Greece invented, lost and recovered democracy. She has lessons for the US

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Democracy is in trouble here and abroad. According to data from the prestigious World Values ​​Survey, the majority of Americans under the age of 60 do not consider it “absolutely essential” to live in a democracy. In fact, for the first time since 2004, the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) recently recorded more autocratic states than democracies worldwide.

It is more than timely that on May 17, the Prime Minister of Greece, the country that invented democracy, addresses a Joint Meeting of Congress with remarks on the bicentennial of Greece, the return of democracy to its birthplace. This is the first time that a Greek Prime Minister address a joint meeting of the United States Congress. So President Joe Biden has guest prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis meet with him and address others at the White House.

Greece is famous for being the home of democracy. But one lesson she has for the world is how she lost it, sometimes, and had to get it back. He had to fight against foreign powers, a civil war and a military junta. Even the creators of democracy must always fight for democracy, just like the United States and other freedom-loving nations.

Greece encouraged other fighters for democracy even when it was in chains. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Payne all read and spoke Greek and were in love with ancient Greek democracy. As Jefferson said: “To the ancient Greeks, we are all indebted for the light that brought us out of Gothic darkness.” Our founders saw in Greek democracy not only a better system of government but one that allowed people to reach their full potential. They were amazed at the Greek achievements in art, science, athletics, and other areas of human achievement.

The Founding Fathers of America were proven right. Democracy made America great.

But the ancient Greek democracy lasted only 250 years. The Greek people endured centuries of occupation, even under the brutal Ottoman Empire, before emerging as a free and independent republic after a revolution 200 years ago. The United States applauded the resurrection of Greece. From the exact spot where Prime Minister Mitsotakis will be on May 17thePresident James Monroe told a joint session of Congress during the Greek Revolution of 1821, “Greece fills the mind with the most exalted sentiments in all the United States.” She was not alone. The Greek revolution captured the imagination of Americans. They followed the war closely. Greek clubs jumped into American cities to raise funds for the Hellenic cause. Idealistic volunteers from the United States (and around the world) went to Greece to fight, as they would during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Among them were Boston abolitionist and humanitarian Samuel Gridley Howe and James Williams, a African American from Baltimore who was wounded during his valiant service in the Battle of the Gulf of Lepanto. Just as the Declaration of Independence was followed by more than a decade of fighting the American Revolution, it took years for Greece to break the yoke of foreign domination and that internal struggles cease. It wasn’t until 1844 that the Greek Constitution came into force, and in some parts of Greece, such as Crete, the home of the prime minister, the brutal Ottoman occupation was not completely lifted until 1913.

The two democracies have been in a virtuous circle. When modern Greece emerged as an independent nation two hundred years ago, it looked to the United States Constitution just as the founders of the United States looked to the ancient democracy of Greece for inspiration. The founding fathers of modern Greece told America: “It is in your land that freedom has taken up its abode and… by imitating you, we will imitate our ancestors and be considered worthy of them if we manage to resemble them.” you”. Wherever the Democrats are, they are on Greek shoulders.

But the Greeks have lost their democracy and seen it threatened, and even now, when it is strong and vibrant, they know it must be nurtured (just like the US). A military junta ruled the country from 1967 to 1974. Do you know the letter Z for the Russian tanks attacking Ukraine? There is no Z in the Russian alphabet. is a perversion of “Z”, which in Greek means “he lives” as Markos Kounalakis noted in these pages. It became a banned symbol after the 1963 assassination of a leading Greek democrat fighting authoritarianism, and the inspiration for a 1969 Oscar-winning film by Costa-Gravasperhaps the acclaimed Greek filmmaker.

The Greeks know that global strength and institutions are needed to strengthen democracy. Greece fought against the Nazis and helped turn the tide of World War II. He resisted a communist insurgency after the war with the help of the United States, Harry S. Truman, and the Marshall Plan. Greece was one of the first members of NATO. Its integration into Europe as part of the Eurozone and the European Union has helped Greece as it has other European nations. Without international backing, Greece faced economic collapse after the 2008 financial crisis.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis knows this. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University and Stanford University and Harvard Graduate Schools, and has extensive experience in finance. As Prime Minister, Mitsotakis is securing unprecedented levels of foreign investment and has brought the Greek economy from a severe depression to solid growth rates, despite COVID-19. He is a democrat, in the true sense of the word.

Mitsotakis’ speech before Congress on May 17 it will remind the world that democracy remains the best environment for humanity, but always at risk, everywhere.

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