Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Following the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of Melbourne and Thessaloniki sistership, the mayor of Thessaloniki, Mr Yiannis Boutaris visited the Hellenic Museum to outline future cultural endeavours between the two cities. For Boutaris, this visit is the first actual step towards a more tangible sister city relationship.“We’ve been connected for thirty years but there was no intention for an actual connection. This is what we’ve come to change,” Yiannis Boutaris said. During his visit, the mayor made an effort to specify new objectives and set a joint planning with the delegates of the Greek Australian community to instigate more substantial communication and actions to strengthen the ties between the two sister cities.Therefore, in the upcoming Thessaloniki International Exhibition, Australia will be the honoured country. Melbourne will for the first time take part as the ‘honoured city’. Moreover, an exhibition showcasing the treasures of Mount Athos is planned to be shown at the Hellenic Museum. In addition, Thessaloniki will join Melbourne’s food festival, while a students’ exchange program is set to be launched between the two cities.“When we decided to come to Australia,” he stressed, to Neos Kosmos “we made clear that we need to see whether it is possible and to what extent we can make this relationship more active. It takes a lot of mutual effort to make this bond efficient. Initially, we aim at joining forces with the Greek communities of Australia, centring on Melbourne, so that on a second basis, we can promote this relationship using the Greeks of the diaspora as a ‘facilitator’ to help us reach the general Australian public, breaking the boundaries of Greek ethnicity”. Boutaris and his delegation are looking into promoting trademark Macedonian locations as ideal destinations for historical and environmental tourism. Mount Olympus, the ancient site of Vergina, the beaches of Chalkidiki and the very city of Thessaloniki carry a rich history from multiple aspects, which goes back thousands of years. “Our goal is the exchange of cultural and commercial elements, sharing activities and events. We want both communities to benefit and evolve through this merger, which will hopefully create a common heritage of historic importance,” he added.“Time will tell if we can actually be consistent and successfully deliver what we discussed. We believe that our proposals will be accepted by the government of Australia and the City of Melbourne.”Boutaris said that what excites and moves him in Melbourne is the passionate Hellenic spirit of the city’s vibrant and active Greek community, compared to other major diaspora centres. He also believes that the city of Melbourne sets an example as the home of harmonious coexistence of different nationalities and cultures – something that he hopes Thessaloniki can evolve into in the future.Mayor Boutaris also highlighted how disappointed he is by Greece’s tolerance towards lawlessness, which is somewhat turning into a norm. “We have to tolerate the existence of different things and freedom of expression, to be able to say we respect ourselves.”“Australia is a country created by immigrants, so by definition its citizens are tolerant to other ethnic communities. The legal framework is efficient and the people have acquired a social conscience that respects the freedom and diversity of others,” he continued. Mayor Boutaris also underlined the achievements and cultural contribution of the Jewish community in both cities. He believes the Greek Jews will be of great help to the realisation of a more solid and profound Melbourne-Thessaloniki connection. “I was moved when Greek Jew Maria Curtis told the story about how she survived the Holocaust, at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne,” Yiannis Boutaris said.“The 91-year-old woman was born in Thessaloniki but during the Holocaust lived in a Jewish ghetto from where she escaped. She was saved thanks to a Greek Orthodox priest and his daughters, who hid her and protected her. Apart from her sister, Curtis’ whole family was killed by the Nazis. I was really touched by her story. These people have been through a lot.”When asked about his views on Greek political matters, Thessaloniki’s mayor took the opportunity to remind the press that he is independent and won’t take part in any dispute between parties.“The support we received in the last elections proves we should not go off our track. I am more interested in a joint national policy than politics itself.”“I am a mayor not a politician, and my goal is to help Thessaloniki become a better city for its citizens,” said the mayor.“Let us not forget I entered politics – or should I say the realm of local government – after the age of 60, coming from private initiative. I do not consider myself different. I don’t have horns on my head. I just don’t like to compromise my beliefs. We are all different and we should respect one another. This is the only compromise.” The City Mayors Foundation included Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris in the shortlist of 26 candidates for the 2014 World Mayor prize.