Speaking in the newly opened Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in the Greek capital, Obama said that although “Democracy can be especially complicated”, it is better than the alternatives “because it allows us to peacefully work through our differences and move closer to our ideals”.
Obama said that he believes that there’s more of what Greeks call philotimo—love, and respect, and kindness for family and community and country, and a sense that we’re all in this together, with obligations to each other.
“Philotimo—I see it every day and that gives me hope. Because in the end, it is up to us. It’s not somebody else’s job, it’s not somebody else’s responsibility, but it’s the citizens of our countries and the citizens of the world to bend that arc of history towards justice. And that’s what democracy allows us to do. It’s why the most important office in any country is not president or prime minister. The most important title is ‘citizen’—and in all our nations it will always be our citizens who decide the kind of countries we will be, the ideals that we will reach for, the values that will define us. In this great, imperfect, but necessary system of self-government, power and progress will always come from…‘We, the people.’”
On the challenges of globalization, Obama said:
“In our countries in American and in most advanced economies, we want people to be rewarded for their achievements. We think the people should be rewarded if they come up with a new product or a new service that helps a lot of people. But when a CEO of a company now makes more money in a single day than a typical worked does in an entire year, when it’s harder for workers to climb their way up the economic ladder, when they see a factory close that used to support an entire city or town, that fuels the feeling that globalisation only benefits those at the top. And the reaction can drag down a country’s growth and make recessions most likely, it can also lead to politics that can create an unhealthy competition between countries. Rather than a win-win situation people perceive that ‘if you’re winning, I’m losing’. And barriers come up, and walls come up. And in advanced economies there are at times movements from both the Left and the Right to put a stop to integration and to push back against technology and to try to bring back jobs and industries that have been disappearing for decades. And this impulse to pull back from a globalised world is understandable. If people feel that they are losing control of their future they will push back. We’ve seen it here in Greece, we’ve seen in across Europe, we’ve seen it in the United States, we saw it in the vote in Great Britain to leave the EU. But: Given the nature of technology, it is my assertion that it is not possible to cut ourselves off from one another. We are now living in a global supply chain. Our growth comes from innovation and ideas that are crossing borders all the time. The jobs of tomorrow will inevitably be different from the jobs of the past. So we can’t look backwards for answers, we have to look forward.”
When referring to Greece — “this small great world” — President Obama said that the country will continue to have the core support of the United States. “…And at the same time I will continue to urge creditors to take the steps needed to put Greece on a path towards sustained economic recovery.”
Underlining that austerity can not just be seen as a strategy, Obama said that “it is incredibly important that the Greek people see improvements in their daily lives so that they can carry with them the hope that their lives will get better.”
Following his speech, President Obama departed for Berlin.