Highlights from the address of H.E. the ex-President of the Hellenic Republic Mr Prokopiοs Pavlopoulos at the opening of the celebrations for the 2500 Anniversary from the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis.
“By declaring the opening of the anniversary celebrations for the 2500 years from the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis, allow me to refer in summary to the emblematically illustrious and always timely – as the course of History has demonstrated through the centuries – message of the Persian Wars in general.
With their victory in the Persian Wars, Greeks also defended their Culture, which they created – and which today forms the first pillar of our shared European Culture – while laying out for the first time in world History a fixed boundary between the East and the West. The reference to the ‘birth’ of the ‘West’, as the natural ‘incubator’ of Civilization and Liberty against the despotic model of the ‘East’, first appears in Aeschylus’s The Persians, where the Queen of the Persians, Atossa, asks the Chorus, shortly before the news arrives of the destruction of the Persian fleet at Salamis, where on Earth Athens, the city her son desired so, is located. And the Chorus responds: “Far from here, to the west where the last rays of our Lord the Sun set. (line 232) The East, ‘losing’ itself in the stifling fantasy of an illusory eternity. While the West would thereafter seek its own eternity, but an eternity constructed of the earthly materials of the human being, on the one hand on the more elegant scale of ‘one who looks up’. And on the other hand, and consequently, in an interminable search for the truth, every kind of truth. Which means, in and of itself, both the rejection of any dogma and, beyond that, the acceptance of the idea of constantly checking the correctness of any Knowledge gained. In other words, it means admitting that what is considered correct today necessarily differs from the eternal truth being sought.
At the same time, through their victory in the Persian Wars, the Greeks showed their vast superiority and, by extension, the categorical opposition of the rebellious and creative Ancient Greek Mind to the spirit of any illiberal form of government based mainly on individual or collective despotism. More specifically, despotism under a veil of, for example, monarchy, tyranny or even oligarchy. This observation is strengthened, from a historical and political perspective, if one looks at the way the large Kingdoms of the East, at that time, organized themselves and evolved, with the Persian Empire being the most salient example: The Mind cannot evolve or create freedom from a despotic regime that, by definition, sets limits designed to perpetuate itself. In other words, despotism, by its nature, gives rise to quasi-irrefutable dogmas or doctrines that are in no way compatible with freedom of the Mind. Despotism has a tendency to ‘enchant’ the mind. To the contrary, the Free Spirit – which the Ancient Greek spirit definitely was – has as its basic mission to disenchant the world (“die Entzauberung der Welt”, according to Max Weber). It was more or less in this manner that despotism and the Free Mind, incompatible notions, delimited the territory of the ‘East’ and the ‘West’. In Aeschylus’s Persians, Atossa, waiting for news from her son Xerxes’ campaign in Greece, asks the Chorus who the Master, the Leader of the Greek army is, (line 241) And the Chorus responds: “Slaves to no lord, they own no kingly power”, line 242)
IIΙ. The above observations as to how the Persian Wars marked, at that time, the border between East and West bring us – all things being equal in terms of history, and bearing in mind the corresponding, necessary historical distance between yesterday and today – to what is currently happening in our region. It is difficult to question the fact that Greece, faithful through the centuries to its historical legacy, remains – especially in the war-torn state of affairs in our wider region – a kind of ‘outer boundary’ of the West from the East, always representing, through its Free Spirit and Culture, the authentic and unselfish defender of Peace, of Freedom and of Democracy. But a boundary that is not designed to divide and to expand the distances between the West and the East. The opposite is the case: It is designed, in the course of its history and in its historical perspective, to build bridges of communication with the East, bridges of Peace, peaceful coexistence and collaboration. And the main bridge is that of equal and constructive dialogue, because for us, the Greeks, there is no notion of a “clash” between real Cultures. It’s just that it has always been the case, as it is in our time, that Cultures, for many and various reasons, become entrenched and isolated, creating between themselves what appears to be an ‘unbridgeable’ gulf. The mission of dialogue is to bridge this gulf between Cultures. And Greece, armed with its Historical Legacy, can and must play a leading role in this mission, and in an ideal manner.”