Uruguay: The Little South American Country with Many Philhellenes

Statue of Socrates in front of National Library

One can say that Uruguay is a country of philhellenes, as out of the 3,500,000 million people living there, at least 6,000 people speak fluent Greek as if it is their mother tongue.

Ancient Greece features prominently in the South American country. Roads and squares have Greek names and statues of ancient philosophers decorate public buildings.

Uruguay is unlike most Latin countries, as there is little corruption and crime, while social and economic equality and equality between the sexes are priorities of the government.

The country also has one of the best educational systems. Entry to universities is free, the content of the courses is demanding and their level quite high. Many students from other Latin American countries go to Uruguay to get higher education degrees.

Building inspired by ancient Greek architecture

Yet, the people of that distant country adore ancient Greek culture. In the 1920s, the first major wave of Greek immigrants arrived in the country. Also, in the 1950s and 1960s, after the crippling Civil War in Greece, Uruguay received many Greek immigrants as well. Aristotle Onassis was one of the most prominent ones, and from there he started work to later build his shipping empire.

Today, there are more than 3,500 thousand second or third generation Greek immigrants, as well as a large number of natives who speak the Greek language.

According to a Eurostat survey, most of Uruguayans responded that they identify culturally with Europe, with the first country to come to mind being Greece.

The Maria Tsakos Foundation

In March 1978, the Maria Tsakos Foundation was established in capital Montevideo to teach ancient and modern Hellenic culture and language. To date, more than 4,000 students have been taught the Greek language in the foundation for free.

Margarita Larriera, director of the Maria Tsakos Foundation, has told the Athens Macedonian News Agency that, “Greek culture is an integral part of Uruguayan Education. From our childhood, we learn about Greek literature and history.”

Larriera also said that many Uruguayans listen to Greek music or watch videotapes of Greek television series at home. Also, bookstores carry works of Cavafy, Ritsos, and Kazantzakis.

Statue of Prometheus on Independence Avenue in Montevideo

Furthermore, 23 streets in Montevideo have Greek names, statues of Greek philosophers adorn public spaces, while a central square in the capital is called Greece and another is called Athens. Also, the Greek commemorative days of 25th of March and 28th of October are celebrated in public schools.

In 2016, the Greek Community of Uruguay celebrated a century from its founding. It was founded in June 1916 and was the first officially recognized organization of Greeks in South America.

The contribution of Greeks to the history of Uruguay is not less significant. Four years after Greece’s War of Independence in 1821, Antonis Varkas, a native of the Dodecanese, participated in the campaign of 33 Uruguayans who were meant to liberate the country from Brazilian occupation.

Free from the Brazilians, Uruguay was one of the first countries to recognize the newly established Greek state after the Revolution of 1821. In later years it was among the few countries that did not recognize Skopje as Macedonia.