Despite what we know today of some of his writings, we have little data on the life of Yiannis Magkanaras. We know, however, that all those with the surname Magkanaras originate from Ioannis Magkanaros, a French graduate of the French Military School of Paris, an officer of Napoleon and a philhellene. Ioannis Magkanaros arrived in Greece, probably via the island of Kefallinia, during the Revolution against the Ottoman Empire of 1821 apparently to fight for Greek independence, and joined Lord Byron’s unit in Mesollogi. He and the family he founded there remained in Greece and changed their surname to Magkanaras. The family spread to Patras, Mesollogi, Syros, Navarino, Corinth, and later in Athens. One of his three sons was Miltiades Magkanaras, father of Yiannis, who settled in Corinth where Yiannis was born.
The Greek writer Renos Apostolides, who had met with members of the extended Magkanaras family, said that the name Magkanarios was from Byzantium and most of the members of this family were well-paid engineers who belonged to the middle bourgeoisie.
We do not know anything about education or other interests of Yiannis Magkanaras but it is confirmed that he was well aware of the French anarchist movement and other revolutionary ideas of his time.
He settled in Patras in 1893 after leaving Corinth and worked as a journalist, mainly in the daily newspaper “Peloponnese”.
In 1895 he bought the newspaper “Epi Ta Proso” (“Forward”) from Alexander Eumorfopoulos, which then became the main vehicle for spreading anarchist ideas in Patras and the surrounding area during the second half of the 1890s. It is also confirmed that before buying “Epi Ta Proso”, Magkanaras wrote poems and articles for the socialist newspapers of the time such as “Sosialistis” (“Socialist”) of Stavros Kallergis and “Metarrythmistis” (“Reformer”).
Given that only a few issues of the newspaper “Peloponnese” have survived today we do not know if Magkanaras continued writing for “Peloponnese” simultaneously with his activities with “Epi Ta Proso” and anarchist agitation. He may have continued writing just for a living.
His articles dealt with various social issues of the era, such as working class organising and women’s emancipation. And, of course, he wrote articles about anarchist ideas.
One of the acquaintances of Yiannis Magkanaras was a journalist with “Peloponnese”, G. Papalexandropoulos, who was close to the anarchist communist group “Epi Ta Proso”. G. Papalexandropoulos, probably with the help of Yiannis Magkanaras, published the satirical newspaper “Satanas” (“Satan”) during July-September 1897 (when Magkanaras was not a prisoner). In 1899 (again with Magkanaras’ help) he published another satirical newspaper “Mimosa”. Nikos Politis in his “Chronicle of Patras Press 1840-1940” (Patras 1984), writes that “Satanas” was published regularly every week during July-September 1897 (and maybe after that time). At least two issues were seized by the authorities. “Mimosa”, which appeared in 1899, was the continuation of “Satanas”. This newspaper was against women and men who upheld the [establishment’s ?] rules of conduct, or belonged to the so-called aristocracy. G. Papalexandropoulos apparently also declared a war against the police and against the local police chief Stymfaliadis in particular.
After the final dissolution of “Epi ta Proso” (or maybe a little before the end of the group’s newspaper) it appears that Yiannis Magkanaras published a magazine called “Anarchiki Vivliothiki” (“Anarchist Library”) but we have not been able to find any issue of this publication. Magkanaras finally moved to Athens in May 1899. We do not know his precise activities in the capital of Greece but have confirmed his participation in Anarchikos Ergatikos Syndesmos Athinon (Anarchist Workers’ Association of Athens).
Marxist historian G. Kordatos reports that Magkanaras published a newspaper (whose title he does not mention), in which he printed lectures of members of Diligiannis’ party in the parliament (by then Diligiannis was a famous politician). This information has not been confirmed by anyone else. It may be that Kordatos was confused by the fact that a first cousin of Yiannis Magkanaras (with the same name but whose father was Theodore Magkanaras), was a candidate with Diligiannis’ party in Kalamata (in southern Peloponnese) in the early 20th century. In Issue 13 (10 June 1904) of the newspaper “Corte”, we read that sometime in late 1902, a Yiannis M. Magkanaras toured Kyparissia (again in southern Peloponnese) to promote a new political newspaper with the title “O Filos Tou Laou” (“People’s Friend”).
Kordatos writes other incorrect statements, such as that Magkanaras was illiterate and came to be despised a few years later by his former comrades. The fact is that Kordatos is an anti-anarchist writer.
The dissolution of Anarchist Workers Association of Athens, along with other anarchist and libertarian groups, was disappointing for Magkanaras (and other anarchists). This was the reason he retired to his hometown, Corinth.
Yiannis Magkanaras continued to be disappointed by the dissolution of anarchist groups. Between late 1903 and early 1904, just to make a living, he published the illustrated magazine “Corte” in Athens under the pseudonym of Yiannis Magkas. He included articles and emotive stories which castigated contemporary society through humour and satire. Kordatos called that magazine a paper of “blackmail”, but nothing found in its issues substantiates such a description.
After the appearance of “Corte” there was an intense dispute between Magkanaras and a journalist nicknamed “Kokoras” (“Rooster””, who published another satirical magazine “Flirt”. “Rooster” had invited Magkanaras over from Corinth to become editor of his magazine after an incident that occurred when “Flirt” was first released in 30 October 1903. After a complaint about a magazine article, “Rooster” was sentenced to serve 35 days imprisonment. Magkanaras continued as editor and administrator of the magazine until issue 19 (4 March 1904), when he unequivocally left. In issue 20, published in 11 March 1904, there was notice of his withdrawal. Immediately after his departure, Magkanaras started publishing “Corte”, with the support of other authors who, according to him, left “Flirt” with him. It seems that “Rooster” did not forgive this withdrawal or the competition and began publishing libels against Magkanaras in the pages of “Flirt”. “Rooster” wrote that during Magnakaris’ time in Patras he was a blackmailer and a murderer.
In the end, the case was resolved at Magkanaras’ expense. Magkanaras was arrested, detained and sentenced to three months imprisonment for inciting anti-morality. Amongst other reasons for his sentencing, some of the contents of “Corte” were probably considered “provocative” by the authorities. This incident radicalised not only almost all of the readers of “Corte” but also old comrades and friends of Magkanaras from Patras and elsewhere. In Patras and the surrounding areas almost 1000 people signed a petition demanding his release. This shows that since the publication of “Epi Ta Proso” Magkanaras had gained a strong foothold in the local society. Even at a time when he was not circulating a purely anarchist magazine he was able to mobilise people for a cause.
It is important to note that three anarchists and formers comrades of Magkanaras, C. Couloumbis, a member of the Anarchist Workers‘ Association, Kostas Stavropoulos, a former teacher and one of the most familiar anarchists of Patras in 1890’s, and T. Kostopoulos, another local anarchist, sent an angry letter to “Rooster”. This letter was also published in “Corte”. At the same time, several others expressed solidarity and sympathy with Yiannis Magkanaras by sending letters directly to “Corte”. In issue 23 of “Corte” (19 August 1904) yet another solidarity letter from his old comrades and friends from Patras was published.
He was finally released from prison in November 1904 and in December the publication of “Corte” was resumed.
Allegedly Yiannis Magkanaras continued publishing the magazine from Corinth where he was resettled. He was probably very sick, according to issue 161 of the magazine (7 August 1906). He continued to write poems, short stories, reviews, translations and more. Among his translations (mentioned in the same issue) was a work of Theocritus, “Romance”.
Since then there has been no sign from Yiannis Magkanaras. We do not know when or where he died, or how old he was. Neither do we have a photo of him.