Historical Observations: Stefanos Skouloudis – An Unknown Prime Minister
Stefanos Skouloudis was born in the Pera (Beyoglu) district of Constantinople on November 23, 1838. In 1852, his parents sent him to Athens to complete his secondary education. He attended medical school at the University of Athens in 1856 but did not find it to his liking and returned to Constantinople to work in the family business.
In 1859 he was hired by the famous Ralli trading house and in 1863 he was appointed as the manager of all the company’s stores in the Ottoman Empire. He was one of the founders of the Bank of Constantinople, together with Andreas Syggros, Georgios Koronios and Antonios Vlastos in 1868. The bank took part in the creation of the company Lavrion Metallurgical in 1873 with the individuals Vassilios Melas, Evangelos Baltazzis, Ioannis Skaltsounis, and Ari Papadoff. He had established close ties with the Greek government and was considered an “authority” on Ottoman diplomatic relations. Having acquired a large fortune, he decided to settle in Athens in 1876.
Prime Minister Alexandros Koumoundouros dispatched secret envoys to Epirus and Corfu to communicate with Albanian leaders, to stage a combined revolt against the Turks. Discussions were also opened with some Albanian political leaders “including Abdul Bey Frasheri, Mehmet Ali Vrioni and others”. These talks began in July 1877 and continued into December with Skouloudis as Greek negotiator. They failed in Corfu in February 1878 as the Russo-Turkish War drew to a close due to Greek distrust of the Albanians, who harbored their own territorial ambitions. The Greek government believed that the Albanians, being Muslims, would support the Turks in the end. After the Congress of Berlin in June 1878, Skouloudis went to Constantinople in August 1879 to represent the city of Ioannina in the negotiations which ceded Thessaly and part of Epirus to Greece.
In 1880, he was elected adviser to the National Bank of Greece and remained there until 1883. He founded a company in Paris with his partner Vouros which undertook the drying up of Lake Copais in 1882.
He gradually reduced his business activities and devoted his time to politics. In 1881, he was elected deputy for the first time, representing Syros. From November 1882 to December 1884, he was sent from Greece to the embassy in Madrid. In 1886, after the Bulgarian occupation of Eastern Rumelia, Prime Minister Theodoros Deligiannis appointed Skouloudis as his representative in the negotiations in Constantinople. In 1892, he was reelected to parliament in the party of Charilaos Trikoupis, this time representing Thebes. He took ministerial office first as Minister of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs and later as Minister of the Navy.
During the years 1893-1896, Skouloudis undertook various missions abroad to obtain loans, participating in the efforts of the Trikoupis and Deligiannis governments to solve the country’s economic problems and avoid inevitable bankruptcy. In 1896, he participated in the organizing committee of the First Olympic Games, despite his objections to the cost of the Games, which far exceeded the estimates of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. In 1897, he took the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Prime Minister Dimitrios Rallis and in this position he learned about the unfortunate Greek-Turkish war and the negotiations of the preliminary peace treaty between Greece and Turkey. In 1905, he was re-elected deputy for Thebes.
Non-commissioned officers (non-commissioned officers) staged a revolution in Goudi in August 1909 to demand the resignation of the army crown prince “who allegedly showed favoritism” and the reinstatement of non-commissioned officers “who had been dismissed three months earlier”. Their demands included sweeping political and military reforms which were eventually accepted by Mavromichalis’ government. Skouloudis and Dragoumis were touted as potential prime ministers until Eleftherios Venizelos came to power in October 1910. Skouloudis was invited by Eleftherios Venizelos in November 1912 to attend the Balkan peace conference in London as as Plenipotentiary of Greece.
In October 1915, Greece was in the midst of a major political crisis over foreign policy differences between Venizelos and King Constantine when the latter dismissed the former from office. The short-lived Zaimis government refused the Allied request to come to the aid of Serbia and even rejected the British cession of Cyprus. They lost the vote in parliament, with Zaimis tendering his resignation to the king. In response, Constantin appointed Skouloudis Prime Minister on November 5, and new elections were held two weeks later. The Venizelists boycotted the election declaring that the king’s dissolution of parliament was unconstitutional. Skouloudis remained Prime Minister and was absorbed in the problems associated with the war and the maintenance of Greek neutrality.
Skouloudis’ eight-month tenure caused problems for the Anglo-French when the royalist government refused to transport Serbian troops via an overland route from Corfu to Thessaloniki. They were finally transported by sea to Salonica in May 1916. He even threatened to disarm the Anglo-French forces if they entered Greek soil from Serbia. The allies were very angry at the surrender of Fort Rupel in East Macedonia to a German-Bulgarian force in May 1916. Skouloudis claimed he had no knowledge of this event, but Greek White Book documents show that he had prior knowledge of it. . He was forced to resign by the Allies on June 9, 1916 and was replaced by Alexandros Zaimis.
On June 27, 1917, Eleftherios Venizelos returned to power and Greece soon entered the war alongside the Anglo-French. Venizelos ruled the November 1915 elections unconstitutional and Skouloudis was charged with high treason for collaborating with the king. He was remanded in custody and returned to the Special Court with his cabinet. The trial lasted until November 1920 and the charges were finally dropped after the November 1920 elections resulted in the electoral defeat of Eleftherios Venizelos. In 1921, Parliament officially declared the charge and the whole procedure invalid.
His banking and trading activities made him one of the most important Greek capitalists of his time and contributed to the creation of a large personal fortune of movable and immovable property. He had many acquaintances and personal relationships with personalities from the banking and political world in Constantinople, Greece and Europe.
Skouloudis developed an important charitable activity, bequeathing many of his assets to various institutions. An avid collector of paintings, he built up a large collection, which he donated to the National Gallery in Athens. He was single and lived in a luxury residence in Syntagma Square, where the King George Hotel stands today. At the same time, he maintained a country villa in Freattida of Piraeus and a hunting lodge in Sounion. He died of old age and was nearly blind in Athens on August 20, 1928.