Greeks from Laval and Montreal gather for Independence Day festivities

Visiting Greek gov’t officials credited for their country’s rejuvenated economy

Rising optimism over the Hellenic Republic’s rejuvenated economy, as well as signs of increased cooperation and trade between Canada and Greece, lifted spirits among many of the 400 guests who attended a gala dinner on the evening of Saturday March 23 at the Château Royal in Chomedey to celebrate Greece’s annual Independence Day.

A new start for Greece

This year’s celebrations marked the 203rd anniversary of Greece’s independence. For Greeks around the world, March 25 in the year 1821 was the beginning of the revolutionary fight that ended 400 years of Ottoman rule.

Following a protracted war in which Greek patriots received support from Russia, Britain and France, Greece finally received recognition from the world as an independent nation in 1832.

For Greeks every year, the commemoration date also has deeply religious significance as it falls on the feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary in Christian Orthodox tradition.

Long list of dignitaries

Among the dignitaries were Greek Ambassador to Canada Aikaterini Dimakis, Greek Consul General in Montreal Katerina Varvarigou, Supreme Court of Canada Judge Andromache Karakatsanis, Archbishop Sotirios of Canada, several members of the current Greek government cabinet, Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal president Dr. George Tsoukas, Saint-Laurent Liberal MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos, Laval city councillors Aglaia Revelakis, Vasilios Karidogiannis, Sandra El-Helou and Aline Dib, Montreal city councillors Mary Deros, Effie Giannou and Despina Sourias, Chomedey MNA Sona Lakhoyan-Olivier, Laval-des-Rapides MNA Alice Haytayan and, Laval-Les Îles Liberal MP Fayçal El-Khoury.

Greece ‘a model,’ says MP

Vimy Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis, a proud member of the Montreal-area Greek community, was feeling especially proud of her Hellenic heritage when she spoke with Newsfirst Multimedia during a reception for officials prior to the main event.

“Greece has become a model – not only because it succeeded in winning its independence more than 200 years ago, but even in modern history,” she said, referring to the decade-long debt crisis faced by Greece, which seems to be resolved now at least for the time being.

‘Stronger and better’

“When I look around the world now and there are so many areas where things aren’t going very well and there is lawlessness, I have to tell you that Greece is a shining example of a country that came back stronger and better,” said Koutrakis.

Seen on the outdoor stage on Jean Talon St. in Montreal during the Greek Independence Day Parade on March 23 are (beginning third from the left) Prime Ministers Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece and Justin Trudeau of Canada, as well as Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

According to a note to investors posted in February by France-based multinational financial services provider BNP Paribas, a spur of economic growth is expected to continue in Greece in 2024, in spite of a decline in activity in the second half of 2023.

“The sharp drop in the unemployment rate (which is now below 10%), the drastic improvement in public finances and the decline in public and private debt testify to Greece’s solid recovery,” BNP Paribas economic analysts wrote.

Strong post-Covid economy

According to the bank, a “rebound in post-COVID activity has enabled the Greek government to combine economic growth and fiscal consolidation.” Koutrakis noted that while assessing fiscal years 2022 and 2023, several analysts rated Greece among the world’s fastest-growing economies.

“They went through a really terrible time that involved a lot of sacrifice – 11 million people sacrificed a lot,” she said, referring to the austerity measures which were implemented in Greece. “And if you look at the current government that’s in place right now in Greece, they are on the right side of history – they’re doing the right things for Greece at this time,” she added.

What it means to be Greek

For others who were on hand at the Château Royal, the weekend of activities (which included a parade in Montreal’s Parc Extension neighbourhood) was an opportunity to be reminded once again of the values defended by the Greeks of yesteryear, which continue to be upheld by their descendants.

“It reminds us that after 400 years of being under the Ottoman Empire, finally we got our freedom,” said Montreal city councillor for Parc Extension Mary Deros. Another proud Greek, Laval city councillor for l’Abord-à-Plouffe Vasilios Karidogiannis, shared her sentiments.

The 2024 Hellene of the Year was Dr. Andreas K. Athienitis (right), who was presented with a plaque by HCGM vice-president Dr. Michael Tsoukas.

“It’s a busy but good weekend going around celebrating Hellenic pride,” he said. “Even though I am not Greek, I am so happy to be able to join with the Greeks to celebrate their Independence Day,” said Chomedey MNA Sona Lakhoyan-Olivier, whose family has Armenian and Lebanese roots.

Action Laval city councillor for Chomedey Aglaia Revelakis, whose parents both came to Canada from Greece, emphasized the importance of remembering history. “We have to always remember the heroes of 1821 who gave use the freedom to be here,” she said. “Because of them, we’re free today.”

Hellene of the Year

The 2024 Hellene of the Year, following a nomination process held by the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal, was Dr. Andreas K. Athienitis, a professor of building engineering at Concordia University. He was presented with a plaque by HCGM vice-president Dr. Michael Tsoukas.

Dr. Athienitis is a Greek Cypriot born in Cyprus in a town called Athienou (his surname comes from this) which is now in the neutral zone between the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus and the area controlled by the government of Cyprus, where the great majority of Greek Cypriots live.