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Deputy FM Amanatidis’ address marking the 100th anniversary of the arrival and hosting in Corfu of Serbian civilians and military and during World War I
Excellency Mr. President,
Dear Ministers and official guests,
Dear Mr. Mayor,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with feelings of great joy that I welcome you, on behalf of the Greek government, to Greece and, more specifically, welcoming Corfu.
Today’s commemorative events hark back to an heroic chapter in the modern history of Greece and Serbia; a chapter that reminds us of our common struggles and is, at the same time, indicative of the depth of the traditional ties between the two countries and peoples.
The collapse of Ottoman rule in the Balkans provoked – as was to be expected – intense competition among the great European powers, who were seeking new footholds in the sensitive Balkan space.
The peoples of the Balkans were harshly tested in the two wars that brought them into confrontation between the two coalitions, The Central Powers and the Entente.
By its stance, following Austro-Hungary’s attack on Serbia, our country showed that Greek-Serbian friendship remained intact. This was shown in particular during the great exodus of civilians and military – over 150,000 people – to the “Island of Salvation”, as the Serbs themselves called the island of Corfu, to which they fled via Montenegro and Albania.
On that march, over 240,000 people lost their lives to hunger and the harsh winter conditions, and many others died daily following their arrival on the island, due to the hardships suffered on the march.
The local population of our country, however, hastened from the very first moment to offer all possible assistance in clothing, food and medical care, resulting in a truly spectacular recovery of the Serbian army and the thousands of Serbian refugees.
The Serbian army’s three-month stay and the three-year presence of the Serbian government at the Bella Venezia hotel, and of the Serbian Parliament in Corfu, convening at the island’s Municipal Theatre, by decision of the local authorities; the attendance of the Serbs at the churches of Archangel Gabriel, the Holy Trinity, and Saint Nicholas, which were granted to them by the Metropolitan; the founding of a primary school with 290 Serbian pupils and a high school with 120 students; athletics clubs – and even the Serbian grocers and cafés – bear witness to the wholeheartedness with which the Greeks embraced their Serbian brothers and sisters in faith.
Today, the Serbian House in the center of Corfu Town and the museum housing dozens of photographs and other exhibits of the Serbian presence on the island bear undisputed witness to an era that proves the historical depth of Greek-Serbian friendship and the power of the Greek soul; a power visible again, today, in the way the refugee flows are being met in our country.
The relations between our two countries are excellent, founded on our longstanding ties, the very good level of our cooperation – both bilaterally and on the level of regional and international organizations – as well as on our common Orthodox Christian tradition.
Always maintaining its constructive role in the Balkan region, Greece consistently and firmly supports the development of cooperation in our wider region; cooperation based on good neighbourly relations and respect for international and European law.
In this context, Greece remains a longstanding and firm supporter of Serbia’s European integration, because it is our conviction that this is a factor of strategic importance for the stability of the whole region.
In the midst of this very challenging time the international system is going through, I believe that our shared commitment – the commitment of Greece and Serbia to the defence of understanding, tolerance and peace, regionally as well as on a wider, international level – constitutes the most practical veneration of the struggles of our forebears.