Ambassador Pyatt’s Remarks at Reception in Honor of “Faith-Based Leadership in a Turbulent World”
with The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University,
and the Athens Foreign Affairs Institute at the American School of Classical Studies, Athens
May 4, 2022
Kalispera, thank you Dr. Prodromou. Let me start first of all by saying thank you to the team from the Embassy that made this possible this evening. Cindy Harvey, Evgenia, I see Brian Breuhaus is out there, Christina … we’ve gone down many, many roads together. Eleni Alexaki, everybody, this is the last Public Affairs event that I will do [in Greece]. I have not kept track of how many we have done together over the past almost six years. I’m sure it’s in the triple digits.
I also want to thank Dr. Prodromou for the introduction and her remarks. She may not remember this: Elizabeth and I actually met for the first time in the summer of 2016 when I was going to State Department’s “Ambassador School.” Elizabeth was one of the people who the State Department flew down to Washington to get me ready to be Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic and to teach me what they thought was everything I needed to know about Greece.
But I will say, it was Elizabeth’s presentation that I paid particular attention to, and not just because it was impressive, but also because I was coming at that point from three years as Ambassador to Ukraine and I understood how important these issues of religious freedom or religious identity [and] the future of the Orthodox Church were to the broader agenda that the United States is seeking to pursue in our effort to construct a Europe whole, free and at peace. So, thank you, Elizabeth, for six years of partnership and education.
I also want to say thank you to Dr. Jenifer Neils and the whole team from the American School of Classical Studies for hosting us here this evening. This is one of the most sublime settings in Athens. I’m very, very proud of our institutional partnership with the American School and thank you, Jenifer, for letting us borrow your garden for an evening.
I think everybody here knows, this is my last week as U.S. Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic. The sand is running out of the hourglass. I think I have about 40 hours left. And – inshallah – my bags will be packed and I will actually get to the airport on time on Friday afternoon, although you wouldn’t know it from looking around my house right now.
I wish I could have hosted everybody at the residence for this reception, but believe me, you don’t want to be there right now. It’s not a pretty picture.
But no matter what was going on at home, I would not have missed this evening’s event because it’s an opportunity for me to offer my personal greetings to all of you who are participating in this Faith-Based Leadership in a Turbulent World program.
I know some of you I met this evening have traveled great distances, from Africa, from elsewhere in Europe, and all of you have taken time from your professional and personal obligations to come together with us here in Athens this whole week, and I want to thank you for that.
As Elizabeth alluded to, we’ve been working on this for almost two years. I’m very grateful to the partnership that we’ve had with the Fletcher School, with Tufts University’s Office of Executive Education, and with the Athens Foreign Affairs Institute for helping us to put this event together.
I’m going to echo Dr. Prodromou in thanking some other members of the team who helped implement, including Loukas Katsonis, Father Grekas, and Jenny Strakovsky. I know there’s a lot of effort that goes into putting something like this together, so thank you everybody for making it work.
I also want to thank the faculty who were part of the discussions this week. You represent expertise across so many different fields, from conflict resolution to financial strategy, to operational change, cybersecurity, maligned influence, and of course faith-based influence.
When I depart Greece on Friday afternoon I will do so with a heavy heart, but also with an enormous sense of pride for everything that we have accomplished in advancing the U.S.-Greece relationship to the all-time high that we’re able to celebrate today.
I’m especially proud in this regard, of all the cooperation that we’ve had with the Greek government. As Prime Minister Mitsotakis put it so well in his address in parliament a few weeks ago on the question of Ukraine, Greece is standing on the right side of history. I want to underline, as I know President Biden will do on the 16th of May, our admiration for Greece’s clear and robust response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is a critical moment in the history of the world and in European security. Because of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked, unjustified brutal invasion of its neighbor, it is more important than ever that all of us as NATO allies do everything we can to help the Ukrainians prevail, to see that Ukraine’s territorial integrity is protected, and to ensure that Putin pays for his active aggression.
The United States is doing that by contributing billions of dollars in security assistance but we’re also holding Moscow to account. That’s being done with sanctions, export controls, visa restrictions, everything that places accountability on the decision-makers who were responsible for this invasion and all of the atrocious violations of international law and human rights that have been committed in the name of this war.
Russia clearly has not appreciated the clarity that Foreign Minister Mitsotakis has brought to this conflict. It’s pushing false narratives here to sow uncertainty about its horrendous actions in Mariupol. Indeed, I read in the newspaper just as I was coming here that Moscow is planning to have a parade to celebrate their conquest of Mariupol on the 9th of May. It makes me sick as I read the stories of the hundreds of bodies that have been found in the Mariupol Theater where women and children were sheltering [and] as we see the reports of the destruction of a maternity hospital of all things in Mariupol. The idea that anyone should be celebrating this atrocity is beyond belief.
Moscow is also spreading lies about the Greek government’s decision to join other European governments in expelling 12 Russian diplomats following the atrocities committed including in cities that I got to know and towns that I got to know during my time in Kyiv, like Bucha.
We have seen firsthand across Europe how disruptive malign Russian influence has been. In the United States as well. That is why it is so important for everyone — politicians, journalists, community leaders, faith leaders like yourselves — to counter this with facts and transparency.
We are witnessing today the tremendous struggle between democracy and authoritarianism [and] between liberty and tyranny that will determine the future of our world. It is a struggle between the values that were founded right here in Athens, a few hundred meters from where we are today, and an alternative view that is aggressive, destructive and ignores human rights.
The democratic values founded here in Athens have inspired millions of people around the world including 40 million brave Ukrainians who we see fighting today. They are fighting to have the same fundamental European rights that all of us here take for granted. Freedom of speech, rule of law, judicial and electoral accountability. Things that we have every single day.
The values that unite us as Americans and Greeks are under threat in a way that we have not seen in generations. The effort to affirm our commitment to these democratic values at home while supporting those who are struggling for the same rights in their countries is more important than ever, and I am sure this theme of democratic values will be front and center when Prime Minister Mitsotakis meets with President Biden on the 16th of May.
As part of our bilateral relationship with Greece, all of us at the Embassy in Athens and the Consulate in Thessaloniki work every single day to deepen our partnership on some of the most urgent challenges that are facing both of our countries. That’s because we believe that together, Greece and the United States can be an even more powerful force for peace, prosperity and human dignity.
A crucial area for this cooperation is our people-to-people ties. This covers the whole gamut of relations between the citizens of our two countries. From educational exchanges, civil society engagement, culture and the arts, to professional development exchanges and more. Supporting the aspirations of rising and aspiring leaders through training and exchanges is something that we have been doing here in Greece for many years.
The United States is also strongly committed to the defense of freedom of religion. We believe that every human being should be able to worship freely and we engage regularly with communities from all religions to support that right. Here in Greece we meet often with Greek Orthodox Christians, leaders of Greece’s Jewish community, and Muslim groups throughout the country.
The Faith-Based Leadership in a Turbulent World program is part of this people-to-people pillar of our bilateral relationship. It represents the first time to my knowledge that the U.S. Embassy has supported a program specifically focusing on leadership development in the Greek Orthodox church.
The fact that we are able to do so with some of the most preeminent scholars on leadership and one of the most prominent schools of foreign affairs in the United States is a huge honor. And I hope that this week will just be the beginning of a longer and productive relationship between everyone here.
In my six years now in Greece I’ve come to understand through meetings and travels around the country that leadership in the Greek Orthodox church takes many forms. I’ve met with members of the clergy and community leaders across this country and have been struck by the role that you have not just upholding important religious traditions, providing guidance and comfort, but also in leading and influencing millions.
You all are united by a shared motivation to serve others. The idea of being a steward leader within your church and community places all of you in an important position of responsibility. I hope the leadership training you receive this week will give you the opportunity to reflect on the trends and challenges that are impacting our world and how you as leaders can influence the future of all of your communities.
I’ll conclude by just noting again my great appreciation, Dr. Prodromou, for the partnership, and to all of my Greek friends, please be well. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for the partnership. And I look forward to watching your success in the future.