Weekly Local Biography

  Dr. George Sioris, Greek Ambassador (Ret’d)

Softly spoken Dr. George Sioris, the former ambassador for Greece, is a man who fills all the criteria for an academic. He has spent the vast majority of his life in academia, literature, research and writing. He has authored more than a dozen publications. He has been given national accolades and decorations from many countries, including the Order of the White Elephant, First Class, from Thailand. He belongs to so many academic associations his letterbox must be full every day, but he is a man who wears humility like a mantle and tells his 11 year old twin daughters that the most important thing in life is, “To be good human beings.” George Sioris is a good human being.

He is Greek, and proud of his heritage. He was born in Athens and very early decided that he wanted a career in the Diplomatic Service for his country. This was not a case of sending in your application, but in Greece there were very strict regulations covering entry. This included a prerequisite law degree and fluency in at least two languages.

He went to university for four years, graduating from the Law Faculty of Athens University, but did not practice. “I was not gifted as a lawyer, I was more interested in literature and religions.” That interest took him into journalism, a decision he does not regret. “It was an experience that served me well throughout my professional career. It taught me also how to interact with journalists,” he said, laughing quietly at me!

An Athens daily newspaper kept him in copy paper for the next four years, but he still wanted the Diplomatic Corps, sitting their three-day marathon examinations, and was accepted. Within 12 months he received his first overseas posting, to New York as the vice-consul.

I asked him to briefly describe the function of the career diplomat. “You have to project the image of your country abroad, and you also need to be a bridge to absorb the society of the country you are in,” said George.

Whilst the new world would have been an exciting posting for the young man, it was not really his first choice. “By intuition I knew I would be happy in Asia, and this was the case. Asking for an assignment in the Far East was considered eccentric, in those days, so I could choose. I wanted to get to know all the civilizations.” His choice was Japan.

In Japan, he rose from the lowly post of third secretary, to second secretary and then to first secretary in five years. He was able to spend some time comparing the mythology of his native Greece and Japan, and one of his first academic publications was on that subject, with another three years later.

George said that as a Greek he was proud of his heritage. “Greece gave the world (the principles of) democracy and philosophy, art and the sense of moderation, as well as the Olympic Games,” he said, with an obvious pride. He also said that the comparisons between cultures aid one’s own personal knowledge. “You learn more about your own roots.”

From Japan, he went to India as the second councillor, spending three years there, travelling throughout Asia, as the New Delhi office covered 11 other Asian countries as well.

‘Head Office’ dictated his return to Europe and he spent two years in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, but in 1977 he returned to Asia. This time to China (Beijing) as the first councillor. Now he had experience of the three Asian worlds of Japan, India and China. “I was able to look at the comparative religions in these three great regions.” I asked whether the religious study had changed his own faith, but he denied this. “I am still faithful to my Greek Orthodox - but I have learned to be more tolerant. However, once or twice in Greece I was suspected of being Buddhist,” he said, laughing. (That comparative study between monastic disciplines in Buddhism and Orthodoxy is yet another of his academic publications, published two years ago.)

After another brief spell in Greece, he was sent to Washington DC as number two in the Greek Embassy. “That was a different experience,” said George. “There were large Greek communities in America and you have to get close to them. In one way you are a consul too.”

Becoming older and more experienced, George finally reached the zenith, that of being the ambassador. He chose India again, where he remained for five years. During that time, he certainly didn’t just sit in the office, as he also had to cover Bangladesh, Brunei, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vanuatu!

His next move was most decisive in many ways; he wanted to establish a resident mission in Thailand. “This was quite an ordeal from the administrative point of view,” said George. I got the feeling that that was an understatement! He moved to Bangkok and was successful, staying here till 1992, before being recalled to Greece to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the director of the Department of Religious Affairs and was sent as the Greek envoy to the Clergy-Laity Congress in Sydney Australia.

But Asia called again, and he returned to Japan as the ambassador there until his retiring from the diplomatic service in 1998. Chiang Mai was his personal choice and he and his Thai wife and twin daughters settled here.

What should have been a well-earned rest has not eventuated, with his wife succumbing to cancer, leaving George a sole parent, but he has risen to the occasion. He is both mother and father for his daughters and continues his academic studies and teaching and even writing for the Japan Times. “Back to journalism,” he said with a smile, as I frantically scribbled my notes.

Dr. George Sioris is a not only Greek, he is a Greek philosopher as well as being a good human being.