Greece and the World War One
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Amid the European alliances of 1914, Greece found itself in a quandary. It had a number of reasons for opposing the Central Powers. First, the unredeemed Greeks of the East were cause for opposing any alliance that included the Porte. Second, Bulgaria, still a rival for territory in Macedonia, had aligned itself with the Central Powers. Third, treaty obligations bound Greece to Serbia, which was in a territorial dispute with the AustroHungarian Empire over Bosnia. Finally, the Entente powers had earned Greek loyalty by supporting Greek national aspirations since the struggle for independence. On the other hand, Queen Sofia of Greece was the sister of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and the German military establishment had considerable influence among Greek military leaders, many of whom had been trained in Germany. When World War I erupted in the summer of 1914, these interests came into direct conflict, and Greece was compelled to choose a side.

King Constantine, whose sympathies were clearly with the Central Powers, believed that Greece's interests could best be served by maintaining neutrality. Prime Minister Venizelos, on the other hand, was staunchly pro-Entente. His position was reinforced in January 1915 when Britain promised to award Asia Minor (including all of modern Turkey) to Greece if Greece would lend military support to the Serbs and to the proposed British and French invasion of the Turkish mainland at Gallipoli (Geliboli). Venizelos, believing that the Entente would win the war and make good on its offer, resigned as prime minister when Constantine and the Greek general staff opposed alliance with the Entente. The dispute over national policy finally brought a constitutional crisis that came to be called the Ethnikos Dikhasmos, or the National Schism.


The Crisis of Wartime Leadership

The parliamentary election of June 1915 gave Venizelos and the Liberals a majority of seats, but the king refused to recognize the result and withheld approval of the new government until August. In this critical period, Serbia's military position deteriorated, and Bulgaria used the opportunity to declare war on Serbia and reverse the Bulgarian losses of the Second Balkan War. In this process, Sofia also claimed Macedonia and Thessaloniki. Venizelos demanded that the army be mobilized according to the terms of the mutual defense treaty with Serbia. Constantine reluctantly agreed, but only if Greece itself were attacked. Then, without informing the king, Venizelos allowed the French and British to establish a northern front for their Gallipoli attack by landing troops in Macedonia. Before Constantine could react, Venizelos escalated tensions further by orchestrating a parliamentary declaration of war on Bulgaria, which also meant a declaration of war against the Central Powers. A war motion won by a thirty-seven-vote margin, heightening the conflict between Constantine and Venizelos.

Technically, the Greek constitution gave the monarch the right to dismiss a government unilaterally, but the general understanding was that the constitutional provision would only be used when the popular will of the nation was in doubt. Nevertheless, Constantine forced Venizelos to resign once again, dissolved the new parliament, and announced a new election for December 1915.

The Schism Worsens

Together with the vast majority of the electorate, the Liberals boycotted the vote, depriving the newly elected government of all valid popular support. Through the rest of 1915 and 1916, relations between the Liberal and monarchist factions continued to deteriorate as the two sides adopted more rigid and radical positions. Popular opinion vacillated. For example, when French and British troops landed in Macedonia in December 1915 despite the protests of the king, most Greeks supported Constantine's position that the maneuver by the Entente Western Allies violated Greek sovereignty. But when monarchist military leaders allowed eastern Macedonia to fall to the Central Powers in May 1916, public opinion was outraged. Greek national opinion was becoming increasingly unclear.

By mid-1916 Greece stood on the brink of civil war. In Thessaloniki a clandestine pro-Venizelos military organization, the Ethniki Amina (National Defense), launched a coup against the government, with support from the British and French. In October Venizelos returned from Crete to lead the provisional government in Thessaloniki and form a new army to support the Entente. By the end of 1916, the British and French had recognized the provisional government and had blockaded most of Greece to force concessions from Constantine, who feared that Venizelos would topple him. For 106 days, no goods were imported or exported at central and southern Greek ports. Near-famine conditions developed in some areas. Under the leadership of Ioannis Metaxas, former aide-de-camp of Constantine and future dictator of Greece, a reactionary paramilitary unit, the League of Reservists, was founded. The league undertook a systematic campaign of terror and violence against Venizelists in Athens and against anyone who did not support the monarchy. Once a pattern of violent, sectarian reprisals had begun, it would prove very hard to stop.

Greece in War

The Allied blockade eventually rendered the king's position untenable. In June 1917, when the British and French threatened to bombard Athens if Constantine remained, the king passed his crown to his second son Alexander and left Greece, although he did not formally abdicate. Venizelos was now free to throw full Greek support behind the Allied cause.

After Greece declared war on the Central Powers in July 1917, ten divisions of the Greek army fought with great valor along the Macedonian front. In 1918 they routed German and Bulgarian positions and pushed the front line northward. Germany and its allies soon capitulated, and Greek troops were among those who
marched triumphantly into Constantinople. At the cost of splitting the nation, Venizelos had brought Greece into the war on the victorious side. To justify the cost of this result and heal the wounds caused by the National Schism, he returned to the Megali Idea.

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