unanimously appointed as Chief Minister of State. In December, 1803, a less feudal and more liberal and democratic constitution was voted by the Senate. As a minister of state he organised the public sector, putting particular emphasis on education.
In 1809 Capodistria entered the service of Alexander I of Russia. His first important mission, in November 1813, was as unofficial Russian ambassador to Switzerland, with the task of helping disentangle the country from the French dominance imposed by Napoleon. He secured Swiss unity, independence and neutrality, which were formally guaranteed by the Great Powers, and actively facilitated the initiation of a new Constitution for the 19 cantons that were the component states of Switzerland, with personal drafts. In the ensuing Congress of Vienna, 1815, as the Russian minister, he counterbalanced the paramount influence of the Austrian minister, Prince Metternich, and insisted on French state unity under a Bourbon monarch. He also obtained new international guarantees for the Constitution and neutrality of Switzerland through an agreement among the Powers. After these brilliant diplomatic successes, Alexander I appointed Capodistria joint Foreign Minister of Russia (with Karl Robert Nesselrode).
He was always keenly interested in the cause of his native country, and in particular the state of affairs in the Seven Islands, which in a few decades’ time had passed from French revolutionary influence to Russian protection and then British rule. He always tried to attract his Emperor's attention to matters Greek.
Capodistria visited his Ionian homeland, by then under British rule, in 1818, and in 1819 he went to London to discuss the islanders' grievances with the British government, who told him that the islands were none of Russia's business. Capodistria became increasingly active in support of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire, and in 1822 this led to his resignation as Foreign Minister.
Capodistria retired to Geneva, where he was greatly esteemed, having been made an Honorary Citizen for his past services to Swiss unity and particularly to the cantons. In 1827, he learned that the newly-formed Greek National Assembly had, as he was the most illustrious Greek-born politician in Europe, elected him as the first head of state of newly-liberated Greece, with the title of Kivernetis (Κυβερνήτης - Governor).
After touring Europe to rally support for the Greek cause, Capodistria landed at Nafplio in January 1828. It was the first time he had ever set foot on the Greek mainland, and he found a discouraging situation there. Even while fighting against the Ottomans was still going on, factional and dynastic conflicts had led to two civil wars which ravaged the country. Greece was bankrupt and the Greeks were unable to form a united national government.
On his arrival, Capodistria launched a major reform and modernisation programme that covered all areas. He re-established military unity, bringing an end to the second phase of the civil war; re-organised the military, which was then able to reconquer territory lost to the Ottoman military during the civil wars; introduced the first modern quarantine system in Greece, which brought epidemics like typhoid fever, cholera and dysentery under control for the first time since the start of the War of Independence; negotiated with the Great Powers and the Ottoman Empire the borders and the degree of independence of the Greek state and signed the peace treaty that ended the War of Independence with the Ottomans; introduced the phoenix, the first modern Greek currency; organised local administration; and, in an effort to raise the living standards of the population, introduced the cultivation of the potato into Greece.
The way Capodistrias introduced the cultivation of the potato remains famously anecdotal today. Having ordered a shipment of potatoes, at first he ordered that they should be offered to anyone who would be interested. However the potatoes were met with indifference by the population and the whole scheme seemed to be failing. Therefore Capodistrias, knowing of the contemporary Greek attitudes, ordered that the whole shipment of potatoes be unloaded in public display on the docks of Nafplion, and placed severe-looking guards guarding it. Soon, rumours circulated that for the potatoes to be so well guarded they had to be of great importance. People would gather to look at the so-important potatoes and soon some tried to steal them. The guards had been ordered in advance to turn a blind eye to such behaviour, and soon the potatoes had all been "stolen" and Capodistria's plan to introduce them to Greece had succeeded.
Furthermore, as part of his programme he tried to undermine the authority of the traditional clans or dynasties which he considered the useless legacy of a bygone and obsolete era. However, he underestimated the political and military strength of the capetanei (καπεταναίοι - commanders) who had led the revolt against Turkey in 1821, and who had expected a leadership role in the post-revolution Government. When a dispute between the capetanei of Laconia and the appointed governor of the province escalated into an armed conflict, he called in Russian troops to restore order, because much of the army was controlled by capetanei who were part of the rebellion.
In 1831, Capodistria ordered the imprisonment of Petrobey Mavromichalis, the Bey of the Mani Peninsula, one of the wildest and most rebellious parts of Greece. This was a mortal offence to the Mavromichalis family, and on October 9, 1831 ....................................... read the rest of the article in
(be careful that the Wiki material is not official and should not be taken for granted)

1 comment:

Simon Baddeley said...

This is fascinating. I recall enjoying the story of the potatoes as a typical example of Odyssean guile. I'm just surprised that other Greek people were deceived by the great man's ruse!
On of the first people I met on coming to live half the year in Corfu was a descendant of Capodistria who shared many interesting insights about the island's culture and how Corfu differs from the mainland and especially about the historical currents of Corfiot and Hellenic loyalties during the British Protectorate, and the subtle tensions between Hellenes in Greece and the might Greek disapora (I am English but have greatly benefitted from my father's second marriage to an Athenian, giving me three Greek half-sisters and a half-brother. I hope you might be interested in my blog covering living 50/50 UK/Greece:
I am presently researching details of Corfu's enosis in the British National Archives both for myself and for the historians of Ano Korakiana.