Nikolaos Plastiras (Greek Νικόλαος Πλαστήρας )(November 4, 1883 - July 26, 1953) was a general of the Greek army. He is known as "O Mavros Kavalaris" ("The Black Horseman"). He was born in 1883, in Karditsa, Greece. His parents came from Morfovouni (formerly Vounesi), a village in the Agrafa region which is located in the northwestern part of Thessaly in mainland Greece.
After finishing school in Karditsa, he joined the 5th Infantry Regiment as a volunteer in 1904. He fought in the Macedonian Struggle, and participated in the military coup of 1909. He entered the NCO School in 1910 and, after being assigned to the rank 2nd Lieutenant in 1912, he fought with distinction in the Balkan Wars, where he earned his nickname "The Black Horseman". He first rose to wider prominence when, as a Major, he supported the Movement of National Defence of Eleftherios Venizelos during the First World War. He fought with distinction with the 5/42 Evzones Regiment at the battle of Skra-di-Legen and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In 1919, Colonel Plastiras commanded the 5/42 Evzones Regiment in the Ukraine, as part of an Allied force aiding the White Army in their ultimately unsuccesful fight against the Red Army. His force was then transferred to Smyrna in Asia Minor via Romania.
During the botched war with Turkey from 1920-1923, the Turks called Plastiras Kara Piper ("The Black Pepper"), while the 5/42 Evzones were known as the Seitan Asker ("Satan's Army"). His advance was finally halted at Kale-Grotso, just across the river Sakarya. Soon after, at the battle of Sakarya, the Greeks were forced to begin their retreat. After the Turkish breakthrough in August 1922, Colonel Plastiras' unit was among the few retaining any coherence, withdrawing orderly to the coast, fighting off superior Turkish forces, rallying around him men from other units and saving several thousands of Anatolian Greeks along the way. For these feats he earned immense popularity, especially among the Ionian Greeks he helped save. The remnants of the Greek Army made their way to the islands of the Eastern Aegean, where the Army's resentment at the political leadership in Athens resulted in the outbreak of the 1922 Revolution on September 11, led by Plastiras, Colonel Stylianos Gonatas and Commander Phokas.
Having the support of the Army, the (mostly Venizelist) Navy, and the people, the Revolution quickly assumed control of the country. Plastiras forced King Constantine to resign, called upon the exiled Venizelos to lead the negotiations with Turkey which culminated in the Treaty of Lausanne, and set about to reorganize the Army to protect the Evros line against any Turkish advance into Western Thrace. One of the most controversial acts of the revolutionary government was the trial and execution of five royalist politicians, including former PM Dimitrios Gounaris and the former Commander-in-Chief, General Hatzianestis, on November 28, 1922 as those mainly responsible for the Asia Minor Disaster, in the infamous "Trial of the Six".
Plastiras faced multiple challenges in governing Greece. The 1,3 million refugees from the population exchange had to be catered for in a country with a ruined economy, internationally isolated and internally divided. The Corfu incident, and a botched Royalist coup in October 1923 were evidence of this. After the failed royalist coup, King George II was forced to leave the country. Nonetheless, he managed to restore some order to the state and to lay the groundwork for the Second Hellenic Republic. After the elections of December 1923 for the new National Assembly, he resigned from the Army on January 2, 1924, retiring to private life. In recognition of his services to the country, the National Assembly declared him "worthy of the fatherland" and conferred to him the rank of Lieutenant General in retirement.
Plastiras was even admired by his greatest enemy, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). At the end of the war, during the negotiations that took place regarding the exchange of populations between Greece and the newly formed Republic of Turkey, Ataturk is quoted telling Plastiras, "I gave gold and you gave me copper."
Nikolas Plastiras, Greek Stamp, 100 year after his birth
The Republic that he had helped found proved an unstable one. Coups, counter-coups, the conflict between Venizelists/Republicans and Royalists, and constant economic problems plagued Greece. Plastiras, persecuted during the Pangalos dictatorship, attempted to lead a coup in March 1933, after the anti-Venizelists won the elections, but facing universal reaction (even from Venizelos himself), he was forced to flee abroad. Finally, after the failed Venizelist revolt of 1935, although still abroad, he was condemned in absentia to death. Nonetheless he maintained a high prestige as a war hero and because of his integrity and staunch Republicanism. From his French exile, he watched the Germans overrun Greece, and played a role in the creation of the EDES resistance group, whose titular leadership he had.
He returned to Greece in 1945, after his selection as prime minister following the December events of 1944, primarily because he was a commonly accepted personality. Plastiras attempted to tread a middle path between the British, who were supporting the returned government-in-exile and the return of King George II, and the democratic-leftist guerilla of the EAM/ELAS. During his premiership, the Varkiza Agreement was signed. His moderate policies and republican sympathies earned the distrust of the British, and he was dismissed after only three months in office.
Lake Plastiras provides a year-round source of water for the people of the Agrafa and an irrigation source to the farmers in the plains of Thessaly. General Plastiras' investment in his native region has transformed the Agrafa, once one of the poorest and most isolated areas of Greece, into a bustling tourist hub with scenic views which rival the Alpine regions in western Europe.
In 1949, after the end of the Greek Civil War, Plastiras founded a new party, the National Progressive Centre Union (ΕΠΕΚ, Εθνική Προοδευτική Ένωση Κέντρου), forming a following of disappointed Liberals and left-leaning democrats. He preached a message of national conciliation, which put him in conflict with the rightist estabishment. Together with Sophoklis Venizelos and George Papandreou he formed a coalition government in 1950, which fell, however, when his partners retired. In the September 1951 elections, EPEK emerged as the strongest of the centrist parties. Plastiras formed a coalition government with Sophoklis Venizelos' Liberals, and attempted to address the great problems of the country.
His government initiated the economic recovery and the reconstruction of Greece. A monument to this is the construction of the dam at the Tavropos (Megdovas) River to form a lake, a program that he iniciated. The lake and dam, both formerly named Tavropos, now bear his name. His policy of conciliation, however, was bitterly assailed from the right, distrusted from the left, and undermined even by members of his own cabinet. A defining moment of his failure was the conviction and execution of Nikos Beloyiannis in March 1952. After losing the elections of November 1952, his political career, and with it the liberal 'Centrist Intermission', came to an end. He died in poverty in 1953 in Athens and was mourned deeply by the Greek people.
Plastiras died in 1953 in Athens.