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A Letter to Deputy Foreign Minister Terence Quick

By on March 17, 2017
Alexander Billinis

Alexander Billinis

Dear Readers, please forgive the digression from my normal column “Hellenes without Borders” wherein I usually discuss Greece, the larger Balkan area, and our Diaspora, but I feel that comments made by Deputy Foreign Minister Terence Quick, during his recent junket to Tarpon Springs merit a response. Thank you in advance for your indulgence.

Deputy Foreign Minister Terence Quick

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Hellenic Republic

Sir:

I am writing to you in a dual capacity. First, as a fellow citizen of the Hellenic Republic and second, though hardly less important, as a Greek-American. In common with most of the very diverse population that refers to itself as Greek-American, I found your comments and general behavior at the Tarpon Springs Epiphany events to be highly offensive and reflective of your clear lack of understanding of the Greek-American community and, frankly, of our country, Greece.

First, you essentially used your position as a senior Greek government official to obtain an invitation to Tarpon Spring’s Epiphany celebration. Rather than be a gracious guest, you express your disappointment with the supposed absence of the Greek language, notwithstanding the fact that many fluent Greek speaking Greek-Americans choose, in their own country, to speak English to reach the largest number of listeners possible. This includes many who have married into or adopted our culture. You might also remember that, back in Greece, all too often business and cultural discussions occur in English; working in Greece, I often communicated in English with colleagues as the international language. Yet you were “disappointed” that Tarpon Springs did not surround you with the Greek language.

Mr. Minister, you clearly do not know Greek-Americans. We are a sizeable and diverse community that includes people who speak only Greek to those who speak only English, and any number of combinations. We live in and contribute to a diverse society that continues, in spite of severe and growing obstacles, to value inclusiveness. Many of us, like me, are fluent in Greek but our choice to speak English is ours, and it is the height of arrogance to come here, on the overburdened Greek taxpayer’s account, to lecture us.

Any help that we receive from Greece for Greek education is overwhelmingly reciprocated by our transfers of money and help to the motherland. Our community includes many individuals at the top of their fields and devoted to their heritage, who are willing to help Greece in spite of the insane bureaucratic obstacles in Greece. Your ignorance and arrogance could put off those very people who want to help Greece.

Your conduct also reflects a shocking lack of knowledge of Greek history, and as a Greek citizen whose country is in existential shape, this upsets me more than anything else. You are representing us abroad, and you do not know your own history. You forget that, while the Greek language is a precious treasure, speaking Greek alone does not a Greek make.

Are you aware that my Hydriot ancestors, during the Revolutionary Era, often spoke a most cursory Greek, or the Souliotes, or the Vlach and Slavophone Makedonomachoi? Are you aware of the Turkish speaking Karamanlides, whose Bibles were in Turkish and Hellenism in their hearts? When I served in the Greek Army there were many of us, myself included, with Diaspora accents, and there were Russian-born Greeks who in many cases could manage only a few words of Greek but saluted our flag with the same pride as any other Greek. You disrespect us, one and all, and you disrespect our country.

I have chosen this venue to comment on your conduct in Tarpon Springs because a letter to the Ministry would doubtless fall into the Black Hole of Ottoman indifference that is Greek Bureaucracy. I choose to write in a Greek American magazine based in New York City, home to the largest Greek American community, in order to inform my fellow Greek Americans of your conduct.

I expect neither understanding nor a response from you. My goal is, rather, to inform the wider Greek American community about a conduct that is unfair to our community, and damaging to the reputation of our motherland.

Alexander Billinis

About Alexander Billinis

Alexander Billinis is a writer and lawyer in Chicago, Illinois. He and his family returned to the US after nearly a decade in Greece, the UK, and Serbia. He writes prolifically on Balkan topics. His books, The Eagle has Two Faces: Journeys through Byzantine Europe, and Hidden Mosaics: An Aegean Tale, are available from Amazon.com.