[NATIONAL DAY] The Similarities of Greece and Korea
Greece is a country with a name, fame and a more than solid position in world's history. Today, ten million Greeks at home as well as approximately seven million abroad celebrate the declaration of Greek independence of March 25, 1821. Workers, farmers, shepherds, intellectuals, regional bosses and powerful warlords decided unanimously to get rid of the Ottoman Empire's four hundred years of occupation and slavery imposed upon them. Gathered at the Monastery of St. Lavra in Peloponese, they gave their oaths to fight until the end in order to obtain their liberation and eventually restore the territorial integrity, political independence and cultural traditions of a contemporary state of its time and venue. They succeeded, not only because of their bravery and perseverance against all odds, but because of their deep belief in the Christian Orthodox faith and their devotion to the principles of equality, respect and equal opportunity for each individual. Subconsciously, they brought back from the remote past the values and achievements that drove their ancestors to reach excellence in every conceivable field of human endeavor and thus become the beacon for other nations to follow an unprecedented civilization, which guided contemporary nations to adopt the most treasured notion of existence after life itself, democracy.
In the course of 3000 years, from the bronze age to an advanced civilization, Greeks went through enormous difficulties and managed to establish the very base of philosophy, mathematics, physics, literature, art, medicine and other disciplines of which there is no end and which succeeding generations adopted through the Italian and French renaissance to the nowadays globalization. Based on ultra high ideals, they fought formidable enemies, won and established in the course of history, the magnificent period of Athens and Sparta and other civilizations of the city-state system.
Alexander the Great expanded Greek influence up to the eastern borders of India and all the Balkans in the West. His heirs settled in the Mediterranean and left behind them, if nothing else, the cradle of culture in Egypt, the Alexandria library. After the Roman Empire was divided, again the Greeks formed an empire, the Byzance, which lasted for a thousand years but fell to the Ottoman armies in 1453. Since then, misery was the main characteristic of the oppressed Greek nation until its liberation in 1829-1830. Through it all, the Greeks strove to become a modern and progressive state, and is now a full member of the European Union. Greek history and its significance is more or less known worldwide. Contemporary Greece, fully respecting and revering the past, looks forward to catch up, follow and excel in the trends of the 21st century. In this context, the Greek government liberalized and privatized the economy and deregulated the flow of capital and legislated attractive incentives for foreign investors. The natural beauty, the historic wealth and superb climate make the country attractive to everyone.
As far as Greece-Korea relations are concerned, although the two countries are situated at opposite sides of the globe, geographically and metaphysically they have something in common. They lie more or less on the same 38th parallel. Both countries have suffered enormously from past conquerors and both fought back with unparalleled bravery and dignity to obtain their independence. Both countries share many common values that are very similar although expressed in a different cultural profile. Greece watched with great interest the struggles of Koreans as well as the incredible recent achievements of the Korean people in moving from a completely destroyed nation to one of the world's strongest economies.
Greece assisted Korea in her quest for freedom during the Korean War by sending an expeditionary force to fight along with the United Nations forces. A total of 186 officers and soldiers lie peacefully in Korean War cemeteries, warriors faithful to the principles of dignity, freedom and democracy for which they died.
At this point it is worth mentioning that our country is proud to host the 2004 Olympic Games, an institution established by ancient Greeks and revived again by them at the beginning of the 18th century. The Olympic Games, with the ideals of noble competition among the worlds best athletes and the enormous interest they generate among people of all continents, constitute a solid base for peaceful cooperation and understanding among the world's citizens. Finally, we feel proud for the great honor bestowed on President Kim Dae-jung, who recently received the Nobel peace prize, not only for his battles to defend freedom and democracy but also for his inspired opening toward the North.
Today, both countries enjoy the fruits of peace and sustained economic growth. There are ample opportunities to exploit economic, political and cultural synergies and thus share gains amid the challenges of the 21st century. Specifically, the Greek government is looking forward to a more balanced trade and investment relationship with Korea, which will benefit both sides and pave the way for a more productive future.
The writer is the ambassador of Greece to Korea.
by Constantin Fotilas