Physician, Diplomat, Statesman, First Governor of Greece (1776 – 1831)
In Greece, he is known as the “Hagios tis Politikis” (Saint of Politics), while in Switzerland he is revered as a national hero. He is Ioannis Kapodistrias, a charismatic and illustrious politician who, through his covert but decisive contribution to the Greek War of Independence and profound influence in the internal and external affairs of Greece led not only to the foundation of a strong, independent Greek nation, but also succeeded in transforming Greece to a country of European standards from the ground up in a time period of just 3 years.
Among Kapodistrias’ most notable contributions and reforms are the following:
- Kapodistrias gathered all the powers of the state to his hands and disregarded the constitution. This was necessary because of the political anarchy at the time of his arrival.
- He built schools because there weren’t any. Since there weren’t enough teachers, the students from the higher classes would teach the students of the lower classes.
- He founded universities. The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is named after him, even though it was founded by King Otto in 1837.
- He built orphanages, nursing homes for the elderly, post offices.
- He built roads, bridges and houses since everything was destroyed by the war, all with his own money.
- Kapodistrias adopted strict austerity measures to stabilize the country’s economy.
- There were no banks. With the help of the Swiss philhellene Eynard, he founded the National Bank of Greece.
- There was no currency. He minted the Phoenix.
- He passed numerous laws for the betterment of justice. He founded appellate courts and Justice of the Peace courts.
- In 1828, Kapodistrias founded the Hellenic Military Academy and gave it the name Evelpides meaning Bearers of Hope. Having also enforced the military, he expanded the nation’s borders to include parts of west Steraeia Hellada.
- He fought against piracy in the Aigean with the help of Andreas Miaoulis.
- He introduced the potato. The ingenious way by which he did it is well-known.
- When serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia in Moscow in 1813, he was approached by his long time friend Athanasios Tsakalov and his brother, who persuaded him to found a secret organization for awakening of the ethic-religious consciousness of the Greeks. Kapodistrias, on the other hand, proposed that the organization had two scales. One called the “Mystiki Archi” (The Secret Principle), which would be based in Moscow, and another called “Philiki Hetairia” (Society of Friends) based in Odessa. Tsakalov would lead the first scale of the organization for safety reasons so that Kapodistrias would not put his position in danger. The three of them would be the only members of the first scale. Therefore, on March 1813, Athanasios Tsakalov, his brother and Ioannis Kapodistrias found the three organizations and take an oath that they will fight for independence of Greece to the death. Through Athanasios Tsakalov, Mystiki Arche would command the Society of Friends. Hence, the actual reason why the Filiki Hetairia surpassed all the other secret organizations in terms of success was not only because of Kapodistrias’ huge sums of money that were poured in the organization to support it, but also because of his patriotism and genius political intellect. Kapodistrias had managed to remain undercover so well throughout the years, that even to this day, many historians are not aware of his involvement in the secret societies for the Greek War of Independence.
- Kapodistrias clashed with Metternich and successfully managed to keep Greece away from the clutches of the Holy Alliance, whose aim was to hinder any revolutionary acts in Europe.
- Kapodistrias had envisioned the revival of the Byzantine Empire. For this reason, he and his friend Petrobeis Mavromichalis searched for a suitable descendent of the Palaiologos lineage to place as a king. Unfortunately, this never came to pass.
- Kapodistrias’ work expanded to Switzerland, where he is responsible for making the country’s banking system to what it is today. He divided the country to 19 counties and contributed significantly to the creation of their constitution. He is also responsible for the neutrality of Switzerland.
- In June 8, 1828, Kapodistrias published circular number 2953 and in August 26, 1831 circular number 4286 according to which every form of secret societies that were based in Greece, such as Freemasonry, were declared illegal by the state. Members of secret societies were prohibited from holding public positions and those who would not declare their membership would be persecuted. 48 days later, Kapodistrias is assassinated. The witnesses at the time of the event suggest that Kapodistrias was most likely assassinated by his guard Kozonis and a man disguised as a beggar just outside the church.
Kapodistrias devoted his entire life in reviving the Greek nation. He never married nor had any children. He would always pay the expenses from his own money and preferred living his life as a poor. It is well known that he insisted the money he was paid during his career as Governor of Greece to be given to the poor and that he get nothing. He fulfilled his oath and ultimately sacrificed his life for his ideas. Today, numerous statues of him can be seen throughout Greece, Switzerland and Russia commemorating the quintessence of a virtuous political figure.
- Ayfantis, Georgios. Anthropos & Epistimi – Aphypnisis. Athens: Hellinikon Selas, 2009. Print.
- Barbis, Kostas. Jackals and Hyenas of the Greek Politics. Thessaloniki: Kadmos, 2012. Print.
- Konstantaras, Konstantinos. Ioannis Kapodistrias. Athens: Hilektron, 2016. Print.
Ιωάννης Καποδίστριας. Ευεργέτης και ήρωας στην Ελβετία, την οποία οργάνωσε σε σύγχρονο, ουδέτερο και λειτουργικό κράτος. Θύμα δολοφονίας στην Ελλάδα. mixanitouxronou.gr. Web. Retreived on October 12, 2015.