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Foreign Minister Droutsas’ speech at the New Year’s cake cutting of the Association of Imvriots

Monday, 10 January 2011

Foreign Minister Droutsas’ speech at the New Year’s cake cutting of the Association of Imvriots Mr. President,

Presidents of the various Associations,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a very great pleasure and particular honor for me – and I mean this – to participate in the cutting of the New Year’s cake of the Association, which, if I am not mistaken, is 65 years old this year. And hearing about all of these activities – which are very important and very impressive – allow me to say that they are also encouraging for the future. So your association has been active, struggled and had a vision for many years.

First, to help the Imvriots who got to Greece to establish themselves and rebuild their lives. Afterwards, to preserve the identity of the island and keep Hellenism alive on Imvros. And today, for the first time, after decades, Hellenism in Imvros has taken the first steps towards return. Once again, I am very impressed by everything I have heard today about your Association’s major activities.

But today, when we are all together, I would like us to wish a happy new year, health and a long, prosperous life to your compatriot, to our spiritual father, to the spiritual father of all Hellenism, of Orthodoxy, to his All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

A few days ago, I once again had the pleasure of talking to him on the phone to exchange new year’s wishes and so that he could brief me on the visit of the Vice President of the Turkish Government to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to which you referred in your welcome speech.

I would like to say that in this talk I had with His All Holiness, we said once again that we will jointly visit Imvros. It is a great pleasure for me and an honor that His All Holiness invited me to visit Imvros with him; it was something I always had in mind, something I always wanted to do, and we will do it soon.

I also had the opportunity to meet twice with your BoD this year. Once, unfortunately, under unpleasant circumstances. But I am well aware of your work, which I support with all my strength – it is sacred, inspired work – and I want you to know and believe that we listen to you very attentively and that the state, in spite of the current difficult state of affairs, will be by your side at every step.

I am not partial to a lot of words, but to actions, and believe me when I say that you will see a lot of action. Just the day before yesterday, on Friday, I returned from Turkey, where I accompanied the Prime Minister to the meetings he had with the Turkish Prime Minister.

We had the opportunity to set things out for Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, a man who, I believe, wants to set right the injustices of the past, even if that is not possible because history cannot be rewritten. But he is a person who welcomes diversity because he himself suffered from the policy of intolerance.

We are endeavouring to build a new relationship with Turkey, and we have already done a lot in just one year. We have laid the foundations for our cooperation. We have intensified meetings on all levels, and I can say that our relations have passed into a phase characterised above all by sincerity.

We have a ponderous history with Turkey. We also have current problems. The problems have not been resolved. But we do have the courage and the will to move ahead. We need to unleash a vast unexploited dynamic. This is our orientation. The orientation of the government, without counting the so-called political cost. Without taking into account stereotypes, and without listening to the Cassandras.

But – and I want to stress this – we are always guided by the interests of Greece, our homeland. I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding. Whatever you hear, whatever people say. Everything is being done with an open mind, but always in Greece’s interest. Always with respect for our rights and interests, and I am sure that you in  particular support these efforts and struggles.

I am certain that Imvriots around the world will keep the flame of Hellenism alight.

I would like to stress one last thing: The government shows on a daily basis that it is exercising a foreign policy of vision, of realism and, above all, a foreign policy of self-confidence. We speak plainly and tell it like it is, wherever we are. Greece is pursuing and getting what it deserves.

Allow me to close with a brief excerpt from Prime Minister Papandreou’s speech on Friday to the Turkish Ambassadors. It is the excerpt that refers to you, the Imvriots, who are keeping alive the ties with your homeland. The excerpt says this: “In the area of respect for human rights and religious freedoms, which we consider of prime importance due to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek minority, important steps of progress have been taken. We hope that these will continue so that the people who remained in Turkey, as well as all those who decide to return, feel a truly welcome part of Turkish society.”

Let us hope that in 2011 the words of the Greek Prime Minister will become a reality and Turkey will take bold steps towards embracing the minorities.

Once again, it was and is a great honor for me to be here with you today. Allow me to wish you a good year, with health and strength in the difficult time all of us in Greece are going through. And once again I want to stress that I look forward to my visit – very soon, I hope – to your island, Imvros, with the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Thank you very much.