Athens 2004 Olympics
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© Copyright Embassy of Greece 1996-2005. All Rights Reserved.
25 September, 2003
Mr. President, Ladies and gentlemen, Your Excellencies,
I am truly honored and moved by this award, but I also feel that I am amongst old friends and that is because my father Andreas Papandreou was not only supportive, but worked very closely with the Parliamentarians for Global Action. You may know that he was one of the leaders who launched the six nation peace initiative back in 1984 as Senator Harkin reminded me with a number of interesting stories, which called on the United States and the USSR to halt the production, testing and deployment of all nuclear weapons. Their tireless campaigning ultimately led to the signing of comprehensive nuclear test bomb treaty later. But certainly, it is groups such as the PGA that have contributed immensely to effective multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, so critical to world peace and progress, global justice, equality and democracy.
I was reminded that next year, it will be 20 years since that initiative and at the same time next year, Greece will host the Olympic Games. Not that these two have anything to do with each other, but I was thinking that it may be very nice to have a meeting in Greece of all those who were involved 20 years ago and invite some of the newer members also to celebrate and talk about what it means in today's world when we talk about weapons of mass destruction, proliferation, chemical and nuclear weapons, the experiences of the past to highlight and enlighten how we act today. Because of the Olympic Games, I will tell you a story. Many years ago, there was a king of Elis, who was constantly at war with his neighbors and he decided that he needed some advice on how to stop the war. So he traveled to Delphi and asked the oracle there, which was the think tank of the day, "How will I stop the war"? The oracle consulted with God Apollo and came back and said, "Well, Apollo said that every four years, you should organize a great festival of culture and sports." So the king went back, called in his neighbors and said "this is what the oracle said; what do you think?" So they signed a treaty and organized a festival of culture and sports every four years, and during that festival, he said, we will have a holy truce, there will be no wars. If there are wars, we will stop. That holy truce was maintained for 1,100 years and that festival took place in a city called Olympia. That's how the Olympic Games began.
So in fact, the Olympic Games, when we revived them in Athens some 100 years ago, were not simply a sporting game. They were a peace project. Next week, when I will be in New York, we will ask the U.N. to endorse a resolution to revive this peace project for the modern world, calling for an Olympic Truce to begin again in 2004 and beyond. If we can have peace for 14 days, maybe we can have peace forever.
I will call upon you to support this initiative and welcome you to Athens, of course, next year.
But I will also say that as it was 20 years ago, the threat of nuclear and chemical weapons is as critical as it was then. A few months ago, when we held the Presidency of the EU, we took an initiative with Sweden to launch the first European Union action plan to combat weapons of mass destruction and our proposal was unanimously adopted by the leaders of the EU. This plan basically said let us see what we can do to prevent new Iraqs, to prevent the dilemma of war and peace around the issue of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to support such things as inspections.
Today brings me to something, which I would be dishonest if I did not tell you. I accept this honor tonight with also a heavy heart because less than a week ago I was in Sweden with the person I worked with on this resolution, this proposal, for our European Union policy. I was there to make the case for the referendum for Sweden to join the Eurozone. I walked the streets of that very democratic city where I had lived with my parents, with my brothers and my sister, as exiles from the dictatorship in my country. I walked the streets with my friend and colleague Anna Lindh. We where doing something at the heart of democracy; we were trying to persuade, not force, not trick, not impose - just persuade. The next day, Anna went shopping. In the great tradition of Swedish democracy, this very public figure felt she did something very private, unattended by cameras and security.
Pericles said many years ago in his funeral oration that democracy is not only a freedom we have in the public sphere, but it also liberates us from suspicions between citizens. A very deep democratic tradition. While doing something in her profound trust in democracy, democracy of her nation, Anna was murdered. So I think we need to take a moment to reflect on this fact and remember Anna, the woman and the mother, and the person who had the courage to trust democracy and her fellow citizens.
In this spirit, I thought it wasn't appropriate to talk about current affairs, though one could very easily talk about Iraq and democracy there. But I would rather seek out the deeper sources of inspiration for our commitment to democracy. We are forced to ask ourselves why one is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect democracy and the type of democracy we should be protecting and promoting. There are the lives of great democrats who serve as examples, there are great statements here in the U.S., the Bill of Rights as an example, and each nation has some such well, such source, from which to draw inspiration. Some draw, as I mentioned earlier, from our ancient history in Greece, and in particular from Pericles, who in his funeral oration, as democracy was under attack in Athens, spoke in very simple words, in a directness that I think holds true today for the values for which they died, the values they protected. They had died to preserve the importance of setting an example, the need for rule by majority, the equality of all before the law, to choose a leader by merit and not by ancestral right, equality between rich and poor as human beings, for the democracy that liberates us from the suspicion between us, that respects the laws because they protect us and shame to those who break them.
Pericles in his funeral oration said that we are far stronger when we are enlightened and make decisions or take action on that premise. A love of letters and the belief that we are not weakened by knowledge, but strengthened. The belief that, while we enjoy our own private lives, we seek public activity in a democracy, for the person who is not involved is condemned to irrelevance. Our city, our society, is really a process of education, education for all. And democracy is education, and setting an example rather than enforcing it.
These are, in my somewhat inexact translation, the words of Pericles, the way he used his words to describe the values of the Athenians. This was some 2,500 years ago and these words are as relevant today as they were then. Today, the new EU draft constitution begins with these words. And we can look and see the wisdom in his words, when we deal with problems such as Iraq, when we deal with globalization, when we deal with problems such as terrorism, a message to all who believe that they may, either individually or as states, take the law into their own hands, believe they have divine rights or whatever else to determine the future of others. We may describe it in different terminology, but strip away this strength and we are always asking whether we conduct ourselves in today's world and with all its conflicts and challenges according to these values. In my own experience as Foreign Minister, I hope that I have attempted to inform my actions with these values. I believe they are central to modern diplomacy and they are central to the way we offer leadership in a globalized world. I believe it is through this democratic tradition you go beyond barriers, you go beyond prejudices, you champion in your organization, the "Parliamentarians for Global Action".
Greece is surrounded by a region where the experience of democracy has either not existed or has been interrupted. And my own view is, that our own security must begin with the establishment and consideration of democracy in our own region, and therefore, I believe that the European Union has been one of the most important peace projects in the last 50. It is in fact a peace project and a democracy project. It is only through the establishment of democracy that the EU has become a beacon of hope, that nations once at war can develop a method of peace, and this is true democracy. The European Union is not a religious but a democratic club. It is the greatest project of its kind and we have much to learn from that experience. The tens of millions who have joined the EU, members of the Eastern block a little more than a decade ago, Cyprus also and Malta, do so knowing that they will ensure both peace and democracy and that these values are never threatened.
This is also why there is a need for the Balkan nations and our neighbor Turkey to become members of the EU. I like to commend the work that Elsa Papademetriou and her Turkish colleague have been doing within the PGA in their dialogue as Parliamentarians.
Bringing a member into the EU is really saying that we are bringing a member into our democratic family, we are creating democratic institutions. We will make sure that we will all abide by specific rules and regulations which allow for freedom, human rights, but also peaceful co-existence, and this is very important for us all.
The democratic practice in diplomacy means something more. Democratic leadership also means opening the opportunity for one's citizens to express themselves and to shape policies, where diplomacy should go beyond the closed doors of negotiations. This frightened some, but I believe that this is the only way to move beyond the habit of mistrust, to break down prejudices. And this is why I think we can also explain how this yearning for participation of citizens, even in foreign policy, has helped so much in this new relationship we are developing between Greece and Turkey, but also in the new relationship developing in Cyprus between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities. Without referring to the spontaneous reaction of Greeks after the terrible earthquake in Turkey in 1999 and the reciprocal reaction of Turks a month later, it is difficult to explain this new relationship we have with Turkey. Yes, I did take the initiative to invite Greeks to help the Turks at that very difficult moment of the earthquake, while thousands were under the rubble, but this took on a life of its own. The citizens actually decided that this was their own project. People gave blood, organized help, people went over to dig under the rubble to find children trapped underneath. I remember a picture where a Greek fireman pulled out a Turkish child from under the rubble. And this just shows how deeply the need for democratizing our foreign policy is and for making people diplomacy a part of our official diplomacy.
I was in Cyprus two days ago to discuss the future between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, what the future of education will be in a united island. I went to the Green Line were both sides meet, and there I was reminded of another very moving incident only a few years ago. There was no communication then, but all of a sudden, there was a child from the Turkish Cypriot side looking for bone marrow on the Greek Cypriot side, and a Greek Cypriot child looking for bone marrow on the Turkish side. All of a sudden, there was a movement that perhaps they could work together and have blood tests, where there could be a match, a DNA match between a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot, which may save lives. They e-mailed me and I talked to my counterpart (Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail) Cem and we were able to open up the Green Line for this meeting and 15,000 people showed up to give blood. Only two days ago, I met the family of Kemal, whose son did not survive, and the other one, whose daughter Andrea, her name means courage, did survive, because of the people's response. And one says that in all the grandiose things one does, in the end, it is this one life which was saved that makes one say it was worth the effort.
But finally, what does this mean on a global level? And I want to leave you with a thought. There are millions of people who participate in the anti-globalization movement. I wonder whether this is simply a movement of people seeking the opportunity to express themselves, saying we want to be heard, we want to participate. And I think their reaction to globalization is to encourage the widest possible debate amongst those who are for or against and it shocks me that as democrats we think we have to make decisions, behind barb wire fences.
Democracy has become the major challenge for this new world we live in. Democracy cannot be taken for granted. We need to reinvent, we need to reinvigorate it in a new situation. In this global age we live in, we will be asked to think what a global government will be, how democratic it will be, what values it will follow, what institutions it will create and what technologies are doing, whether they are creating bigger fears of a more totalitarian world, opening new venues of communication, such as the internet and electronic democracy and whether our media is becoming more monopolized or more pluralized and more democratic.
If we take our own nations, consider the great global crises that confront us today and I would therefore say that where there is no equality before the law, where leadership is not chosen by the majority rule and on its merits, when the poor are not honored as the rich, where debate is stifled, where knowledge is denied, where the criminal is not shamed, where we merely deceive and squeeze favors out of our friends, when we choose private indifference over public engagement, when we try to enforce rather than convince, when all these conditions exist, we have a perversion of democracy and our nations become sick; our world dishonors its inhabitants.
When we allow ourselves to stray from these higher standards, when we are frightened of the consequences of applying these standards, when we think there may be a shortcut to legitimize all those who want to undermine our democratic values.
My friend, our friend, Anna Lindh, did not stray from these values. She upheld them. The cynics may say she was naive in her convictions, that she was naive to trust. I say she was brave enough to trust, that she died by example. Pericles' oration could be inscribed on her epitaph. As real democrats we must be challenged and inspired to have these words written on each of our epitaphs also.
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