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HomeGreeceOpening speech by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Diplomacy Kostas...

Opening speech by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Diplomacy Kostas Fragkogiannis at the 1st Kavala International Summer School Strategies International Synergies (BSIS) (Kavala, September 5-11, 2022).

I am also inspired by my home city, Kavala. From the very beginnings of its long history, it became a noteworthy strategic base and a significant communication and commercial hub for the northern Aegean’s mainland shores. Kavala is the hometown of Muhammad Ali, who is considered by many to be the founder of modern Egypt. It was in multi-ethnic and tolerant Kavala that Muhammad Ali learned to trust people by their skills, not by their mother tongue – hence his comfort with French, Greek, Turkish and Armenian speakers going to Egypt en masse and creating communities there. These diverse trajectories made Alexandria one of the most important and prosperous cities in the Mediterranean. And, Muhammad Ali also commissioned the building of Imaret in his hometown in 1813.I hope you realize that ‘imaret’ is a generic Ottoman term, used to identify the public soup kitchens built within a great complex that included hospices, mosques, caravanserais and colleges. These were philanthropic institutions engaged in charitable and beneficent work. Even after the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey that took place in 1923, many Greek refugee families were given shelter in Imaret, in the rooms of the religious school. Imagine that!   With that, I hope you have the most satisfying of weeks in Kavala and Ι wish you every success in your future endeavors. I know I have covered plenty of topics, but I am looking forward to having a Q and A session with you. So, if there are any questions, please… the ‘platform’ is yours…Ah, by the way, an introductory note on economic diplomacy:In this sense, and despite the many, many global challenges we are facing in these turbulent times, I will remain optimistic. I will remain a firm believer in reconciliation, tolerance and understanding.  And, I will close my opening remarks by reiterating the words of Seneca, a Roman orator, philosopher and statesman that help me remain optimistic and, sometimes, even daring. You might ask, “well, that is all good and dandy, but where are we now?”I have been truly honored and deeply humbled to have been assigned the responsibility of leading the Greco-Turkish positive agenda in the past 2 years with my counterpart from Turkey Sedat Onal.  This is not a task to be taken lightly.  Apart from hard work, what is additionally required is a sound knowledge of history, -dare I say both sides’ readings of history, and proficient negotiation skills.  Your program indicates that I am the opening speaker of this very interesting week that is starting today, and so, first of all, a warm welcome to all of you. Welcome to my hometown Kavala, and, as you understand, I am truly happy that this beautiful, historically multicultural and persistently tolerant city is hosting such an important summer school. We often say knowledge is power. What that really means is that understanding cultural identities is the first step to accepting diversity. Knowing other people’s history and achievements helps us see that we may be different, but we also have so much more in common.   In our part of the world, our ancestors, Muslims, Christians and Jews, though often speaking different languages, understood each other. They lived together for centuries sharing what may appear today as relatively insignificant, like food, music and danse. However, this common cultural heritage is a major and unexploited political capital. And as we gradually enter my own role at the Ministry of Foreign affairs, I need to state that part of cultural diplomacy’s role is to support understanding and peace by promoting actions that develop this very political capital. “Good morning” to everyone.As I mentioned at the start, MOHA stands for Motivation of Heritage Affinities, in other words… the attempts to find common grounds today through common historical backgrounds of yesterday. Presently, the regional security situation in the wider eastern Mediterranean region has become more complex. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted decades-long geopolitical balance in Europe. The consequent energy crisis has altered the list of priorities for everyone. The fourth Greco-Turkish Positive Agenda working meeting, scheduled for June 2022 in Ankara, was postponed.  We are still hopeful that all remaining issues on the agenda will be conclusively resolved. We are also hopeful to inaugurate the Thessaloniki-Smyrna ferry line on that occasion.In total, out of the 25 issues agreed upon here in Kavala back in 2021, we have reached conclusive agreements on 13 of them, immense progress has been made on 10 and only two remain unresolved.  This is a lot more important than you might think.  It shows that steps can be made, results can be achieved. And I will repeat verbatim (word-for-word) something I previously mentioned. Positive, economic and non-economic, spillover effects from economic diplomacy may positively affect the field of high politics.Actually, we usually tend to focus on global conflicts, not reconciliations; and in a way, it’s only natural. But, there are quite a number of successful reconciliations that inspire optimism and clearly demonstrate that this should be the only way forward. For example, the Abraham Accords: a series of treaties reinstituting diplomatic relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco; we are talking about one more step in the right direction pertaining to a broad and enduring conflict in one of the most persistent hotspots on the global map.  Various attempts have been made to resolve not only the broader Arab-Israeli conflict I was referring to, but also the more acute Israeli-Palestinian one.  One however of the primary obstacles has been a deep-set, historic, but also growing distrust between its participants.
Having said that, I openly ask: how can trust be achieved?Our third working meeting was held in Athens, where we focused on economic and trade issues.  The meeting was commended and received considerable press coverage for being held in an honest and friendly atmosphere. Deputy Minister Sedat Onal and I welcomed the start of negotiations for the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation between Enterprise Greece and the respective Turkish organization Invest in Turkey, the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates against Covid-19, the progress of the Joint Committee for Tourism, as well as for the re-activation of the Joint Economic Committee which had last convened in 2010. Naturally, I am sending my warmest greetings to all the distinguished professors who are taking part, as well as those representing the fine institutions supporting and organizing this event, namely the American College of Thessaloniki, the JENA Center for Reconciliation, the Foreign Affairs Institute, the MOHA Research Center (which stands for Motivation of Heritage Affinities) and Balkan Strategies International Synergies.On the 15th of April 2021, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu where they jointly expressed their will and desire to promote a series of issues, mainly of economic and commercial nature; these could act as catalysts to establishing trust and enhancing prosperity within a mutually beneficial framework.I admit you have a point. More importantly, do you realize and appreciate the fact that through these devoted scientists, who assimilated knowledge inherited from the Greeks and the Romans by the Islamic world, would later transfer it back to Europe, sparking the rebirth of the continent and the age of scientific revolution, known as the Enlightenment? Well, the Islamic world, the Eastern Christian World and the Western Christian World all interacted to bring about the Modern World. My conclusion ? [pause]  Cultural exchange has always been a major factor of progress.As words matter, [pause] the M in MOHA stands for motivation, whose synonyms are desire, incentive, interest, motive, but also action and drive.  So when we say Motivation of Heritage Affinities, what we want is to find a way to identify and put forward what unites us from our common heritage. Thus, our differences should not make the distance between us unbridgeable. We need to cultivate respect for these differences.  Which, admittedly, requires work. Hard, persistent work. But building tolerance is the major step to building equitable societies. French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, inspired by plans of Jean Monnet, proposed that the two countries be placed within the framework of a strong supranational structure. The Paris Treaty, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, was signed in April 1951; this was the predecessor of what is known today as the European Union. Peace amongst its 27 members is considered as the organization’s greatest achievement.  Who would have thought that two sworn enemies, France and Germany, with millions having died in two world wars and so many countries having been left in ruins, would be able to achieve such a stupendous reconciliation?                                                                                                               In 1945, Europe was on its knees, bled dry. It had also become dependent on the two undisputed victors in World War II: the United States and the Soviet Union. Germany and France, hereditary enemies for centuries, sought to build a future that depended on a peaceful and sustainable solution.  Diplomacy is the answer, that has many tools (political, athletic, cultural, energy related, defense driven, even gastronomical), as does the more focused field (only to enter my area of expertise) of Economic Diplomacy. Well…, Ι think I’ve just managed to use all those words from the names of the institutions in one sentence that actually makes some sense: in plain English, what we all need, all over the world, in order to bridge our differences, is to focus on our similarities. Needless to say, what I have stated is neither a new concept nor something that has not been attempted in the past. In that spirit, do allow me to expand on this a little:MOHA, one of the institutions organizing this week’s summer school, is dedicated to furthering the study of the cultural and scientific history of the Islamic world, a term that embraces a wide variety of peoples and societies spread over many countries.  “Umma” is the Arabic word that signifies the global Muslim community at any point in time. Did you all look at MOHA’s website? Well, look: I am still –by nature- a firm believer that de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean and the normalization of neighborly relations can occur.  I also choose to focus on the many things that unite us, instead of those that don’t. Just like the famous Pax Romana, for that matter, experienced a few centuries later. The Pax Romana was, in many ways, a great achievement in human history, often described as a “miracle of an accomplishment”. Again, a small step in the right direction. With many positive results and consequences, because, as a concept, Pax Romana was highly influential and there have been many attempts to copy it in subsequent ages.I am happy to be addressing a young audience, because it is the young people who are usually more open to thinking “out of the box” and bringing about change. I hope that you will leave Kavala in a week’s time having been convinced that prosperity through peace is actually the road to follow. For the sake of accuracy and good order, let me say that the term “positive agenda” (you may see it abbreviated as PA) dates back to 2012 when an attempt was made to relaunch EU-Turkey relations, as their relationship has proven to be both complex and very challenging.  Turkey is both a candidate country and a ‘key partner’ for the EU.  For many years, its accession progress was incremental, though in recent years, EU accession has stalled, while EU-Turkey relations reached a historic low point.The neighboring region of Thrace, I understand you will be focusing on this region this week, was and still is, also at the crossroads of civilizations, trade, energy supply and diversity. Diversity is a word that has become somewhat of a buzzword these days, but one that you should learn about, own it, and incorporate it in your career and life choices.  If you google D.E.I.B. right now, you will find that Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging programs are central themes in the business world as many multinationals boast of their commitment to building diverse teams and inclusive corporate cultures. In Greece, for example, we take great pride in the achievements of what is called the Byzantine Empire, for what was in fact the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East. This Eastern Christian World was in close cultural contact and intellectual exchange with the Muslim World. It did not participate to the Crusades. A bridge, between two worlds, like the bridges being constructed with programs like yours.As a consequence, I am inspired by the esteemed institutions organizing this week’s summer school. I am inspired even by their names and the words composing them, as I said. I am inspired by the syllabus I was sent, as I noticed the very interesting topics, panel discussions and UN simulations led by experts from various countries, including Turkey. I am inspired by the venue chosen for your work, the historic Imaret building.  Though economic interests have always been a driver of diplomatic relations over the span of centuries, in our times, governments have a very clear understanding: economic diplomacy is a much more significant contributor to breeding trust between nations, than it was once believed. And not only that: positive, non-economic spillover effects from economic diplomacy may positively affect the field of high politics. Sadly, what followed, in the 3rd century AD, was a descent “from a kingdom of gold tο one of iron and rust”. Or, the long period formerly known as the Dark Ages, the entire Middle Ages; the time of intellectual darkness in Europe between the Fall of Rome and the Renaissance. I mentioned unbridgeable differences. Is it really? I would like you to take a minute to think about one of the greatest reconciliations in world history; as a matter of fact, this was recorded relatively recently, less than 100 years ago:In this context, D.E.I.B. mostly refers to the principle of each person having multiple identities and lived experiences; but I will take this a step further and claim that, similarly, each country has multiple identities and historical experiences. And, just like our thoughts, actions, experiences and decision-making processes are affected by our identities, countries often make choices based on their interpretations of history and short-term gains. I do not propose to shy away from my Greek heritage, so as a ‘typical Greek’, I will refer to our ancient ancestors and remind you that a great moment in the history of reconciliation was what has become known today as the League of Corinth. This reconciliation was far from perfect, as you may have discovered in your studies so far. But, it was a small step in the right direction. A virtuous precedent, so to speak. Greece’s positive agenda with Turkey commenced with a ‘kick-off’ working meeting between myself and Sedat Onal, right here in Kavala on the 28th of May 2021. A total of 25 issues were included as proposed by both sides. We met again in Antalya in June of the same year at the Summit of the Southeastern Europe Cooperation Process (also known as SEECP): Turkey held the presidency for the first half of 2021 and Greece for the second.  SEECP is a regional forum that aims to promote peace, economic cooperation and euro-atlantic integration. Reconciliation is once again in the making. This was the start of the Greco-Turkish new positive agenda. “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult”!Well, for those of you who didn’t, I have stolen an excerpt: going back to the Middle Ages, do you realize that when “darkness covered Europe, astronomers from the Muslim Kingdom searched the skies of Baghdad, Damascus, Cordoba, Cairo and Samarkand”, all the way in Uzbekistan?  Do you realize that “Muslim philosophers, mathematicians, geographers and alchemists were constantly working to maintain and expand the knowledge they had inherited from ancient civilizations?”Within this spirit, we use the term ‘positive agenda’ at the [Greek] Ministry of Foreign Affairs to refer to our dialogue with neighboring Turkey; a dialogue that focuses on economic and trade issues, but also in the fields of transportation, energy, communications, environment, culture, education and tourism. Perhaps, a good start to this week would be to take a closer look at some of the words – I repeat the words included in the titles of the aforementioned institutions:
Do pay attention: reconciliation, foreign affairs, heritage, affinity, strategy, international, synergy. Could it be that: “in foreign affairs, a desirable strategy for international reconciliation might be found through synergies of heritage-based affinity groups?”We associate to the French Philosopher Montesquieu the concept of “doux commerce” (in English, gentle commerce) He wrote that: “wherever the ways of man are gentle, there is commerce; and wherever there is commerce, there the ways of men are gentle.” He also said: “The natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace.”It looks as if I am attempting to give you the briefest, most concise, world history course ever.  Do forgive me.  Be patient. I am about to connect the dots.
The Middle Ages are still many times wrongly associated with backwardness, lost knowledge, ignorance and poverty; they are contrasted with earlier and later periods of ‘light’, meaning knowledge, understanding and progress.  The terms “renaissance” and “enlightenment” are clear references to these ideas. Today, the majority of modern scholars avoid the term Dark Ages altogether, as the accomplishments of the era came to be better understood in the past years.  Even so, there is still a lot of work to be done, as many educational systems, primarily of northern American and western European countries, do not place much emphasis on other parts of the world that flourished significantly during the aforementioned centuries.


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