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President Obama’s speech at the SNFCC

Nov 16, 2016
The President of the United States, Barack Obama, delivered his official speech on Wednesday, November 16th, 2016 at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), as part of the President’s State visit to Athens.

This was the President’s first trip to Greece and the final State visit of the administration. During his remarks, President Obama spoke about the importance of democracy, the ideals of philotimo and citizenship and the importance of supporting the youth as a means to development and progress. President Obama heralded Greece for its stance in the refugee crisis noting “nowhere have we see that compassion more evident than here in Greece. The Greek people’s generosity towards refugees arriving on your shores has inspired the world.”

Speaking about the ideals of democracy President Obama noted ”it was here, 25 centuries ago, in the rocky hills of this city, that a new idea emerged. Demokratia. Kratos -- the power, the right to rule -- comes from demos -- the people. The notion that we are citizens -- not servants, but stewards of our society. The concept of citizenship -- that we have both rights and responsibilities. The belief in equality before the law -- not just for a few, but for the many; not just for the majority, but also the minority. These are all concepts that grew out of this rocky soil.”

The President went on to explain “Open, democratic societies can deliver more prosperity --because when people are free to think for themselves and share ideas and discover and create -- the young people who are here, what they’re able to do through the Internet and technology, that’s when innovation is unleashed, when economies truly flourish. That’s when new products, and new services, and new ideas wash through an economy.”

During his remarks President Obama spoke about the role of citizenship in upholding what is right, noting the responsibility and rights each of us has in their community. President Obama said “In all of our communities, in all of our countries, I still believe there's more of what Greeks call philotimo -- love and respect and kindness for family and community and country, and a sense that we’re all in this together, with obligations to each other. Philotimo -- I see it every day -- and that gives me hope. Because in the end, it is up to us. It's not somebody else's job, it's not somebody else's responsibility, but it's the citizens of our countries and citizens of the world to bend that arc of history towards justice. And that’s what democracy allows us to do. That's why the most important office in any country is not president or prime minister. The most important title is ‘citizen.’”

Concerning the world order and the balance that needs to be achieved in societies President Obama stated “The same forces of globalization and technology and integration that have delivered so much progress, have created so much wealth, have also revealed deep fault lines…this global integration is increasing the tendencies towards inequality, both between nations and within nations, at an accelerated pace. And when we see people -- global elites, wealthy corporations -- seemingly living by a different set of rules, avoiding taxes, manipulating loopholes -- when the rich and the powerful appear to game the system and accumulate vast wealth while middle and working-class families struggle to make ends meet, this feeds a profound sense of injustice and a feeling that our economies are increasingly unfair. This inequality now constitutes one of the greatest challenges to our economies and to our democracies.”

President Obama focused on the importance of supporting the youth noting “We know that we have to invest more in our people -- the education of our young people, the skills and training to compete in the global economy. We have to make sure that it is easy for young people who are eager to learn and eager to work to get the education that they need, the training that they need, without taking on huge amounts of debt.” Referring specifically to the Greek youth and the challenges they are facing President Obama said “ The young people who are in attendance here today and all across the country need to know there is a future -- there is an education and jobs that are worthy of your incredible potential. You don’t have to travel overseas, you can put roots right here in your home, in Greece, and succeed.”

The event was hosted at the full-house Stavros Niarchos Hall, the main stage of the new state-of-the-art building of the Greek National Opera. President Obama noted in particular “I am confident that if you stay the course, as hard as it has been, Greece will see brighter days. Because in this magnificent hall and center, this symbol of Greek culture and resilience, we are reminded that just as your strength and resolve have allowed you to overcome some great odds throughout your history, nothing can break the spirit of the Greek people.”

The speech was live streamed on the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center websites.

To read the full transcript of President Obama’s speech, click here.