Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is truly a special honor for me to be with you today. I would like to thank the “Democracy and Culture Foundation”, the New York Times and the President of the Athens Democracy Forum Mr. Achilles Tsaltas for their kind invitation. 

Especially this year, the topics of the Athens Democracy Forum make us all rethink the ways that humanity moves forward, focusing on current and future challenges, and placing democracy and culture in the core of a sustainable world. The world that we all envision for the new generations, for our children.

Greece has always been a country that declared the principles of peace, solidarity and freedom and defended human rights, values that are  cornerstones of sustainability and progress. Being at the crossroads of East and West, it has always been a land of dialogue among civilizations where the noblest ideals were emerged and became our compass from the ancient times until today. Athens, the birthplace of Democracy, remains a city that spreads the light of culture and humanism worldwide and international meetings like the Athens Democracy Forum give us great opportunities to join hands and get really inspired.

As a Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO, I have two main priorities: education and cultural heritage. I believe that they are keys in our efforts and they must always be considered as priority in every model of governance or policy. Education is our window to the future and cultural heritage is humanity’s identity and self-consciousness.

At the same time they are both affected by a series of issues that we have to cope with in order to reach the United Nations goals for 2030. War, poverty, exclusion, racism, extremism and climate change, the biggest threat of our planet today, are aspects of the reality that we witness more than ever and affect the life of many women, men and children around the world, affect growth and threaten our monuments and our civilization.  

The UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit that was held a few weeks ago at the United Nations sent the message “A Race We Can Win, A Race We Must Win”.  The clock is ticking and we don’t have time to lose anymore. We can all act and ensure political will and strategies, scientific means, public and private mobilization, protection of human rights: Rights in education, in health, in freedom of expression, in growth, in diversity, but also rights in our identity, in our history, in our beliefs and our dreams.

Humanity must take brave steps to protect our planet, our culture and our future. These are priorities for UNESCO and basic pillars of our Foundation’s initiatives as well. It is the right moment for all people to raise their voice and recall the noblest of ideals that are fundamental for humanity’s achievements.

In this countdown until 2030,  Greece will have a unique opportunity to remind how the ecumenical ideals of peace, freedom and democracy became the flag of heroic struggles that changed our world.  This opportunity comes in 2020, an anniversary year when we will celebrate the birth of the Western Civilization on the occasion of the 2.500 years from the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Salamis against the Persian Empire. Two epic moments of Greece and of Europe that became landmarks in the history of the West world.

In his book “The Cradle of European Culture” talking about the identity of Western civilization, His Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic Mr. Prokopios Pavlopoulos recalls the “Persians” of Aeschylus noting the birthday of the West. It is the scene, while Xerxes’ mother, Queen Atossa, asks Chorus, the respectable elders of the Persian palace “In what part of the world do people say this city of Athens is located?” And the Chorus Leader replies “Far away from here, where our Lord the Sun grows dim and sets”.    

I would also like to quote the British historian and journalist Dominique Selwood in his article in 2016 “If the West had a birthday, it would probably be the 22nd of September 480 BC, the date of the Battle of Salamis…As a direct result, Athenian culture was able to thrive and quickly entered a Golden Age of democracy, philosophy, art and drama, laying the foundations of the modern West”.

2020 will be a year of significant cultural and educational activities and I am feeling deeply touched as I am sharing it with you here at the Athens Democracy Forum.  And I truly hope that on this occasion next year, the Athens Democracy Forum will be our ally and share with us the ecumenical messages emerged from this Anniversary.

Because, this anniversary is international and I invite all of you to follow us in this effort.  To join us in spreading the messages of freedom, peace and democracy in our schools, in our communities, in the heart of every society that shapes its defenses against violence and today’s threats and longs for hope and inspiration to achieve courageous steps for the building of a better world.

Thank you!