Zygmunt Mineyko (1840 - 1925) and George Papandreou as family in Greece

by dr hab. Jerzy Zdrada

last update: 9 October 1999


It is too little to say of Mineyko that he was a philo-Hellenist; Greece was his true second fatherland. He left his first one, Poland, when he was 23 and spent the last 35 years of his 85 years - a long and colourful life - in the second one, the country of his choice. He was born in 1840 in Lithuania, into a patriotic Polish family, and started his anti-authocratic activity during his studies in the school of Engineering in St. Petersburg where he “stirred people up against the Tsar”. In 1863 he joined a Polish Insurrection: he organized in the forests of Lithuania an armed squad which he led into battle against Russian forces. They were beaten and he was taken prisoner. He was sentenced to death but the punishment was changed to penal servitude in Siberia. He managed to escape to France where, in 1868, he graduated from Ecole d’Application d’Etat Major. For 20 years Mineyko had worked in the service of Turkey building roads, railways and bridges in Bulgaria, Thrace, Thessaly, and Epirus. It was in Thesaly and Epirus, where he was the head engineer, that he established closer links with circles of the Greek intelligentsia. He conducted successful archeological researches near Joannina, discovering a Grecian temple in Dodona. He also made an ethnological map of Epirus. In 1880 he married Prozerpina Manarys a daughter of the director of the secondary school in Joannina and they had two sons, Stanislaus and Casimir, and five daughters: Andromacha, Hedwig, Sophia, Cecily and Aldona-Sapho. Although Zygmunt Mineyko left Poland about 1863 and was never again a permanent resident there, he never lost touch with Poland. He had written letters for Polish periodicals in Cracow and Lvov for many years (e.g. from the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens), presenting the problems of Greek politics and ethnic questions from a pro-Hellenic point of view. Having been brought up on Polish traditions of struggling for independence and having been part of the Polish Insurrection of 1863, he dreamt of re-uniting Greece.

In his letters to the Polish press and in his talks with Greek friends, he stressed that according to the dominant Polish political ideas of the time “without the regaining of freedom and independence in Poland, slavery would be common all over the world and wars would continue. Neither would the eastern question ever be solved”. That is why before and during the First World War he publicly stressed the similarities between Polish and Greek histories and political roles.

His marriage and years of work among the Greeks were the main causes of Mineyko’s attachment to the culture and concern with political problems of the Greek nation. When, in 1891, he decided to stay permanently in the Kingdom of Greece he devoted all his abilities to the country of his choice. He worked in Ministry of Public Works, he was a member of the executive committee for Crete in 1896, and in 1897 he was head of the topographic section of General Staff of the Greek Army. He became very depressed after Greece’s defeat in her war with Turkey. In 1910 he was awarded the honorary citizenship of Greece.

Mineyko particularly favored prime minister Venizelos, an eminent representative of Panhellenium and founder in 1910 of the Greek Liberal Party (“free-thinkers” - as he calls them in his diary). Mineyko accepted entirely Venizelos’ political program and his tactics as a party leader, especially after Greek success in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 which brought liberation from Turkish rule and unification of Greece. Mineyko had a large share in that success when, as an engineer and head of the cartographic service of the Greek General Staff, he prepared a plan for that outflanking movement which led to the taking of a strongly fortified Turkish position “Bizani” in the mountains which seal entry to Joannina Valley. This enabled the Greeks to seize the capital of Epirus, Joannina, in 1913. The affair became famous when in November 1919 during the trial of General Staff Officers the Athenian journals “Patris” and “Nea Ellas” revealed Mineyko’s contribution. He received then the Golden Cross of Merit.

There were casualties in Mineyko’s family during the wars of 1912-1913: on the Salonika front in 1912 Aldona-Safo’s husband was killed in battle; on the Joannina from a young relative, Antoni Mineyko from Lithuania, was killed.

Mineyko’s children started their adult lives in Greek, Polish and American environments: Stanislaw, the son, became a doctor and wrote poems in Greek; Cecily, the daughter, married John William Quinn, a professor at Washington University; Andromacha married a Polish aristocrat, Charles Potocki; Hedwig married Stanislaw Jablonowski; Sophia married George Papandreou (born 18 February 1888 in Kaldesi in Patras) a young politician who, after the annexation of Lesbos in 1912, became its governor, mandated by the Venizelos government.

The outbreak of the First World War sharpened Mineykos’ opinions on Greek politics. He, undoubtedly was a great Greek patriot and he saw his dreams of a powerful Greece fulfilled in the person of Venizelos. Mineyko was a supporter of Entante, hostile, for national reason, to Germany. That is why he fought against the pro-German position of the Greek King Constantine and his supporters. Therefore Mineyko’s diary gives a graphic picture of the internal political struggle in Greece between 1915-1925. These 10 dramatic years in Greek history are pictured by Mineyko as a struggle between good and evil. He entirely favors Venizelos and the Liberal Party, his own son-in-law Papandreou and their political friends. Therefore the politics of King Constantine’s party is presented in the diary in a completely unfavorable light, the King is “an infamous tyrant and traitor of the country” breaking the constitution, pushing Greece onto a precipice, governing by means of camarilla. He sharply characterizes the part of the army attached to the King as one which “prefers servility to patriotic obligation to the fatherland” and particularly servility to the governments the Liberal Party fought against.

But for Mineyko Venizelos is a “man of genius” understanding well the necessity of the moment and the demand for political work and “securing the great future of his Country”. Seeing in Venzilos the real creator of a new Greece, Mineyko backed entirely his conception of cooperation with Entante, being convinced that it was the only way of uniting the Greek People. So when Venizelos’s government was dismissed and the King turned toward the General Powers, Mineyko read it as a portent of the fall and partition of Greece. “There is hope” - he wrote in November, 1915 “that the nation will see it in time” and will force the government to change its politics, for Mineyko, only Venizelos return may save the territorial integrity of Greece.

Meanwhile, after Venizelos, his followers fell. Papandreou lost his position in Lesbos, dismissed by prime minister Gunarys, to the great regret of the inhabitants of Mitilini. This fact was used by Venizelos in a sharp campaign against the governments internal politics. “Free-thinkers” were gathering their forces to fight against Constantine and his supporters.

On September 22, 1916 Mineyko wrote: “Today was sent, in great secret, to avoid his arrest or even an attempt on his life, Mr. Papandreou, my son-in-law, director of Mr. Venizelos political bureau, from Athens to the island of Lesbos, to the town of Mitilini, appointed, I think, an organizer of the uprising of the whole area, that is, the islands of Limmos, Tendos and several smaller ones. At first the riots were put down but now Mr. Papandreou is to work for the realization of this great patriotic mission. I am convinced that he will successfully fulfill his mission, being gifted with expressive talents and subtle erudition. He will be one of the first spirits of this uprising”. An “enthusiast and poet”, Stanislaus Mineyko, also went with Papandreou “to provide medical help among the Greek insurgents”.

Papandreou closest relatives, his parents and Sophia, his wife, stayed in Athens for a few days in anxiety and fear, afraid both for George and Stanislaus and their own security which was threatened by repression from King Constantine’s supporters.

When, on the night of September 24/25, 1916, Venizelos safely left Athens and sailed from Piraeus to Crete there to be embraced by the victorious national uprising, the happy Mineyko wrote that “the present moment is the moment of rebirth for Greece”. His reasons for joy were numerous: for instance there was information from Lesbos about the enthusiastic reception for Papandreou and Stanislaus Mineyko by the local population. Here is Zygmunt Mineyko’s description of the events. “Mr. Papandreou, sent by Venizelos, assisted by Satnislaw Mineyko disembarked in Mitilini, where he got in touch with the young patriots, armed them, and in a bold attack on the garrison imprisoned the majority of the soldiers. During the night the remainder tries to arrest my son-in-law and son to frustrate their activity but without success [...]. My son who stayed in the town with one of the insurgents, being attacked by the soldiers fires back with a pistol from behind a tree [...]. Next day, all the authorities, both military and civilian, together with the island’s whole population, gathered in the public square to witness the proclamation of manifesto by Mr. Papandreou. He was commander-in-chief of the uprising and during his excellent speech he inspired the crowds to declare King Constantine dethroned as a traitor and a republican government established on the island of Lesbos. The royal insignia on soldiers’, officers’ and police’ uniforms were removed and abased”.

Papandreou took the leadership of the temporary national representation of Lesbos, Lemnos and several other islands. An army was formed, Stanislaus Mineyko organized a hospital. “My son-in-law rules energetically but justly” stated joyfully his well-informed father-in-law. On October 7, 1916 Venizelos came formally to Mitillini as the head of the Temporary Government, to be greeted by crowds. Some differences appeared then between Venizelos and Papandreou. Namely, the Lesbos movement was radical not only anti-royal but also republican. That is why the royal insignia were abased on Stanislaw Mineyko’s inciting of the crowd. This was too extreme for Venizelos and to the amazement of his followers (also Zygmunt Mineyko’s) he spoke in the name of the King and ordered the royal insignia to be re-attached to the uniforms. This was done by Venizelos for reasons of international politics.

Seeing that Papandreou was supported by the Mitilini population. Venizelos appointed him the general governor of the islands. However, he was soon moved to Chios, and island of much less significance.

The supporters and friends of Venizelos who remained in Athens observed these events passively. All the time they were afraid of repression. “The whole day” - wrote Mineyko in 1916 “ - we armed ourselves with pistols against possible attack”. Several days later, threatened with arrest for taking part in demonstration, the younger son Casimir escaped through the gardens to Piraeus and then to Crete, to the protection of the Temporary Government. In April 1917 Casimir was in active service at Salonika and at the beginning of 1919 he was promoted to lieutenant and rewarded with a medal for bravery. Stanislaw Mineyko also left Papandreou and sailed from Mitilini to Salonika to serve as an army doctor. In those difficult and dramatic times the household was under the care of the energetic and indefatigable Prozerpina Mineyko, who nursed her seriously ill, 80 years old husband, looked after her daughter’s interests and those of the politically active George.

In the meantime Papandreou administered Chios, saved the population from poverty and starvation, took care of the families of soldiers and the dead. Zygmunt Mineyko, fascinated by the energy and political talents of his son-in-law, considered him the most gifted politician of the Liberal Party and even Venizelos’ potential rival. Sophia stayed on Chios with her husband braving as did all the other islanders, the bombardment by land and air from the nearby Turkish coast. The shooting down of an aeroplane by the improvised defence force against aerial attack caused a sensation.

Papandreou’s main achievement was in organizing the honest distribution of basic food supplies and in reducing financial speculation on Chios. Venizelos appreciated this activity greatly and suggested to Papandreou that he take the post of general director of food supplies to Athens and Pireaus. This was accepted by Papandreou, not without hesitation, in September 1917. His accurate census, introduction of a monopoly for basic food supplies and forming of the state stores improved the supplies considerably. Papandreou’s illness stopped this work and in February 1918 he returned to Chios, described by the Athenian presses a man of “high morals and unbroken will”. It was on Chios that his eldest son Andreas was born. At the end of 1918 Mineyko hoped that Papandreou would become the governor of Smirna whose annexation by Greece was expected.

In diary notes for 1920 -1924 Papandreou appears as a politician and publicist with strong republican views. His political program called for the overthrow of King Constantine. This was expressed in an article called “The King and the nation” for the journal “Patris” of April 21, 1921, for which he was strongly attacked by the government press. Police search for him in Mineyko’s house so he voluntarily gave himself up to “justice”. “Papandreou” - wrote Mineyko - “was thrown into prison without light [...]. His health will be ruined in a few days and his sight will be lost, according to the doctors’ opinion. It is clear that he is to be murdered as the criminal who dared to advocate the overthrow of Constantine”. The trial and a sentence of 18 months jail became a famous political event.

In May 1921, Stanislaus was also arrested and put into the same prison as Papandreou. They both regained freedom in June 1921. Papandreou rejected the suggestion that he ask for pardon and waited for his Appeal. Reflecting his friends' opinion, Mineyko wrote in his diaries that his son-in-law left prison “with his head high in the air and in triumph, adored by the Greek nation [...] and (he) will continue unblemished the work of rebirth”. He had no doubts that a great political career was waiting for George Papandreou. “It should be expected”, he wrote, “that reborn Greece will have that government consisting of young “free-thinkers” to which Papandreou belongs”.

Two years later Papandreou became the minister of internal affairs. But antiroyal articles in “Patris” made Phalange attack him. In Mitilini, where he was held in high esteem, an attempt was made on his life. He was not safe in Athens either. “Myself and my sons, writes Mineyko, were anxious as to the fate of the son and brother-in-law so we tried to save him from a trap, surrounding him with friendly protection”. Papandreou, as usual, believed his old father. Politics was the main subject of conversation. It must be admitted that, despite his age, Mineyko perceived with greater penetration than his son-in-law the falsehood in the conciliatory declarations of Metaxas whom in 1924 he described as a “traitor to the fatherland, with unpardonable crimes”.

Although he was still interested in Greek affairs, after Poland regained her Independence in 1918, Mineyko turned his eyes more often to the North. In 1914 he still wrote that he was “strong enough to join the struggle and pay my debts to the fatherland”. He prepared his son Casimir to serve Poland. He greeted with joy the establishment of diplomatic relations between Poland and Greece, and especially the support of the Polish cause in the arena of international politics by Venizelos. Mineyko was adviser to the Polish legation in Athens. However, Casimir could do more than his father, representing from 1923 on Polish commercial interests in Greece, competing energetically with his commercial rivals. From the time of the battles on Salonika front Stanislaw Mineyko suffered from tuberculosis and died in Athens on November 15, 1924. George Papandreou spoke by his grave.

Zygmunt Mineyko’s wife, Prozerpina, hearing about the rise of an independent Poland, began to sell her property, thinking of moving to Cracow or Vilnius. But this dream of Polish insurgent and Greek patriot was unfulfilled, although Mineyko visited Poland in 1922 and 1923, receiving numerous Polish military awards, such as the Virtuti Militari Cross, the rank of veteran-colonel and doctor honoris causa dignity in Lvov University.

He died in Athens on December 27, 1925.