ATHENS – The first volume of President Barack Obama’s memoir, the Promised Land, has arrived in Greece. Translated by Chrissa Frangiadaki and Manos Tziritas and titled Γη της Επαγγελίας, it was heralded on December 15 by an online panel of notables and praise by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his predecessor Alexis Tsipras.
The well-received book is filled with insights about Obama’s historic presidency and food for thought regarding political leadership and the future. In an exclusive interview with The National Herald, the book’s publisher George Mouroutis also noted that the American president was a philhellene and valued his numerous Greek-American friends, which, in addition to Obama’s deep appreciation of the importance of Greece as a U.S. ally was also important to U.S.-Greece relations during his tenure.
Mouroutis emphasized the importance of Obama making his final official international trip as president to Greece – a strong message to the region, especially for Turkey. “He made a very symbolic speech about democracy and the principles that inspired the whole world and which guided his own administration,” he said, highlighted the words of Eleni Banou, Curator of Antiquities of Athens, who gave the American president a private tour. “He wanted to be alone on the Acropolis. He listened with reverence and hung on my every word,” she said. Greek past president Prokopis Pavlopoulos said “he visited Athens as if he were on a pilgrimage.”
The opening panel, which was moderated by journalist Giorgos Koubaras, included Alexander Mallias, past Greek Ambassador of Greece to the United States, Dimitris Zafeiriades, General Director of Interbus A.E., Nikos Bakatsellos, President of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, and Endy Zemenides, Executive director, Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC).
Koubaras said of the book, which covers Obama’s first term, that “in a touchingly deep and personal work, he takes his readers on a journey that commences with his first political ambitions, reaches his first great victories at the Iowa caucuses, and continues with through November 4, 2008, when he was elected as America’s first African American president – a night that will be difficult for our generation to forget.”
In addition to examining domestic political and international affairs during his presidency, the book is also revelatory about his family life and the experiences of his wife and daughter in the White House.
There were video clips of Obama talking about various elements of the book, including his wish for people “to get a sense of what Michelle and I as a family, what the kids went through in this big transition. Maybe most of all I want to give young people – hopefully – some inspiration, a sense of how I as a young man was able to translate a whole bunch of issues that I had, working on things that were larger than myself, to remind people that our government, our Democracy is not something separate and apart from us but is something that belongs to us and that each of us … has a role to play.”
In his video message Mitsotakis noted that he had already read most of the book during his limited free time at night and during flights traveling abroad, saying that the book has importance for him and all mankind. He is impressed with Obama’s well-thought and well-turned book, and is moved by the “two characteristics that permeate the book – first, the age-old question a leader always asks: ‘did I make the right decision,’ and the second, the spirit of ‘yes we can!”
Additional speakers included Panagiotis Pikrammenos, Deputy Prime Minister of Greece, Stephanos Kavallierakis, Director of the Museum of the City of Athens, Eutyches Bardoulakis, strategic communications consultant with Stratego, Professor Konstantina Botsiou of the University of the Peloponnese, and author Christos Homenides
Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, Lt. Governor of California, who was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Hungary by Obama, said the book is “incredibly beautifully written” and that its depth honored the ancient Socratic wisdom that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
With roots in Arcadia and Messinia, Mouroutis grew up in Athens raised by a father who was director of Greece’s ministry of Economy and a mother who was shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos’ secretary. Armed with private sector communications experience Mouroutis became director of communications for past Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. After establishing a website for a major Greek newspaper he founded Thepresident.gr in 2017 and then opened the publishing house Athens Bookstore Publications. Notwithstanding the struggles of Greece’s publishing industry, the ambitious ‘boutique’ house aims to publish five or more books a year and has already presented biographies of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Michelle Obama, and supermodel Giselle Bundchen – in 2021 they will publish Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s – and other books, including several about the recent Greek political situation.
“For me, Obama is a very important figure and I arranged with some friends to obtain the rights
Mouroutis told TNH, “after successfully confronting the general financial crisis when he became president, Obama had to deal with the Greek crisis and then-German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble’s wish to expel the country from the Eurozone. In his discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Obama offered a very different perspective and in a chapter dedicated to Greece he talks about how they managed to stabilize Greece, which Obama saw was key to Balkan and East Mediterranean stability.”
Mouroutis noted that while the threat to the EU was understood in and out of Greece, people in Greece still don’t appreciate that the bailout, with all its painful austerity, forestalled a more devastating and complete economic collapse, putting Obama’s vital support for Greece into perspective.
While Washington’s interests were paramount – Mouroutis pointed out the United States needed a stable Greece for the fight against terrorism and as a potential international energy hub – Obama’s knowledge and respect for Greece’s diachronic and contemporary importance should not be underestimated.