For me, last week marked the end of more than eight years as a diplomat accredited on two different occasions to the Hellenic Republic, serving for the last four years as Canada’s ambassador.
From 2011 to 2015, with the support of my able embassy team, I have worked with six different prime ministers, a multiplicity of ministers representing six political parties, and have witnessed – and experienced at a very human level – the complex challenges facing this remarkable country.
Often drawing from the insights and experiences of my Greek-Canadian spouse, the daughter of immigrants to Canada in the 1960s, I have been motivated by the resilience of the Greek people, their inherent generosity and “filotimo,” despite the existential questions of everyday life. I have tried to be a faithful practitioner of the “human diplomacy” and “a l’ecoute des citoyens” practiced by former Canadian Governor General the Right Honorable Michaelle Jean, now secretary-general of La Francophonie, and a past collaborator.
Cultural exchanges had a special place to underscore our solidarity and the human face of bilateral relations at this difficult time: the spectacular success in Canada of the exhibition “The Greeks: From Agamemnon to Alexander The Great,” Cirque de Soleil’s Greek debut, music by philhellene pianist Alain Lefevre, Diana Krall at the Herod Atticus, and the Greek National Opera’s tribute to opera legend Teresa Stratas. Legendary international singer Nana Mouskouri and laiko icon Mary Linda both performed in Canada for philanthropic causes, a hospital partnership in support of children with cancer and Greek language instruction in three Canadian cities. The Vorres Museum and the Canadian Institute in Greece (CIG) are vibrant symbols of longstanding cultural ties.
I have drawn inspiration from the selflessness of average Greek men and women who work under the radar, achieving small miracles every day with limited means in support of the elderly, the hungry and the chronically ill. And these experiences have challenged me to reflect on my own moral compass.
I also have been proud to support the efforts of those who embrace diversity in Greece, so that all can be treated with equality, regardless of differences of religion, sexuality or race.
Even when there were differences of opinion and frank talk, as Canada’s ambassador I have been treated invariably with courtesy and respect, the ultimate compliment to my country, and always in the spirit of partnership central to Canada-Greece relations.
As a diplomat I have been challenged to promote meaningful dialogue between governments past and present and other key stakeholders regarding a major Canadian investment in the mining sector. Diplomacy obviously has its limitations but I nevertheless remain hopeful that time, circumstance and win-win opportunities will lead to positive outcomes.
During my tenure I have been gratified to see Canada become one of the largest foreign investors in Greece, even at a difficult time. In all candor I can claim no real credit for these fortuitous developments; however, this Canadian engagement is a source of considerable pride and validation of the untapped potential I have often championed.
I am confident Eldorado Gold, Fairfax and PSP Investments can contribute to long-term economic growth and prosperity in support of Greece’s future. Further successes by these signature Canadian investors already present in Greece will send a clear message internationally.
The eventual ratification by European Union member-states, including Greece, of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will provide an important catalyst to bilateral trade and investment.
The future path for Greece will be far from easy. It is time, however, to move beyond the many missed opportunities I have witnessed during my mandate, including the return of seaplanes to Greece, a certain catalyst for high-end tourism and a metaphor for transformation in the sector.
Greece no doubt faces a long and difficult path ahead. The country is at an historic crossroads. I have experienced at the grassroots level a growing weariness and disillusionment across the generational divide. Far too many Greeks seek new hope and opportunity only beyond the borders of their country. This has to change.
But the glass remains at least half full, not half empty, for this friend of Greece, although my own resolve has sometimes been tested. Canada’s new Chancery in Athens, inaugurated earlier this year and designed by celebrated architectural firm Tombazis and Associates, provides a new, modern platform for 21st-century diplomacy. Canada and Greece should aspire to be more ambitious in their bilateral relations. We are joined by close people-to-people ties, dynamic cultural/educational links and a growing Canadian investment presence. This is my parting wish as our two countries mark 75 years of diplomatic ties in 2017. And, for me personally, a commitment that this is not a goodbye: “Ce n’est qu’un au revoir.”
*Robert Peck is Canada’s ambassador to Greece who departs Athens on October 28, 2015.