Address by the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the opening of the celebratory series of events for the 2500-year anniversary from the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis.
“Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to add a few more thoughts to the very meaningful address of the President, on occasion of this important event by which the Greek state – with the support of the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation – are inaugurating the events by which we remember again the major events which took place in this country 2500 years ago. Allow me, for start, by picking up from where the President of the Hellenic Republic left it, to agree with his last comment and underline how important it is for these historical references not to be misinterpreted in a modern reading of cultural wars. These celebrations do not aim to revive this approach/reading of today’s exceptional complex global reality. The President is right when he says that if we are lacking something today more than ever it is this dialogue between cultures, a better understanding, the open lines of communication. And the more we hide ourselves behind simplistic stereotypes which interpret complex situations the more we are at risk of becoming the victims of such stereotypes and prejudices. Today’s world is exceptionally complex to be analysed by such tools alone.
History however has its special significance, and let me start by remembering again the words of historian Vassilis Panagiotopoulos, who wrote that “In our time, people are turning again to the past, with History taking on a therapeutic role. And if that expresses an internal tendency of social self-awareness in search of ourselves, then it is truly something positive”.
My view is that our ultimate past – full of glory as well as setbacks – should be viewed in this light. We should dig and look deep all the way to our roots, and reconnect with them. And not just simply record events which are more or less known already, as they have accompanied us from our first school years, but to revisit these events and try to interpret their meaning once more. To transform their burden into ammunition for the future.
This is the only way to bring History down from the bookshelves and outside the books. To turn it into a constructive tool for national self-awareness and the continuity of the people.
So what does this important year of 480 BC embody today? The battle of Thermopylae and mainly of Salamis in September 480 BC?
First of all, I believe, and the President of the Hellenic Republic underlined this point, that this was a very important moment of national unanimity. The Greek city states, setting aside their differences, came together to defend their most precious commodity: their freedom.
And then, as today, there were too few of us to be divided, as I note at every opportunity. This is the first great 25-centuries old lesson. There was however, especially during the Battle of Salamis, a moment of justification for planning and foresight. It was the “Wooden walls” of Themistocles which stopped the invader and helped lead towards the radiance of Athens.
My Dear Minister of Culture, it is worth focusing more attentively on what happened during this critical period between the Battle of Marathon and the Battle of Salamis, and what decisions Athens reached then against other types of pressure. About how perhaps the city’s wealth could have been spent at the time, but someone decided to invest in its defensive reinforcement and lay the foundation for what would also become a modern feature of the Greek nation, the maritime spirit.
Greece, back then in Athens, had its eyes and will always have its eyes towards the sea. And we should not forget that the battle of Salamis also paved the way for liberating lands which were at the time under the Persian rule. For 30 years after that the Greeks launched campaigns to regain the Ionian region. They thus emitted the first image of a Nation, whose homeland is Greece, but which has horizons all over the world, at least of the Eastern Mediterranean of that era.
And in our days, a tribute to this Ecumenical Hellenism is our government’s decision to make it possible for Greeks permanently residing outside our country’s borders to finally be able to vote from where they live.
Ladies and gentlemen, no matter how far away this period seems, it still has a strong resonance in our present. It reminds us, for example, of the importance of Peace in the ever-stormy Eastern Mediterranean. And it also gives a new meaning to the role of today’s Greece as a player, as a pillar of stability, peace and prosperity in the broader region. And of course, the end of the Persian wars was followed by the Golden Age of Culture and Democracy.
Two elements that put their stamp on mankind. They first defined Europe and its principles. And two challenges, which by nature, remain still open to constant evolution and progress. In an era when unfortunately, the concept of Democracy itself appears to be losing ground worldwide, with a narrative emerging about the idea of an ‘unfree’ Democracy, it is very important to focus on the teachings of the Athenian Democracy, with the particularities of a grass-roots Democracy that grew in the City State of Athens, to re-examine why everything that happened 50 years after the Persian wars has its own special significance in today’s tumultuous world.
Because without the resistance of the Greeks in the Persian wars, neither would philosophy shed such light on the thoughts and deeper inner struggles of the people, neither would the brutal social violence of authoritarian regimes be gradually converted into institutions. Into arguments and popular participation. That is, the concept of “politics” as we perceive it today. Even Europe itself, what we today call the West, would potentially have followed down a different path if the end of these battles had been different.
The anniversary, therefore, which we will be soon celebrating is not simply an historical event that belongs to the long Greek tradition. It is one of the most critical turning points in mankind’s history.
In our times, challenges are naturally different. Waves of refugees and economic migrants are now besieging the European countries. The crisis does not affect only borders and economies. It also poses an environmental threat. Also, the democratic rules and rights, during an era of digital revolution, require new processing. Europe itself is called upon to stay strong and preserve its ideals to respond to all these questions. And Greece of course is called upon to renew the role it always had: As a symbol of Democracy and Culture and as a meeting point of the people on the way towards progress.
So I would like to sincerely thank the International Organisational Committee, the President of the Honorary Committee, Mrs Marianna Vardinoyannis, for her active contribution in the best possible and well-thought out opportunity we are given to celebrate this important anniversary. And I would like to personally thank Mrs Vardinoyannis because she has been working on this anniversary for a number of years now. Way before perhaps the Greek state had realised its significance. Furthermore, I would also like to stress how important it is for us to meet the society of the citizens with such actions. The organised state itself, the Local Administration, which is represented today by all the Mayors, who will play their own unique role in these anniversary events, and the official state through the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Interior, in a fruitful collaboration, which will allow us to put into practice what I frequently talk about, the public-private partnerships of the society of citizens, in order to achieve this constructive synthesis.
The actions to be undertaken must of course complement each other, especially those concerning Salamis and neighbouring Elefsina. We should not forget that it is the cultural capital of Europe for 2021. And our duty is therefore to turn the 2500th anniversary of the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis into a starting point for a journey back towards national self-awareness. A journey that will continue, that will not come to an end, because such journeys never do. It will continue and grow in intensity in 2021, as we mark the bicentennial of the Greek Revolution.
Let us proceed again from Ancient Greece towards a modern Greece. With a goal and a destination, let’s all march together towards the Greece of the future.
And again I would like to warmly thank everyone who is participating in this significant series of actions and events and wish everyone success.
Thank you very much”.