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Deputy Foreign Minister Amanatidis' speech at the opening ceremony of the 3rd Annual Meeting of the European Network of National Commissions for UNESCO

Sunday, 02 April 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Distinguished Guests,

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome you, on behalf of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the opening ceremony of the 3rd Annual Meeting of the European Network of National Commissions for UNESCO.

Allow me to begin by thanking UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for External Relations, Eric Falt, and all of the Presidents, Secretaries-General and officials of the National Commissions of the European Network of National Commissions for UNESCO, who are honouring our country today with their presence, and of course the President of the Hellenic National Commission, Ekaterini Tzitzikosta, and all of the members of the National Commission for their many years of service, as well as our volunteers, for their invaluable assistance.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, was founded after the Second World War to assert the importance of peace, intercultural dialogue, cultural pluralism and substantial communication amongst peoples, with respect for the values of each culture.

Acting within a mosaic of international changes, shifts and challenges, UNESCO's values are timely as well as vital to harmonious coexistence in today's world.

In an era when difference is often invoked as an excuse for extremism and intolerance, UNESCO and the National Commissions are here to remind us of universal human values like mutual respect and mutual understanding.

In this effort, the Network of UNESCO National Commissions is an integral and unique part of the International Organization, as no other UN organization has this vital system.

Vital, because it is these National Commissions that implement the priorities, spread the values and carry out the multifaceted mission of UNESCO.

It would be no exaggeration to say that, without the National Commission, the International Organization's programmes would not have an impact, as it would be very difficult for them to reach a local level and, thereby, mobilize and raise the awareness of societies and citizens – or of each of us, individually – while respecting our cultural past.

It is thus necessary to support the National Commissions, which are official representatives of the international organization in the member states, and especially to support their role as the competent organs for their operation within the national states. The national governments and UNESCO need to support the National Commissions by every means, so that they, in turn, can shape the framework for their actions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

UNESCO initiatives with a longstanding Greek presence, like the promotion of educational programmes in Africa, protection of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, intercultural dialogue and support of the sciences, mobilise us all.

In this direction, the protection of World Heritage properties in conflict zones, like Syria, and the preservation of the unaltered identity of World cultural heritage monuments, without changes to their historical nature and use, are priorities not just for the organization, but also for the countries participating in the organization. Alteration of the character of the monuments is not consistent with the principles of UNESCO and cannot be tolerated.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I believe that the 3rd Meeting of the European Network of the National Commissions of UNESCO will strengthen cooperation among the members of the Network, their partners and civil society, and will promote the shaping of new synergies, so that the Organization's mission can be carried out more effectively, more substantially and with the greatest possible visibility.

Moreover, it will contribute to further deepening the relations between the peoples of Europe, which is our goal.

By bolstering the National Commissions' initiatives, we enable the peoples of Europe to promote their cultural identities while acting in a geographical and multicultural community.

Europe gets stronger when it complies with its peoples’ desires with regard to combating bureaucracy and faceless procedures, and the UNESCO National Commissions are an example of substantial and productive mediation between peoples and international organizations; an example that we need to learn from.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Your presence here today puts Thessaloniki at the centre of European developments, but our city's relationship with UNESCO is profound and substantial.

And this is because, with your support, Thessaloniki:

- Is home to the UNESCO Center for Women and Peace in the Balkan Countries,

- Has succeeded in having its paleochristian and Byzantine monuments added to the UNESCO World Heritage list,

- Recently acquired the UNESCO Center for Integrated and Multidisciplinary Water Resources Management, at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Additionally, with your support:

- The Derveni Papyrus was included in the UNESCO "Memory of the World" register, and

- The Archaeological Site of Philippi was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me, at this point, to refer briefly to the Rotunda of Saint George, the Imperial and Ancient Metropolitan Church, the Church of the Holy Angels, which is undeniable evidence of the city's cultural identity; the monument that links three periods of our history – Roman, Byzantine and post-Byzantine – and whose historical course continues to our day, reviving all of the places of Orthodox spirituality, on the one hand, and the spirit and uniqueness of the artworks of Hellenism.

The depiction of the spirituality of the figures, the physiognomies of the Saints – their serene, triumphant expression – conveys the message of the unity of Christianity and peoples.

From here, let us address a message of love and unity to peoples and communities, and in particular of cooperation and a spirit of utilising our cultural heritage, in which UNESCO has shown great interest with the aim of preserving and promoting their unique historicity.

So we are here this evening in realisation of the historical timelessness of the space, but also expressing our respect and reverence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are aware that you embrace us with your love and trust, and we look forward to your further assistance in upraising our cultural wealth and, in parallel, passing on the principles and values that govern us.

Thank you.