By Geoffrey R. Pyatt
When the clock struck midnight on January 1, people around the world expressed relief at reaching the end of 2020. While I shared that sentiment, I also felt the excitement of Greeks anticipating the arrival of 2021, which marks 200 years since the beginning of the creation of the Modern Greek state.
We know from history books that this is when the Greek people proclaimed their independence, and many gave their lives in the fight for democratic self-governance. What is less well-known is that this was also the start of an important relationship between the United States and Greece, whose histories have been intertwined from the beginning.
To honor this important milestone, the US Mission in Greece has launched a campaign inspired by the Greek concept of philia, highlighting the historic relationship between our countries and the strong foundation of democratic values that we share. I have learned over the past four years that Greek philia is not to be taken lightly. As Aristotle stated, true philia is a form of love rooted in honor, commitment, and respect for each other.
Our new logo, created for this occasion, depicts the flame of democracy composed of elements from the Greek and US flags, symbolizing how our revolutions are intertwined and how our deeply ingrained belief in human liberty, self-government, and rule of law has “sparked” history. For just as ancient Athenian democracy inspired America’s founders, so too did the success of the American Revolution and our young democracy inspire Greek freedom fighters in 1821. In fact, Greece’s founders explicitly modeled their 1822 declaration of independence on the document our founders signed in Philadelphia in 1776.
Passionate in their belief that if our democracy was to be meaningful, our country should come to the aid of the Greek revolutionaries, many Americans joined together to support the Greek independence movement. Philhellenes like Samuel Gridley Howe, William Washington and George Jarvis left home to fight alongside and provide humanitarian support to their Greek comrades in arms.
Meanwhile, American citizens established Philhellenic societies throughout the country, raising money to aid the cause and lobbying their elected officials to recognize Greek independence. In those early days of our republic, widespread support for the Greek War of Independence sparked one of our first foreign policy debates. As the inheritors of ancient Greek traditions, American Philhellenes believed they had a civic duty to help Greece reclaim its birthright of democracy.
Since that time, both of our democracies have been tested. On January 6, the world watched in shock as seditious rioters attacked the US Capitol in an unprecedented assault on America’s democracy. I am grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support from Greeks who offered their condolences and shared their confidence that the institutions of American democracy and justice will prevail just as they always have. They are right!
The world is witnessing the strength and resilience of America’s democratic institutions, and our resolve to repair this attack on the values we as a country hold most dear. These challenges underscore the vital importance of the democratic principles that both our nations have upheld and defended, often side by side, for 200 years. They are a reminder that we must never abandon our vigilance nor the time-cherished ideals that make us who we are.
Earlier this month, the Greece 2021 Committee launched a campaign that will celebrate Greece’s history, honor its people, highlight its achievements, and look ahead to its future. Our campaign, “USA & Greece: Celebrating 200 Years of Friendship,” will complement the Committee’s goals with events and partnerships designed to highlight the role of American Philhellenes in the Greek Revolution, the strong people-to-people ties we have built over the past 200 years, and our commitment to our strategic relationship, which is the strongest it has been in modern history.
We will partner with Greek civil society, cultural and educational institutions, cities, and individual citizens throughout the year on programs to celebrate our historic friendship. These will include the creation of a permanent exhibition on American Philhellenism at the newly established Museum of Philhellenism in Athens; an exhibition called “The Free and the Brave: American Philhellenes and the Glorious Struggle of the Greeks” at the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies; a special program of American music performed by the Greek National Opera Orchestra; and an online and physical exhibit chronicling the history of the US Consulate General in Thessaloniki. We also plan to support commemorations that will take place around the country and have already entered into partnerships with the city of Sparta and the Delphi Economic Forum.
We also want our celebrations to focus on Greece’s bright digital future and talented young people, who have such strong ties to the United States. To this end, we will provide scholarship funding toward the establishment of a new American Studies Master’s Program and have included programs like a virtual entrepreneurship project with The Hellenic Initiative that will provide mentorship to Greek entrepreneurs, and an experiential space at the Athens Science Festival that highlights scientific breakthroughs by Greek Americans.
Celebrating Greece’s bicentennial together, we see the upcoming year as an opportunity to take our relationship to new heights. In 2021, the US will continue to rely on Greece’s role as a pillar of stability, promoting security, peace and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkans.
The upcoming inauguration on January 20 will mark the beginning of yet another new chapter in our friendship. As he made clear when he did me the honor of swearing me in to this ambassadorship, President-elect Joe Biden is a well-known friend of Greece, and I know that he and his national security team will continue to build on the progress we have made over the past four years.
2021 will be an important year, during which we will defeat the Covid-19 pandemic, celebrate our past, and create new possibilities for our shared future that reaffirm our converging strategic interests and the values that unite us. There is so much we can accomplish together, inspired by a historic friendship forged 200 years ago.
Geoffrey R. Pyatt is US ambassador to Greece.
This essay was first published on ekathimerini.com.