U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech on democracy to debt-ridden Greeks in Athens thanking them for their help and laying out his vision for the future before leaving office.
Obama said globalisation is inevitable in the modern age of smartphones and seamless trade and needs to be improved to show that it works for the masses rather than the elites.
He called on the youth of the world not to lose heart and said that the best time to be born in history is today.
Obama made the comments during a foreign policy speech at the ancient birthplace of democracy during his last trip overseas as U.S. president before handing power over to President-elect Donald Trump.
USA Today reports:
In an address to the Greek people, Obama said growing distrust of elites and institutions demands that democratic governments work to become more responsive to the people they serve.
“If people feel that they’re losing control of their future, they will push back. We have seen it here in Greece. We’ve seen it across Europe. We’ve seen it in the United States. We saw it in the vote in Britain to leave the EU,” Obama said, referring to the European Union. “Governing institutions, whether in Athens, Brussels, London, Washington, have to be responsive to the concerns of citizens.”
Obama has given similar warnings before, cautioning world leaders about a “crude sort of nationalism” that can manifest itself in populist movements from the left and the right. But his argument seemed to take on new urgency after his own party’s defeat at the hands of Republican Donald Trump, whose upset victory was fueled in part by anxieties about immigration, globalization and trade.
“In a multi-ethnic, multiracial, multicultural society, like the United States, democracy can be especially complicated,” he said. “Believe me, I know.”
Obama seemed to take a philosophical view of the election result, and promised the “smoothest transition possible.”
“As you may have noticed, the next American president and I could not be more different,” he told the audience at an Athens theater, to laughter and applause. “We have very different points of view, but American democracy is bigger than any one person.”
But Obama also emphasized that Trump’s brand of populism is not a uniquely American phenomenon. And he said technology like social media was helping to create “a volatile politics” by exposing differences within and between countries.
“In our globalized world, with the migration of people and the rapid movement of ideas and cultures and traditions, we see increasingly this blend of forces mixing together in ways that often enrich our societies but also cause tensions,” he said. “Faced with this new reality where cultures clash, it’s inevitable that some will seek a comfort in nationalism or tribe or ethnicity or sect.”
And that, in turn, has created distrust between people and their governments, Obama said. “There’s a growing suspicion — or even disdain — for elites and institutions that seem remote from the daily lives of ordinary people. What an irony it is, at a time when we can reach out to people in the most remote corners of the planet, so many citizens feel disconnected from their own governments,” he said.
It’s no coincidence that Obama gave the speech in Greece, which has borne the brunt of many of the economic and social forces roiling Europe. But it also has the longest tradition of self-governance. “It was here, 25 centuries ago, in the rocky hills of this city, that a new idea emerged: Demokratia,” he said. “The notion that we are citizens — not servants, but stewards of our society.”
Underscoring the symbolism of the venue, Obama took an hour before his speech to tour the Acropolis, the home of the iconic hilltop Athens ruins that have become an enduring symbol of Western civilization itself. As a tour guide showed him around, the usually busy tourist destination was totally empty, except for Obama, his entourage and a few stray cats.
Obama also used his speech to thank the Greek people for their compassion to the Middle Eastern migrants arriving on their shores. “The Greek people’s generosity towards refugees arriving on your shores has inspired the world. That doesn’t mean that you should be left on your own, and only a truly collective response by Europe and the world can ensure that these desperate people receive the support that they need.”
And he pledged support for Greece’s attempts to reform its economy — and to seek debt relief — in response to the economic crisis there. “I will continue to urge creditors to take the steps needed to put Greece on a path towards sustained economic recovery,” he said. “It is important because if reforms here are going to be sustained, people need to see hope, and they need to see progress.”
Obama then flew to Berlin, where he had an informal dinner with Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday night. He’ll hold a press conference with Merkel on Thursday, and also meet with the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain — whose banks are some of Greece’s biggest creditors.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech at the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center in Athens, Greece on November 16, 2016.
Video from The White House:
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