*By professor Harry Papasotiriou
In one of the oldest buildings of Columbia University in New York, listed are eight names of some of the greatest men of letters which; from these names, six are Greek (Homer, Herodote, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle and Dimosthenes) and only two are Roman (Cicero and Tacitus). This detail promotes the very popular perception in the West, that the origins of western civilisation are found in Ancient Greece. Greek cultural diplomacy has to take advantage of the brilliant heritage of classical Greece. However, it should not limit itself there. Throughout the Greek territory, there has been a success of important cultures with international radiance. One of the most important modern buildings of Alexandria in Egypt is the Library, which is found in the same spot where the ancient library of Alexandria was. The necessity of modern Egyptians to connect with their Greek heritage is characterised by the influence of Greek civilisation in the basin of the Eastern Mediterranean. The meaning of Hellenism for the premature Christian church can be seen through the fact that, the majority of letters by Paul the Apostle written in the New Testament are directed towards Greek municipalities. In the city of Dunhuang, situated in the Northwest of China, there are many caves with engravings and other representations of ancient Greek temples. Many merchants would meet in this city of Central Asia, and brought products from the Eastern outskirts of Europe to Chinese merchants with which they traded western products with eastern ones.
The existence of representations in the caves display the necessity of the merchants in Central Asia to show the Chinese the elements of civilizations that they saw on the other side of “the silk road”. In front of the University of Sofia in Bulgaria, there are magnificent statues of Saint Cyril and Methodius, who created the initial Slavic alphabet and as a result, gave the Slavs written language for the first time. If the people in the West believe that the origins of western civilisation are found in Ancient Greece, many countries of Eastern Europe see the roots of their own civilisations in Byzantium. In the centre of Bucharest, the Kilometre Zero monument from which all distances to other cities of the Romanian capital are measured finds the Şuţu Palace which is hosted today by the Bucharest Municipality Museum. For more than one hundred years, from the beginning of the 18th century until 1821, the Danubian Principalities were governed by Greek Phanariotes, and their positive influence has been emphasised in Romanian as well as Greek historiography. What should be emphasised about the Hellenism during the Ottoman period, is that the Patriarchy of Constantinople functioned as the orthodox millet where Greek schools were open to the educational needs of all the orthodox people in the regions of the Ottoman Empire. The strong Greek trade movement during the 18th and 19th centuries, along the Danube of the Austrian Empire and on the south beaches of today’s Ukraine of the Russian Empire, display the monuments and other elements, such as street names in a number of different cities from Vienna and Budapest to Odessa and Mariupol. To these, we should add the most recent development of Greek diaspora in countries of Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.
The main challenge of Greek cultural diplomacy is to develop without prejudice and ideological rigidities, the heritage of international presence of all the succeeding civilisations which developed on Greek territory. I hope that the stated evidence of multiple cultural heritages shows us how much rich material there is to benefit from a cultural diplomacy of open horizons and broad spirits.