For the first time in Greek history, a Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic has addressed the US Congress, as Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was in Washington for an official visit, took the floor and delivered a historic speech to the Joint Session of the United States Congress.
Nevertheless, once again, he essentially minced his words, thus turning a historic opportunity into a historic… failure. In fact, he went so far as to compare the fighters of the Nazi Azov Regiment, who are surrendering en masse as we speak, with the heroes of Messolonghi, who preferred death to disgrace!
The historic, in all other aspects, speech of Kyriakos Mitsotakis began at 6.08 pm, with the Prime Minister initially emphasizing that “there is no greater honor for the elected leaders […] than to address the elected representatives of the people […]. I am absolutely grateful and I am concious of the deep ties that bind our two nations together”.
“It is an added honor, and a great pleasure, for me to address this joint session under female leadership […] Any state that does not employ the talents of its women, is wasting half of its resources, Plato made clear” he said, adding: “I come before you to celebrate a miracle […] the Hellenic ideal, democracy. It is hard for us today to realize how radical this ideal was 25 centuries ago […] No society before the Greeks dared to believe that order and freedom are compatible.” continued Mr. Mitsotakis.
“The birth of Democracy in ancient Athens brought about an explosion of the creative spirit in Greece […] The establishment of democracy in the United States has brought about the greatest expansion of human freedom and progress the world has ever known […] You have shown us that Freedom is a good worth fighting for […] Our forefathers looked across the Atlantic for support. They spoke of your thirst for freedom, they wanted to imitate you. They wanted to show themselves worthy of your expectations” he stressed.
Mariupol, as in “Messolonghi”
“Replace the word Greece with Ukraine, and the similarities to today’s turbulent world are harrowing […] Like Mariupol today, Messolonghi’s outnumbered and emaciated defenders would repel wave upon wave of enemy attacks before their final sortie […] When we see the same suffering, the same pain in a city with a Greek name and Greek roots, we are reminded of Messolonghi and the costs of our own struggle. Even today we have not forgotten the American volunteers. Their names are honored […] Many cared for women and children who had been left homeless. The first school for girls in Greece was founded in Athens by an American pastor” underlined the Greek PM.
“Over the past two centuries, our countries have always been on the right side of history […] This bicentennial is a reminder of the values that bind us together […] We naively believed that Europe had finally found the path to peace. We believed that the deepening of the EU would make war on the ‘Dark Continent’ unthinkable […] and that no one would venture to suppress another people’s right to exist. We naively ignored the warning signs of Russia […] We are now looking at the tragedy in Ukraine.”
“We have no animus towards the Russian people, but we can not be indifferent to a struggle that resembles ours so strongly. We know what it means to have to resort arms to protect our liberty […] And we understand the importance of friends, the power of allies. We recognize the importance of taking sides now. And we stand unequivocally by Ukraine against Putin’s aggression. We supported the Ukrainians with weapons to help them defend their homeland. And we have welcomed the refugees.”
Cyprus – an open wound
“The language of revisionism and imperial nostalgia shall not prevail […] I ask you not to forget an open wound: I am referring to the invasion and subsequent division of Cyprus. This issue has to be resolved in accordance with international law and in line with the relevant UN resolutions. The same is true for all other regional disputes. Greece is always open to dialogue […] I want to be absolutely clear. We will not accept open acts of agression that violate our national sovereignty. Overflights over the Greek islands must stop immediately […] I ask you to take into account the risk of instability in NATO’s Southeastern flank when making defense procurement decisions concerning this region.”
Moving on to energy matters, K. Mitsotakis made mention of the city of Alexandroupolis, which will push Greece towards becoming an energy hub for the entire Europe, through the import of liquefied natural gas. Referring to American companies, the Prime Minister said that “what they see in Greece is not just a country endowed with an advantageous geographical position, but also a dynamic economy that has withstood the pathogenies of the past. They see young and talented people who choose to remain in their homeland. Those who have actually left the country are now convinced to return and I believe that they will be the protagonists of Greece’s bright future.”
“I have spoken about the joint paths that our two great democracies have chartered, but it would be foolish to remain complacent. The United States must adress climate change, stand up against authoritarian regimes, and prepare for the next pandemic. The world looks to the strongest and most prosperous democracy for leadership, and you simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.
Multilateralism, in my mind, is not an option but a necessity […] But we also need to put our own house in order. Personally, I am more worried about the internal fragmentations of our democracies.
Let us not forget that Abraham Lincoln referred to the “unfinished business of democracy […] Our democracies are threatened by the sirens of populists who offer easy solutions to complicated problems. Their voices are being heard, primarily because income inequality has increased in our societies and many, justifiably, feel that they are left behind. In Greece we speak from experience, we paid a heavy price for listening to them […] social media is polarizing public debate.
There are three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies. Social capital, strong institutions, and common stories that forge a unified national identity. All three are being eroded nowadays. And at the same time authoritarian regimes are questioning our ability to deliver prosperity for all our citizens. Many are willing to accept it, and these are some of the challenges we face today.
I wish I had the answers to these complicated questions […] We need to strengthen our democratic institutions, we need to tackle income inequalities, and we need to reform social media so that it becomes less socially corrosive. And we need to train our young people to seize the opportunities of democratic citizenship in this new age”, he stated.
The Parthenon marbles and the Greek American community
Mr. Mitsotakis went on, noting that: “Every time we gaze in wonder at the Parthenon frieze, half of which unfortunately still sits in the British Museum, we are reminded of the glory of a thriving democracy. Thirty years after the Parthenon was constructed, democracy in Athens was no more.”
He concluded by making a special reference to the unshakable bond that binds the two countries together, the Greek American community.
“Over the past 120 years you have warmly welcomed, encouraged and supported the waves of immigrants who came to your country in search of a better life. Not to mention the students like me who spent several years studying in American universities. Those who sailed to this country were, for the most part, simple laborers, and they eagerly took any work they could find. But no matter how uneducated the Greeks or how menial their work, they would typically apply themselves with great determination and embrace any chance to prosper in life and educate their children. They offered them a brighter future, they experienced the American dream, but never forgot where they came from.
Today the Greeks who live in the US and the three million Americans who identify themselves as Greeks include some of the most respected leaders in the arts, science, education, medicine, the judiciary, and, of course, politics. Modern visionaries like Nikolas Negroponte and Albert Bourla. John Kassavetis and Elia Kazan. Jeffrey Evgenidis and George Pelekanos. Alexander Payne and Tom Hanks. And of course, Yannis Antetokounmpo.
Six of them are in this Congress and one of them, my friend Mike Dukakis, ran for president of the United States. And I think one of the reasons Greeks were accepted in America so readily is the fact that the values of America are Greek values. On of the qualities that Greeks value the most is called “Sophrosene,” a word best translated as self-control, temperance, and harmony.
The ancient Greeks thought arrogance is the worst threat to democracy”, remarked the Greek Prime Minister, and finished his speech by claiming that: “Greeks and Americans have a lot more to contribute as custodians of democracy. That government of the people, by the people, for the people shall thrive again […] and I bring you here today the pledge of the Greek people that we stand together with the people of the United States. Long live the friendship between Greece and the United States of America!”