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AHI Sponsors Congressional Salute to Greek Independence

Greek independence
“Episode from the Greek War of Independence,” Eugene Delacroix, 1856. In the collection of the National Gallery of Greece. Credit: Public Domain

The American Hellenic Institute sponsored a Congressional Salute to Greek Independence on April 14 in commemoration of the bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence in 2021.

Members of the Congress’ Hellenic Caucus including longtime Florida representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Carolyn Moloney (D-NY) took part in the panel discussion, which was shared on the AHI’s Facebook page.

The AHI is is a non-profit Greek American public policy center and think tank that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.

Both Greek, American Revolutions inspired by Enlightenment

AHI President Nick Larigakis welcomed panelists to the online event, saying that the American Revolution was inspired by the same ideals of the Enlightenment as the Greek revolution.

“The American people manifested their adherence to these ideas through their ardent, vocal and humanitarian support for the Greek cause,” he noted. “American philhellene understood these ideas and principles all too well.

“Their support, especially from those in Congress, such as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, to name only a few, was critical,” he noted.

Many contributions of Philhellenes to Greek independence noted

“Those members spoke eloquently on behalf of the Greek cause in the US Congress, and their stirring remarks mobilized Americans to raise funds for the Greek cause in events held in US cities and even inspired Philhellenes to leave the United States to go to Greece and join the cause there,” Larigakis stated.

“Today, we celebrate the Bicentennial of Greek Independence. The enduring strength of the Hellenic spirit and the shared Hellenic and American ideas and values that have served us as the foundation of a strong relations for two centuries. The Greek-American community’s Congressional champions are our modern-day versions of Webster and Clay.”

Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ-10th) said in his remarks that Greece is “Still an important cultural and political force worldwide. In Congress I have worked to continue the strong relations between the United States and Greece.

Representatives show full support for modern nation of Greece

“That is why I support the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act,” he added. “A strong relationship between the US and Greece is vital to the region and will show neighboring countries that America’s commitment to liberty is unwavering.

“I have repeatedly called on Congress to push England to return the Parthenon Marbles  to Greece. If we could get the Marbles back to Greece it would restore the Parthenon’s heritage and would honor Greek independence,” Payne concluded.

Florida Congressman Gus Bilirakis, the co-chair of Congress’ Hellenic Caucus, addressed the assembly by admitting to President Larigakis that “We share that commonality of wearing both our Americanism and our Hellenism on our sleeves.”

He added that the celebration of Greek independence should occur throughout this entire year and it was important that not only Hellenes but Philhellenes know how important this year is.

Bilirakis proposed that there be a “major roundtable” of all the Hellenic groups in America this year to come up with legislative priorities for this Congressional term. Noting that the meeting will most likely have to be virtual, he noted that that wouldn’t pose a problem, pointing out “It hasn’t stopped us from celebrating Greek Independence Day.”

“Nothing Greeks cannot accomplish if we work together”

The longtime Florida representative also mentioned that the unsung heroes of Greece — in addition to the prominent figures such as Kolokotronis, Bouboulina and Kanaris, Miaoulis and so on — were the priests and the monks kept the Greek language alive despite the centuries of Turkish occupation, he stated.

Considering what they accomplished, keeping Christianity, as well as Greek language and customs, alive all those years, he said,”There is nothing that Greeks cannot accomplish, If we work together.”

Ambassador of Greece to the United States Alexandra Papadopoulou also addressed the participants, admitting that before the pandemic hit, there had been scores of events planned to celebrate the bicentennial. Once that swept over the globe, she said, she admitted she had been concerned, asking “how are we going to do this?

But once March 25 came, she said, seeing the events going on all over the US, she was “very touched. Seeing the entire United States in blue, and all the messages, the President of the United States giving message to the Greek people and a message to Greek-Americans” was very meaningful to her.

“So many state houses issued proclamations along with proclamations issued by the Senate and the House, she said.

“All these tributes,” she said, caused her “to think very deeply.” Why she asked, had this happened? She then realized that “the two main issues that contributed to this wide celebration across the United States were the values and ideas” shared by the two countries.

“The Greek Revolution was about values, about freedom, about decency and self-respect. And secondly, she added, it was the presence of the Greek-American community that transmitted these ideals to American society.

The Greek-Americans, she said, “are the living embodiment of these ideals and have contributed so much to the American society in making these ideals part of American life. These tributes were both to Greece and the Greek-Americans, so it was twofold,” she declared.

Ambassador Papadopoulou recalled that her first contact with America — apart from books — was during the American bicentennial year of 1976. Her husband was from Philadelphia, the first capital of the United States, she related, and the huge celebrations in that city were memorable.

“Hellenism is a springboard of values”

“And now, she said, “all Americans who remember 1976 can understand how excited the Greek people are for the events of this year. The feeling of pride is there,” she stated, “along with a feeling of reinventing yourself.

“It’s a commemoration, of course, of all those who died and gave their fortunes and their families and all they had in the cause for freedom. But also,” she said, “it is a time of reflection, assessment and revising the values and commitment and also a way to say ‘thank you’ to the Greeks outside Greece and the Philhellenes.

“We should never underestimate the power and the contribution of the philhellenes,” the ambassador stated. “The US had plenty of them and this movement of philhellenism was not only confined to the year of 1821.”

She noted “it comes all the way through to the world of today. This is the power of Hellenism. It’s an idea that is not only confined to the borders of a geographical country. Hellenism serves as a springboard of values and ideals that guide our lives no matter where we live.”

The American Hellenic Institute is located at 1220 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036
and their website may be visited by clicking here.

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