The Parliament of the Lazaruses


ON 13 JUNE 1917, Eleftherios Venizelos (photo) formed a new government based on the electoral results of the 1915 elections. Because of this "resurrection" of the 1915 parliament, it became known as the "Parliament of the Lazaruses".

The three elections during 1910-1912 that saw Venizelos become entrenched in Greek politics brought radical reforms and restructuring to the Greek political system, delineating (as

This Week in History

political scientist Nikos Mouzelis says) the transition from an oligarchic to a post-oligarchic system. However, these changes were accompanied by an intense underlying institutional crisis that was, to a large degree, mitigated by the victories of the First and Second Balkan Wars.

It was the tumultuous conditions of the First World War that precipitated the eruption of social tensions. With "national consummation" being a main pivot, these tensions took on tremendous dimensions and led to a national schism. Prime Minister Venizelos, foreseeing an Allied victory, wanted Greece to enter the war on the side of the Allies and garner national benefits like the annexation of northern Ipeiros, pieces of Asia Minor, Thrace and other areas inhabited by unredeemed Greeks. But King Constantine, a relative and friend of the German royal family, wanted the country to remain neutral.

This disagreement between Venizelos and the king led to elections on 31 May 1915 in which the Venizelist Liberal Party garnered 186 of the 316 seats (and 6 independent Venizelist deputies). Although Venizelos won in most areas, he was completely defeated in newly liberated Macedonia, mostly due to the votes of ethnic/religious minorities like Turks who ironically voted for Dimitrios Gounaris' National-minded (Ethnikofron) Party. King Constantine refused to ratify the appointment of the new government until August. The resulting parliament did not mitigate the crisis.

At this time, tensions between Serbia and Bulgaria were escalating, drawing Bulgaria on the side of the Axis and threatening Greece's northern borders. Venizelos wanted to formalise a pact with Serbia, but the king would agree to this only if Greece was actually attacked. Trying to force things, Venizelos allowed British and French troops to use Macedonia as a staging area for operations in Gallipoli and pushed a parliamentary vote on war against Bulgaria.

In retaliation, the king invoked his constitutional right to unilaterally terminate the government. Venizelos was forced to resign once again in September 1915, and parliament was dissolved a month later. The Venizelists, as well as half the electorate, boycotted the next elections held on 6 December 1915. The lopsided parliament that resulted did not last half a year - it was abolished in June 1916.

Tensions reached a head the following year with both sides exacerbating the situation. Things were confused in the public eye, and when the Allies actually landed in Thessaloniki a large majority of the population saw this as a violation of national sovereignty, a position adopted by the king. However, in May 1916 when Axis troops took control of Macedonia (interning a Greek Army Corps) with the sanction of the palace, the people were outraged by what they believed was the king's collusion with the Axis and his betrayal of Greek territorial integrity.

On 30 August 1916, pro-Venizelist officers (part of the Ethniki Amyna, or National Defence, society) in Thessaloniki staged a coup that was only partly successful in that it established a second provisional government headed by Venizelos in the northern Greek city. This was eventually recognised by Britain and France. Essentially, the country was divided in two with both sides engaged in a veritable low-intensity frontier war along Thessaly. In Athens, fighting between Venizelists and Royalists culminated in the November events, with Greek reservists and French Marines fighting it out in Athens and the Allies blockading Greece for 106 days.

The blockade eventually succeeded in forcing Constantine to abdicate in favour of his son Alexander. It was at this time that Venizelos came to Athens and took over the government, reinstating the parliament that had come out of the May 1915 elections.

Even under these coup-like circumstances, the Parliament of the Lazaruses was officially to end its term in May 1919. However, it was extended until 1 November 1920 through a series of four edicts because of the extraordinary circumstances emanating from the war against the Bolsheviks and the post WWI peace accords.

During its time, the Parliament of the Lazaruses managed to pass several important laws (especially agrarian reform) and to ratify the Treaty of Sevres. Alas, the elections of 1920 were a complete debacle for the Venizelists.

(Posting date 24 June 2008)

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