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Olympic Truce as an Internatinal Institution
It is an honour for me to participate in the 59th International Session for YoungParticipants.Let me introduce you to the Olympic Truce by making a brief reference to ancient times. Back then, around 776 BC, according to the myth, Iphitos, theking of one of Greece’s city-states, which were in constant conflict, went to the Delphic Oracle to ask how he could end these conflicts. The Oracle urged him to revive the Olympic Games as a means to achieving temporary peace. As the messengers traveled to various cities and states announcing the Games,participants began their preparations, which essentially meant that armed conflicts gradually took a back seat, as citizens who were also soldiers took partin the Games, where a victory took on great value –not just symbolic– and thisresulted in a reduction in the amount of time willingly devoted to bearing arms.Thus, every four years a ceasefire was agreed to for athletes, spectators and artists to travel to and from the Games in Olympia. The Truce was observed,though not always in full, for some 1,200 years, making it the most durable peace accord in history.
In modern times, up until the end of the so-called Cold War, sports and Olympism were, one way or another, victims of world politics. They were postponed during the two world wars; countries boycotted them for political reasons. However, shortly after the end of the Cold War, in Lillehammer, in 1994 the Olympic family and the United Nations took the lead. They proved that in coordination with each other, they can actively contribute to securing even for a short time the cessation of hostilities. Thus, during the OpeningCeremony of the Lillehammer Winter Games and for 24 hours a ceasefire wasachieved in the whole of ex-Yugoslavia. Even in a small corner of the earth.Yet, it was a precious beginning.
Six years later, when I was Foreign Minister I proposed to the Greek government, in cooperation with the International Olympic Committee, to try reviving the idea of the Olympic Truce by creating an agency –the International Olympic Truce Foundation/Centre– to promote the necessity of honouring theTruce; that is, a ceasefire lasting through the 16 days of the Games themselves,in an effort to adapt the practice of the ancient Truce to the demands of modern times.The initiative of reviving the Olympic Truce up to now has been very successful. Not only because of the important work carried out by the OlympicTruce Foundation and Centre but also because we managed to create international awareness at different levels. A number of signed resolutions have been promoted by prominent individuals and organisations, which, it appears, are adopting this view and are ready to contribute to the idea of the Olympic Truce. The UN resolutions as well as those passed by the European Union and the United States Senate are worth noting in addition to the unanimous and supportive decisions adopted by many international organisations.
As Foreign Minister, I took the initiative of promoting a first resolution on the Olympic Truce to be signed by world leaders. I signed it together with the then Foreign Minister of Turkey Ismail Cem as a symbolic gesture at a meeting held in Athens. This resolution has been signed by all the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Balkan countries, followed by numerous prominent individuals of the European Union. Religious leaders following Patriarch Bartholomew’s initiative also signed the declaration for the Olympic Truce. We can understand today the value of the signatures of Shimon Peres, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel and Nabil Saat, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian authority.
Apart from the diplomatic and symbolic significance of such initiatives, for us, it is crucial to make all necessary efforts for achieving a ceasefire in war zones, if only for a month, because it provides an opportunity for a number of actions: from the provision of humanitarian aid, through the opening of requisite corridors, to time for seeking a compromise formula. The main reasoning behind the Olympic Truce is that, through a temporary ceasefire, we provide the time for the involved parties not just to sit at the negotiating table, but also to see the benefits of non-conflict and to consider whether, in the end, it is worth their while to continue hostilities rather than live in peace; not necessarily in harmony, but in peace!
Sport is in a unique position to put the spirit of the Olympic Truce into practice. Sport is the only area of human existence that has achieved universal law. Regardless of where in the world we practice sport, the rules are the same and apply to everyone. They are based on our shared values. Sport is always about building bridges it is never about erecting walls. In Olympic sport, all people are equal, regardless of their race, gender, social status, cultural background, faith or belief. This fundamental principle of non-discrimination allows sport to promote peace and understanding among all people.
Nelson Mandela said that “education is the most powerful weapon you canuse to change the world”. This is certainly true. It is worth-noting that IOC President, Dr Thomas Bach, attaches great importance to Olympic education,which is a boosting incentive for all of us who serve the Olympic ideals and are part of the Olympic family.
On our behalf, the International Olympic Truce Centre strongly supportsgrassroots programmes and community-based action. Sport and culturalprojects contribute to our efforts to bring communities closer, get them knoweach other’s special characteristics (religion, language, tradition, etc.) and eventually accept them. If this endeavour is to succeed, we need to have the younger generation on our side. We need their spontaneity, their passion, theiridealism and their creative expression, all of which make them the best possible ambassadors of our timeless messages. And in that respect, we need your support and assistance!
In Olympic sport, all people are equal, regardless of their race, gender, social status, cultural background, faith or belief. This fundamental principle of non-discrimination allows sport to promote peace and understanding among all people. The Olympic values (excellence, friendship, respect) are the prerequisitenot only for moving our societies forward, but also for restraining or defusingconflicts or disputes which, in addition to their other tragic consequences,destabilise entire countries or regions. Conflicts that are waged for years. And because of them, we are running the danger of losing generations of youngmen and women who are imbued with hatred and intolerance; young men andwomen who learn the art of war and fight in war zones from their early years;young men and women who learn to handle a weapon better than they usea ball, and they believe that the things that divide people are greater than the things that unite them. In contrast, we strongly believe that the things that uniteus are greater than the things that divide us!
Before I conclude, let me share with you my thoughts about the recentsuccess in PyeongChang Winter Games:
We often underestimate the power of sport to bridge differences, if not to resolve them altogether. In the case of an issue as complex and difficult as that of the Korean Peninsula, which involves regional and international interests, competition between big powers, and the risk of nuclear war, the Winter Olympic Games provided an opportunity for the two Koreas to come to the table for talks after an uneasy hiatus of about two years. The Games certainly didn’t settle all their differences, but they enabled the two sides tocome closer together, de-escalate tensions and bear witness to the beneficialconsequences of peace, as opposed to the risks involved in sustaining (any)potential for conflict. The “opportunity” of the Olympic Games at last served asa springboard for talks on thornier issues, provided the two sides showed therequisite political will. Regardless of the result, we should reflect on the fact that if it were not for the milestone of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games this February, there would not have been an occasion for the dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang.
In this respect, the International Olympic Truce Centre is looking forward toyour active participation in its activities. Based on your experience and expertise,your contribution would be to participate in a global network through which wewill exchange ideas, experiences and know-how with the aim of developing new projects that will promote respect for human rights and the Olympic ideals. I would like to close my intervention by reminding you of the old African saying that “this world is not ours; we have borrowed it from our children”. So,we owe to them to give it back in the best possible condition.
Articles & Publications
Articles & Publications