I am deeply moved to welcome you, at a place heavily loaded with History and Symbolism…
Just across the street you can see the Parthenon, an eternal monument of Freedom, Harmony and Democracy.
Few meters beneath it, οn the roots of the hill, you can see the site of the ancient Theater of Dionysus, the place where drama was born, where Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides competed with their plays.
On the other side stands the Pnyx, the famous hill where Pericles, gave his inspiring speeches to the Assembly of the Athenian citizens.
On the northwest side, the rock of Areios Pagos is located, where Apostole Paul introduced the Athenians to Christianity, starting his quest to spread the new religion all over Europe.
Wherever you may turn your face, your eyes will see battle sites, where Ancient Athenians and more recent Greeks, fought fiercly for their Freedom.
Just at the east edge of the Acropolis hill, you can see the Greek flag. During the first days of the Nazi Occupation of Athens, in May 1941, two young Greeks brought down the Nazi flag, in a daring act, bringing hope to the Athenians and heralding the Greek resistance against the occupation; a resistance that was bloody and relentless until the withdrawal of the Nazi troops three years later.
Whatever the Greeks did in the passage of History, this area where we stand tonight has always been at the epicenter of fighting, at the epicenter of debating, performing, or constructing monuments of aesthetics, logic and philosophy.
Whoever they were fighting against - foreign invaders, hordes of bandits, or sometimes even among themselves - they always protected the Acropolis. And they more or less managed well for centuries. Until Francesco Morozini came along in 1687 and bombed the besieged Ottoman troops on the Acropolis, causing a devastating explosion that brought Parthenon to ruins.
And even then, the remaining parts were preserved for another 150 years, until another vandal came along: Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin, taking away more than half of the sculptures. Some of them, he picked them up from the ground. Some of them, he tore them down from the temple itself!
Since then, the most emblematic world monument of Classical civilization remains mutilated. Since then, the marbles on the Acropolis are calling for the return of the missing marbles! Since then, my country is trying to achieve the reunification of the Parthenon.
Few years after Elgin’s looting, the Greeks revolted against the Ottoman rule and gained their Independence. But the stolen marbles are always missing from the site and from our hearts.
About a mile and a half due west, we have the site of Plato’s Academia.
About a mile due northeast, we have the site of Aristotle’s Lyceum.
About half a mile due southeast, we have the remnants of the Olympian Zeus temple, next to the old city gate, constructed during the days of the Roman Emperor Adrian. And just 20 miles to the north, we have Marathon, the most ancient battlefield of Freedom against Subjugation, won by free citizens, fighting for their dignity.
This is a sacred ground, indeed! And obviously, not for the Greeks alone…
In a few square miles we have world History and Culture condensed, where epic and drama echo jointly, in centuries of Politics and Warfare, Aesthetic excellence and rhetorical eloquence, philosophical reasoning and mathematical deduction.
This is the birthplace of a unique experiment, a starting point of human endeavor that has become truly universal since and is indeed the cornerstone of our modern societies.
This is the place where members of a community rose to the status of a city, self governed by its own rules; where culture was not a luxury for the few, but a necessity for all citizens; where being able to fight was not an obligation to the ruler, but a duty to the city. Where people gathered in the agora - in the marketplace - not only to buy or sell goods and services, but also to exchange views on everyday issues, as well as on eternal existential questions of the human mind.
In other words, this is the place where democratic legitimacy and democratic traditions have been born.
Now, “democracy” is more than a political system. It is a prerequisite of human dignity, a prerequisite of freedom, both national and political, as well as a prerequisite of social justice.
But democracy cannot go on its own. It is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition…
We also need economic growth; as a matter of fact, sustainable economic growth! As history taught us, time and again, the collapse of an economy, usually leads to the collapse of democracy and the society as a whole. For no democracy can survive chronic social deprivation…
We also need social cohesion, based on justice and opportunities for all. No democracy can survive a sinking middle class and a rising social turmoil.
We also need permanent cultural growth and a common sense of belonging, based on morals and aesthetics of human dignity, global harmony, social solidarity and individual responsibility.
Democracy requires citizens who constantly try to better understand the world, better understand themselves and their place in the world.
Citizens, trying to better themselves and to excel among others, both locally and globally; citizens always trying to surpass poverty, ignorance and isolation; citizens reaching to their limits and going beyond their limits.
So for democracy to work, societies need to learn how to balance:
--their ambitions with their constraints,
--their needs with their dreams,
--their duties with their desires,
--their limited nature with their unlimited potential,
--their virtues and their defects,
--their established beliefs with their drive to question them.
Plato and Aristotle wrote and debated extensively on those questions.
Plato, more of an idealist, defined the dialectics of perfection: The quest of the human soul to better on all counts.
Aristotle, more of a pragmatist, defined virtue on the dialectics of the “middle road”; of balancing between opposing extremes; as the quest of the human mind to comprehend the meaning of its existence cruising between excesses.
But, dear friends, although we are still at the Acropolis museum in Athens, we have already transcended Antiquity: we have arrived in our contemporary world.
I am sure you understand better than anybody else, that referring to the dilemmas I have just mentioned, we are talking about us, about Europe…
We are talking about the epic and the drama, about the historical challenges and the intellectual debates of our modern world! As a matter of fact, we are talking about the elementary questions that drove us to the European Integration; about the basic challenges which still define our existence, our soul and our drive to become the epicenter of world history again.
Seventy years ago, we emerged out of a devastating war more divided than ever! In the debris of the European societies, we led the foundations of our Union.
But we were still divided then. We moved cautiously from the “customs union” to the “common market”, to the “single market”, to the “monetary union”.
We are moving now, cautiously, but steadily, to the political Integration, to the fiscal union, to the banking union. United Europe is not a distant dream any more. It has built its own legacy and it has generated it own dynamics.
Europe is now more united than ever, more stable than ever, inspiring confidence to its peoples and gaining respect by everybody else for the ideals it represents globally.
Europe is a rising world power. Benign enough to generate influence everywhere; and strong enough to have its interests respected and its voice heard.
True, we still have a lot of problems to resolve.
But we have already gone far enough. And we are constantly becoming stronger, learning from our mistakes, correcting our defects and sailing through rough waters with increasing confidence.
Today, we are establishing much more than a common framework for our political union.
We are gradually building a common sense of belonging, a common identity.
We are still different as individual nations.
And we will probably remain so for ever…
Different? yes! But divided? Never again!
However, continuously more integrated vis a vis the rest of the world.
This is the first and most important step of building a common identity: When everyone will identify us as “one Europe”; and when we will learn to look outside our limits, from our common European perspective.
What is the basis of this developing European identity?
It is the same values, principles, ideas and ideals I started with tonight.
The ones that cast their shadow all around us:
Freedom, Democracy, Extroversion, Human dignity, opportunities for all, solidarity to all, responsibility by all. And above all, relentless fight against tyranny!
Idealism, Pragmatism, humane moral standards, the constant quest for perfection, resolving disputes through mutual concessions based on the rule of law; Embracing modesty, but never giving in to intimidation; Holding high aspirations but never excusing arrogance; Proud for what we have achieved, but also compassionate for our fellow citizens or our fellow humans, that are needy or poor, or not so lucky as others.
This is the profile of our New Europe. This is why the United Europe is so intricately connected with this place. It is not Geography alone. It is not History alone. It is our common cultural ties that define us all and bind us all together.
Four years ago Greece found itself in a severe crisis. There were widespread fears then, that such a crisis could become devastating and not only for Greece itself; that it could spread out of Greece and seriously damage our Union.
We heard all kinds of doomsday scenaria: About the, so called, “unavoidable collapse” of Greece; about the so called “unavoidable collapse” of our monetary Union and the European Union itself.
We proved them wrong, big time!
Yes, the numbers were not on our side…
The macro-economic dynamics were not on our side…
But our solidarity proved stronger than the naked numbers.
Our potential proved much more than could be registered by simple accounting.
Our deep commitment to democracy, to progress, to European integration, proved much stronger than the superficial predictions based on models.
The Greeks proved much different from the stereotypes about them and against them. And with our sacrifices, we turned our economy around.
We achieved the largest fiscal adjustment ever, at the shortest period of time.
But we also suffered the biggest GDP loss in Peace time, ever!
We have suffered a lot, and are still suffering. But our economy is now turning around; our society has held together; our democracy has withstood all the pressures. We have delivered and we are moving ahead.
What is the “moral of the story”? The moral is that success will only go to countries which encourage individual initiative and enterprise; not to the ones which attempt to diminish them. And Greece has, by now, become one of those countries.
Our partners have helped us indeed. They have proved that solidarity is not just a “nice word” in our Union. It is the cornerstone of our United Europe.
And you, all of you in this gathering tonight, have played the most crucial role for this Solidarity to materialize.
We, Greeks have turned a painful crisis to an opportunity to change our country and relish our potential.
We, Europeans have turned a trying moment for our Union, to an opportunity to correct past mistakes and to rectify the defects of our institutions.
All Europeans may now be more inter-dependent. But at the same time, we are more independent from the need to constantly borrow. We are standing on our feet, we are unleashing our potential; we are in much better shape to compete world-wide; we are getting more effective in securing our borders and developing our own energy resources.
And we do so without the need to erect any greater external protection. Because we know that our approach to world trade is consistent with the liberalization we preach at home.
We still have a lot to do. We have a long way to go.
But, as Europeans, we are now much more confident, much more self-reliant and self-assured than we were ever before.
We are winning this battle! We have defeated the worst part of ourselves. We have opened the best prospects for our future; for our common future...
What you see around you, ladies and gentlemen, all these monuments and symbols, stretching to all directions, is not just History. It is inspiration for our common future: Of Freedom, Democracy, Compassion, Social Justice, Extroversion, Prosperity for all, Opportunities for all, Responsibility by all.
It is also inspiration for a relentless fight against tyranny, inscribed on those magnificent marble sculptures, inscribed in our History, inscribed in our souls, inscribed in our destiny and in our future.
In a seminal Greek tragedy, the hero warns that “a bundle of sticks is hard to break”. This is exactly what all of us today also believe: that a united Europe, like a bundle of states firmly held together by their common democratic conscience and solidarity for one another, can stand up to any challenge
This is what our common future is all about.
This is what Parthenon, just across the street, is all about….
Not just a monument of our glorious past.
But a “beacon” for our common future.
And by the way, this is not “idealism”. This is pragmatism!
Because when you are trying to better yourself against all odds, when you are fighting an uphill battle and start gaining ground, when you are making sacrifices that start to pay-off, when you believe in yourself and manage to prove yourself, you are a pragmatist!
Pragmatism is not about accepting your ill-fate.
Pragmatism is about shaping up a brighter future.
Fifty years ago the United Europe was an idealistic dream, or that was the “conventional wisdom” of the time…
Four years ago my country was falling apart, and our monetary Union was also on the verge of collapse. Or that was the “conventional wisdom” of the time…
Now a better and stronger Greece is emerging out of the crisis; and our Union is also getting better and stronger than ever.
So pragmatism is not about accepting your fate. It is knowing your limits, going to the limits and even managing to expand your limits, your “degrees of freedom”, your prospects. And do so decisively, but with prudence. Boldly and fearlessly, but with no arrogance. Making sure you count all the numbers correctly, but always with respect to the real people, to their feelings, to their needs and their potential.
This synthesis of idealism and pragmatism, of aesthetic perfection and rationality, this constant balancing between formidable challenges for the human mind and the undiscovered potential of the human soul, is our source of inspiration.
And what is the symbol of all these?
You can see it just across the street.
Look at the Acropolis! From our common past we can see our common future.
And it works!
Thank you very much.