President Obama’s Speech at the Cultural Centre of Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Athens, Greece, November 2016
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much. Please, please have a seat. Thank you. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Chicago!
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Chicago — (laughter.)
Hello, Greece! (Applause.) Yia sas! Kalispera! To the government and the people of Greece — including Prime Minister Tsipras, who I thank for his partnership and for being here, along with so many young people, the future of Greece — I want to thank you for your warm and generous welcome.
As many of you know, this is my final trip overseas as President of the United States, and I was determined, on my last trip, to come to Greece — partly because I’ve heard about the legendary hospitality of the Greek people — your philoxenia. (Applause.) Partly because I had to see the Acropolis and the Parthenon. But also because I came here with gratitude for all that Greece — “this small, great world” — has given to humanity through the ages.
Our hearts have been moved by the tragedies of Aeschylus and Euripides. Our minds have been opened by the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. Our understanding of the world and our place in it has been expanded by Socrates and Aristotle.
In the United States, we’re especially grateful for the friendship of so many proud Greek Americans. In my hometown of Chicago — (applause) — you can find them in Greektown, with their foustanellas. (Laughter.) And together, we’ve celebrated Greek Independence Day at the White House. We’ve had some spanakopita and some ouzo. (Laughter.) Greek Americans have worn the uniform to keep our country free. Greek Americans have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to make us more just. Greek or American, we’re all cheering for Giannis Antetokounmpo — (applause) — who seems to be getting better each year. And if anyone seeks an example of our shared spirit, our resilience, they need look no further than New York City, near Ground Zero, where the Greek Orthodox church of St. Nicholas, once in ruins, is now rising again.
Most of all, we’re indebted to Greece for the most precious of gifts — the truth, the understanding that as individuals of free will, we have the right and the capacity to govern ourselves. (Applause.) For it was here, 25 centuries ago, in the rocky hills of this city, that a new idea emerged. Demokratia. (Applause.) Kratos — the power, the right to rule — comes from demos — the people. The notion that we are citizens — not servants, but stewards of our society. The concept of citizenship — that we have both rights and responsibilities. The belief in equality before the law — not just for a few, but for the many; not just for the majority, but also the minority. These are all concepts that grew out of this rocky soil.
Of course, the earliest forms of democracy here in Athens were far from perfect — just as the early forms of democracy in the United States were far from perfect. The rights of ancient Athens were not extended to women or to slaves. But Pericles explained, “our constitution favors the many instead of the few…this is why it is called a democracy.”