Basil John Vlavianos (1903 – 1994) was an international lawyer, professor of diplomatic history, businessman, human rights activist, journalist, and publisher.
Born January 16, 1903 in Athens Greece, Basil John Vlavianos was the oldest son of Helen (Fandrides) and John G. Vlavianos, VI. His father was a prominent Athenian lawyer and President of Athens City Council. Basil began his studies in philosophy, political science, economics and law at the University of Athens in 1918. Graduating in 1920, he received the Certificate of Studies in Law before departing for advanced legal studies in Europe. In Germany he studied jurisprudence at Universities of Leipzig and Munich. From the latter he was awarded the Juris Doctor in 1924. In France he continued his studies at the University of Paris where he received a Certificate of Studies in Law and Forensic Medicine and Psychology (1925).He also studied at the prestigious École des Sciences et Politiques, a private institute which was devoted to training of the political class in international relations, international law, and comparative government. As the fruit of his studies Vlavianos produced three significant works in the field of comparative penology: his doctoral dissertation Zur Lehre von der Blutrache (On the Theory of Vendetta), 1924; Η μεταρρύθμιση του ποινικού νόμου (The Reform of Penal Law), 1925; and Η συστηματική ταξινόμηση των ποινικών επιστημών (The Systematic Classification of Penal Sciences), 1927.
Passing bar examinations in Greece and France, Vlavianos formally entered the international legal profession in 1926. During the latter part of the 1920s he served Greece as official representative at several international law congresses throughout Europe including: International Prison Congress (London, 1925); International Congress of Penal Law (Brussels, 1927); Congress of the International Society for Penal Law (Bucharest, 1928); International Prison Congress (Prague, 1930); and International Prison Congress (Berlin, 1935). From 1927 to 1937 he operated his own law firm in Athens while serving as a legal advisor in London. During this period Vlavianos defended cases in Greece, France, Belgium, England, Germany and Egypt, specializing in patents, and maritime law. He also served as Consul of the Republic of Panama in Piraeus, Greece from 1936-1939.
In 1932 Vlavianos married Ekaterina George Nicolaou, member of a well-known Athenian shipping family, and had one daughter, Zita.
Three years later, amid considerable social and political strife, a Royalist coup brought King George II back to power in Greece. The King appointed General Ioannis Metaxas to the office of Prime Minster in 1936 and, with the King’s full approval, Metaxas dissolved Greece’s parliamentary government. Political parties were suppressed, as were civil liberties and freedom of the press. Modeling his regime after other authoritarian governments in Europe, the Metaxas dictatorship (also known as the 4th of August Regime) banned political parties, arrested communists, criminalized strikes, and sponsored media-censorship. By 1937 Vlavianos had relocated to Paris.
1939 – 1993
Vlavianos arrived in New York on September 3, 1939 in order to attend the World’s Fair. He stayed for the next fifty-four years. In 1940 he acquired the Ethnikos Keryx (National Herald). Founded by Petros Tatanis in 1915, the newspaper was one of two major Greek-language dailies in the United States (the other being the Atlantis, a royalist paper supporting the Metaxas dictatorship). Vlavianos purchased the paper amid its significant economic difficulties caused by pro-Metaxas Greek consuls in the United States. Through the paper Vlavianos played a prominent role in keeping the Greek community and American public informed about the situation in Greece before, during, and just after WWII.
Given the wide-spread censorship by the regime in Greece, the National Herald functioned as an important source of communication for the liberal, republican ideas. As war broke out, the paper, under the editorship of Vlavianos, continued to be a primary means of information for the Greek-American community and the broader American public. The newspaper made a significant contribution to the allied war-effort. Through his editorship Vlavianos supported and documented Greek resistance to continental fascism.
Especially important was the key role played by Vlavianos and the Herald in the relief of Greek citizens during the war. Beginning in 1940, Greece was occupied by German, Italian and Bulgarian forces. Because of the occupation and because of a British shipping blockade designed to prevent Axis supplies entering the country, the Greek people suffered widespread starvation. Thousands died in Athens alone. In response to a call by Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras, and under the leadership of Twentieth-Century Fox Chairman, Spyros Skouras, the Greek War Relief Association came into being. The GWRA was a major transnational humanitarian campaign involving the international Red Cross, the Greek diaspora communities, and other sympathetic American participants. As editor of the National Herald, Vlavianos called for an end to the British blockade and lobbied hard for a change in British policy. He exerted significant influence through public appearances and editorials and made an important contribution to the GWRA efforts.
After the war Vlavianos was active in law, international politics, business, culture, and education. In 1945, representatives of fifty countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter. Vlavianos served as legal consultant to Foreign Minister John Sofianopoulos and the Greek Delegation. Resigning the editorship of the National Herald in 1947, Vlavianos became adjunct Professor of Political Affairs and Regional Studies at New York University where he taught until 1961. While at NYU he helped found the Institute for Intercontinental Studies, which was an early example of an international study-abroad program. His interest in human rights and international law also led him to become treasurer for the International League for the Rights of Man, an organization that sought to further the values enshrined in international human rights treaties and conventions.
Vlavianos also continued to be engaged as an editor and publisher. He founded Arts Inc. a publishing house specializing in European scholarly and artistic works. In the late 1940s the firm was expanded to create, first, the Golden Griffin Bookstore, and then the Griffin Gallery which dealt primarily with contemporary American and European artists. The business was located in midtown Manhattan during a period of increasing post-war internationalism. The Golden Griffin was known as the “Continental Bookstore” because of its stock of European titles. Arts Inc. published the critically-acclaimed “American Cities” series which featured the work of Swiss water-colorist Fritz Busse and texts by renowned contemporary writers. In addition to these business ventures, Vlavianos served on the editorial board of Free World magazine and the Greek-language newspaper, Proini. During this same period, Vlavianos held interests in multiple businesses including transportation and construction companies which were involved in Greek post-war reconstruction. He served on the board of several businesses and held real estate interests.
Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century Vlavianos followed international relations closely. Throughout his long life he continued to be active in various social, political, and cultural causes. He belonged to Hellenic fraternal organizations like the American Hellenic Progressive Association (AHEPA) and participated in a wide range of academic associations. Naturalized as an American citizen in 1958, Vlavianos died in Alexandria, VA on June 27, 1994.