Good afternoon Manchester. Today we stand with Greece.
We hear that Greece needs to pay its debts. But what of the debt we owe to Greece?
The legacy of Classical Greece is incalculable. They were the greatest thinkers, scientists, artists and, it is often forgotten, engineers of Ancient Europe. But what about the debt we owe to modern Greece?
On 28 October 1940 they rejected Mussolini's ultimatum and joined the Second World War. for the first time since the Fall of France Britain had an ally in the war on fascism, and an ally that could win battles.The Italians couldn't beat them so the Germans had to. That delayed Operation Barbarossa by five weeks, meaning when the snow came in the winter of 1941 the Nazi's panzers were still fifteen miles from Moscow.
the Holocaust, up to 800,000 Greeks died during the war, or more than one in ten of the population. Proportionately only Poland suffered more.
Their reward from Winston Churchill, was the re-arming of the Nazi Security Battalions with British
weapons, which they turned on their fellow citizens. The communist party was banned and many were exiled, some only returning in the 1980s.
In 1967 the military seized power. It took Britain a whole 24 hours before we recognised the Colonels as government. More repression of the Left followed.
And so on.
But I don't want to end it there. Because there are links between Britain and Greece we should be proud of, and times that people from this country have stood side with the Greeks.
Greece eventually gained her freedom when the commander of a Royal Navy squadron sent to observe the situation took it upon himself to wipe out the Turkish navy. The Duke of Wellington sacked him, but the Greeks names several streets after him.
During the Second World War, whilst Greece starved, a group of Quakers met in Oxford to do something about it. Ignoring the government that opposed sending any aid to an occupied county, they raised over £10,000 for the Greek Red Cross. The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief eventually changed its name to Oxfam, and continues to help victims of war today, but it all started in Greece.
In 1961 the lawyer Peter Benison wrote an article in The Observer on The Forgotten Prisoners, highlighting six people around the world imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs. Amongst them was Toni Ambatielos, a Greek Communist arrested for his Trade Union activities. The article led to the creation of Amnesty International. Ambatielos was released in 1963.
Syriza, for the most part it seems, studied in this country. Two of their central committee still work in British universities. Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek Finance Minister, has worked for University of Essex, the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge. His wife studied sculpture at St Martin's College in London where she met a young Jarvis Cocker and may have inspired the 90s anthem Common People.
Greek student. I have a message for you from her today:
"We can't say Yes to lose our freedom and hope for our children. Doing the same mistake twice is not a wise thing to do! If we allow them to rule our life we will become animals."
There has always been a connection between Britain and Greece. But this is not an alliance of governments, but of ordinary people who want to make the world a better place. That's why I am very proud to stand her today with all of you, with my friend Maria, with all the Common People of Greece but also with everyone else around the world, whoever they are and wherever they may be, who supports justice and fairness and who believes that the debts of courage and friendship human beings owe to each other are far more important than the money we owe to the banks.