Ambassador’s Remarks at Anatolia College, Town Hall with American Citizens and Wardens
October 26, 2016, 6:30 PM
Thank you very much Rosemary. Good evening everybody. Καλησπέρα σας. I have been spending all day trying to remember to say “Χρόνια πολλά!” to all of my Demetra and Demetrios friends. But I understand that, since I am in Thessaloniki now, it is actually “Χρόνια πολλά!” to everybody – so let me start out with those good wishes!
It was actually a lot of fun to get off the airplane this evening. Athens is beautiful, probably one of the most beautiful cities that Mary and I have ever lived in. But the nice thing about flying up to Thessaloniki is it’s a little bit like getting on the plane in Los Angeles and flying up to San Francisco because you actually feel seasons up here. And I noticed as I was walking through the beautiful campus, you have got trees that are changing and a reminder that winter is on the way. So, I am very excited to be here.
I am particularly honored to be here on the Anatolia College Campus. And I want to thank Dr. McGrew and all of his team who showed me a little bit of both the history and the remarkable infrastructure of this campus. I am very, very proud of the longstanding institutional partnership that we have with the College through the U.S. Agency for International Development. But I am especially proud of what Anatolia College represents, along with the three other big pillars of the American educational presence here in northern Greece, the ACT and the American Farm School, as concrete manifestations of our people-to-people relationship, which is such a vital and important part of the U.S. relationship with Greece and is such a wonderful force multiplier for me, as American Ambassador.
Because these are institutions, including in particular in the case of this campus, Anatolia College, that has trained generations of Greek government leaders, that has given form and substance to the ideas that stand behind American democracy and I would like to think has helped to make Greece a stronger democracy over the years as well. So, I want to thank, in particular, Anatolia College for hosting us this evening – what a fantastic library – but also all of these institutions.
One of my priorities, I have made clear, will be the support that I intend to provide, as American Ambassador, to all of the American-affiliated educational institutions in Greece. Because they are so important as part of the long American legacy in this country but also because they’re so important to building a strong Greece.
I was very pleased to meet the head of this school, Dr. Panos Vlachos, at my house last week. I did a meeting with the heads of a number of the American educational institutions and I made clear in that conversation that I want this to be something which is an ongoing part of my engagement here and I’m glad we’ve got representatives – I think I’ve met someone from the Farm School and from ACT this evening as well – so we’ve got a good turnout on all of that.
I wanted to talk for just a couple of minutes about where I think we are with the U.S. relationship with Greece and then I’m really happy to take questions in whatever direction you would like to steer the conversation. We’ve got Rosemary and her team, and I will introduce some of them in a few minutes, who are here to answer all the really knotty questions about ‘how can I make sure my vote gets counted in this little election that we’ve got coming up’ and all those other kind of Consular questions.
But I want you all to know that I am very conscious of the obligation, which President Obama gave me when I was nominated to be Ambassador, to ensure that the American Embassy in Greece is always open to American citizens, to American businesses, that you know how to reach us, you know how to bring us information which we need, and how to access the services of the U.S. Government.
My wife Mary, as Rosemary mentioned, is here in the front. You’ll notice her in the orange sweater; I think it’s the only orange sweater here this evening. Both of us are from Southern California. We actually met at University of California Irvine. And one of the great things, of course, about coming to Greece is, in so many ways, it feels like you’re coming home.
I mean we’ve got eucalyptus trees in my backyard in Athens that look pretty much exactly like the eucalyptus trees in my parents’ backyard back in San Diego. It even smells the same, I will tell you that! I’m a cyclist and one of the things I love about bike riding is that you get out in the countryside and you actually experience the country in a way you never will driving a car. And I was riding my bike along the coast toward Marathonas about two weeks ago and I realized there was this smell and I said, ‘that’s the San Diego smell!’
So, it’s really exciting to be here. We’ve had an extraordinarily warm welcome. I’m very gratified by both the reception we’ve received at the people-to-people level but, also, the very strong message which I have gotten from Prime Minister Tsipras, who I saw yesterday; from Defense Minister Kammenos, who was at my welcome reception on one of our Navy ships last night, was very, very gracious in his remarks; from Foreign Minister Kotzias, who I saw today – very clear message that this government is committed to building the strongest possible relationship with the United States.
And I am committed to doing as much as I can to capitalize on that opportunity at what is, understandably, a very difficult moment for Greece with lots of challenges – both a six year long economic crisis but, also, all of the challenges that have been introduced by the refugee crisis, which I know has had such a strong impact here in Thessaloniki and in Northern Greece.
We’ve got a little visit coming up in a couple of weeks which is going to take a lot of attention from me, Mary, Rosemary, Virgil, everybody. Every American at the Embassy knows exactly what they’re going to be doing on the 15th and 16th of November: it’s going to be working on President Obama’s visit. But this is something that has not happened in Greece since 1999, when President Clinton came, and I am very excited and hugely honored, of course, to be American Ambassador as we welcome President Obama. I think you will find him a very strong champion of Greece and the Greek-U.S. relationship. As we said in the announcement of the trip yesterday, we want to: lift up what Greece represents as a strong, European democracy; acknowledge the remarkable generosity that the Greek people have shown towards more than a million migrants who landed, unexpectedly, on Greek shores last year; and then, also, continue the very hard work of helping Greece to recover from this deep, deep economic crisis that has had such a dramatic effect on so many citizens of this country.
But I also am looking beyond what happens on the 16th of November when President Obama goes home, or goes on to Germany. I want to make sure that, over the next three years, we do as much as we can to build the relationships between the people of our two countries. I am delighted that so many of you, Greek-Americans who maintain strong ties at home, whether it’s in Queens or in Philadelphia or Newport Beach – I think there must have been six or seven other parts of the U.S. where various of you hail from. But also are here, living as proud citizens and residents of Greece and helping to build the fiber, the human fiber, of our relationship. And those ties are the kind of ties that characterize our strongest and most enduring alliances. So I want to make sure that we are sustaining and enriching those historic friendships.
I am delighted to have the opportunity tonight to meet with some of you and I will be happy to take some questions and then, everything I can’t answer, Rosemary and Virgil and the rest of the team will be here to field. As I said, our doors will always be open. We have Rosemary and Virgil are here and then also Helen, Nick, and Maria from our CIS office as well. So we’ve got a good, strong contingent from the Embassy in Athens but I speak for the whole Embassy team in saying how focused we are on addressing this part of our work here.
I want to say a little bit about Northern Greece as well. First of all, I’m delighted and really honored that I’m able to spend some time with Rebecca over the next couple of days. It’s not a coincidence that I’m coming up here to our Consulate General so early in my tenure. I was, as Rosemary mentioned, I was Consul General in Lahore, Pakistan a very, very long time ago when the dinosaurs still walked the ground, walked the lands. But I learned, through that job, the kind of outsized impact that an American diplomat can have when you’re in a part of a country where you don’t have sixteen other embassies and when there may be just one. I also was a single American officer for six months of my tour in Lahore so I know both the dexterity and flexibility that Rebecca has to demonstrate every single day as she is chef, waiter, cook, and bottle washer. But also, the extreme importance of this kind of Consulate General as a platform for the U.S. Government to represent us, to symbolize our commitment to engagement with the people of Greece and all the different parts of Northern Greece.
I look forward to learning a lot more from her over the next couple of days, meeting with local government representatives, being here for Oxi Day, meeting with religious leaders, NGOs, businesspeople. I’m not going to get to the top of Mount Olympus on this visit but I’m committed to doing it and, now I’ve said it in public, so it has to happen! I look forward to coming back in the fall, at least, to do that.
I want to spend my first couple of months doing as much travel, as much listening as I can. This is a complicated country. I have been in a lot of complicated countries in my day but Greece has complicated politics, it’s at a difficult moment in its own evolution. But it’s also a country which is a stalwart NATO ally.
One thing that it is, undoubtedly, is a democracy which is something that I take very personally and I don’t take for granted. I think sometimes we, as Americans, you know we drop our ballots every four years and we sort of take it for granted. But, having lived through the revolution in Ukraine, seeing the Ukrainian people put it all on the line to defend their democratic rights, I have great appreciation for what Greece has accomplished as the birthplace of democracy. I actually spent some of yesterday walking around the Agora and seeing some of the archaeological works which document, literally, the creation of our democratic traditions. But also, how Greece has been able to navigate these two crises over the past six years with its democratic institutions intact. That is an important accomplishment which should not be taken for granted.
So this is my first trip to Thessaloniki but, certainly, not my last. I look forward to being a frequent visitor here, learning as much as I can over the course of this visit, and hope to see many of you in different capacities over the next weeks and months. So, let me stop there and, maybe, open the floor to any questions.