Ambassador Tsunis’s Remarks at Independence Day Reception

Jefferson House Residence, Athens

July 1, 2022

(as prepared)

 Kalispera everyone!  Welcome to the Jefferson House Residence after what has been far too long of a wait for us to get together, have some fun, and celebrate one of America’s most important holidays – Independence Day.

Please join me in thanking Eleni Kelisidi for that incredible performance of the Star-Spangled Banner.

And a very special thanks to the members of the Hellenic Navy Band who will be performing for us throughout the evening, under the leadership of Lt. Commander Karagoudakis.   

Our guests here today are simply too numerous to name individually.  I would like to recognize and welcome our many friends from the Greek government and Armed Forces, as well as our great partners from civil society, education, business leaders, and members of the press.  Thank you all for coming! 

We are greatly appreciative to our sponsors and for everything you have done to make this wonderful reception possible.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce Maria Olson, our new Deputy Chief of Mission, who just arrived on Tuesday. 

Maria comes to us from Washington, where she was the Director of the Office of Southern European Affairs at the Department of State. 

She knows Greece and the region well, and has already made invaluable contributions to this relationship.  I know you all will greatly enjoy working with her.  Maria – welcome to the team! 

Today, we celebrate America’s declaration of independence.  We celebrate the quest of a nation and a diverse group of people – representing all walks of life, sexuality, beliefs, and faith – who were united 246 years ago and remain united by a shared dream of equality and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness for all.

This dream of democracy was born right here in Athens.  It was here that, for the first time in the history of the world, everyday citizens were empowered and ennobled as stewards of their collective destiny.  They were charged with protecting the democratic rights and freedoms of their society and putting them in service to the greater good of all.

Since the golden age of Pericles, the light of this democracy has guided the world’s path forward, dispelling the darkness of tyranny however menacingly it threatened. 

This dream of democracy inspired the founding of the United States.  It sparked the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and Adamantios Korais.  It united our peoples – as many brave Americans joined Greeks and courageously fought by their side for Greece’s independence 201 years ago, with the cry of “Liberty or Death!”

It’s the promise we’ve shared ever since – that the flame of democracy would never die.

Today, as a sovereign European state faces a full-on invasion so close to us, and the international rules-based order upon which our collective security and prosperity stands is challenged like never before, our countries are at the forefront of the struggle between democratic values and tyranny. 

And our collective response today will determine the future of our world tomorrow.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis was right when he said in his historic address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in May that our two countries have always been on the right side of history. 

And, as stewards of democracy, we have a sacred obligation to cherish and protect these democratic values we hold so dear.

That does not mean that we – as countries or peoples – will always be perfect.  The greatest threat to our democracies is not that we are flawed. 

It’s that our people might one day lose faith in our ability to heal our wounds, to rectify our inequities, or to right our wrongs as we strive to achieve a more perfect union – and to make this world a better and more just place for all.

We – the United States and Greece – share an uncommon spirit, a special bond and friendship forged through shared struggle, that calls on us to defend the values that led to the birth of both of our nations. 

That is why we have worked so successfully together to promote stability and economic prosperity throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, Western Balkans, and beyond.  And I know there is much more we can do together.

This spirit has driven us to always seek to succeed.  Like so many others, my parents immigrated to the United States to build a better life for our family. 

They left Greece with nothing but a strong foundation of Greek values and a spirit of hope for a better future.

I have been blessed to live out the American dream.  My parents taught me to work hard, to get a good education, and, above all, to never forget my roots and the Hellenic ideals of goodness (kalosini), agape, and philotimo, the love of honor and commitment to do what is right. 

And it is now the honor of a lifetime to return here to my roots and to serve my country as the U.S. Ambassador. 

I believe Greece must be one of the single-most desirable countries to live in.  It’s no surprise that Americans – and people from all over the world – are coming here in droves. 

It’s the people, the world-famous philoxenia.  It’s the incredible food, the culture, the beautiful blue waters and amazing islands.  As my predecessor would attest, Greece is truly a place you never want to leave.

But more than anything, I think, it’s the Greek way of life, the decency one finds in the people here. 

Greeks do not seek strife.  Everywhere, one finds an unquenchable love for life, the desire to embrace all that is good, to one day say, like Nikos Kazantzakis: “I hope for nothing.  I fear nothing.  I am free.” 

Before concluding, I want to recognize a very special guest, someone who embodies the very best of these shared ideals and dreams of which I have been speaking – my good friend, Dr. Albert Bourla.

I was just in Jerusalem with Albert where he was awarded the prestigious Genesis Prize for his leadership, determination, and willingness to assume great risks in delivering a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time:  months instead of years. 

In an act of incredible magnanimity, Albert asked that his $1 million prize be donated towards the construction of the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki, helping to educate others on the Holocaust and the tragedy suffered by the Greek Jewish community.

My friend, thank you for all you do.  You truly exemplify the American dream and what we’re all here to celebrate – always striving toward the good and making this world a better place for all.  I give the floor to you to share some words with us.