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State Luncheon For Greek President - PM Speech

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister


His Excellency
Mr Constantinos Stephanopoulos
President of the Hellenic Republic


1.45 pm approximately

Monday 10 June 2002

It is a pleasure today to welcome President Stephanopoulos of Greece to New Zealand.

Last year when the President greeted me in Athens, I invited him to come to New Zealand. At that time we attended together events commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Battle of Crete. It is a pleasure to be able to reciprocate the hospitality of the Government of Greece by hosting the President today.

We know Greece as an ancient country whose language, heritage, and culture stretch back many millennia. From ancient Greece come the ideals of democracy. The poetry, painting, sculpture, and public places of ancient Greece are well known for their magnificence. The Acropolis which looks over modern Athens is still awe-inspiring, as are the many temples and amphitheatres of those ancient times.

Greeks have been coming to New Zealand since the early times of European settlement. As two countries, our ties go back to World War One and Two. It was from the Greek island of Lemnos that New Zealand soldiers sailed directly to Gallipoli.

Then in the bleakest days of World War Two, the fates of New Zealand and Greece were intertwined again. In early 1941, New Zealanders were among those who sought in vain to halt the advance of Hitler’s army down the Greek peninsula. They fought a retreat down to the south from where they were evacuated. Photos of the time show them moving through Athens. One family who had owned land by the sea at the time told me they remembered the tall New Zealanders disguised in peasant dress hiding in the fields waiting to be evacuated !
Last year it was an emotional experience at the time of the sixtieth anniversary to see the New Zealand flag flying all along the main thoroughfare into Athens again.

More dramatic events were to come in Crete where for twelve days in May 1941 New Zealanders fought alongside Greek, British, and Australian troops to halt the German invasion. Many were killed, many were wounded, and many were taken prisoner. There was the epic retreat over the White Mountains to the coast from where the more fortunate were evacuated to Egypt. Others remained to be sheltered by Cretan families, and bonds formed which endure to this day.

New Zealand has a small but vibrant Greek community which has contributed much to the character and cultural life of Wellington in particular.

Our challenge now is to keep our links up to date. That’s why I particularly welcome the Greek Government’s decision to accept our invitation to negotiate a Working Holiday Scheme for our young people. That would encourage young Greeks and young New Zealanders to experience each other’s countries.

Modern Greece is a member of the European Union. In the first half of next year it will hold the presidency of the Union. That makes the President’s visit here particularly timely. New Zealand has a strong interest in and ties with the European Union, especially in trade, and we work hard to have our voice heard.

New Zealand and Greece are both small countries, but we have healthy and growing trade between us. New Zealand exports not only primary products like sheepmeat, shellfish, and wool to Greece, but also more sophisticated goods and services. Greece sells us aluminium, iron, plastics, fruit, and vegetables.

I offer a warm welcome to the members of the Greek business community who have come with the President to New Zealand, and hope you will find new trading opportunities here.

While Greece is far from New Zealand, we do take an interest in the stability of the Balkans and in the resolution of the question of Cyprus. New Zealand contributes to the peacekeeping force in Bosnia to this day, and also contributes observers to the United Nations missions in Croatia and Kosovo. In the past we have contributed peacekeepers to Cyprus, and we welcome the resumption of talks between the leaders of the Greek and Turkish communities there.

Mr President, you are among friends during your visit to New Zealand. Your visit reinforces the longstanding friendship between our countries. You and your delegation are most welcome in our country.


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