'The only way forward is democracy... even though you don't always win!' Obama tries to look on the bright side in the wake of Trump's election victory as he gives a speech in the birthplace of democracy

  • Barack Obama is on his last ever foreign trip as US President - visiting Greece and Germany later in the week
  • He was given a tour of the Acropolis, which has sat on a hilltop above Athens since the fifth century BC
  • The Acropolis complex includes the Parthenon, the Erechtheum and several ancient temples to Athena
  • During press conference Obama said Donald Trump's victory was a reaction against economic uncertainty 
  • He then gave a speech in the birthplace of democracy about the importance of accepting 'people power' 
  • Obama said: 'People should be free to choose their own leaders – even if your candidate doesn't always win'

President Barack Obama, speaking in the birthplace of democracy, has talked of the importance of respecting the choice of the people only days after the election of Donald Trump and said, 'The future will be OK'. 

The audience in the Greek capital, Athens, laughed when the outgoing president said: 'People should be free to choose their own leaders – even if your candidate doesn't always win.'

But he was making a serious point and added: 'Progress follows a winding path, sometimes forwards sometimes back, but as long as we retain our faith in democracy, our faith in the people, then our future will be OK.'

He admitted he and the President-Elect 'could not be more different' but he assured Americans he would work with Trump's team in the coming weeks to ensure a smooth handover of power, adding: 'That's how democracy has to work.'

Scroll down for video 

Barack Obama was shown around the Acropolis in Athens today by Eleni Banou (left) an antiquities expert from the Greek Culture Ministry, on his last trip abroad as US President. Later he will travel to Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe

U.S. President Barack Obama (pictured) entered through the Propylaea and walked through the Parthenon temple. It was the first time he had ever visited Greece

Obama, who was escorted by a guide from the Culture Minister, could look out from the hilltop in nearly every direction at sprawling modern Athens down below

After President-Elect Trump is inaugurated Obama will be unemployed and will have plenty of time for tourism. He has yet to spell out what he plans to do with his time

Obama, who is on the first leg of his final foreign tour as president today, said: 'Democracy, like all human institutions, is imperfect. It can be slow, it can be frustrating, it can be messy. Politicians are often unpopular, that is because you don't get 100 per cent of what you want.' 

In a possibly veiled piece of advice for President-Elect Trump, Obama said: 'Democracy requires compromise.' 

He said if people feel they are losing out they will 'push back' and he said this had happened in elections in Greece, in the United States and in Britain with the Brexit vote. 

Obama said, 'History does not move in a straight line,' and he quoted Dr Martin Luther King when he said: 'The arc of the moral universe is long but it is bent towards justice.' 

He said: 'Progress is never guaranteed. Progress has to be earned by every generation. But I believe history gives us hope.' 

Obama also made a mark of rebuffing his successor's well-known coolness on the subject of the North Atlantic Treaty and the obligation to defend each Nato member from aggression. 

He said: 'In recent years we've made historic investments in Nato, increased America's presence in Europe. And today's Nato, the world's greatest alliance, is as strong and as ready as it's ever been.

'And I am confident that just as America's commitment to the transatlantic alliance has endured for seven decades, whether it's been under a Democratic or Republican administration, that commitment will continue, including our pledge and our treaty obligation to defend every ally.' 

Obama, who is leaving the White House after eight years in power, was cheered by the audience at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center as he pronounced the Greek word 'demokratia', which the word democracy is based on. 

President Obama, standing in front of American and Greek flags, said: 'As long as we retain our faith in democracy, our faith in the people, then our future will be OK'

Obama's speech was a mixture of the light-hearted (left) and the serious but he got several cheers as he referenced Greece's role as the birthplace of democracy and thanked the audience at the end (right)

Obama (pictured) made a point of saying that the United States would remain a close friend of Greece. He waved to the audience (right) at the end of one of his last speeches as President

He said: 'For it was here 25 centuries ago, in the rocky hills of this city, that a new idea emerged. Demokratia. Kratos - the power to rule - comes from demos, the people.'

At one point Obama said: 'We must make clear that governments exist to serve the interests of citizens, and not the other way around.' 

He also specifically mentioned three countries when it came to the defense of democracy - Tunisia, Myanmar and, most tellingly of all, Ukraine, which has been involved in a military conflict with Russia since 2014. 

'For it was here 25 centuries ago, in the rocky hills of this city, that a new idea emerged. Demokratia. Kratos - the power to rule - comes from demos, the people
President Obama 

But there was no mention of Turkey - just across the Aegean Sea from Greece - where a military coup aimed at removing the democratically elected Islamist-leaning government failed in July. Turkey has blamed Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania, and is seeking his extradition.  

Obama's speech made mention of the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, in which he paid homage to a Greek woman who has been helping migrants, same-sex marriage, human rights and globalization.

He also made a strong defense of his own administration and said that last year incomes rose quicker than they had in any year since 1968. He also pointed out his administration had rescued the US auto industry while making sure it made better and less polluting vehicles.

And the President defended the nuclear deal with Iran, which has been heavily criticized by Trump.

He said: 'It is my belief that democracies are more likely to try to resolve conflicts between nations in a way that does not result in war. That's why with diplomacy we were able to shutdown Iran's nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.'

'With diplomacy the United States opened relations with Cuba. With diplomacy we joined and nearly 200 nations in the most ambitious agreement ever to save our planet from climate change,' he said, mentioning two issues where his policies are set to be undermined by President-Elect Trump. 

Obama said democracy was 'easier' when everybody was from the same ethnic and religious background and became more complex when there were racial or religious differences.

Obama's speech was typical of his tone during his eight years as president. He boarded Air Force One (right) at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens. Venizelos was a Greek prime minister and national hero, who died in 1936

Goodbye, Greece: Obama boards Air Force One at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport. He bid farewell to Greece but said it would always have an ally in the United States

He said when there were such tensions it could be a 'comfort' for people to fall back on nationalism or tribal politics. 

Obama also spoke out for cyber freedom: 'Open, democratic societies can deliver more prosperity because when people are free to think for themselves and share ideas and discover and create, including on the internet. That's when innovations are unleashed. That's when economies truly flourish.' 

Playing to his audience, Obama said: 'I still believe there's more of what Greeks call philotimo - love and respect and kindness for family and community and country' and he finished his speech, to a round of applause with the phrase: 'Zíto i Elláda (Long Live Greece)'.


The word democracy is based on the ancient Greek word demokratia, which meant literally 'people power'.

The ancient Greeks were among the most civilised in the world and by the fifth century BC had invented a system of direct democracy in which citizens voted directly on legislation.

The only citizens able to take part were men who owned land and were not slaves - roughly a tenth of the population.

The longest-lasting democratic leader was Pericles. 

Under democracy, Athens successfully resisted various Persian attacks, with great victories at the battles of Marathon and Salamis.

Democracy was suppressed by the Macedonians, whose leader Alexander the Great took over complete power in 336BC. 

Democracy only returned to Greece in the 19th century, after it became independent from the Ottoman Empire. 

In 1967 democracy was suspended after a coup by 'the colonels', but was restored in 1974 after a disastrous conflict in Cyprus. 

The venue where he made the speech was named after Stavros Niarchos, a multi-millionaire Greek shipping tycoon and racehorse owner, who died in 1996. One of his five wives was Charlotte Ford, daughter of the late U.S. auto mogul Henry Ford II.

But Obama's weakening power, as he prepares to leave office in January, was highlighted when German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble openly disagreed with him over giving debt relief to Greece.

Obama had urged other countries to offer debt relief to Greece but Schäuble said: 'Whoever says 'We will relieve your debts' is doing Greece a disservice.'

A finance ministry spokesman later added: 'Our position is unchanged. Obama's visit has not changed anything.'

Earlier the president, looking more like a tourist, visited Greece's most famous ancient monument, the Acropolis, in Athens.

The ruins of the citadel - built five centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ - may have put into perspective the political earthquake of Donald Trump's election last week. 

In a joint press conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Obama said Trump's victory was a reaction against economic uncertainty, suspicion of elites and a desire to reign in the excesses of globalization and he said world leaders should pay attention to their citizens' very real fears of inequality and economic dislocation.

'The more aggressively and effectively we deal with those issues, the less those fears may channel themselves into counterproductive approaches that can pit people against each other,' Obama said.

Under leaden skies Obama was shown around the Acropolis - which sits on a hill above the city - by a guide from Greece's Culture Ministry.

The entire site was closed to the public for the day for Obama's visit, which has taken place amid draconian security measures that have also banned demonstrations in parts of Athens, and shut down roads and subway stations. 

The 44th President entered the complex through the Propylaea, the monumental gateway, and walked through the Parthenon temple, which was dedicated to the goddess Athena, who was considered the patron god of the city of Athens.

The 5th Century BC Parthenon temple is surrounded by scaffolding as it undergoes crucial maintenance.

Obama was later escorted through the Acropolis Museum by its president, Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis. 

Obama said the marble busts and statues were 'beautiful'. 

Greece's government has hailed Obama's visit - the first official visit of a sitting US President since Bill Clinton visited in 1999 - as being of massive importance. 

Greek guide Eleni Banou showed President Obama around the Acropolis site, which was built 2,200 years before the birth of the United States

Obama and his guide inspect the Erechtheum, a temple built between 421BC and 406BC and dedicated to the ancient Greek gods, Athena and Poseidon

It has pinned its hopes on him persuading some of the financially stricken country's more reluctant international creditors to grant debt relief, as well as pressuring other European countries to share more of the burden of the continent's refugee crisis.

But, as a lame duck President in his last months in office, his powers of persuasion may be limited. 

Obama was receptive to Greece's woes and repeated his belief that debt relief is necessary, a stance that may be somewhat different to that of his successor.  

Many European leaders see parallels between Trump's election and the rise of far-right and populist movements in their own countries.

President Obama tours the Acropolis Museum today with Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis

Obama (pictured left) was shown around the Acropolis Museum by its director, Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis (right). Obama's visit to the 'cradle of civilization' is his last foreign trip as President

Obama, speaking in Athens, said today: 'The world needs a Europe which is strong, secure and democratic'

Tsipras himself won elections in Greece last year on a populist platform, though one that was considerably to the left of Trump's agenda.

He told Greeks, weary after six years of financial crisis and falling living standards, he would reject austerity measures imposed in return for the country's bailouts.

But after the near collapse of negotiations with Greece's creditors - other European countries using the euro currency, and the International Monetary Fund - Tsipras performed a political about-face, signing up to a new bailout and more austerity to prevent his country being forced out of the euro.

Obama yesterday acknowledged the impact of the financial crisis on Greece, which has seen a quarter of its economy wiped out and one in four people unemployed.

He said: 'I know this has been a painful and difficult time, especially for Greek workers and families, pensioners and young people. This crisis is not an abstraction, but has had a very concrete and devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across this country.'

At a press conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) the outgoing President said world leaders needed to do address people's 'very real fears' of inequality and economic dislocation caused by globalization

Last night Greek riot police were targeted by firebombs (pictured) by Left-wing demonstrators angry at Obama's visit

Left-wing Greek protesters (pictured, being hit by a riot policeman wielding a baton) are angry at austerity measures which have thrown many out of work and driven down pay in Greece

Security has been tight, with more than 5,000 police deployed, a ban on public gatherings and demonstrations in swathes of central Athens and near his seaside resort hotel, along with shutdowns of roads and subway stations when he has been on the move.

Despite the restrictions, riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse about 3,000 left-wing demonstrators last night. 

Police arrested four people and said one woman was slightly injured in the clashes.

Obama is flying onto Germany where he will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The comments below have not been moderated.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

By posting your comment you agree to our house rules.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now