Ambassador Tsunis’s Remarks on Independence Day Celebration, June 29, 2023

Ambassador Tsunis delivers remarks on Independence Day 2023 Celebration (June 29, 2023)

Jefferson House

Thursday, June 29, 20:00

As prepared

I am delighted to welcome you all to Jefferson House to celebrate the United States’ declaration of independence.  247 years ago, our founders envisioned a land that was free and democratic, based on values and principles born right here in Athens.

It was here in Athens that, for the first time, everyday citizens were empowered to work together to shape their collective destinies.

Today we celebrate the quest of a diverse group of people, bound to each other by a shared dream of equality and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness for ALL.

The Greek dream of democracy also inspired the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights visionary whose words form the backdrop of our evening together.

Dr. King believed in the fierce urgency of NOW.  He believed now is the time to make REAL the promises of democracy.  He believed in collective ownership of democracy, and in the power of everyday citizens to fight tyranny, injustice, division, and hate.

Dr. King believed democratic action was grounded in the Greek notion of agapi, which he understood as brotherhood, goodwill, and overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.

This part is really important:  Dr. King wasn’t interested in sound bites or talking points or platitudes; he was interested in the hard, unglamorous work of righting wrongs and living out the true meaning of our bold democratic experiment.

My good friend Barack Obama was in Athens last week.  He reminded me that as stewards of democracy, each of us in Greece and the United States has a sacred, ongoing obligation to protect the democratic values we hold so dear.

For all of us.

Let me be clear.

When I say all, I mean people of any gender, with EQUITABLE representation in the corridors of power and in corporate boardrooms.   I believe that when the history of this century is written, it is NOT going to be the century of autocrats, or the internet, or COVID.

It is going to be the century of WOMEN, the century where we realized you cannot achieve full human potential without half of your intellectual firepower.  Great societies know this.  And countries who don’t understand this are going to be left behind.

When I say all, I mean those fleeing war, oppression, and community violence, those whose only desire is a better life for themselves and their families.  These are people who have so much to offer – culturally, socially, economically – if only given the chance.  I think the Antetokounmpo brothers are a shining example of this.

It is my hope that all those in search of a better life can rebuild in places that are free, safe, and full of opportunities, just like my parents were able to do when they immigrated to the United States.

My parents left Greece with nothing but hope and a strong foundation of Greek values.  They might not have survived after World War II were it not for the United States, and the Marshall Plan, through which the American people sent Greece over six million tons of food and supplies.  In the words of George Marshall (whose statue graces the front of our embassy), the American people “answered the call of a valiant ally who suffered much, to whom this American democracy owes so much…”

There are 110 million displaced people in the world today.  Over half of them are children.  When people leave their homes in search of a better life, they want to come to democracies.  It isn’t just because of the freedom democracies provide.  It’s because democracies offer better, richer, safer lives.

We don’t see people risking their lives trying to migrate to Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, or Iran.  Iran doesn’t have an immigration problem.  Democracies like ours, on the other hand, are a beacon, a lighthouse on the shore.

Democracy only works when it works for all…  When I say all, I mean inclusion for LGBTQI+ folks, who still strive for equality, including the right to marry and raise children.  May we soon see a day where all people can love who they love, be who they are, and be accepted by their communities.

When I say all, I mean supporting children with special needs, who yearn for the academic rigor, sport, friendship, and opportunity inclusive education brings.

Inclusion is not just a selfless act.  When everyone is seen, heard, valued, and nurtured, our economies grow faster and more agile.

Our societies are stronger, more creative, more vibrant, and more free.  This is, at its core, the promise of democracy and the mark of a great society.

Let us push back on systemic oppression.

Let us choose love, not hate.
Let us choose freedom, not tyranny.
Let us choose unity, not division.
Let us choose all, not the few.

Let us choose infinite possibility.
Let us choose aspiration.

Let us heal.

Let us choose to have a dream.

In the words of Amanda Gorman (the Youth Poet Laureate of the United States), there is always light if we are brave enough to see it, if we are brave enough to BE it.

I ask you to join me in being that light.

Courtesy of our friends at the Embassy of Moldova, we are toasting tonight with Freedom Blend, made of grapes from Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.  Freedom Blend is a great wine, but it is also a powerful metaphor for what can happen when we roll up our sleeves and do the hard work together.

It’s reminder that our continued support and shared efforts are essential to ensuring our brothers and sisters in Ukraine—represented here tonight by my great friend Ambassador Shutenko – can soon return home to a country that is free, whole, and unequivocally Ukrainian.

We can NOT let up.  While we sit in the safety of our homes talking about solidarity, THEY are the ones fighting and dying for these principles we hold dear.  We cannot be nations of onlookers.  We CANNOT be silent as one country attempts to redraw the boundaries of another by force.

So I ask each of you, in ways big and small, to recommit to peace and freedom in a Ukraine that not only survives, but thrives.

So let us toast in their honor, to freedom, democracy, and love.

The work continues, the cause endures.

God bless us all.

Thank you.