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Guest Viewpoints

President Obama, at the Birthplace of Democracy: By Filippos Geragidis, Ioanna Vallianou-Leventi, Petros Vorgias

November 26, 2016

The United States President’s visit to Greece constitutes the most closely followed event of recent days. This is the first trip made by any sitting President of the U.S. to Greece, which does not coincide with the involvement of either party in fierce diplomatic or military disputes. During Dwight D. Eisenhower’s visit, in 1959, the predominant matter discussed between him and then Prime Minister of Greece, Konstantinos Karamanlis, was the Cypriot dispute. Similarly, George Bush’s stay was concurrent with arguably one of the most crucial conflicts of the time for the country – between Greece and the F.Y.R.O.M. – while the primary affair in Bill Clinton’s and Konstantinos Simitis’ agenda, in 1999, were the bombings in Yugoslavia.

During Barack Obama’s overseas trip his stop in Greece did not face diplomatic hindrances. Nevertheless, he found himself faced with a community devastated by the social repercussions of the deep economic crisis it has withstood for 8 years now. This was the subject of his speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, on November 16, 2016. He exhibited noteworthy sympathy for the Greek people, arguing that it is not of current significance to analyze internal and external factors, which lead Greece into its severe present economic state. Despite other European leaders’ austere stance against Greece, Obama has contrasting views. He acknowledged the huge price the average Greek citizen has paid, as a result of the constant imposition of austerity measures. He also recognized that after 6 years of such measures and politico-economic pressures, the Greek people ought to see an improvement in daily life, which may only be achieved through economic growth.

Democracy was the principal thematic axis around which the U.S. President’s speech revolved. He paid great attention to the multitude of historic factors. Specifically, he emphasized the role of democracy in sustaining healthy relations between states. He emphasized that democracy consistently brings about political and social stability, in contrast to the inherent volatility and instability of authoritarian regimes. Nonetheless, Barack Obama recognized some of the intrinsic flaws of the democratic governmental system. Through Obama’s exposition, it may be considered thoroughly logical to infer that the concept of democracy may be condensed into the following timeless statement of the late Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst system of government – except for all the others.”

Furthermore, President Obama made extensive references to globalization. He highlighted the many benefits of the phenomenon, such as the fact that the world is now nearly fully interconnected, through advancing technology. In turn, technology limits unawareness and ignorance while also generating a wave of pessimism. In reality, he argued, we live in the most equitable and prosperous era, in all of mankind’s history. He further supported the idea that the principles of democracy allow for globalization to

fully occur, ultimately leading to progress. Conversely, authoritarian governments decry and inhibit globalization, which may only bring about stagnancy – and not stability. Lastly, Obama implied that these regimes may ultimately destroy themselves “from the inside out”, as isolation and xenophobia do not march on stable grounds.

Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Berlin, Germany, exerted a direct influence on the structuring of his speech. There is an evident similarity between the themes he addressed and those which President Kennedy did, during his visit to West Berlin, in 1963, whose main claim revolved around the erection of the Berlin Wall by the Soviets. Kennedy employed the persuasive mode of pathos, expressing his compassion for all Germans going through their daily “combats”, while Obama’s speech is with empathy for the Greeks struggling for survival in a society which is plagued by the consequences of the crisis. Another notable similarity between the two speeches may be observed in the fashion, in which Kennedy refers to the Berlin Wall and the isolation it had caused for each side it separated. Likewise, Obama stood firmly against the isolation of peoples, shaking his finger at marginalized countries, and clearly making an indirect reference to the notorious Wall that president-elect Donald Trump had promised during his pre-election campaigns. In order to support the aforementioned argument, the President made an allusion to the solidarity that thousands of Greeks have shown the refugees who arrived on the islands of the Aegean, specifically referencing a Greek woman’s personal experience: “We all live under the same sun; we all fall in love under the same moon; we must help these people.”

Whether or not one agrees with Obama’s policies, his demeanor and charismatic rhetorical abilities are able to impress and captivate even his staunchest opponent. It is apparent that the President’s predominant belief is that the youth hold the capacity to curb the direction in which its respective society is headed, and to put an end to the issues from which it suffers: poverty, inequality, extremism, and social prejudice.

 

 

Photographic Coverage:

Alexandros Takis

Artemis Fotinos

Filippos Geragidis

Jackie Kassinaki-Baty

 

Senior Class of 2017

ACS Athens (American Community Schools of Athens)

 

 

 

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