Indo-Greek Relations Enters New Phase as PM Modi Visits Athens

By Sri Krishna

Foreign Affairs

New Delhi: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi steps down at the Eleftherios Venizoles airport in Athens on August 25, it would be after a gap of 40 years that an Indian prime minister will be visiting  this nation  whose civilisation is as old as India’s. The last visit to the Hellenic nation was in 1983 by Prime Minister late Mrs Indira Gandhi and this visit would provide a massive boost to Indo-Greek relations with the two nations  expected to enter into a strategic partnership.

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Greece has an embassy in New Delhi and three honorary consulates in Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. India has an embassy in Athens and an honorary consulate in Thessaloniki. As of 2020, the relation between the two countries is closer than ever and is considered historical and strategic by both.

For the ancient Greeks, “India”  referred to the polity situated east of Persia and south of the Himalayas. Although, during different periods of history, “India” referred to a much wider or much less extensive place. The Greeks referred to the ancient Indians as “Indoi” or  ’people of the Indus River’ while  Indians referred to the Greeks as “Yavanas” apparently  in reference to the Ionians.

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The two nations enjoy close bilateral relations and Greece supports India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

As Prime Minister Modi said ahead of his visit to Greece that “this will be my first visit to this ancient land. I have the honour to be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Greece after 40 years.” He said that “contacts between our two civilisations stretch back over two millennia. In modern times, our ties have been strengthened by shared values of democracy, the rule of law and pluralism. Cooperation in diverse sectors such as trade and investment, defence, and cultural and people-to-people contacts have been bringing our two countries closer.”

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“I look forward to my visit to Greece opening a new chapter in our multifaceted relationship,” he said.

Modi who will be in Greece on a day-long visit at the invitation of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will hold talks to discuss ways to further deepen the relationship between the two countries. The prime minister will also interact with business leaders from both countries, as well as with the Indian community in Greece.

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It was about two years ago that External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar visited Greece on June 26,  2021, and had talks with his counterpart Nikos Dendias and the Mayor of Athens Kostas Bakoyannis and he unveiled the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Athens. In November 2021, ELINEPA and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) co-organised a painting exhibition and a series of cultural events in New Delhi and Chandigarh as part of the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution.

On March 1, 2022, a conferment ceremony was organised in Athens to present the Padma Shri Award from the President of India Ram Nath Kovind to the Greek Indologist Prof. Nicholas Kazanas for his distinguished service and contribution towards the enrichment of literature and education. In December 2022, the chair for Greek Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies (Venice) co-organised an International Conference on: “The Greek World and India: History, Culture and Trade from Hellenistic Period to Modern Times’ at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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In June 2023, the Academy of Athens organised an event on: “The research work of Indologist Miltiadis Spyrou and the unknown publications of Demetrios Galanos in India.”

The annual bilateral trade stands at $0.83 billion. The figures from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) indicate that the trade balance is consistently in deficit to the detriment of Greece. In 2021, a deficit of €564.8 million was recorded as Greek exports amounted to €134.2 million, recording a significant increase of 74.6% compared to 2020, while imports was €699.1 million, recording an increase of 68.4% compared to 2020..

Some Indian companies, like restaurants, mini markets and tourist agents, have started operating in Athens, Myconos, Santorini and other places in Greece. Greek companies also have partners in India. An infrastructure consortium made up of India’s GMR Airports Limited (GAL) and Greek GEK Terna has won the tender for the construction of the new Kastelli airport in Heraklion, Crete. The first Greek Indian Business Association was established in Athens in June 2019.

The two countries are planning to increase their ties to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership during Modi’s visit. Talks are also likely to feature the possibility of a migration agreement to improve the flow of workers.

Greece has long been friendly to India. India conducted nuclear tests in 1998, and Greece’s defence minister visited India later that year, becoming the first defence minister of a NATO country to do so. Greece has also supported India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and its attempts to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It has also joined India-led groupings such as the International Solar Alliance. It has also refrained from taking positions on India’s internal politics, including issues such as Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act.

The two countries held a bilateral defence exercise in the Aegean Sea in July. Indian naval ship INS Chennai visited Souda Bay, Crete from July 27 to 29, 2023 and undertook a passage exercise with the Hellenic Naval Ship Nikiforos Fokas in the Aegian Sea.