PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ historic speech to Joint Session of US Congress

  PM addresses Congress as a Western leader highlighting the enormous challenges and dilemmas democracies face in a multilateral world order, urges no arms sales to Turkey

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ 40-minute address to a Joint Session of the US Congress today was historic not only because it was the first time ever that a Greek leader was accorded the singular honour of addressing the US Senate and House of Representatives, but also because it came at a critical juncture for Greek foreign policy and at a time of tectonic global political shifts, of a struggle between authoritarianism and democracy, and of a struggle within democratic states to safeguard and protect democracy from the threats of populism and the bitter internal divisions that it breeds.

Ascending to the podium with a prolonged, strong standing ovation from members of Congress, Mitsotakis’ warm reception reflected Greece’s pivotal role as a crucial US ally that has not only strongly bolstered its bilateral defence cooperation with the US and firmly supported from the start the West’s battle against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, but it also reflected the country’s role as a strong pillar of regional stability at a time that Turkey has proven itself - through its close alliance with Putin, its refusal to fall in line with other NATO countries’ sanctions against Russia, and its threat of vetoing the accession of Finland and Sweden to the Alliance - to be an untrustworthy ally for the US.

Though it came at a time that Greece is facing serious threats to its territorial integrity and sovereignty by neighbouring Turkey, Mitsotakis addressed Congress not as a supplicant beseeching American intervention, but rather as a Western leader intent upon highlighting the enormous challenges and critical dilemmas that democracies face in an emerging, multilateral new world order in which it is difficult to predict the geopolitical balances that will result from the Russo-Ukrainian war, which has rocked the world.

He did not hesitate to criticise the West’s dangerous as events have demonstrated complacency in taking the indefinite perpetuation of peace and of the post-war liberal, democratic post-war world order for granted, and in turning a blind eye until now to Putin’s neo-imperial geostrategic agenda, from Moscow’s intervention in Syria to its annexation of Crimea.

Naturally, the PM also stressed issues of specific concern for Greece, declaring that Athens’ will not tolerate the slightest Turkish challenge to its sovereign rights, and that the international community can never accept a two-state solution in EU member-state Cyprus that would effectively legitimise Ankara’s nearly 48-year occupation of over one-third of the island, but he placed these issues in the framework of an international imperative to stand up against geopolitical revisionism.

Insofar as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the par excellence regional exponent of historical revisionism, with his neo-Ottoman agenda, he indirectly called upon Congress to be extremely cautious in reviewing Turkish arms procurements, as the Biden administration is reportedly poised to sell Ankara 40 F-16 fighter jets and kits to upgrade dozens more in its fleet.

A Harvard College alumnus who graduated summa cum laude with a concentration in the rigorous Social Science department, Mitsotakis displayed a keen understanding of the social underpinnings and the political philosophy of American democracy, as framed by the founding fathers, with references to the Federalist Papers and James Madison in particular and to Alexis de Tocqueville’s monumental Democracy in America, and he underlined the deep influence of Athenian democracy on the framers of the US Constitution, who as he said wisely added the enduring system of checks and balances.

Finally, Mitsotakis underlined Greece’s crucial geostrategic position and the importance for American defence and foreign policy and for bilateral ties of the newly amended Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement, which substantially expands, essentially indefinitely, the US military presence in Greece by bolstering facilities at the geostrategically crucial Souda Bay, Crete, naval and air base, and establishes a new base in the strategic port city of Alexandroupolis, that facilitates the transport of troops and materiel through the Balkans and reportedly has already been used to that end in the effort to support the Ukrainian armed forces in their battle against the Russian invader.

The PM also especially stressed the importance of US-Greece energy cooperation.

Alexandroupolis is expected to become an important regional energy hub that can play an important role in Europe’s feverish effort to “rapidly diversify away from Russian gas, investing in the necessary infrastructure that will make it possible to import large quantities and liquefied natural gas”.

There is no greater honor for the elected leader of the people who created democracy than to address the elected representatives of the people who founded their country on the Greek model and have promoted and defended democratic values ever since.

I am conscious as I stand before you today of the deep ties that bind our two nations together.

They are a reason for celebration and thanks but they are also a reminder, I believe, of our shared values and beliefs at a time when these are once again being tested. 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.

Gender equality

It is an added honor, and a great pleasure, for me to address a joint session of the US Congress under female leadership, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and, of course, Vice President Kamala Harris.

For it was a Greek, and a Greek man at that, who first advocated equal rights for women. In “The Republic” Plato proposed that women should share all levels of power and take on all challenges, including military service.

Any state that does not employ the talents of its women, Plato made clear, is wasting half of its resources. And as the son, husband, sibling and father of strong, creative women, I couldn’t agree more.

‘Coming home to Washington’: classical Greece’s influence on the US

Like all Greeks, every time I come to Washington I feel as if I’m coming home, because everything I see around me, the architecture, the art, the ideas carved into marble throughout the city, is so familiar.

Walking into the Lincoln Memorial is like walking into the Parthenon when it was still intact, before Lord Elgin’s art collecting hobby defaced it, because it was modeled on the earlier monument. Driving by the Supreme Court and seeing above the entrance its motto and mission, “Equal Justice Under Law,” we remember that it is a concept that our Greek ancestors first conceived and articulated in a single word, “Isonomia.”

Of course, it was not only Washington’s buildings and culture that were immeasurably influenced by Greece but also the city’s main business, democratic politics, were founded in Athens as well. In fact, to be brutally frank, we all owe our jobs to our noble ancestors.
But I come here not to seek appreciation from you or praise for them.

The shared ideal of the ‘miracle’ of democracy

I come before you to celebrate a miracle that all free peoples cherish but that binds Greeks and Americans in a unique way. That miracle, the Greek idea that would forever change the world, is that society functions best if all of its citizens are equal and have the right to share in running their state. In a word, democracy.

It is hard for us today to realize how radical the idea of individual freedom was 25 centuries ago when a small community of Greeks dared to entrust equal political and legal rights to all its citizens. Women and slaves were excluded, but it was still such an extraordinary departure from what had gone before that it remains the most profound leap of faith in human history.

No society before the Greeks dared to believe that order and freedom were compatible. All societies before them were a succession of tyrannies that relied on a strong ruler, a king, a pharaoh, an emperor, to keep them functioning.

The lesson was not lost on the founders of the United States who shaped the American Constitution on the Athenian model but they were wise enough to insert checks and balances to avoid the excesses that eventually undermined Athenian democracy.

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.

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.

American as a model, support for Greek War of Independence

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last year Greece celebrated 200 years since the beginning of our war of independence. And 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.

What Americans had shown us by their example was that liberty can be fought for and, even when against the odds, won. We understood the founding of your republic to be a watershed in the history of the world, a model for the oppressed nations of Europe, a hope for our own future.

Right from the start, therefore, our forefathers looked across the Atlantic for support. From the distant Peloponnese, the leaders of the Greek revolution sent an appeal in the spring of 1821 to the American people, their ‘friends, fellow-citizens and brethren’.

They spoke of the ‘natural sympathy’ the Greeks felt for Americans, the thirst for freedom that they had both derived from the ancients. ‘In imitating you,’ they wrote, ‘we imitate our own ancestors. We shall show ourselves worthy of them in proportion as we resemble you.’

The founding fathers of your Republic were moved and impressed. “Light and liberty are in steady advance,” wrote Thomas Jefferson on learning of the news from Greece. “The flames kindled on 4th July 1776 have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism.”

Bicentennial of launch of Greek Revolution, first Greek Constitution

Exactly 200 years ago, in 1822, revolutionary Greeks assembled at Epidavros, debated and drew up our first Constitution. And with this document they introduced into the newly liberated Greek lands the new language of rights. Above all of the right of a nation to throw off the shackles of tyranny in order to live under the rule of law. In the words of our Declaration of Independence:

Have we something lesser than other nations, that we remain deprived of these rights, or are we of a nature lower or less civilized, that we should view ourselves as unworthy to enjoy them and instead be condemned to an eternal slavery, subjected, like automata or beasts of burden, to the absurd caprices of a cruel tyrant.

These are rights which within Greece we have never ceased to defend by arms when times and circumstances have permitted.”

Mesolonghi: The Greece -Ukraine parallel

A shocking reality: Replace the word Greece with Ukraine and the similarities to today’s turbulent world are harrowing.

Two years later, in a little town in Western Greece called Mesolonghi, these words were published alongside a translation of the American Constitution. That book, one of the first ever printed on Greek soil, stands testimony to the immense value we Greeks attached from the start to our own future as a liberal and constitutional polity.

That this little book appeared at the height of the war was remarkable. That it was printed in Mesolonghi was simply incredible. Like Mariupol today, Mesolonghi’s outnumbered and emaciated defenders would repeatedly repel wave upon wave of enemy attacks before their final desperate sortie, an act of extraordinary daring. But one that would ultimately cost hundreds of lives, many of whom were women and children.

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.

American support, philanthropy during Greek Revolution

Even today we have not forgotten the American volunteers who sailed to fight alongside us. Some of them gave their lives for our freedom. Their names are honored and their graves are still cared for.

Nor have we forgotten others of your countrymen who mounted one of the first public humanitarian efforts in history by sending Greece aid and assistance. Remarkable figures like Samuel Gridley Howe cared for women and children who had been left homeless and destitute, and established hospitals, schools and orphanages that supported us in the difficult years that followed.

The first school for girls in Greece was founded in Athens in 1831, by an American pastor, John Hill. The Hill Memorial School still continues to teach Greek children today in the historic center of Athens.

This long arc of American philanthropy continued through the nineteenth century, spreading across the Near and Middle East. And in times of dire need in the following decades, most notably a century ago, when hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed into Greece from Asia Minor in the catastrophic aftermath of the First World War, American institutions were there to bring aid and relief.

The Marshall Plan: US, Greece on ‘right side of history’

And, of course it was the Marshal plan that helped my country rebuild its infrastructure after the devastating Second World War and the civil war that ensued.

And in its own way, Greece reciprocated. Among the Greek orphans who were brought across the Atlantic into the United States to escape the fighting after 1821 were a future congressman and a commander in the US navy.

Young Greeks saved from the war became American educators and writers. Many of them were dedicated abolitionists, for the eradication of slavery was a cause whose urgent necessity spoke directly to men and women who had once been enslaved themselves.

Over the past two centuries our two countries have always been on the right side of history. We fought side by side in world wars to defend freedom and democracy.

Our democracies have struggled with internal demons. We endured the horrific pains of civil wars and the desperation of economic crises. But we have emerged stronger and more committed to defend the values that our ancestors gave their lives for.

Post-Cold War delusions, ignoring ‘warning signs’

I began today by saying that this bicentennial is more than a moment of celebration. It is also a reminder of the values that bind us together and the tasks we still face.

The world has changed a good deal in the recent months. But the warning signs have been with us for decades.

Following the end of the Cold War we naively believed that Europe, which had twice driven the world into global conflict, had finally found the path to peace.

We believed that international cooperation and a shared commitment to the rule of law now prevailed over guns and armies.

We believed that the deepening of the European Union, a unique experiment designed to further link our countries together, would make war on the “Dark Continent” unthinkable.

We believed that given the tragic and harrowing experiences of the twentieth century, no one would venture to suppress another people’s right to exist or alter its borders by force.
We naively ignored the warning signs flashing red. And we even ignored Russia’s actions in Syria and its annexation of Crimea.

We know now that we were wrong.

Slamming neo-imperialist revisionism, thinly veiled warning to Ankara

And we took sides. Unequivocally. We stand by Ukraine against Putin’s aggression. We delivered humanitarian aid. We supported the Ukrainians with weapons to help them defend their homeland. And we have welcomed, with open arms, refugees who have fled their homeland in search of safety for themselves and their families.

Mr. Putin is striving to create a world in which power is for the strong state but not the small. A world in which territorial claims are made on the basis of historical fantasies and enforced by aggression, rather than decided by peace treaties. A world in which armies rather than diplomats settle disputes.

He will not succeed. He must not succeed. He must not succeed, not only for the sake of Ukraine but also in order to send a message to all authoritarian leaders that historical revisionism and open acts of aggression that violate international law will not be tolerated by the global community of democratic states. The language of resentment, revisionism and imperial nostalgia shall not prevail.

Urging congressional caution on Turkish defence procurements

And speaking of open acts of aggression, I ask you, esteemed members of Congress, not to forget an open wound that has caused Hellenism unending pain over the past 48 years. 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 decisions of the United Nations Security Council. As I told President Biden yesterday, nobody can and nobody will accept a two- state solution in Cyprus.

The same is true for all other regional disputes. Greece is a peace seeking democracy that always extends a hand of friendship to our neighbors. We are always open to dialogue. But there is only one framework we can use to resolve our differences: international law and the unwritten principles of good neighborly relations.

Defence, energy cooperation

Last Thursday the Hellenic parliament ratified the new Mutual Defense and Cooperation Agreement between our two countries. Whereas previously it was renewed annually by an act of Parliament, it now has a five-year duration, after which it is automatically renewed, unless one of the parties chooses not to do so.

This agreement is a powerful testament of our enduring strategic partnership and our commitment to maintain peace and promote prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in Souda Bay, which I know many of you have visited. The largest naval base in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the only port that can accommodate aircraft carriers.

Greece as energy hub, strategic role of port of Alexandroupolis

But it is also obvious in the city of Alexandroupolis, in Northeastern Greece, which is rapidly becoming an energy hub for the entire region. This is important, as we seek to rapidly diversify away from Russian gas, investing in the necessary infrastructure that will make it possible to import large quantities and liquefied natural gas, this becomes critical. Not just for Greece but also for our Balkan neighbors.

I should tell my colleagues I don’t get so much applause in the Greek Parliament.

And we will interconnect the Greek electricity grids with Cyprus, Israel and Egypt in order to import cheap renewable energy from the Middle East and Africa into the European electricity system.

Major companies’ investment in Greece

But the thriving partnership of our two countries is not just limited to security and energy. Pfizer has set up a big data analytics center in Thessaloniki. Microsoft is building state of the art data centers on the outskirts of Athens. JP Morgan has invested in one of our leading Greek fintech companies.

What American companies see in Greece is not just a country endowed with an advantageous geographical position, and blessed with natural beauty that makes it a magnet for visitors from all over the world. They also see a dynamic economy that has overcome the difficulties, the pathogenies of the past and is supporting entrepreneurship and private investment.

And a workforce of young, talented, well-educated Greeks who, after a decade of crisis, choose to remain in their homeland rather than emigrating. Or for those who have actually left the country, choose to return to Greece now. And, I am convinced they will be the protagonists of Greece’s bright future.

The contributions of Greek-Americans, a US-Greece bridge

Let me conclude by making a special reference to the one unshakable bond that will always bind our countries together. The Greek American community.

It is a special moment to see so many of you here with us today.

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 seven years studying in American universities.

Those who sailed to this country were not philosophers and poets like their noble ancestors. For the most part, they were 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, fulfilling the solemn duty that every generation should be able to live a better life than the previous one. 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.
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, extremism, and excess the worst threats to democracy. “For man,” Aristotle wrote, “life according to reason is best and most pleasant, since reason more than anything else is man.”

That reason tells me we 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.

I bring you here today the pledge of the Greek people that we stand together with the people of the United States whenever and wherever necessary to ensure that the hope our ancestors bequeathed to the world 25 cαenturies ago will endure, and the dream of freedom for every human being on this planet will never die.

Long live the friendship between Greece and the United States of America!




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