There is no greater honor for an elected leader of Greece, where democracy was born, to address the representatives of people who have defended democratic ideals strongly since the founding of their country, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during his address at the US Congress on Tuesday.
The Greek premier addressed a joint session of the US House of Representatives and the Senate, after an invitation by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who presided over the event with Vice President Kamala Harris. It is the first time a Greek prime minister addresses the American Congress.
Referring to the principles that bind the two countries together, he mentioned: “our shared belief in freedom over tyranny, in democracy over authoritarianism, in the fundamental importance of respect for the rule of law over war and anarchy.”
On the significance of the ancient Greek notion of democracy, he said that “the birth of democracy in ancient Athens brought about an explosion of the creative spirit in Greece that produced the architecture, the art, the drama and the philosophy that have shaped western civilization ever since.”
But the “establishment of democracy in the United States has brought about the greatest expansion of human freedom and human progress the world has ever known,” he pointed out.
On Greece celebrating 200 years since the beginning of its war of independence in 1821, Mitsotakis highlighted that “in a very strange but interesting twist of historical fate, it was the Greek people who were inspired by the foundation of American democracy when they rose against their oppressor to fight for their own freedom.”
In the last 200 years, he said, both Greece and the US “have always been on the right side of history. We fought side by side in world wars to defend freedom and democracy.”
Moving on to the contemporary geopolitical predicament, Mitsotakis said that it is a “shocking reality: replace the word Greece with Ukraine and the similarities to today’s turbulent world are harrowing.”
Drawing more parallels, he said that “when we see the same suffering among the outnumbered defenders of Mariupol, a city with a Greek name and deep Greek roots, we are reminded of Mesolonghi and the costs of our own struggle.”
Greece “ stands by Ukraine against Putin’s aggression” and Russian President Vladimir Putin “ will not succeed. He must not succeed,” he pointed out.
The Greek premier then mentioned what he called “ an open wound” that “ caused Hellenism unending pain over the past 48 years,” referring to the Cyprus issue, and “ as I told President Biden yesterday, nobody can and nobody will accept a two-state solution in Cyprus.”
On the US’s role in the region, he underlined that it “has vital interests in this part of the world.” It is “ very important that you remain engaged and work with partners with whom you share not only common strategic priorities but also values and a shared history,” he said.
Talking about the recent ratification of the US-Greece second amendment to the Mutual Defense & Cooperation Agreement (MDCA), he said that the agreement “ is a powerful testament of our enduring strategic partnership and our commitment to maintain peace and promote prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Mitsotakis then mentioned the notion of multilateralism, which, he said, “ in my mind, is not an option but a necessity. Not only for a more stable world order but also for your own self-interest.” This, he added, is challenging in and of itself: “ Personally, I am more worried about the internal fragmentations of our democracies than I fear the threat of arrogant despots.”
“ We frequently remember the words of President Ronald Reagan,” he added when he said that “ freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction”.
He then identified “ three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies. Social capital (…), strong institutions, and common stories forge a unified national identity. All three are being eroded,” he observed.
Across the world, he said, “ social media is polarizing public debate and transforming the public sphere into a modern-day version of the tower of Babel, where we speak different languages and we only listen to those who share the same views with us.”
And at the same time, he added, “ authoritarian regimes are questioning our ability to deliver prosperity for all our citizens.”
It is, therefore, imperative, that “ making our democracies more resilient is such an important priority for our generation.”
Finishing, Mitsotakis noted that “reinventing democracy to fit the challenges of the 21st century may sound like a tall order. But this is the mission of our generation and I am certain we will accomplish it.”
“Long live the friendship between Greece and the United States of America!” he exclaimed.
Mitsotakis was welcomed to the US Capitol by Pelosi, who said that Greece has been a source of democratic principles since antiquity and inspiration for America’s founders. Pelosi also expressed her appreciation for the US-Greece friendship through NATO and said the United States recognizes Greece’s role in helping Ukrainian refugees, fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and acting on climate change. “As I always like to say, we learned from the Greeks and the Greeks learned from us, and now we stand together as democratic nations.”
In joint comments, Mitsotakis thanked Pelosi for the invitation, and he said that it was “a great privilege to address Congress and to delve deeper into this special relationship, also however to speak of the challenges democracy faces.”
As part of his visit to the US capital Mitsotakis also met with US Vice President Kamala Harris.