Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday sent a message of support to Greek Australians in his first live-streamed event addressing the diaspora.
More than 600 participants tuned in to the webinar, hosted by the Andrew Liveris, Global Chairman of the The Hellenic Initiative. The meeting touched many issues including Greece 2021 celebrations, trade, conflict with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as voting rights for Greeks abroad.
Next year, 2021, Greece’s bicentenary since the country’s independence from Ottoman Turks, may also be the year Mr Mitsotakis visits Australia following the postponement of this year’s planned visit due to COVID-19. “I am so excited about the prospect of working together, not just in terms of talking, but also doing things that would be to the benefit of our country and the benefit of the diaspora,” he said, speaking of Greek achievements over the last 200 years as a “great success story” but also encouraging people to also take a “critical look” at all aspects of Greece, not just “what we did well”.
As prime minister, he sees 2021, as an opportunity to reintroduce Greece to the world as a “modern, vibrant, dynamic country” that “doesn’t rely on the laurels of the past” and show what the country can offer the world post-2021. “The pandemic has forced us to realign the priorities,” he said.
In regards to Greece’s present, Mr Liveris drew attention to geopolitical issues in the eastern Mediterranean which, as a Kastellorizian descendant, he spoke of an “existential crisis”. Mr Mitsotakis spoke of the importance of “forging a network of alliances”, and this is what Greece is doing now.
“My task is to make sure that I don’t talk about the problems that we have with Turkey in a bilateral or a trilateral way – with Cyprus in my mind – but to make it a essentially a problem of interest to Europeans, to the Americans, to NATO and why not to people as far away as Australia. We are believers in international law, and the values of liberal democracy, and these are the values that Australia been known for,” he said, pointing to “peaceful dialogue” and international courts.
“We will not be bullied, we will not be blackmailed, we will not be forced into dialogue under conditions that are not acceptable to us.”
He said Turkey has “changed profoundly” over the past years and has proven to be an “unstable ally” when purchasing advanced weapons systems from Russia and activating them – an issue of concern also to the United States.
Looking to the future, Mr Liveris told Mr Mitsotakis of the interest diasporans have in Greece, especially those with property in the country. Asked about “new initiatives to help grow Greece”, Mr Mitsotakis pointed to the strong ties young Greeks who left Greece in the last decade still have with the country and their recently acquired right to vote and participate in the political process. He said the platform has been approved by him, and the next elections will be the first with diasporan voters. “And with the time difference, you’ll also be the first to vote,” he said, adding that there will be elected members of the diaspora in Greek Parliament.
Mr Mitsotakis said Greece is an attractive destination for both large and small investments and this has been made easier with packages for owners to make their property more ecofriendly which applies to Greeks living abroad. “Investment in Greece is no longer just about tourism, it is also about digital transformation and about skills,” he said. “We have a broad investment approach and investment portfolio.”
The Prime Minister stressed that investments such as the huge investment made by Microsoft show confidence in the long-term prospects of the country and noted: “Investments in Greece are no longer just about tourism, they are about digital and “green” transformation, they are about skills, and that is why as a government, we have a very broad investment orientation and we have secured European resources for this transition.”
He pointed to the success Greece had dealing with COVID-19 and the discipline it showed. “2021 will be the year of the Greek economic recovery,” he said.
Mr Liveris said the handling of COVID-19 marks a “rebranding” of the economy.
Mr Mitsotakis said that “young Greeks who abandoned Greece during the crisis because there were no jobs” are coming back in a “reverse brain drain” and many who decide to work from Greece.
“It’s phenomenal. We never thought this would actually happen,” he said of plans to “reposition Greece as a digital hub” and also focusing on work to help slash bureaucracy, especially services offered to Greeks who live abroad. “But think of it, we’re a globally connected world where we can work from anywhere – COVID-19 has proven that if you have good digital infrastructure – which we do – and have further invested in, why not? Why should you consider Greece as just a place to spend your holidays? Why not live here? Why not retire in Greece? Why not work out of Greece? Why not work out of Kastellorizo?”
The Greek leader said he is interested in learning from countries which mobilise diaspora on a permanent basis. He says that discussions have been had for decades, “and we haven’t really solved this problem.”
“For me, this is a priority,” he said, while also expressing his interest in interaction between Greek and Australian organisations, formal and informal, while also pointing to the Benaki Museum’s collaboration with the Hellenic Museum as a great example.