01 July, 2008
The 86th annual American Hellenic Educational & Progressive Association's (AHEPA) supreme convention essentially gets underway in Athens on Tuesday, as the Greek capital will host the largest and oldest Greek-American organisation’s main event the first time after 38 years.
In kicking off a weeklong series of events and meetings, AHEPA's presidium on Monday laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of Greece's Parliament before beginning a procession to the statue of US President Harry Truman in downtown Athens, followed by a stop at the US embassy, where a ceremony was held honoring George C. Marshall -- the architect of the seminal "Marshall Plan" for the reconstruction of the European continent following WWII. The procession concluded at an American Legion memorial honoring the American Philhellenes that fought during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829).
Both Truman and Marshall are revered by the Greek-American community for their support of the country in the aftermath of the Axis occupation during the Second World War and the subsequent fratricidal Greek Civil War (1946-49).
During the inaugural events, US ambassador to Athens Daniel Speckhard underlined the role of the Greek-American community in forging close relations between the American and the Greek people, while pointing out the excellent level of bilateral relations.
"I would like to thank you personally and take just a moment to reflect on the Marshall Plan. Last year, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, which was launched with George C. Marshall’s famous speech at Harvard on June 5, 1947," Speckhard said in welcoming the AHEPA delegates to the embassy event.
"Over a period of five years, Greece received the equivalent of US$10 billion in assistance under the Marshall Plan ... The country’s decimated infrastructure was rebuilt: 3,500 kilometres of roads, over 850 kilometres of railways, and 17 airports were built or fixed. The Corinth canal, made unusable by the Germans, was dredged, and the port of Volos was put back in operation. As all of these great projects were under way, George Marshall himself said of Greece, 'We're answering the call of a valiant ally who has suffered much, of a country to which this American democracy owes much'," Speckhard noted, adding:
"It is up to us to keep this Marshall legacy and memory alive. As Greek-Americans, you carry on the identity of both our countries. You embody the enduring ties between our countries. You do on a daily basis, throughout your lives, the same thing that I do here as Ambassador, representing America to Greeks, but you also represent Greece to Americans."
The official inauguration of the 86th AHEPA supreme convention will come on Monday evening with an address by the US envoy, as this week's events are also expected to touch on a handful of foreign policy issues of particular importance to Greece, including the recently resurged FYROM "name issue".
This statue of George Marshall was dedicated in 2000 following an AHEPA initiative to raise $115,000 from Greek-American donors.
Source: Athens News Agency