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Greek Independence Day

Location: Washington, DC

GREEK INDEPENDENCE DAY -- (Extensions of Remarks - March 24, 2004)


Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, this Thursday, March 25th, the people of Greece will mark the 183rd anniversary of their independence from the Ottoman Empire.

The modem state of Greece was born from a protracted, bloody war against the Ottoman Empire between the years 1821 and 1832. The significance of the Greek War of Independence transcends the bounds of Greece and its history. It was the first major war of liberation after our own revolution, and it marked the end of four centuries of often brutal rule by Istanbul. The struggle for Greek independence drew in Europe's great powers and inspired thousands of non-Greeks to join the cause, including Goethe, Schiller, Victor Hugo, Mary Shelley, Alfred de Musset and Lord Byron.

Today, more than one million of our fellow citizens trace their origins to this ruggedly beautiful land that gave birth to western civilization, and I am honored to join them in this celebration of Greek independence. As the brilliant Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in the preface to Hellas in 1821, "We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts, have their root in Greece."

Twenty-four centuries after the construction of the Parthenon, the buildings that house all three branches of our government draw heavily on the architecture of ancient Greece. This is more than mere homage to the graceful beauty of ancient Greek buildings; it is an acknowledgment that our democracy, the core of American nationhood, is a gift to us from Greece. In 332 B.C. Aristotle said, "If liberty and equality, as is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost." More than two thousands years later his words still inspire us to struggle to perfect our democracy hereat home, as we work to foster it around the globe. We are deeply grateful for the support of Greece in the Global War on Terrorism and Greece's participation is enhanced by its status as the cradle of democracy.

Even while we fight together to end the scourge of international terrorism in a world that seems far more unpredictable and dangerous than it did 4 years ago, people around the world look forward to the celebration of another of Greece's gifts to humanity, the Olympic Games. At a time of some uncertainty for the Olympic Movement, I welcome the return of the Olympics to Athens for the first time since the inaugural games of the modern era in 1896. I am looking forward to a spectacular Games that will reconnect the modern Olympics with its roots in antiquity and recapture the world's imagination. As an honor to the Games and its hosts, I urge the British Government to commit, before the start of the Olympics, to return the Parthenon Marbles to the people of Greece. Returning the marbles would be a noble act, in keeping with the spirit of the ekecheiria, the Olympic Truce.

Greeks and Greek-Americans have another reason to celebrate this year. After three decades of division, Cyprus is poised on the brink of reunification, its accession to the European Union now only weeks away. Cypriots on both sides of the Green Line hope that the island's reunification can be finalized before Cyprus joins the EU on May 1. I recently joined 45 of my colleagues in asking Secretary of State Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to make some modifications to the Annan plan for reunification. As drafted, there are some provisions of the Annan plan that could render it unworkable. The changes we proposed would improve the chances for Cypriot unity and peace, and I hope that they are incorporated in the final phases of the negotiations.

If a solution to Cyprus can be finalized it would reshape the eastern Mediterranean and could lead to an improvement in relations between Greece and Turkey. I am saddened by the tense relations between these two neighbors, both of which are strong friends of the United States and vital members of NATO. To quote Aesop: "A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety."

Since the Greek War of Independence, when Congress sent money and supplies to the Greeks in their struggle for freedom, common values, shared goals, and mutual respect have been the foundation of the friendship between Greece and the United States. Those ties endure to this day, and they have enriched both peoples.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great joy and admiration that I wish the people of Greece a happy Independence Day and continued freedom and prosperity.


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