Dr. Ackermann – 5th Economic Forum of Thrace – Samothraki 2014
“The Power of Belief” events on Samothraki Island was an opportunity to know what the voices of culture, economy, politics and arts have to say about a corner of the earth that once was a mystical center of the world. What does Samothraki represent for each one of them and us?
Every year more bright minds will be on Samothraki to leave their thoughts and ideas, and all together we can write the new history of this place, until it can regains its place in the world.
Economic Forum of Thrace Team
The speech of out honorary guest, Dr. Josef Ackermann along with our gratitude for his presence.
«It is a great honor and joy indeed for me to be a citizen of Samothraki now. These aren’t empty words. I don’t say this for the sake of convention or courtesy only. It comes from my heart. I really mean it.
Most people from where I come from are lost on Samothraki. At best they can connect it with the statue of Nike, the goddess of victory, which has been found here and is one of the masterpieces exhibited in the Louvre museum in Paris. But besides that they know nothing about this island: nothing about its geography, nothing about its history, nothing about its cultural heritage, nothing about its people.
So why am I truly proud and grateful and even moved for being made an honorary citizen of this widely unknown and seemingly forlorn island in the Northern Aegean?
It’s very simple: Because it connects, or better re-connects me with the ideals of my youth and with my spiritual and cultural roots. Today is a sort of homecoming for me.
I learned the language of Homer, Ancient Greek, in High School, something which unfortunately has become very rare these days, and therefore I read in his „Iliad“ about how Poseidon, the god of the sea and brother of Zeus, the god of the heavens, from the top of this very mountain here, your mountain, the Phengári, watched the battle of Troy over a hundred kilometers away in Asia Minor.
I learned about Samothraki as the Sanctuary of the Kabeiroi, the Great Gods of the Mystery Cult, from the great historian Herodotus as well as from my favorite poet Johann-Wolfgang Goethe, who lets the Sirens praise them in his Faust II.
I learned about Samothraki from Aristotle’s discussion of constitutions.
I read from the Argonauts stopping over here on their journey to fetch the Golden Fleece. I read from Aristarchos of Samothraki, the director of the library in Ptolemaic Alexandria, antique philologist and literary critic, who became a synonym for stern criticism.
So, since long time ago I knew that this small island off the coast of Thrace has a long and rich history reaching back thousands of years. That it was considered a holy place in ancient times comparable to Delphi, Delos or Eleusis. That Heracles, Odysseus, Agamemnon and Alexander the Great among many others came here to worship the gods. In short, that it played an important role in the Hellenistic world, which is at the grassroots of Europe’s civilization.
That is why I take great pride in being an honorary citizen of Samothraki now. But that is not all.
You bestowed that honor to me as a sign of recognition and gratitude for my support to Greece during the sovereign debt crisis of the years 2009-2012. But I do not deserve that gratitude.
My support was by no means altruistic. Quite the contrary: I considered it as being in the best interest of not only Greece and the other countries in difficulties, but in the best interest of the whole of Europe, including my home country Switzerland, Deutsche Bank, the company I was responsible for at the time, and its home country Germany.
Switzerland, although not part of the European Union, cannot be an island of peace and happiness in a precarious and unstable environment for long. Deutsche Bank, Europe’s premier investment bank cannot successfully compete with its American peers for long, if its home base Europe is becoming weak.
Europe’s common currency, the Euro, and with it the European Union were in great danger of breaking apart, because Greece and other countries of the Eurozone had rested on the laurels of the low interest rates they had enjoyed after joining the Eurozone, had lived beyond their means, taken on too much debt, neglected structural reforms and as a consequence progressively lost in international competitiveness.
Whereas wages in Germany for example had almost stagnated since the year 2000, pay in Greece and the other countries in difficulties grown roughly by a third during that time.
In 2009 Greece’s new debt amounted to more than 13 percent of GDP, over four times the Maastricht limit of 3 percent. At the end of the year the country had accumulated total debts of 300 billion euros or over 125 percent of GDP, more than double the 60 percent limit of the Maastricht Treaty.
But despite this irresponsible behavior, there was no reasonable alternative to help Greece and the other countries in order to keep the EU together. I always considered it of the utmost importance, not only to keep Europe united, but to further deepen its union. Only firmly united and fully integrated will Europe be able to still play a significant role in tomorrow’s world and to stand its ground against big powers like the USA or China.
Beyond Europe there is no bright future for its many nations. Not even for the largest among them: Germany, France and the UK. If we do not preserve our unity and deepen them we will all be reduced to a peripheral role in world politics. And people on this island know what it means to be banned to the sidelines by history.
Today the whole of Europe is facing what Samothraki experienced about two thousand years ago – and even worse. We Europeans risk not just losing our prosperity and influence, but our rich cultural and civilizational heritage and with it our identity.
Therefore the battle to save Greece from bankruptcy and keep Europe together is much more than a battle about money and power, it is about defending our European model of society, about self-determination,
in short: about liberty.
We’ve won the first round, but the battle is far from over. If we want to prevail in the end, we must light a new flame of enthusiasm for the European idea. We need an intensive public debate on what binds us all together, what we want to achieve in common, what institutions we need for that and which national powers we are willing to transfer to a European government.
All who bear leadership responsibility in Europe, wherever they are, in politics or business, the arts or sciences will be judged by posterity whether they have met this responsibility.
For me, this island of Samothraki will serve as a constant reminder of that responsibility. And that’s why I’m not only proud, but also deeply grateful to have become an honorary citizen of it.
From now on Samothraki will always be on my mind and propel me to continue the battle for a truly united Europe.
Thank you from all my heart.
Sas efcharisto para poly ke Sas efchome oti kalitero sto mellon.»