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This article is about the Greek politician. For the airport named for him, see Corfu International Airport.
His Excellency
Ioannis Kapodistrias
Ιωάννης Καποδίστριας
File:Kapodistrias2.jpg
Governor of Greece
In office
May, 1827 – 9 October 1831
Preceded by Andreas Zaimis
as President of the Governmental Commission
Succeeded by Augustinos Kapodistrias
Foreign Minister of Russia
In office
1816–1822
Preceded by Nikolay Rumyantsev
Succeeded by Karl Nesselrode
Personal details
Born 11 February 1776(1776-02-11)
Corfu, Ionian Islands under Venetian rule
Died 9 October 1831 (aged 55)
Nafplion, Greece
Religion Greek Orthodox

Count Ioannis Antonios Kapodistrias (11 February 1776 – 9 October 1831), sometimes anglicized as John Capodistrias (Greek: Κόμης Ιωάννης Αντώνιος Καποδίστριας Komis Ioannis Antonios Kapodistrias;[1] Russian: граф Иоанн Каподистрия Graf Ioann Kapodistriya; Italian: Giovanni Capo d'Istria Conte Capo d'Istria), was a Greek Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire and one of the most distinguished politicians and diplomats of Europe.[2][3][4][5] After a long career in European politics and diplomacy he was elected as the first head of state of independent Greece (1827–33) and he is considered as the founder of the modern Greek State,[6][7][8][9] and the founder of Greek independence.[10]

Background and early careerEdit

Ioannis Kapodistrias was born in Corfu to a distinguished Corfiote family.[11] Kapodistrias' father was the nobleman, artist and politician Antonios Maria Kapodistrias (Αντώνιος Μαρία Καποδίστριας).[1][12] 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;[13] the title originates from Capodistria,[14][15] a city on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Venice, now Koper in Slovenia and the place of origin of Kapodistrias' paternal family before they moved to Corfu in the 13th century where they changed their religion from Catholic to Orthodox and became hellenized.[16][17] His family's name in Capodistria was Vitori or Vittori.[16][17]

His mother was Adamantine Gonemis (Αδαμαντία (Διαμαντίνα) Γονέμη), a countess,[12] and daughter of the noble Christodoulos Gonemis (Χριστόδουλος Γονέμης).[18] The Gonemis were a Greek[18][19][20] family originally from the island of Cyprus,[10] they had migrated to Crete when Cyprus fell to the Ottomans in the 16th century.[10] They then migrated to Epirus when Crete fell in the 17th century, finally settling on the Ionian island of Corfu.[10]

File:Kapodistrias Home in Corfu.jpg

The Gonemis family, like the Kapodistrias, had been listed in the Libro d'Oro (Golden Book) of Corfu.[21][22] Kapodistrias, though born and raised as a nobleman,[23] was throughout his life a liberal thinker and had democratic ideals.[4] His ancestors fought along with the Venetians during the Turkish sieges of Corfu and had received a title of nobility from them.[2][24][25]

Kapodistrias studied medicine, philosophy and 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.[1][2][26][27][28] In 1799, when Corfu was briefly occupied by the forces of Russia and Turkey, Kapodistrias was appointed chief medical director of the military hospital. In 1802 he founded an important scientific and social progress organisation in Corfu, the "National Medical Association", of which he was an energetic member.

Minister of the Septinsular RepublicEdit

File:Kapodistrias-statue-190px.jpg

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 – the Septinsular Republic – ruled by its nobles.[1] 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.

When Russia sent an envoy, Count George Motsenigo (1762-1839), a Noble from Zante who had served as Russian Diplomat in Italy, Kapodistrias became his protégée. Motsenigo later helped Kapodistrias to join the Russian diplomatic service.

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 minister of state, he organised the public sector, putting particular emphasis on education. In 1807 the French re-occupied the islands and dissolved the Septinsular Republic.[1]

Russian diplomatic serviceEdit

In 1809 Kapodistrias entered the service of Alexander I of Russia.[29] 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.[30] 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).

File:Kapodistrias statue and Palaio Frourio in Corfu.PNG
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.[29] Kapodistrias' liberal ideas of a new European order so threatened Metternich that he wrote in 1819:[29]
Kapodistrias is not a bad man, but honestly speaking he is a complete and thorough fool, a perfect miracle of wrong-headedness...He lives in a world to which our minds are often transported by a bad nightmare.
—Metternich on Kapodistrias, [29]

Metternich then tried to undermine Kapodistrias' position in the Russian court because he realised that Kapodistrias' progressive vision was antithetical to his own.[29] 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.

More than anyone else he possesses the art of devaluing opinions that are not his own; the most honourable life, the purest intentions are not sheltered from his insinuations. It is thus with profound ingenuity that he knew how to neutralize the influence of Count Capodistrias, the only one who could counterbalance his own
—French ambassador on Metternich, [29]

Metternich, by default, succeeded 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.[29]

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.

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.[31] 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.[1] 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.[1]

Return to GreeceEdit

File:Ioannis Kapodistrias bust.jpg
File:Με το ψήφισμα της Τρίτης Εθνικής Συνέλευσης ο Καποδίστριας εκλέχτηκε Κυβερνήτης της Ελλάδας.jpg

Kapodistrias moved 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.[32] 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 – Governor).

After touring Europe to rally support for the Greek cause, Kapodistrias landed in Nafplion on 7 January 1828, and arrived in Aegina on 8 January 1828.[33] 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 continued, 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 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 a liberated Greece.

AdministrationEdit

File:Kapodistrias In Front of Ionian Academy.jpg

Upon 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.[34]

According to legend, although Kapodistrias ordered that potatoes be handed out to anyone interested, the population was reluctant at first to take advantage of the offer. The legend continues, that he then ordered that the whole shipment of potatoes be unloaded on public display on the docks of Nafplion, and placed it under guard to make the people believe that they were valuable. Soon, people would gather to look at the guarded potatoes and some started 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.[34]

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.[35] However, he underestimated the political and military strength of the capetanei (καπεταναίοι – commanders) who had led the revolt against the Ottoman Turks 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.

Hydriot rebellion and the Battle of Poros Edit

George Finlay's 1861 History of Greek Revolution records that by 1831 Kapodistrias's government had become hated, chiefly by the independent Maniates, but also by the Roumeliotes and the rich and influential merchant families of Hydra, Spetses and Psara. The Hydriots' 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 the Russian Admiral, Piotr Ivanovich 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 corvette Spetses (once Laskarina Bouboulina's Agamemnon) sunk by Ricord'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 Nafplion.

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 this led to his downfall.

AssassinationEdit

File:Kapodistrias murder by Pachis.jpg

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 Nafplion.

Kapodistrias woke up early in the morning and decided to go to church although his servants and bodyguards urged him 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. Subsequently King Otto was given the throne of the newly founded Kingdom of Greece.

Legacy and honoursEdit

File:Kapodistrias grave in the monastery of Platytera, Corfu.jpg

Kapodistrias is greatly honoured in Greece today. In 1944 Nikos Kazantzakis wrote the play "Capodistria" in his honour. It is a tragedy in three acts and was performed at the Greek National Theatre in 1946 to celebrate the anniversary of 25 March.[36] The University of Athens is named "Kapodistrian" in his honour; the Greek euro coin of 20 lepta bears his face, as did the obverse of the 500 drachmas banknote of 1983–2001,[37] before the introduction of the euro, and a local re-organisation programme that reduced the number of municipalities in the late 1990s also carries his name. The fears that Britain, France and Russia had of any liberal and Republican movement at the time, because of the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution, led them to insist on Greece becoming a monarchy after Kapodistrias' death. His summer home in Koukouritsa, Corfu has been converted to a museum commemorating his life and accomplishments and has been named Kapodistrias Museum in his honour.[38][39] It was donated by his late grand niece Maria Desylla-Kapodistria, to three cultural societies in Corfu specifically for the aforementioned purposes.[39]

On 8 December 2001 in the city Capodistria (Koper) of Slovenia a lifesize statue of Ioannis Kapodistrias was unveiled in the central square of the municipality.[15] The square was renamed after Kapodistrias,[40] since Koper was the place of Kapodistrias' ancestors before they moved to Corfu in the 14th century.[15][40] The statue was created by Greek sculptor K. Palaiologos and was transported to Koper by a Greek Naval vessel.[15] The ceremony was attended by the Greek ambassador and Eleni Koukou, a Kapodistrias scholar and professor at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.[15]

In the area of bilateral relations between Greece and Slovenia the Greek minister for Development Dimitris Sioufas met on 24 April 2007 with his counterpart Andrej Vizjak, Economy minister of Slovenia, and among other things he mentioned: "Greece has a special sentimental reason for these relations with Slovenia, because the family of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Governor of Greece, hails from Koper of Slovenia. And this is especially important for us."[41]

On 21 September 2009, the city of Lausanne in Switzerland inaugurated a bronze statue of Kapodistrias. The ceremony was attended by the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, Sergei Lavrov and of Switzerland, Micheline Calmy-Rey.[42]

ReferencesEdit

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  32. Ioannis Capodistrias, guardian angel of independence of the Vaud, Capodistrias-Spinelli-Europe, 27 September 2009
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Further readingEdit

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  • Stella Ghervas, "Le philhellénisme russe : union d’amour ou d’intérêt?", in Regards sur le philhellénisme, Geneva, Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations (Mission permanente de la Grèce auprès de l’ONU), 2008.
  • Stella Ghervas, Réinventer la tradition. Alexandre Stourdza et l'Europe de la Sainte-Alliance, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2008. ISBN 978-2-7453-1669-1
  • Stella Ghervas, "Spas' political virtues : Capodistria at Ems (1826)", Analecta Histórico Médica, IV, 2006 (with A. Franceschetti).

External linksEdit

Government offices
Preceded by
Nikolay Rumyantsev
Foreign Minister of Russia
1816–1822
with Karl Nesselrode
Succeeded by
Karl Nesselrode
Political offices
Preceded by
Andreas Zaimis
as President of the Governmental Commission
Governor of Greece
1827–1831
Succeeded by
Augustinos Kapodistrias

Template:GreekPresidents Template:Heads of government of Greece Template:Ioannis Kapodistrias Template:Greek War of Independence Template:Foreign ministers of Russia and the Soviet Union

Template:Authority control

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