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September 2007
A talk with Spiro Makris

By Demetrios Rhompotis

AHEPA’s former Supreme President (1995-1997) Dr. Spiro J. Makris, in his capacity as chairman of the Cyprus and Hellenic Affairs Committee, one of the organization’s most important and popular, held a session in which the Ambassadors of Greece and Cyprus, Alexandros Mallias and Andreas Kakouris respectively, along with Congressman Gus Bilirakis, participated and spoke of ways Greek-Americans could help in advancing issues of common concern through the American political system. At the end of the meeting, Makris, one of the most respected AHEPA leaders, spoke to NEO and along Gus Bilirakis, urged Hellenes in America to become more active and aggressive in seeking accountability from their elected officials.

How would you describe your experience as head of this committee?

People attend the meetings, we get very excited, we get very frustrated, we get very angry, emotional, but we’ve got to get beyond that, we have to start thinking rationally and calmly about how we can more successfully implement our positions through Congress and through the Executive Branch. It’s important that when we leave this convention and go home we begin a new effort to communicate with our congressmen and senators, reestablish old relationships, make new relationships. It’s really very simple: the strength that AHEPA has is its grassroots organization. We have well over 450 active chapters throughout the country. I daresay that those 50-60 people we had at this meeting, they are probably from different congressional districts, so here we had 50-60 districts represented at this small meeting.

Do you also believe that this way more young people will be interested to get involved as well?

Absolutely! We have members of the AHEPA who are young and perhaps do not come to the convention because of their profession. It’s difficult for someone who has a full time job to take off for a week to attend the convention. But they are Ahepans, Hellenes in spirit and they are patriots and they want to do what they can to contribute. These people perhaps more than other Ahepans know their congressmen because they are young businessmen, professionals, they have reasons to communicate with their congressmen on business issues, other issues. They have the relationship already established. It’s very easy to go from one topic to another. These congressmen and senators know the Greek community, they know how hard we’ve worked to become successful, we’ve never asked for anything, other than fair share and equal opportunity. We’ve become successful as Greek community by our own efforts. The American politicians respect that.

It’s true, as you just said, that many Greek Americans deal with elected officials for various reasons, but sometimes the whole thing ends up being photo opportunities. It seems we are lacking an agenda.

That is a frequent criticism. We’ve got to become more aggressive, we’ve got to make clear to our elected officials we contribute to your campaign, we vote for you, we expect some accountability on those issues that are very important to our community and to our country at large. It’s not enough to meet with a congressman, someone takes a picture and it appears on the congressman’s newsletter next month. We’ve got to be smarter, not just being accommodating, not just contributing to the campaign financially, not just voting.

What do you think of AHEPA’s future?

I think AHEPA has a great future. We are in a transition period, yes, we have many older people in AHEPA, but the goals of AHEPA appeal to young Greek Americans. The older generation is ready to pass to torch to a younger generation, to take it up and move on.

Do you expect a big turnout in Athens next year?

Absolutely! It’s going to be a large convention, they will be many young people there, the arrangements that have been made are extremely good economically. I think most if not all Greek Americans can afford to come to Greece to attend the convention. It won’t be more expensive than going to Bahamas or Puerto Rico or some of the other sites that we had our conventions at in the past. We look forward to going to Greece, renewing our relationship with the Greek people. It’s going to be a fantastic convention.

“I’d like to have three people assigned to a particular congressional district within AHEPA, talk to them about the issues, help them on their campaigns, make sure that they sign up for the Greek caucus and also co-sponsor our legislation, with regard to our issues. And keep in touch with these people. Help them on their campaigns, but make sure they support us, be stern with them. That’s how we are going to do it. Because of campaigning, unfortunately we have to raise a lot of money, so we have to support those people financially too. But hold them accountable. And then I also want young Greek Americans to come to Washington and intern with us and learn the issues and get interested. Public service is in our blood.”

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