Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis delivers remarks to a joint session of Congress, May 17, in Washington, DC, with U.S.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California present. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON, DC – Over more than two centuries of American history few of the foreign leaders who were invited to address a Joint Session of Congress experienced the appreciation and applause received by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic on May 17, one day after meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House. Indeed, while the reception was inspired by the growing strategic importance of Greece for U.S. interests and the strongest U.S.-Greece relations in memory, some of the standing ovations – perhaps the loudest and most enthusiastic – where prompted by references to the Greek-American community.
The Prime Minister met with Biden at the White House on May 16, the first day of his official two-day visit to the American capital. President Biden referred to his personal friendship with Mitsotakis and to the democratic ideals born in Greece that inspired the United States, and which he said are sadly tried by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a democracy threatened by autocrats.
“Today, our friendship and partnership between our countries, between Greeks and Americans, I think is more important than ever. And I’m honored to celebrate the partnership with you,” the American president said in brief introductory comments to the press, adding that the issues they discussed included defense and trade partnerships, energy security, and climate change.
While the warmth between the two leaders – reflecting the state of relations between their two countries – was palpable, Mitsotakis did not mince words regarding the threats Greece is facing, and while he did not use the words ‘Turkey’ or ‘Erdogan’, everyone understood what he was referring to.
“Neo imperial fantasies belong to other centuries,” Mitsotakis said. “They must not succeed, and they must not succeed not only for the sake of Ukraine, but to send a very clear signal to other authoritarian leaders that any violation of sovereignty will be met by a unified and forceful response.”
And at another point he said: “Mr. President, you are extremely knowledgeable about the Cyprus issue and please use all your influence to put the negotiation process back on track, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions. No one, no one can or will accept a two state solution in Cyprus.”
Mitsotakis declared that, “my visit to the United States is an opportunity to reassess the status of our relationship, which I honestly believe is at an all-time high,” underlining Greece’s role as a reliable partner, one who overcame crises to become a pillar of stability in the region.
He added, “Mr. President, we will continue to invest in our Armed Forces and make it very clear that we will not accept any violations of our sovereignty and our sovereign rights. And after all, we’re doing so, in order not just to strengthen Greece, but also in order to strengthen NATO’s southeastern flank.”
PM Mitsotakis also took the opportunity to refer to the significance of the continuing celebration of the bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence, “which was also inspired by the American struggle for independence. Over the last two centuries Greece and the United States have fought wars together and are now united in facing the challenge of the Ukraine war.”
Greek-American Community the Highlight of Speech to Congress
During his speech to Congress, after addressing key issues in the world at large, like the war in Ukraine, Turkish provocations against Greece and Cyprus, and Turkey’s continued illegal occupation of 37% of Cyprus, and U.S.-Greek relations in general, Mitsotakis turned the spotlight most brightly on the Community:
“Esteemed members of Congress, 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 U.S. 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 Cassavetes and Elia Kazan, Jeffrey Eugenides and George Pelekanos, Alexander Payne and Tom Hanks. And, of course, Giannis 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. One 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 centuries 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!”
Following his address, Mitsotakis met with U.S. lawmakers and lawmakers discussed several issues important to U.S.-Greece relations, including energy independence, military cooperation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Turkish aggression.
Mitsotakis Honored by Community, Honors Greek-Americans in Turn
During his historic visit to the United States this week Mitsotakis addressed the guests at a dinner organized in his honor by representatives of Greek-American organizations in Washington, DC, the lead taken by the Washington ‘OXI’ Day Foundation, whose president, Mike Manatos, was the Emcee for the event.
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, the speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez were present, along with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the new U.S.-Ambassador to Greece, Greek-American businessman and philanthropist George Tsunis, Greece’s Ambassador to the United States Alexandra Papadopoulou, Lt. Governor of California and past U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, businessman and philanthropist Michael Psaros, President of Atlantic Bank Nancy Papaioannou, businessman, philanthropist and PSKEA President Philip Christopher, Advisor to the Publishers of the National Herald Antonis H. Diamataris, and co-publisher of the National Herald Eraklis Diamataris
In his remarks during the dinner, Mitsotakis noted, among other things, that his government will not stop striving until “Greece becomes the modern state that we all deserve.”
AHEPA was one of those named Grand Commander of the Order of Phoenix, the highest honor Greece bestows. “It is with an immense sense of awe, weight, and responsibility that I accept the Order of the Phoenix on behalf of the Order of AHEPA because this significant recognition is earned on the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of Hellenes, many of whom immigrated to the United States in search of a better life,” Kokotas said.
The Prime Minister’s visit was packed with events from start to finish. On the first day, May 16, he appeared on the popular MSNBC broadcast Morning Joe and proceeded to a special event at Georgetown University, an interview with journalist David Ignatius.
Mitsotakis was introduced by Psaros, a university alumnus and a member of its Board of Trustees. The Prime Minister was then welcomed by the university’s president John J. DeGioia.
During his discussion with Ignatius, Mitsotakis emphasized that, “it is important to me and for Greece that I will address the Congress. I will be the first head of a Greek government to do so. It is a great opportunity to speak about our democracies’ parallel paths. The Greek Revolution was influenced by America’s Founding Fathers [and they by Ancient Greece]. We pursued freedom against all odds, and since then we have been on the right side of history, battling together.”
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