Foreign Minister N. Kotzias’ opening speech at the Ministerial Conference of the Ancient Civilizations Forum (Zappeion, 24 April 2017)

Monday, 24 April 2017

I thank the President of the Republic, who, through his wisdom, always contributes to the broadening of our thinking.

I thank all the delegations who accepted our invitation, the invitation of China and Greece, to be here today.

We live in a time when international relations are developing. Which isn’t to say that the nation state and cultures have any less of a role.

But we are in an era dominated by economic and defence policies, and in which we must start to promote the cultural dimension of international relations even more intensely and in a more coordinated manner.

The initiative we launched today is linked to the work of the UN and UNESCO and their principles. And for this reason, I hope that we agree to invite these two organizations to the next Forum.

We are living in an era of instability. In this era, culture, and ancient civilizations in particular, provide continuity and stability. Through the wisdom they bequeathed to us, they give us criteria for resolving contemporary problems.

They facilitate our efforts to formulate plans. Plans through which we will integrate all sides of humanity, gaining greater understanding of difference and looking upon it as wealth. They will prompt us toward more tolerance for difference and, even more so, assimilation of difference.

Our civilizations – and this is the good fortune of the 10 states invited to this Forum – are civilizations that are part of our global heritage. They are civilizations that are extension of epochs before globalization even made its appearance.

We are starting with the Forum, which, from our initial discussions, we have agreed to continue, to sustain it and move its meetings from city to city, from capital to capital. We are launching this forum in Athens, which is also, in a way, a cultural capital.

We know that hard power dominates in the contemporary world. But, in the end, and this is my opinion, those who speak the language of soft power win. Those who are convincing, who are a model based on principles and values, and who have vision. In other words, those who have culture.

Culture in both senses. 'Civilization', as a way of life, as the creation of forms of existence, and 'culture', as a creative, reproductive and motivating factor of forms and structures of life.

In the history of humankind, there were various civilizations. Many died out, others were absorbed by third civilizations, and a number endured through time and play and important role even today.

There were ancient civilizations that produced great tangible and intangible works, whose messages and intellectual and material accomplishments survive and, in a sense, are relevant to this day.

It is wonderful, I confess, for one to go to work in the morning and see the Acropolis and remember and reflect on what is the quintessence of tragedy, the ancient Greek theatre, Pnyx, the assembly of the Demos, democracy. All of these principles and values that are also mothers of modernity.

But we have to say and confess that Greek civilization would not have survived without the Roman Empire, that mother of multi-ethnic political entities that spread the rights, the notion of the citizen and of administration throughout the Mediterranean and beyond.

And Greek civilization may not have survived in the way that it did if it had not been carried on by the intellectuals of the Arab world. A world that, in the regions where it developed, produced great civilizations. In Babylon, Mesopotamia, Egypt. And next to them they had the great civilization of ancient Iran, for which those of us who still play chess today have a weakness.

So, to this world, to these regions we owe the art of administration, intellectual games like chess. The viewing of the heavens as the present and future of humanity.

We owe them wonderful cities, like the cities of Iran, as well as the great Pyramids of Egypt. In a sense, we also had pyramids on the other side of the world, in Central and Latin America. On a side of the world that has the great spiritual civilizations of Peru, Bolivia and Mexico – the great civilizations of Central and Latin America.

It was they who, on the other side of the world, sought harmony with the heavens. If Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley civilization, Greece and Rome are the great line of western civilization, together with the indigenous peoples of America, the other line, equally great, with tremendous achievements, was the great Chinese civilization of magnificent discoveries. From paper and printing to the compass, porcelain and, above all, the very structure of state existence.

And next to this civilization there was another great civilization that honoured us – Greek civilization. A civilization that synthesized many different cultures and produced the Indus civilization of enduring and multicoloured manifestations. The anthropomorphic Gods, as in Ancient Greece, and the great mathematicians who discovered zero and the negative numbers.

All of these civilizations present here today, and of which I noted just a few characteristics, great and small to different degrees, contributed to the shaping of the contemporary world.

They developed across a region that is by no means negligible. Forty percent of the world's population lives in this region. These civilizations represented here today are very much alive. They continue to exist both autonomously and as a presence incorporated into contemporary world culture.

They exist in letters, in the arts, in technology and in political culture. They all contain harmony with the heavens, the right to resist, new ways of organization, and all of them – and this is an element they all have in common, you will allow me to say as a scholar – pose equally central questions, from Confucius and the Taoists to Socrates and Aristotle. From the great poets of Iran and India, the great poems, to the spiritual world of Central and Latin America.

From the Sun God scholars of Egypt, to Bolivia and Peru. From the great Roman tradition of political philosophy, we have the same universal questions, which are alive today.

What did our forebears ask six or seven or three thousand years ago? They asked: What is life? What is the purpose of a human being's life? What is humankind's relationship with nature? What is the relationship between the individual and society? And what is the relationship between the citizen and power?

There is no contemporary philosophical, sociological or anthropological current that does not pose these questions, which were posed thousands of years ago by our civilizations. Our civilizations were and are great. But they do not belong to us. They belong to all humanity.

So, our civilizations are relevant, and this is the first point. The second is that, for us, culture is power, soft power. Just as effective, in our opinion, as military might or economic hegemony. Because culture wins people's hearts and minds.

But even at the hard core of politics itself, we need what we call a political culture. That is, we need tolerance for others. Respect for their opinions and existence. We need – and many countries have forgotten this – a culture of consensus and compromise. Frankness and fortitude. Resistance and the ability to fight for rights and justice.

So culture helps develop relations founded on principles and values. It brings what is different closer. And, in fact, it doesn't just bring it closer, but considers it wealth and not something hostile.

And there is its third side. Culture is also a global economic power today, because every culture produces particular goods, reproducing and disseminating them.

Today, culture and what we call the "culture industry" even create jobs. Shall we consider research and education? Modern design? Tourism associated with cultural accomplishments?

All three of these elements of culture – its relevance, its economic power, its ability to connect and stabilise the world in an unstable era – are also associated with the new capabilities brought by what is called the 4th industrial revolution, the 2nd machine age.

It is associated – and we, as a forum must associate it – with utilization of the internet, with the development of mobile phone applications, like tours of ancient monuments, tours of our cities, which have great cultural heritages. And with the reproduction of souvenirs in three-dimensional forms, by the new 3-D printers.

We can jointly develop everything from video games to films. All of these new technologies enable us to collaborate and promote common values and principles. We can also develop our intercultural relations. Networks of monuments and cities.

My dear President, dear friends, whom I thank once again for coming to Athens, we worked for over a year and a half – two years, I would say – on an idea that has existed since the 1990s, for us to get here today.

The main issue regarding this forum, from our perspective, is that it is an element of a specific perception we have of international relations. It is an element of a positive agenda, because very often – with the current conflicts, wars and civil strife – negativity and difficulty dominate the international agenda. We have to develop a positive agenda: that of the cooperation of our cultures within the framework of multiple collaborations in all sectors.

Today, on the initiative of Greece and the People's Republic of China, we convened with the aim of formulating a kind of cooperation – not in a legal way, of course – a union of states with great cultures that play an important role to this day.

We are cradles and stewards of civilizations with thousands of years of history. We are cultures that, in the best way, helped shape our world today.

We want to work together for a common good, for common prosperity, not to separate ourselves from others, but to make the message broadcast by culture even stronger.

And our joint invitation to you – with my friend the Chinese foreign Minister, Wang Yi – was no coincidence. We have a peculiar historical relationship with China; a relationship founded on mutual respect and on understanding of the world we live in. And we have the common question: how can we capitalize on the elements of our cultures in a way that is beneficial and productive for all of us and for humanity?

We are – and we have to consider this – the successors of a spirit thousands of years old, at the epicentre of which is the notion of the human being. If we find what unifies us and we perceive it, we will have taken an important step for promoting peace and cooperation in the world.

We all know that our countries are visited by tens of millions of people. This year alone, 30 million tourists will come to Greece. Tourists who look with great respect – sometimes with greater respect than those of us who live in these countries – upon the accomplishments of our civilizations.

And we all see that the human intellect produced great works, leading us to the question: How did they achieve this without the technologies we have at our disposal today?

I think they achieved it because the human mind and its capabilities know no bounds. We can always surpass the boundaries holding us in. This culture has nothing to do with the colour of one's skin, with social or national origin.
But it does have to do with a simple element: the magnificence of human life. Wherever the human heart beats, the mind produces, or should produce, culture. And it is in our hands and in the hands of every human being to produce positive culture, a positive agenda in international relations. To use the power of our minds for good, peace and progress.

The cooperation of these civilizations – as depicted by our constellation – shows that we can and must join or cultural heritages and contribute, however slightly, to a better humanity.

Through our forum, we are being called upon to glorify the past in order to create a positive future.

Finally, I feel the need, beyond thanking my friend, my good friend, the President of the Republic and all of you – many of who are old friends of mine – to thank all of the personnel and collaborators at our Foreign Ministry and at the Foreign Ministries of all of the states that worked for our success and gladly accepted our invitation to be here.

And naturally I want to thank all of our associates at the Greek Foreign Ministry, who, in the midst of the difficulties our country is having, managed to organize today's forum, showing that even a country in a deep crisis can capitalise on culture and civilizations to emerge from that crisis.

Because I often point out that culture says the inexpressible, that certain something paradoxical, strange. How is it that culture can say something inexpressible? It can say it because it says it in a different way. It says it implicitly, through a poem, a sculpture, a painting.

And because culture can enable us to escape from fears, concerns, insecurity. It can give us stability, it can give us optimism, and it can give us courage.

Culture is a great plunge into the wounds of humanity, and it extracts whatever gold there is from these wounds, making us richer.

I hope we continue like this, creatively, with our culture. I thank my old and new friends very much for this meeting, and I hope this forum continues with our presence, or with the presence, in the future, of new Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Ministers of Culture and our associates.

I thank you all very much.