Welcome address of the President of the Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, at the opening of the Ancient Civilizations Forum (Athens, 24 April 2017)

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

It is with great satisfaction that I address the opening of the 'Ancient Civilizations Forum', which follows on the initiative taken in 2015 by Greece's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, for the hosting of an International Conference on 'Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East'. By way of introduction, I note the seemingly obvious: The current situation in the Middle East alone – which is anywhere from dire to devastating – suffices to fully justify Nikos Kotzias' important initiative. And this is because anyone can see that the resounding response of the coexistence and dialogue of Cultures can prove to be a powerful and effective antidote to the plagues of war and terrorist barbarity that have beset the Middle East for years now, with Syria tragically at centre stage. In this context, and with a sincere sense of duty and honour, Athens is hosting the 'Ancient Civilizations Forum', in the justifiable belief that it is fulfilling a critical mission that is intrinsically linked with Greece's iconic past and historical perspective. And I explain, briefly:

1. The Mediterranean and the Countries on its shores have for millennia now been a cradle and crossroads of Cultures whose radiance and resonance continue their historical course, retaining their universal human dimensions.

A. Greece, with Athens at its centre, was and remains a constant cradle of a radiant Civilization. Hellenic Civilization was and has always been marshalled by its Spirit, which, with its inherent extroversion and creativity, inspired Humanity and emblematically impacted Humankind's 'Sisyphean' course in their eternal struggle to understand the world around them. It was the Hellenic Spirit that allowed for the "disenchantment of the world" – to borrow a phrase from Max Weber – through the birth of Science and Philosophy, which made possible the incomparable method of the gradual transformation of information and experience into knowledge, and of knowledge into wisdom.

B. Without a trace of ethnocentric conceit and in no way belittling – quite the opposite, as today's Forum shows – the greatness and contribution of the other Civilizations in the shared laboratory of human creation, I believe that, precisely due to the aforementioned extroversion of the Hellenic Spirit, here, in Athens and Greece, one has a stronger and better sense of the need for and catalytic importance of the coexistence and cooperation of Civilizations, particularly in our turbulent and trying times.

II. Despite the historically unprecedented and stark 'warnings' of the 20th century – warnings that emerged like 'omens' from the howling weapons and rivers of blood brought by the two World Wars; wars that took humankind to the very precipice of extinction – Humanity does not seem to have got the message or understood precisely what is at stake: The ship of Humanity sailed indifferently into the unexplored waters of the 21st century, without charting a course, without an astrolabe for orientation, without even a compass to stay on course.

A. So it is no wonder that, today, Humanity feels unprepared and shocked during its painful meeting with the 'Laestrygones' and 'Cyclops' of the horror of war and barbarity of terrorism. There were those who hastily attributed the global turmoil and deadly dangers to a kind of 'clash of civilizations'. But the sweepingness of such an assertion insults the very nature of Civilization. Why? Because if the sum of human creation is to carry the title of 'Civilization', it is unthinkable that it should be made up of elements that lead inexorably to conflict with other Civilizations and that, consequently, engineer their destruction. By virtue of its origin, true Civilization has Humanism and Peace as its archetypal characteristics. Thus, for true Civilization, conflict and war are a kind of 'contradictio in adjecto'.

B. So the truth regarding the historical interrelation between today's global turmoil and its perils, on the one hand, and the course of individual Civilizations is at the other extreme: The global turmoil and its perils have their roots not so much in the clash of Civilizations, but in the fact that these Civilizations are declining at an alarming rate. And precisely because of this decline, they are no longer in a position to fulfil the natural pacifying mission dictated by their very essence, through their coexistence and cooperation on a global scale. What is behind this decline of Civilizations? The explanation was never simple, and it is not simple today.

1. Some Civilizations – like ours, Western Civilization and, thus, European Civilization – decline because the 'fuel' for their course of historical 'becoming' is exhausted, as they are cut off, imperceptibly yet, unfortunately, steadily, from the roots that supported them. That is, essentially, from the principles and values on which they were founded, and without these they lose their basic cultural characteristics. Characteristics that, among other things, equipped them for smooth coexistence and cooperation with other Civilizations.

2. Finally, other Civilizations – the examples are tangible – decline because, in the midst of the pandemonium of change brought on by globalisation in all its forms, technological, economic, social, etc., they lost their original orientation. And travelling 'blind', they have reached a dangerous impasse. This impasse is a kind of 'block' that makes it anywhere from extremely difficult to impossible for them to communicate with other Civilizations. Let's not forget that true Civilization is, by definition, destined to build bridges of communication with other true Civilizations, and not put up walls of alienation from those Civilizations.

We, the European peoples, are determined not to let through the remnants of Nazism, those who would engineer the dissolution of Europe. This was borne out by the results of yesterday's elections in France.

With these thoughts – necessarily brief and, thus, somewhat elliptical – I welcome you to Athens. And I hope that your proceedings, as well as the ones that I am certain will follow in the future, will prove to be a means, on the one hand, to rallying consciences to the defence of the history and future of Civilizations. And, on the other, to restoring the power of creation that still exists and 'smoulders' within them, and that can avert the total breakdown of global harmony and peace. Though it is morning, the owl of Athena, the sacred bird – a symbol of consensus, knowledge and wisdom – welcomes you to the Eternal City of the Goddess who thought while leaning on her spear. Thus showing, through a sublime allegory, that for Hellenic Civilization and the Hellenic Spirit, the spear always serves thought. The obverse has been unthinkable, totally foreign to the Greek mindset from ancient times to today. Testimony to this is the fact that the Greeks, from ancient times, never fought wars of expansion – only of defence. Even the campaigns they did mount were, at bottom, endeavours to spread civilization.