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Speech by Ambassador Alexandros Mallias on the occasion of the International Salute to the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

Monday, 22 January 2007

A Man for All Nations

14 January 2007, The Willard Intercontinental Hotel, Washington, D.C.

It is with a spirit of humility, in the sense advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that I receive today the Martin Luther King Legacy Award for International Service and serve as Co-Chairman of the committee for the International Salute to the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., A Man for All Nations.

His words and his message are timeless. They are an indelible part of the permanent and indispensable voice of our conscience. As long as these inequalities and disparities exist among peoples, nations, and continents, continue to exist, I have the right to say that there is an unfinished peace on Earth; there is an unfinished democracy on Earth. Ultimately, there is an unfinished dream.

My first recollection of Dr. King’s powerful words goes back to my teenage years, living in a democratic and free society, Greece, in 1964, when he received the Nobel Prize for Peace. His words, however powerful, seemed unreal, as I could not conceive the images he painted.
I was a sophomore at the University of Athens, when, on April 4, 1968, the radio broadcast that Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. His words came to me full circle, and sadly, I could identify with them. My world had changed, as my country, Greece – the birthplace of democracy – had come under military dictatorship.

That was part of the greatness of Dr. King. His message transcended geographic and cultural boundaries. The roar and ripple of his words stretched across oceans and seas, mountains and valleys, deserts and savannahs, and spoke to people like myself who had never met him.
In his Birmingham jail cell he wrote, “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment . . . . . is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

Aeschylus, in Prometheus-bound, describes the cry of Prometheus as follows,
“I knew when I transgressed nor will deny it
In helping Man, I brought my troubles on me.”
Sophocles, one of Greece’s greatest playwrights, put similar words in the mouth of his reluctant heroine, Antigone, who said: “I will not obey an unjust law, and if something happens because of it – so be it.”
A few months ago, Francoise, my wife, and I, visited Birmingham. We paid our respects to the struggle for freedom and equal rights enshrined in Birmingham’s central square, The Civil Rights Museum, and the churches.
The adoption of the Brunetta C. Hill Elementary School of Birmingham, Alabama, by the Embassy of Greece, is indicative of the very special affinities Greeks feel for what Birmingham represents. Today, speaking from this tribune, I very humbly wish to dedicate my remarks to this school, its students, teachers, and administration. Furthermore, very few know that AHEPA, the largest and oldest Greek-American association, was founded in 1922 in Atlanta, precisely to defend Greek immigrants from persecution and segregation.

King’s words are not only relevant today, but an inspiration and guide for current challenges. In the ancient Greek tradition, an individual must partake in the responsibility and concerns of all society. So does Martin Luther King tell us that, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Dr. King said:
“As long as there is poverty in the world, I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars.”
“As long as disease is rampant, and millions of people around the world cannot expect to live more than 30 years, I can never be totally healthy.”
“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.”

There is a moral obligation transcending continents and borders to stand united and join forces, efforts, and provide the necessary means to make it possible for our children’s and grandchildren’s generations to live in a better world.
We see people dying of hunger.
We see people dying of epidemic diseases.
We see people killed everyday on religious or ethnic grounds.
We see millions of innocent children as the victims of human trafficking, exploited in the most odious form of modern slavery.
We see millions of women becoming victims of human trafficking.

I ask myself, where is the wealth of nations? Where is justice? Where are the policies and the measures to remedy the disparities?
Aggregate wealth estimates provided by the World Bank demonstrate that the European countries, along with the United States, and Japan, dominate the top ten wealthiest countries/nations. The ten poorest countries at the global level are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the twenty-first century, none of us can argue that this same message is no longer applicable. Beginning his last speech, known as “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” on April 3 in Memphis, Dr. King said, “I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympos. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality, but I wouldn’t stop there.”

Politics and policies will remain irrelevant if they continue missing the essence that is Man (anthropos). Only through an anthropo-centric global strategy, can we improve the plight of those in despair, and in need …

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