The following essay was prepared by the students at the American Community School in Athens following the official visit to Greece by President Barack Obama.
The Leader of the Free World at the Birthplace of Democracy
The President of the United States’ visit to Athens, Greece undoubtedly constitutes the most closely followed event of recent days. It is of paramount significance to note that this is the first trip made by any sitting President of the United States to our country, which does not coincide with the involvement of either party in fierce diplomatic or military disputes.
During Dwight D. Eisenhower’s visit, in 1959, the predominant matter discussed between him and then-Prime Minister of Greece, Konstantinos Karamanlis, was the Cypriot dispute. Similarly, George H. W. Bush’s stay was concurrent with arguably one of the most crucial conflicts of the time for the country – between Greece and the F.Y.R.O.M. – while the primary affair in Bill Clinton’s and Konstantinos Simitis’ agenda, in 1999, were the bombings in Yugoslavia.
During Barack Obama’s final overseas trip as President of the United States, his stop in Greece did not face any diplomatic hindrances. Nevertheless, he found himself faced with a community devastated by the social repercussions of the deep economic crisis it has withstood for 8 years now. This was the subject of very thorough analysis during his speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, on the 16th of November, 2016.
He additionally exhibited noteworthy sympathy for the Greek people, arguing that it is not of current significance to analyze the internal and external factors, which lead Greece into its severe present economic state. Whilst other leaders from powerful European states, which offer economic support to Greece, maintain an austere stance against Greece, Obama has contrasting views. He acknowledged the huge price the average Greek citizen has paid, as a result of the constant imposition of larger and larger amounts of austerity measures. Lastly, he also recognized that after 6 years of such measures and politico-economic pressures, the Greek people ought to see an improvement in daily life, which may only be achieved through economic growth.
Democracy was the principal thematic axis around which the U.S. President’s speech revolved. As is customary in his speeches, he paid great attention to the multitude of historic factors, which constituted the basis for the establishment of the democratic Constitution, whose flame shines bright across the entire globe, and cannot be extinguished, as he argued.
Specifically, he greatly emphasized the role of democracy in sustaining healthy, and viable relations and interactions between states, as well as the nonviolent resolution of disputes that arise amongst them. He supported the above through a series of references to the various political achievements of the United States of America, during his presidency, where, through the employment of diplomacy and dialogue, he was able to disarm Iran of their nuclear weaponry, as well as re-establish commercial and diplomatic relations with Cuba.
He continued by disclosing his belief that democracy consistently brings about political and social stability, in contrast to the inherent volatility and instability of authoritarian regimes, which engage in violence, and scare mongering.
Nonetheless, he recognized and brought up some of the intrinsic flaws of the democratic governmental system, illustrating that a democratic decision may never truly be popular amongst the entirety of a societal whole. In fact, establishing the system is an even more considerable challenge in America, as it is characterized by racial, religious and cultural diversity.
In our experience, as young global citizens, the flaws of democracy are indisputably evident in Greek society, as many politicians have not made the grim, yet necessary, decisions, which Greece needs, in fear of the political cost. This effect would not be observed in a society where an authoritarian government employs violent measures; it also constitutes a crucial factor in determining Greece’s path through the years, and has shaped its current state.
Through Obama’s exposition, it may be considered thoroughly logical to infer that the concept of democracy may be condensed into the following timeless statement of the late Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst system of government – except for all the others.”
Furthermore, President Obama made extensive references to globalization, which has faced much resistance, through political movements, equally in both Greece and in the United States. He emphasized the many benefits of the phenomenon, such as the fact that the world is now nearly fully interconnected, through advancing technology. In turn, technology limits unawareness and ignorance, as it drives up the availability of information, while also generating a wave of pessimism, as we are now exposed to every single instance of violence and racial injustice.
In reality, he argued, we live in the most equitable and prosperous era, in all of mankind’s history. He further supported the idea that the principles of democracy allow for globalization to fully occur, ultimately leading to progress, despite its inherent imperfections. Conversely, authoritarian governments decry and inhibit globalization, which may only bring about stagnancy – and not stability.
The aforementioned claim is supported by contemporary examples of the remaining authoritarian regimes, such as North Korea, which are now a clear indication that a lack of globalization, in combination with national isolation, solely lead to backward and narrow-minded societal wholes.
Lastly, Obama implied that these regimes may ultimately destroy themselves “from the inside out”, as, in a world which becomes more and more interconnected, at an “accelerating pace”, isolation and xenophobia do not march on stable grounds.Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Berlin, Germany, exerted a direct influence on the structuring of his speech.
There exists an evident similarity between the themes he addressed and those which the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, did, during his own visit to West Berlin, in 1963. The speech given by Kennedy at the time, whose main claim revolved around the erection of the Berlin Wall by the Soviets, had many common points of reference with the one Barack Obama gave on November 16, 2016.
Kennedy employed the persuasive mode of pathos – appealing to the audience’s sentimental response – expressing his compassion for all Germans who are going through their daily “combats”, while Obama’s speech is with empathy for the Greeks who are struggling for survival, in a society which is plagued by the consequences of the crisis. Another notable similarity between the two speeches may be observed in the fashion, in which Kennedy refers to the Berlin Wall and the isolation it had caused for each side that it separated.
Likewise, Obama stood firmly against the isolation of peoples – on both a societal and a national scale – shaking his finger at marginalized countries, and clearly making an indirect, albeit clear-cut, reference to the notorious Wall that president-elect Donald Trump had promised during his long-running campaigns in the pre-election period. In order to support the aforementioned argument, the President made an allusion to the solidarity that thousands of Greeks have shown the refugees who arrived on the islands of the Aegean, specifically referencing the following quote, taken from the description of a Greek woman’s personal experience in the immigration tragedy: “We all live under the same sun; we all fall in love under the same moon; we must help these people.”
Whether or not one agrees with Obama’s policies, his demeanor and charismatic rhetorical abilities are able to impress and captivate even his staunchest opponent. Similarly, we, too, as young members of our society, were touched by his allusion to the youth and the power we possess to change “our Greece” – our country.
Through his words, it is apparent that the President’s predominant belief is that the youth hold the capacity to curb the direction in which its respective society is headed, and to put an end to the issues from which it suffers: poverty, inequality, extremism, and social prejudice.
Senior Class 2017
ACS Athens (American Community Schools of Athens)