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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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State Dinner Hosted by the President of the Hellenic Republic - Greece

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State Dinner Hosted by His Excellency Karolos Papoulias,
President of the Hellenic Republic, and Mrs. May Papoulia

Athens, Greece, Thursday, October 29, 2009

The late Jacques Lacarrière, to whom you paid tribute following his death, Excellency, thought of Greece as an extraordinary brain in a small body.

It was his artful way of reminding us that Greece’s tremendous contribution to the heritage of humanity far exceeds geographic size.

I can recall my own amazement when, as a young student eager to expand my horizons and curious about ancient wisdom and modern Greece, I visited your country and first set foot on the Peloponnese, “[translation] reaching out like an open hand across the sea” to borrow the beautiful imagery of Franco-Ontarian professor Yolande Grisé.

It is with great emotion that I find myself once again here, as governor general of Canada, in a country renowned for its legendary hospitality, a country of which I have so many fond memories.

The poet George Seferis, whose words have been brought to life by the magnificent voice of Melina Mercouri, once wrote that, over time, “Greece goes on travelling, always travelling.”

Greece will forever be for me a place of youthful enchantment, and for Canada, the cementing of a strong and cherished friendship. 

Nearly one quarter of a million Canadians claim Greek heritage. 

And estimates suggest that nearly 25 000 Greeks of Canadian origin live in Greece, while 50 000 of my fellow citizens visit your country every year. 

Clearly, the bonds of connection between our countries are strong and far reaching.

Just as dynamic are the relations between Canada and Greece within such international organizations as the United Nations, the Human Security Network, the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.

We are delighted that Greece is part of the extended Francophonie family and that it took part as a full‑fledged member in the Bucharest Summit in 2006.

It was important to us that the voice of one of the oldest European cultures—from which we have inherited democratic values—would be heard to underscore the crucial role of dialogue in promoting peace and democratization. 

In addition to these many productive opportunities for partnership is the extraordinary degree of co-operation in the area of education.

We heartily applaud the creation of several chairs and centres for Hellenic studies in Canadian universities, including McGill, York, Manitoba and Simon Fraser, located in Montréal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver respectively. 

And we were equally delighted by the opening in 2002 of the first centre for Canadian studies at the University of Athens.

There are so many bridges between our two countries that ensure that ideas circulate more freely and that solutions to today’s issues—issues that affect us all, beyond individual borders—can be shared; as a stark reminder of this, we need look no further than the financial crisis gripping the world, the fragility of our ecosystems, and the disregard for human dignity in many regions of the world.

It was in Greece that the world first saw the emergence of an ideal of justice in the City that has continued to expand over time and that today demands a new ethic of sharing and civic responsibility.

As you yourself so rightly put it, Excellency, in an address before UNESCO in 2007, “the globalization of markets has also led to the globalization of human misery.”

Now more than ever before, we must redouble our efforts to establish a globalization of solidarities with the same enthusiasm as in the commercial sphere.

It comes down to our willingness to rise to the challenges we are all facing and to overcome them with global solutions.

And it is in this spirit of solidarity that I, my husband Jean‑Daniel Lafond and our delegation will be going out to meet with your fellow citizens. 

We are eager to hear from the people who are the very lifeblood of Greek society on issues that are of such concern to us, particularly youth whose voices go unheard far too often in our societies, despite the fact that every day, they are helping to shape our present and want nothing more than to play a part in bringing about a better future for us all.

When we do not hear them, we are depriving ourselves of one of the most valuable resources we have to make a positive change in the way people think. 

My husband and I believe strongly that the arts and culture are powerful instruments of civilization, and during our visit, we will be focussing on the vital role that artists play in bringing peoples together and developing our societies with an eye to innovation and openness.

To this, I would add, Excellency, that we are also filled with the Olympic spirit as we set out on this State visit, because Canada is about to host the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in February and March. 

We were absolutely delighted to take part, just a few hours ago, in the ceremony to pass the Olympic flame and are thrilled that we will soon be visiting the site of the very first competitions, in Olympia.

Our visit to Olympia will afford us the opportunity to plant trees, in a sign of fellowship, one of the cardinal values of Olympism, and to show that Canadians stand beside all those whose lives were turned upside down by the devastating wildfires that ravaged Greece in recent years. 

Being here with you today, Excellency, is not only a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the already productive dialogue between our peoples, but also our way of telling Greece all that it has given to us and all that we hope for its future.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for welcoming us so warmly to your country. 

To many more years of friendship between Canada and Greece.