One hundred and sixty passionate Greek Australian community members, business leaders and students ‘zoomed’ into the Greek Australian Dialogue Series with Mr Kostas Bakoyannis, Mayor of Athens, on Thursday night.
The Zoom conference was organised by Mr Paul Nicolaou, the Director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry Business Leaders Council and Mr Christos Karras, the Consul General of Greece in Sydney.
Mr Kostas Bakoyannis was elected the 49th Mayor of Athens after the local elections of 2019 and took office on 1 September 2019.
“Athens is one of the great cities of the world. A city that takes pride both in its rich history and in its modern self. Athens is one of the oldest cities of the world, a cradle of Western civilisation and the birthplace of democracy. Its rich heritage is evident in its ancient monuments and works of art including one of the world's greatest cultural monument, the Parthenon," Mr Christos Karras.
In his opening message, the Mayor of Athens stated: "We hope we strive that you are as proud of us, as we are proud of you."
He started the conversation by providing attendees a brief summary of the covid-19 situation in Greece. "It is of course a difficult enemy that the whole of humanity faces. Greece has done quite well up to now. We have done quite well because we actually put popularism, partisanship and old fashion politics behind us. We listened to experts, we listen to expertise advice. We actually base our decision making on facts and figures and of course we make sure to operate in full transparency and by valuing truth."
"As a result I'm happy to report that although we are still at a difficult moment, we are actually in the last mile," he added, referring to the recent changes to restrictions.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced:
- On May 3, restaurants open for outdoor dining and curfew is extended to 23:00.
- On May 10, high schools and primary schools reopen.
- On May 15, tourism opens to those who have been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19 72 hours before arriving; in addition, countrywide travel will be permitted and some cultural activities allowed.
"The pandemic came at a particularly cruel time for Athens. Just as we were emerging from a long, deep, economic and financial crisis. With a newly found sense of optimism and dynamism and self-confidence, with our institutions stronger than ever, our democracy stronger than ever and having isolated extremists and popularism. However despite the unprecedented difficulties we faced the last year and a half, I remain an optimist," he continued.
The Mayor of Athens referred to three strategic goals for Athens:
- To reclaim and liberate quality public space
- To adopt a new model of sustainable mobility
- To make sure that these goals are achieved without losing the 'soul' of the city
On this note, he mentioned 'pocket parks'. These small oases of greenery that lower the temperatures and give relief to the residents. They may not change the city, but they change the neighbourhood.
"We are very much looking forward to welcoming you to Athens hopefully as soon as possible. And I do hope that when you come, you will see a city that is changing a lot, little by little."
A number of attendees also had the opportunity to ask Mr. Kostas Bakoyannis questions.
When asked how to describe the 'soul' of Athens, the Mayor responded: “It is always difficult to describe one's soul. It is something one feels and senses. I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about. Anyone who has actually walked our city centre, knows exactly what I'm describing (...) It is very, very important to be clear about who we are and what we want to become."
With respect to support measures for businesses in Greece, Mr. Kostas Bakoyannis stated that it gives him optimism. "I do believe that we are going to see a 'V' and this is actually the prediction of most economists. We are going to see a 'V' in our economic growth and Greece is going to take off within the next few months, especially within the next year. But that doesn't mean that in any way that's an excuse for us to relax our efforts. On the contrary we have to double, triple, quadruple our efforts to support businesses and help secure employment around the city."
The word on everyone’s lips “tourism”, was also touched upon. As reported on GCT, Greece opens to tourists on May 15. The guest speaker highlighted: "Greece is not just the sea, the sun, the Acropolis. It is something more than that now. It is a safe destination. And we want to make sure that we remain a safe destination for the years to come."
Concerning the graffiti clean up in Athens, Mr. Kostas Bakoyannis noted that “the walls we clean, are not vandalised afterwards (...) people actually respect it, like it, care about it. I hope next time you come, you will see the difference."
It is no secret that Greece and the international community have repeatedly called on the British Museum to return the 2,500-year-old Parthenon Sculptures to their place of origin. Commenting on this, the Mayor stated that he believes in "the need for them to be reunified with the monument. We have the new museum [Acropolis Museum] so it's sad when you visit because you see the space that's left there to welcome to marbles."
The closing remarks and vote of thanks were given by HACCI (Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) NT Chair, Angela Tomazos. “We share your optimism and we share your passion. We wish you all the very best and success for our beautiful city."