Thursday, November 14th, 2002
Pierre Hotel, New York City
SPEECH OF DORA BAKOYANNIS
Mayor-elect of Athens
The Pierre Hotel - November 14, 2002
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
As I look around this room I must confess I am in a bit of a quandary as to how to address you. I see many familiar Greek faces, so perhaps "my fellow Greeks" would be appropriate. But then I notice a number of Manhattan friends at some tables who are not Greek, so perhaps "New Yorkers" would be accurate. Still, I also recognize several people from New Jersey, Connecticut, Boston, Philadelphia and other East Coast cities, so perhaps I should refer to you simply as "Americans", for this country is after all a melting pot.
But since I was recently elected mayor of the oldest capital in Europe, Athens, I am going to call you something that I believe is more meaningful: Athinai, Athenians.
Now I know that most of you do not come from Athens, some of you may have never even visited our city.
Why then do I call you Athenians?
Because Athens does not belong just to those of us who live in it. It does not belong just to Greeks.
Athens is the birthplace of the values that shape the ethics, politics, and culture not only of all Greeks, not only of all Europeans, not only of all Americans, but of most civilized countries in the world today. From that perspective, individuals who share our highest thoughts are as much Athenians as those who live in our capital.
All those then who love the light of reason and the joy of life and who value truth and freedom are, in their essence, Athenians, no matter what their origin, because that is where those values originated.
The poet Shelly wrote, "We are all Greeks." I say, "We are all Athenians."
As your new mayor then, my fellow Athenians, let me first thank you for the confidence you have shown in me to lead the most renowned, the most admired, the most inspiring city in the world at a critical period in its long and eventful history.
I do not have to tell you why it is such a critical period - the Olympic Games, another gift to the world from us Greeks, are scheduled to be held in Athens in the summer of 2004.
Those Games are going to be the greatest challenge of our times for us Athenians, for us Greeks, because the world will see clearly and dramatically 21 months from now if we are worthy of our great heritage.
But the 2004 Games are going to be a great challenge to the modern Olympics themselves. By returning to the country where they began almost 2,800 years ago and the city where they were revived just over a century ago, the Games will be measured more than ever against the ideals on which they were founded.
For our part, let me set you straight right now.
We started the Olympics in 776 BC and conducted them continually for more than 1000 years. We revived them in 1896. And I guarantee you, my fellow Athenians, we are going to do them justice in 2004.
We Greeks may squabble amongst ourselves. We may procrastinate. We may dig in our heels when others try to push us. But when the chips are down, we always come through. Of that the groves of Marathon can speak, as well as the straits of Salamis, and the mists of Missolongi.
In the fifth century BC when Athens, the only corner of the world where freedom flourished, was attacked by hordes of Persians, the Athenians came through and saved democracy for posterity.
As the Persians approached Athens in 480 BC, the city's leader, Themistocles ordered its citizens to abandon it and seek refuge in other Greek regions. They, of course, were horrified. How could they abandon their homes, their temples, the graves of their ancestors? But Themistocles told them that it was not for their property, or for the city's institutions, or even for the Acropolis that they had to fight. It was for the values they had created - democracy, individual freedom, equal justice under law - that they had to struggle to save for future generations, for all of us.
Do you think that a people with such a legacy do not have the will to organize an historic Olympic Games?
All right, enough of history and national pride. Let's get down to specifics.
Here's where we stand 21 months before the Games begin:
But you know us Greeks. We need to feel a deadline rushing toward us like an avalanche to muster our best efforts, and I'm confident that when that deadline comes in August of 2004, we'll be ready on all fronts.
I'm not the only one who feels optimistic. Last week a delegation from the International Olympic Committee headed by Denis Oswald, president of the IOC coordinating committee, visited all the venues in Athens and reported that they were "impressed" with what they saw. "I am pleased to see that Athens is now taking an Olympic shape," Mr. Oswald declared at a press conference. "It is very crucial that we keep up the pace and I hope that we will not have any unexpected problems on the way."
I don't see any big problems, although some compromises may have to be made, as they have been already. Delays caused by environmental and planning considerations now make it impossible to build any new hotels in Athens to accommodate all the visitors that will come for the Olympics. However, all the major existing hotels, including the Hilton and the Grande Bretagne, are being refurbished, modernized and in some instances expanded. In addition, about 30 existing buildings, including several mansions, are being converted into small luxury hotels. Finally, large cruise ships are going to be brought in to provide several thousand additional rooms.
A special concern about the Olympics that is on the minds of everyone these days is terrorism, and the possible danger that terrorists may pose to the Games in 2004. No one is more sensitive to that threat than I am.
As you know, however, the main terrorist organization in Greece, November 17, which murdered 23 innocent people since 1974, has been dismantled.
Many of its members have been arrested and are in prison awaiting trial. We need to round up those who are still at large and to make sure that all members of this murderous group that brought so much pain and so much adverse publicity to Greece to receive the punishment they deserve. I will do everything in my power to help and prod Greek authorities to do just that, and I will not rest until November 17 is consigned to the dustbin of history.
But it's not just about the Greek groups like November 17 that we have to be on the alert. The Olympic Games offer a tempting target to terrorists from every corner of the globe to grab the attention of the world. I can tell you that all of us in Greece are well aware of the challenges we face on that score. That is why Olympic organizers in Athens are investing the biggest amount of money - $650 million - on security in the history of the Games. We are also turning to the best security experts available for advice and planning.
I pledge to make every effort I can to see to it that everything humanly possible will be done to make the Olympic Games the safest in history.
I'm not, however, in charge of organizing the games. Others are, but I know all of them, and they are working hard to make us proud to be Greeks in 2004.
What is most exciting for me, for all those who live in Athens, and for the millions who visit our capital every year, is that the Olympic will transform our city.
A new network of roads now under construction will vastly improve traffic flow in Athens and connect its main thoroughfares to the major highways leading north and west out of the city.
The long coastline of Athens from Faliron to Hellenikon, which provided exceptional opportunities for Athenians until pollution and wayward construction ruined access to it, will be re-developed and opened up to the public once again. The new facilities being developed along the eastern coast include stadiums, basketball and volleyball courts, marinas and sailing centers, the biggest conference center in Greece, and at Hellenikon, where the old airport used to be, the largest park in Greece and one of the largest in Europe. All of these facilities will be re-connected to the center of Athens by an electric Tram network that was torn down 50 years ago in a misguided moment and is now being rebuilt.
As a former minister of culture, I am particularly excited by the integration of Athen's most precious archeological sites into what will ultimately be the largest archeological park in Europe. Visitors will be able to walk on traffic-free roads and lanes through some of the most important historic sites in the world. The park will begin at the Panathenean Stadium, originally built by Hadrian and reconstructed for the revival of the Olympics in 1896. It will then proceed through Hadrian's Arch, which marks the entrance to ancient Athens; pass by the new Acropolis Museum that is being built at Makriyanni; flow through the Plaka, the old section of Athens; move up to the Acropolis Hill and its monuments, and descend on the other side to the city's ancient market place, the Agora; its best preserved temple, the Theseion, and its ancient cemetery, the Keramikos.
It is not only Athens proper that will benefit from the Olympics, but also most of its suburbs. At Marousi the city will inherit the main Olympic complex built for the games. It will include the largest sports stadium in Greece, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the largest gymnastics hall in the country, tennis and basketball courts, park areas, shops and a network of recreational facilities.
In the suburb of Nikaia there will be an indoor center for weightlifting, in Ano Liosia a wrestling arena, in Galatsi a gymnastics and table tennis sports complex, and at Markopoulo, near the new airport, an equestrian center and firing range.
Perhaps the biggest building project under construction is the Olympic Village in Menidi-Thrakomakedones on the foot of Mr. Parnis, about nine miles from the main sport complex at Marousi. While the Olympics are underway, 16,500 athletes and their aides will be housed in the Olympic Village. When the games are over, more than 3,000 apartments in the new community will be sold at favorable prices to working and middle-class families who will be selected on the basis of housing needs.
But it takes more than bricks and mortar to make a city great, and to try to reclaim the glory of an historic city like Athens. We must make Athens the most welcoming, the most spotless, the most festive, the most alluring city to ever hold the Olympic Games since they were revived in 1896. And the safest.
In every one of the great challenges that Athens has ever faced, from the invasion of the Persians in 480 BC to the restoration of democracy in 1974, Athenians have put their differences aside and faced the task at hand with determination and courage. I am confident we will do so again in 2004. And I can assure you that I will not hesitate to ask for the help of all Athenians, both those who live in the capital, and those like you far away who share our highest thoughts to help us in our task.
But it is not only we Athenians who face a daunting task in 20 months. In returning to Greece in 2004, the modern Olympics face a greater challenge to live up to the ideas behind the Games than at any time in their modern incarnation.
"The modern Olympic movement," former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch wrote a few years ago, "evolved from the ideals celebrated by the ancient Greeks, who devoted themselves to the harmonious pursuit of physical, moral, cultural and artistic excellence and regarded the Olympic Games as the greatest expression of those values."
We have all seen in the bribery of IOC officials, in the use of drugs by athletes, and in the relaxations of qualifications for competitors how far the games have drifted from the ideals celebrated by the ancient Greeks.
The ancient Olympics were a blend of physical contests, pageantry and art. The winning contestants were rewarded only with a wreath woven from the branches of an olive tree. When the Persians invaded Greece, Herodotus writes, one of their leaders was amazed to hear that Greek athletes would compete for a prize of such little worth. "What kind of men," he asked a general, "have you led us to fight against, who contend not for money but purely for the sake of excelling?"
Where has that spirit gone from the modern Olympics and where is the infusion of art that characterized the ancient games?
The organizers of the ancient Olympics, a contemporary writer noted, "seemed to feel themselves to be on trial quite as much as the athletic competitors, and to be determined to make no mistakes…"
That is the challenge the organizers of the 2004 Olympics face. We Athenians, who are not directly involved in organizing the Games but have the primary responsibility of hosting visitors to them, face an equally daunting task: To make all those who come to the Olympics in the summer of 2004 and for years afterwards marvel at the splendor of our city and feel that it is their spiritual home. Pericles, who did more to honor Athens than anyone, told Athenians, "I would have you feast your eyes upon Athens day after day until love for her fills your hearts."
I promise you here today, as I promised at the start of my campaign, that as mayor I will do everything in my power to diminish the imperfections and bolster the strengths of our capital so much that in 2004 the whole world will look upon Athens and fall in love with her.
Bank of Cyprus
JP Morgan Treasury Services
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Alexander S. Onassis Foundation (USA)
American Hellenic Institute
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