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Kapodistrias (Καποδίστριας) Ioannis Antonios
Count Ioannis Antonios Kapodistrias was a Greek diplomat of the Russian Empire and later first head of state of independent Greece.
Ioannis Kapodistrias was born in Corfu, 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 Kapodistrias' 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 and the place of origin of Kapodistrias' family before they moved to Corfu in the 13th century where they changed their dogma from Catholic to Orthodox and they soon became hellenized. His family's name in Koper was Vitori or Vittori. His mother's family, the Gonemi, had been listed in the Libro d'Oro since 1606. In 1802 Ioannis Kapodistrias 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, Kapodistrias 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, in 1799 Russia and the Ottoman Empire drove the French out of the seven Ionian islands and organised them as a free and independent state Ц the Septinsular Republic Ц ruled by its nobles. Kapodistrias, substituting for his father, became one of two ministers of the new state. Thus, at the age of 25, Kapodistrias 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 Kapodistrias, he was impressed by the political and ethical worth of the man.
When elections were carried for a new Senate, Kapodistrias 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 1807 the French re-occupied the islands and they dissolved the Septinsular Republic.
In 1809 Kapodistrias 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 Kapodistrias joint Foreign Minister of Russia (with Karl Robert Nesselrode).
In the course of his assignment as Foreign Minister of Russia, Kapodistrias' ideas came to represent a progressive alternative to Metternich's aims of Austrian domination of European affairs.
Metternich then tried to undermine Kapodistrias' position in the Russian court because he realised that Kapodistrias' progressive vision was antithetical to his own. Although Metternich was not a decisive factor in Kapodistrias' leaving his post as Russian Foreign Minister, he nevertheless attempted to actively undermine Kapodistrias by rumours and innuendo. According to the French ambassador to Saint Petersburg, Metternich was a master of insinuation and he attempted to neutralise Kapodistrias because he viewed him as the only man capable of counterbalancing Metternich's own influence on the Russian court.
Metternich, by default, succeeeded in the short term since Kapodistrias eventually left the Russian court on his own, but with time Kapodistrias' ideas and policies for a new European order prevailed.
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 decadesТ 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.
Kapodistrias 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, but the British gave him the cold shoulder partly because of the fact that, uncharacteristically, he refused to show them the memorandum he wrote to the czar about the subject. Kapodistrias became increasingly active in support of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire, but did not succeed in obtaining Alexander's support for the Greek revolution of 1821. This put Kapodistrias in an untenable situation and in 1822 he took an extended leave of absence from his position as Foreign Minister and retired to Geneva where he applied himself to supporting the Greek revolution by organising material and moral support.
Kapodistrias 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 Kyvernetes (Κυβερνήτης Ц Governor).
After touring Europe to rally support for the Greek cause, Kapodistrias landed in Nafplion 7 January 1828 and arrived in Aegina on 8 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.
From the first capital of Greece, Nafplion, he ushered in a new era in the country, which had just been liberated from a 400 year Turkish occupation. He founded schools, established Foundations for young women to work and inaugurated the first university. These Institutes educated the first teachers of liberated Greece.
On his arrival, Kapodistrias 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 Kapodistrias 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 Kapodistrias, 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 Kapodistrias' 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 Ц 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.
George Finlay's 1861 History of Greek Revolution records that by 1831 Kapodistrias's government had become hated, chiefly by the independent Maniotes, but also by the Roumeliotes and the rich and influential merchant families of Hydra, Spetses and Psara. The Hydrans' customs dues were the chief source of the municipalities' revenue, so they refused to hand these over to Kapodistrias. It appears that Kapodistrias had refused to convene the National Assembly and was ruling as a despot, possibly influenced by his Russian experiences. The municipality of Hydra instructed Admiral Miaoulis and Mavrocordatos to go to Poros and to seize the Hellenic Navy's fleet there. This Miaoulis did, the intention being to prevent a blockade of the islands, so for a time it seemed as if the National Assembly would be called.
Kapodistrias called on the British and French residents to support him in putting down the rebellion, but this they refused to do, but Admiral Richord (or Ricord) took his ships north to Poros. Colonel (later General) Kallergis took a half-trained force of Greek Army regulars and a force of irregulars in support. With less than 200 men, Miaoulis was unable to make much of a fight; Fort Heidek on Bourtzi Island was overrun by the regulars and the brig Spetses (once Laskaria Bouboulina's Agamemnon) sunk by Richord's force. Encircled by the Russians in the harbor and Kallergis's force on land, Poros surrendered. Miaoulis was forced to set charges in the flagship Hellas and the corvette Hydra, blowing them up when he and his handful of followers returned to Hydra. Kallergis's men were enraged by the loss of the ships and sacked Poros, carrying off plunder to Nauplion.
The loss of the best ships in the fleet crippled the Hellenic Navy for many years, but it also weakened Kapodistrias's position. He did finally call the National Assembly but his other actions triggered more opposition and that led to his downfall.
In 1831, Kapodistrias 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 (September 27 in the Julian Calendar) Kapodistrias was assassinated by Petrobey's brother Konstantis and son Georgios on the steps of the church of Saint Spyridon in Nafplio.
Kapodistrias woke up early in the morning and decided to go to church despite the urges of his servants and bodyguards to stay at home. When he reached the church he saw his assassins waiting for him. When he reached the church steps, Konstantis and Georgios came close as if to greet him. Suddenly Konstantis drew his pistol and fired, missing, the bullet sticking in the church wall where it is still visible today. He then drew his dagger and stabbed Kapodistrias in the stomach while Georgios shot Kapodistrias in the head. Konstantis was shot by General Fotomaras, who watched the murder scene from his own window. Georgios managed to escape and hide in the French Embassy; after a few days he surrendered to the Greek authorities. He was sentenced to death by a court-martial and was executed by firing squad. His last wish was that the firing squad not shoot his face, and his last words were "Peace Brothers!" Ioannis Kapodistrias was succeeded as Governor by his younger brother, Augustinos Kapodistrias. Augustinos ruled only for six months, during which the country was very much plunged into chaos. Consequently, King Otto was given the throne of the newly founded Kingdom of Greece.
Greece, 1930, Ioannis Kapodistrias
Greece, 1971, Signature and seal of Kapodístrias
Greece, 2008, Ioannis Kapodistrias