Monday, December 12, 2011

"Who's Afraid of the Greek Diaspora?" An Exchange

What is the place of the Greek diaspora in Greece's political life? Two points of view, one by the editor of the National Herald (TNH) and the other by a reader, take up the question from different angles:

1) By A.H. Diamataris, Editor, the National Herald, NY:

Ted Spyropoulos, U.S. Regional Coordinator of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) wrote an article in this past weekend’s Greek edition of TNH entitled “Ομογένεια, η μεγάλη απούσα” (The Greek Diaspora is the Big Absentee) that deserves special attention.

In his article, Mr. Spyropoulos, a Greek-American with progressive ideas, along with lots of successful undertakings to show for himself – including some of the most important initiatives in recent decades regarding our Community issues – touches upon important issues in the relationship between the Greek American Community and the Greek homeland.

Among other things, he expresses his disappointment over the fact that the Greek Diaspora has not been utilized, and he questions why “the political leadership in Greece has not put the question of where the Greek Diaspora stands during this critical juncture in the country's history to the Greek Parliament.”

He adds that “it should be understood that neither the Greek American Community nor the Greek state need to dominate one another. On the contrary, both sides would benefit from mutual support, coordination, and cooperation. It is time that we overcome the national division between ‘us and them’ and start operating with a collective vision.”

Mr. Spyropoulos’ three main points are absolutely correct, and all share the common indisputable fact that Greece, and to a lesser extent Cyprus, never wanted to utilize the Hellenic Diaspora in any essential way. On some occasions, they were compelled to recognize certain personages (i.e., Archbishop Iakovos), because their influence on public opinion was simply so great that they could not do otherwise. They wanted to promote their policies to the Diaspora in certain extraordinary situations, but they never dared to make this cooperation official and they never “coordinated” with the Diaspora. They never wanted to recognize it as an official, essential interlocutor.

And the reason for this reluctance to utilize the Diaspora and give it an official role is simple: they fear it. Granting the Diaspora an official role and naming Greeks abroad to important government posts, i.e. prime minister, president of the republic, cabinet ministries, etc. represents a threat for the majority of the politicians operating inside Greece. They fear that utilizing Greeks of the Diaspora would open the floodgates and usher in healthy forces aimed at cleaning up the country, which would mean that the politicians back in Greece would lose their ability to exert political influence (in the form of corruption) because of the selflessness of Greeks abroad, which has been cultivated by the environments in which they live. Simply put, it would mess up their entire operation.

That is why even the few members of the Diaspora who have been given secondary positions, are, with few exceptions, examples of Greeks abroad to be avoided, and share a very similar mentality with the politicians inside Greece.

A similar example can be found in the attempts that some Greek businessmen are making to get the country to return to the drachma. They simply want to control the national currency, like they did back in the day.

There is only one way to overcome the obstacles being raised by Greek politicians to upgrading the role of the Greek Diaspora to some official capacity: by forcing their hand.

The Greek Diaspora must gain such strong representation that no political party would dare to ignore it.

Only then will it be taken seriously.

2) Response by Elissaios Paul Taiganides,

I have responded briefly to an earlier editorial of yours on the same topic as today's blog [below], but this time I like to go into details.

After I gave the banquet address at a national convention of environmental engineers in the early 1970s at Purdue University in Indiana, the word got around to the few Greeks on the faculty in Lafayette that a Greek had given a humorous speech . So I got an invitation to the home of professor of mechanics and hydraulics Dr Lianis. He was helping Andreas Papandreou who was in Diaspora trying to get support for his political cause and the overthrow of the anachronistic military junta that had usurped the power of governance from his father.

I listened politely but I was too busy with my career in engineering academia to get involved in politics. 15 years later I was visiting Singapore where I had managed a United Nations environmental project for a decade and was returning on short visits as consultant. The Greeks in town insisted that I join them to a lunch where the newly appointed Greek Ambassador to Japan was to be. I did not recognize him [he had grown a beard], but he recognized me.

Prof Lianis was the newly appointed Ambassador; he had arranged to remove Singapore and Malaysia from the Thailand Embassy and bring it under his umbrella. He sought my advise on the key politicians in these countries where I had worked and cultivated high level friendships. I introduced him to some people both in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur where I had also served for several years.

Ambassador Lianis brought me up to date; he had returned to Greece with Papandreou after 1974 giving up his professorship. Worked to get Andreas elected; served as a parliamentarian unelected but appointed [Vouleftis Epikratias]; run for a seat in Naoussa, got elected, got appointed as a minister, and finally became ambassador having developed close relationship with Papandreou who on his way back from Australia, as a prime Minister, stopped in Singapore [I was told by the local Greeks that Andreas supplied his newly acquired home with electronics, furniture and gifts for his girlfriend a Liannis relative].

The moral of the story is that if the Greeks of Diaspora want to be appointed Ministers they have to work for a political party and get elected or appointed as is Ms Elena Panaritis of who left her job in Washington to work for the Papandreou team.

After all, Papandreou, Samaras, Papademos et al are fruits of Greek Diaspora.

So I do not see the point of Mr Spyropoulos of SAE complaining that prominent Americans are not appointed in leadership political posts in Greece. Greece makes it possible for everyone of us in Diaspora who can prove to be descendants of Greek blood to enter politics and fight for our political ideas. Only a military junta can appoint as ministers Greeks of Diaspora without going through elections, with disastrous consequences, of course.

We need to enter into the dance [Prepei na mpoume ston horo]. We stay outside in our comfortable jobs unaffected by the politics of Greece; we advise, we criticize as most of us did about a brilliant politician, distinguished American University professor Andreas Papandreou calling him un American and even communist. (printed by permission)

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