June 26, 2014 – Brussels – Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras addressed an AJC Transatlantic Institute dinner last night. While acknowledging the immense challenges facing his country since 2008, including nearly 60 percent youth unemployment, he presented a generally optimistic outlook for Greece.
He said that “extremism of all kinds has started losing steam,” and the economy is improving with the “unemployment trend reversed and increased growth,” which, in turn, will bolster the country’s democratic core. Dismissing predictions prevalent two years ago of Greece’s impending economic demise, Samaras declared: “We proved them wrong!” The prime minister stressed that many countries, and not just Greece, face critical challenges to their democratic societies, which must be confronted head-on.
“The fights against extremism, racism, terrorism, and stagnation” are essential to ensuring the vitality of European democracies, Samaras told the audience of more than 100 ambassadors, European Parliament members, officials of the European Union, leaders of Jewish communities, including Benjamin Albalas of Greece, and AJC President Stanley Bergman and Executive Council member Kim Pimley. “This is an uncompromising fight. Democracy will prevail,” said Samaras. When Samaras addressed AJC in New York last September, he vowed to "deracinate" the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, and pledged to strengthen Greece’s laws against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Samaras, who referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as his "good friend," assured the dinner audience that efforts are continuing in Greece to “enhance our laws against racism with strict references to genocide and the Holocaust.” Passage of the law, he said, “is not only an obligation to the innocent who perished then, but also to the present and future generations, who have to remember and protect themselves from the repetition of such atrocities.”
With Greece’s term in the EU presidency ending next week, Samaras reflected on the challenges that must be confronted together by the 28 EU member states. “This is a fight of our new united Europe against the ghosts of our past,” said Samaras. "Democracies have no tolerance for racism and extremism.” AJC Executive Director David Harris expressed his admiration for Samaras as a "cherished and long-time 'philos' (friend), who "embodies the Greek words 'tharos' (courage), 'simbonia' (empathy for others), and 'philotimo' -- the essential elements of which, as I understand a word I'm told is largely untranslatable, are dignity and honor."
The establishment of the AJC Transatlantic Institute was made possible through the generosity and vision of Rhoda and the late Jordan Baruch. Under the professional leadership of Daniel Schwammenthal, it celebrated its tenth anniversary in February, when 50 AJC leaders, joined by European, American and Israeli officials, attended a multi-day gathering in Brussels.