Portrait of the Politician as a Young Man

by Tatiana Averoff (Author)
©2017 Others XXIV, 384 Pages


This book chronicles Greece’s turbulent history during the first half of the twentieth century as it both shaped and was shaped by one of its most distinguished political figures, Evangelos Averoff-Tossizza. Written by his daughter, the book is part historical biography, part coming-of-age novel, part memoir. It draws extensively on Averoff’s prolific literary oeuvre and personal archives, while weaving seamlessly back and forth from past to present in a voice all its own. We follow the protagonist from his birth in 1908, when Greece was still a monarchy reeling from the losses of the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, to the late 1940s and the Civil War, by which time Averoff had become a seasoned, cosmopolitan politician. In the interim, as the protagonist contends with the vagaries of history and a captivating cast of supporting characters, we see him grow into a living, breathing person, endowed with the complexity and humour so often denied the one-dimensional figures of official history. A labour of love and a meditation on loss and transcendence, the book celebrates the raw pain, passion, ambition, love and, at times, sheer luck that shape who we are.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Book I: The Call of the Earth, 1908–1920
  • Chapter 1: Birth, 17 April 1908
  • Chapter 2: The Call of the Earth
  • Chapter 3: Lollis, Larissa, Summer 1918
  • Chapter 4: The Bounties of the Threshing Floor, Larissa, Summer 1919
  • Chapter 5: Mika
  • Chapter 6: Uprooting
  • Book II: Land of Sorrow, 1920–1927
  • Chapter 7: Rebirth, Athens, 1920
  • Chapter 8: Land of Sorrow
  • Chapter 9: Past and Present
  • Chapter 10: On the Magic Mountain
  • Chapter 11: The Long Winter
  • Chapter 12: Farewells
  • Book III: ΓΗ ΔΕΛΦΥΣ, 1927–1941
  • Chapter 13: Third Birth
  • Chapter 14: Post Tenebras Lux
  • Chapter 15: Γη Δελφύς
  • Chapter 16: Pougio
  • Chapter 17: In the Time of the Big Wind
  • Chapter 18: Where Many Fall, Death Has No Meaning
  • Chapter 19: The Prefect, 2 March 1941
  • Chapter 20: Taketh This Cup from Me
  • Chapter 21: Under Occupation
  • Chapter 22: This is Greece, Larissa, 1942
  • Chapter 23: Farewell, Larissa, 29 April 1942
  • Book IV: When the Gods Forgot, 1942–1945
  • Chapter 24: Fourth Birth
  • Chapter 25: When the Gods Forgot
  • Chapter 26: In Excellent Health and Spirits
  • Chapter 27: A Fugitive in Rome
  • Chapter 28: Liberty or Death
  • Chapter 29: Repatriations
  • Book V: Walnut Trees in the Stony Earth, 1945–1947
  • Chapter 30: Fifth Birth
  • Chapter 31: Metsovo! Metsovo!
  • Chapter 32: Walnuts Trees in the Stony Earth
  • Chapter 33: Dina
  • Appendix: Photographs
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Averoff: Portrait of the Politician as a Young Man weaves together the coming-of-age novel, biography, history and memoir to bring to life the early years of one of Greece’s most influential and distinguished political figures and man of letters, Εvangelos Averoff-Tossizza (1908–1990). Indeed, Averoff, scion of one of Greece’s most notable families, played a primary role in the political life of his country for nearly half a century and became the most eminent Vlach in Greek public life, serving as Prefect, parliamentarian, Deputy Minister and Minister of Supply, Finance and Agriculture in the early years of his career alone. From 1956–1963, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, acting on behalf of Greece in the critical national issues of that period. During the military dictatorship (1967–1974) he was imprisoned for his attempts to overthrow the regime. With the restoration of democracy, he assumed the sensitive role of Minister of National Defence (1974–1981) and within a few years succeeded in reorganizing and purging the armed forces. Later in his career, he served as vice president of the government and leader of the official opposition, and in 1984 was proclaimed honorary chairman of the New Democracy party.

This book, however, presents the reader with another, lesser-known side to the distinguished public figure: his early life, intellectual development and political seasoning during the first five decades of the twentieth century. We follow the protagonist, young Lollis, from his birth in rural Trikala and his early education in Athens, to his convalescence for consumption in a Swiss sanatorium and university studies in Lausanne, to his early political postings (in Corfu and then Athens) and his involvement in the Second World War as resistance operative and prisoner of war. In so doing, the book also chronicles the turbulence of the period, from 1908, when Greece was a monarchy reeling from the losses incurred during the Greco-Turkish Wars of 1897, through the Second World War and Greece’s involvement in the resistance against the Axis powers, to the late 1940s and the strife of the Civil War. Fundamental to this interlacing of personal ← xiii | xiv → and historical narratives is the protagonist’s growing awareness of his role in the political life of the country, especially as it relates to his regional ties to Epirus (where he continues his great-uncle, Georgios Averoff’s, legacy as National Benefactor) and, relatedly, his insistence on the centrality of the Koutsovlach identity to Greek nationalism.

Written by his daughter, Tatiana Averoff, the book draws from a diverse range of sources: Evangelos Averoff’s own rich corpus of novels, short stories, plays, essays, historical works and political writings; personal and family archives (the letters are published for the first time); as well as works of history and the author’s own reminiscences. Rather than a biography in the conventional Anglo-Saxon sense, then, the book is more properly categorized as a vie romancée, a genre with a long and established history in Greece that calls attention to the nature and complexities of what constitutes identity and historical narrative. Shaped as it is by the interplay and layering of personal accounts and memories and a variety of official narratives, both factual and fictional, the book also attests to the multi-faceted character of Averoff himself. For despite, or perhaps because of, the singularity of his career, he was a man of many interests and talents: an intellectual, a consummate man of letters and a pioneering force in the promotion of regional development, particularly in his ancestral village of Metsovo, which to this day exemplifies a model of development attentive to historical and cultural heritage. The book therefore resurrects the little-known youth of a father the author barely knew by plumbing the expressive and imaginative possibilities offered by layering different types of narrative forms.

Opening with the protagonist’s birth in Trikala in 1908 and closing in the late 1940s in the midst of the Civil War with his marriage to Dina Lykiardopulou, the book chronicles the ways in which Lollis both shapes and is shaped by the major political and cultural transformations of the period. There is, of course, a long and complex history to these transformations which, for the purposes of the book, begins with the Megali Idea (the Great Idea) an irredentist concept of Greek nationalism that, after the Greek War of Independence in 1830, sought to incorporate Greece’s ‘lost lands’ – areas in the Ottoman Empire inhabited by ethnic Greeks, for example – within the borders of the new nation state. The influence of the Megali ← xiv | xv → Idea is present throughout the book, most notably in the references to the Balkan Wars (1912 and 1913) and the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) that culminated in the Great Fire of Smyrna (1922) and a crushing Greek defeat.

Indeed, land and earth are images laden with personal, cultural and national resonances in the book. Lollis’s love for the earth, the importance of farming and agriculture and the national quest to acquire ‘lost lands’ are all interrelated. Opening as it does in Trikala in 1908, the novel also presents us with the tensions and debates about Greece’s rapid modernization, which saw the overall population double and the urban population triple in the 100-year span from the early 1800s to the early 1900s. By the end of the nineteenth century, land reforms had redistributed expropriated estates to Greek peasants, creating a class of free, independent farmers. These reforms paved the way for the spread of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos’s reformist liberal democratic policies, which included economic and constitutional reforms and reorganization of the army and navy. In fact, Venizelos looms large throughout the novel; the young Lollis is greatly influenced by him and the reasoned and moderate political thought of one of his Ministers, Alexandros Papanastasiou. Their example of modernizing reform and impassioned patriotism is what sets the young Lollis on his own political trajectory. The ‘modern miracle of Metsovo’, fruit of his desire to bring education, economic development, medical care and culture to his beloved village in Epirus, is perhaps the clearest testament to this influence, and, as the author notes, ‘one of [his] greatest achievements.’

The political background to the novel is complex, marked by the country’s transition from a Kingdom to a Republic (the Second Hellenic Republic) in 1924 and fraught by political dissensions that led to twenty-two transitions in the office of Prime Minister from 1901 to 1922 alone. The major cause of this dissension until the 1940s was the National Schism, the bitter disagreements between Eleftherios Venizelos and the King that had major repercussions on Greek society, including a change in the role of the King in the state; Greece’s defeat in the Greco-Turkish War; and the rise of the dictatorial regime of Ioannis Metaxas. Another aspect of these tensions, particularly post-1930s, is the growing schism between the communists and right-wing conservatives that erupted during the Second World War as resistance groups of different political affiliations clashed, ← xv | xvi → culminating in the White Terror persecution of leftists and the outbreak of the Civil War (1946–1949).

These internal schisms were also marked by external pressures that speak to Greece’s singular position on the threshold between East and West and, as the author puts it, its ‘irredeemable division between two opposing poles.’ The richness and diversity of its history and culture, as well as its often-precarious position in the world of international politics are referenced in the book, from the vagaries of the Koutsovlach issue and its strategic use in the interests of Romanian and Italian expansionism, to its importance in the Cold War struggles for power that erupted right after the Second World War.

Against this backdrop, little Lollis forges the lasting relationships (both real and imaginary) and overcomes the obstacles – constant uprootings and brushes with death – that laid the foundations for the emergence of the mature Vangelis, the familiar public figure. The book thus presents us with a two-part coming of age story: the protagonist’s maturation from a young country boy into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan and dynamic political figure is both paralleled and offset by the transformations of the country he loves. And in so doing, the author gives us a window into the controversies and complexities that shaped both. As she writes, ‘You’ve been called an ultraconservative, a hardliner, a coalition builder, one of the party’s true believers, a fascist. You’ve been called a gentleman politician, a visionary, a reformer, a realist, an ideologue … Who is the real you? Who is the real me? What do I mean by “real”?’

Patricia Felisa Barbeito

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This book could not have been written without the sustained assistance, support and encouragement of countless friends, colleagues and experts. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

In particular, I wish to thank:

My editor, Eleni Boura, for her invaluable eye and detailed and thoughtful revisions every step of the way during the writing of this book.

Maria Kouli, for translating hundreds of pages of handwritten letters in French from my father to Baron Michael Tossizza; as well as Betty Karatza and Lily Panousi for digitizing the Greek manuscripts.

Professor Mario Rende from the University of Perugia for generously and enthusiastically sharing his extensive research on the Ferramonti concentration camp.

Stratis Haviaras and my beloved friends, Poppy Lira and Victoria Samara, for their indefatigable critical sensibilities and faith in me.

Sotiris Ioannou, for always being my very first reader and the mainstay of my life.

For the book’s second life in English:

I warmly thank Patricia Felisa Barbeito for her inspired translation, work and collaboration, and my beloved cousin Michael Lykiardopulo, for his initiative and generous support from beginning to end.

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For the past twenty years, I’ve been trying to get to know you – the real you behind your many personas. Obstinately, for twenty years, I read, researched, hoarded like a magpie every little trace of you I came across in the annals of both history and hearsay, and I filed it away carefully, hoping that one day I’d write about you. Perhaps the time has finally come. How much easier it would be if I had come to know you while you were still alive, but you cast a formidable shadow and I kept running as fast as I could to get out from under it and come into my own. They say that you have to become your own person to truly love. What a pity I didn’t manage it in time, that the two of us weren’t in sync. How much simpler it would be if I had you across from me now and could ask questions directly, instead of combing through archives, memories, fictions. Who are you? Were you ever able to reconcile your contradictions? Are you bewildered by your many lives? What do you, the real you, keep hidden deep inside your every move? Would you answer, I wonder? Would you dare?

I remember the dream you used to talk about with such pretend nonchalance in your later years. ‘How strange,’ you began the same way each time we gathered around the dining table. ‘Last night, I dreamed of our old estate in Trikala again. In the distance, my dearly departed mother Euthemia was sadly shaking her head at me: “You’re eating meat again, Lollis? You shouldn’t be eating meat every day, it’s bad for you. Don’t you remember how I used to feed you greens and pulses? Now that you’ve lost your tie to the land, you’re ruining your health!”’ Then you’d quarrel with ‘your Dinaki’1 because she was raising us like English princesses, not only with regard to our ← xxi | xxii → diet, but everything else as well. You’d snap at her to stop turning up her nose at everything Greek and to kindly ask the cook to bake a Greek pie stuffed with greens next time. Why did I think of this right now? How strange memory can be at times. A sack full of images that one haphazardly sifts through and then knits together, coloured as they are by the past and the present, the here and the there. I must focus on the facts and try to remember. In fact, father did not quarrel with ‘his Dinaki’ about such things. The Chasm of Albion was a fact of life, shaping the very foundations of our family – there was no use in quarrelling about it. They quarrelled about other, less serious things. Did I say less serious? The truth is in the eye of the beholder. I remember, father, the rows, the shouting. I remember mother dressing for a night out: handbag, clothes, hair, makeup. Hours on end, and still she wasn’t ready. In vain, you scolded and pleaded, and in the end, you’d go down to the car and start honking at regular intervals, in the hopes that she’d be embarrassed by the disturbance to the neighbours and would finally hurry. But no, she must have always been a little deaf. I remember, father, how she’d wander around at night rifling through her trunks and you weren’t able to sleep: ‘For God’s sake, I have to deal with important matters tomorrow, I need my rest!’ The voice of despair. Do you know how frightening that is for a child? You of all people, our superhero father, whose slogan was ‘Everything is Possible.’ You, who always won and even when you didn’t, you’d always come out on top. If you weren’t able to handle mother, how was I supposed to? She was unflappable, ‘What do you mean, you aren’t getting any rest. You’ve been asleep for ages. I’m not keeping you up!’ The mundane, comical confrontations of domestic life the world over. Except that here, beneath it all, lay the Chasm, and that was the frightening part. It was only after you were gone, father, and mother declined so quickly, that we dared to call her deafness an ‘illness’ instead of a ‘peculiarity.’ That, too, was a relief for us. How sorry I am that you were not there for it. How sorry I am for the loneliness of your deathbed, your pain doubled by the fact that your Dinaki wasn’t there to hold your hand, but she had already gone, father, we just didn’t know it yet. ← xxii | xxiii →

Why have I gone on a tangent? We were talking about your dreams, always small variations on the same theme: the hidden fear, the anxiety that you’d become completely cut off from your roots, from the land, from your mother, from the values that made you the person you are. But who are you really, the person you chose to become or someone completely different? Did you lose your way? Did you ever become indifferent? What did you betray? Certainly not other people because in that respect you always went above and beyond. So perhaps you betrayed yourself, but which self? I heard you. I understood, even when what you were ostensibly talking about was pulses and vegetables. Don’t forget that I studied psychology in order to come to grips with you; so yes, I understood, but I didn’t say a word. I needed another round of studies in order to prepare for that task. I puzzled over your words and perhaps for the first time I empathized and felt a tenderness for you. It was eye-opening to see that you too had anxieties, doubts and weaknesses. It’s so difficult to empathize with a superhero. Now, for the first time I had an inkling of the chinks in your armour, and suddenly I wanted to find out more, to learn about the person behind the mask. The one who was once a child like me, vulnerable, unformed, full of possibility.

1 ‘aki’ and ‘oula’ (feminine only) are affectionate diminutives often added to names of family and friends. The name ‘Dina’ becomes ‘Dinaki’ or ‘Dinoula.’ [Translator’s note]


XXIV, 384
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
Greek history and politics, 1900-1950 Evangelos Averoff-Tossizza, biography Averoff personal archives and correspondence
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. XXIV, 384 pp., 20 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Tatiana Averoff (Author)

Tatiana Averoff is the author of five novels. Her work has received numerous awards and nominations and has appeared in edited volumes, magazines and newspapers throughout Greece. Since 1995, she has served as Director of the Averoff Museum of Modern Greek Art in Metsovo, part of the Evangelos Averoff-Tossizza Foundation, a public service institution over which she has presided as chairwoman since its foundation in 1988. Since 1991, she has also served as Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Baron Michael Tossizza Foundation which, since the 1950s, has played a pivotal role in the economic development and cultural renaissance of the region.   Patricia Felisa Barbeito is Professor of American Literatures at the Rhode Island School of Design and a translator of Greek fiction and poetry.


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