Does Anyone Care?

Share |

For the past two years I have been working closely with a think-tank in Washington trying to design a program that would focus on the southeastern Mediterranean region. It was to be called the “Mediterranean Studies Project.”

Of course, reaching an agreement would have been just the start of an important process that would have included attempts to raise the necessary funds from the Greek American community to make the program a reality. However to my surprise, and I’m sure to the relief of the Greek American community which was spared my fundraising calls, I received word this week that the president of this think-tank “deep-sixed” the proposed project. He defended his position by stating his institution “should not create a designated program to deal with this set of issues.” My contact added that the president “apparently felt that it is insufficiently important to U.S. foreign policy and [his institution’s] mission.”

Yes, this is another setback for our community, but perhaps it is for the better. Programs such as the “Mediterranean Studies Project” require serious financial support to be effective in Washington. I found myself questioning our community’s ability to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch and sustain such a program; not to mention thinking about the personal embarrassment I would have felt when I had to eventually report that I failed to raise these funds from our community.

Does anyone care?

I believe we need to start asking ourselves this question. And I don’t mean specifically as it relates to this latest setback. Isn’t this president correct to question if these issues are “important to U.S. foreign policy?” And why should they be? Deep down, are they really, truly, important to the majority of our community?

If you remove the handful of individuals who have been involved for more than three decades, and a few newcomers to the scene, it’s the same old faces—mine included. Where is the involvement from the rest of the community? Where are all the successful Greek Americans? The young professional Greek Americans? The Greek Americans in the arts and entertainment, in sports, in commerce? What about the everyday rank-and-file Greek Americans?

Does anyone care about the issues affecting U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus?

I strongly contend that as Greek Americans we must have a vested interest to advocate and promote a strong U.S. relationship with Greece and Cyprus because this serves, first and foremost, the multifaceted national interests of the U.S. To this extent, we must be more attuned to the consequences of U.S. policy toward Greece and Cyprus because it has the potential to affect us as Americans and the national security interests of the U.S.

So why don’t more Greek Americans become actively involved? My experience leads me to believe the majority of Greek Americans simply don’t believe there are real threats to Greece (excluding the economy). Yes, we hear about illegal Turkish over flights in the Aegean challenging Greek sovereign territory, but has anyone of us seen a Turkish jet? Yet, how many Greek Americans are aware that Turkey has as its official policy “causis belli” against Greece? That is, if Greece were to exercise her legal right to extend her territorial waters to 12 miles that this would be “cause for war” against Greece by Turkey!

How many Greek Orthodox faithful know that our Church in the United States is under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and that this ancient Holy See continues to be subjected to harsh violations of religious freedom and human rights by the government of Turkey? The Archons valiantly attempt to bring awareness to this issue. However, there have been times when I have been asked by fellow parishioners to identify my “Archon” lapel pin and shocked by their question on more than one occasion—“what’s an Archon?”

Do we really consider FYROM a threat to Greece? Maybe it is not a blatant threat in the traditional sense with a troop build-up on its border, but Greece cannot have its neighbor develop a strategic propaganda campaign whereby FYROM attempts to usurp a Greek name and historical identity that has been associated with Greece since antiquity and not be concerned. If this irredentist policy continues to go unchallenged and unresolved, then the future remains uncertain for Greece. This is especially true if FYROM were to become a stronger nation with an ability to convince other nations to support this revisionist policy.

Does anyone care?

For many, Greece is a great summer playground and there is no denying it is. Just a short nine-hour flight from the east coast of the United States where the sun is almost always shining, the beaches are full of beautiful people, and the tavernas and clubs are filled with even more beautiful people. We take great pride that the Parthenon, which is perched high on top of the Acropolis, is a reminder of the glory that was ancient Greece. But can we be sure it will always be so? Considering Greece’s turbulent history of invasion and occupation and its less than friendly neighborhood, we can’t take anything for granted! I hope that people who hail from the eastern most Aegean islands such as Chios, Rhodos and Lesvos, will not have to go through Ataturk airport to get there one day!

And what of Cyprus? Many claim Cyprus fatigue. Others view the relative calm and peace on the island as an indication that everything is fine. It is not. Although today Greek Cypriots enjoy a high standard of living, and no one is dying in the streets thankfully, uneasiness still exists with 43,000 heavily armed Turkish troops present—some only a few yards away! Moreover, there is the pure injustice of the whole issue whereby the victims, the Greek Cypriots, have been repeatedly asked to make significant concessions to their aggressors on the chance of maybe finding a solution that is neither just nor viable. And let’s not forget our own government’s responsibility in creating this problem. By abandoning the rule of law and its principles, the United States had a role in causing the division of Cyprus. Therefore, the United States must advocate for the reunification of the Republic of Cyprus and implement policies calculated to achieve this goal. It is the Greek American community’s role to ensure the United States is true to its principles and fulfills its responsibility.

More direct to the point, the projection of U.S interests in the southeastern Mediterranean depends on the region’s stability. Therefore, the U.S. has an important stake in fostering good relations between two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, and in achieving a viable settlement of the Cyprus problem. However, Turkey’s continuing occupation and intransigence regarding Cyprus damages U.S. interests.

Again, does anyone care?

One would conclude from the minimal levels of advocacy or downright indifference we see from a majority of Greek Americans that the answer is a resounding “NO!” Perhaps “OXI!” is more appropriate.

Sadly, the lack of advocacy is not the only evidence of community apathy. The support to properly fund Greek American organizations, like AHI, whose sole purpose is to bring these issues to the forefront of U.S. policymakers, and to advocate for their successful resolution, is becoming practically non-existent!

Our community takes great pride in the fact that statistics indicate the Greek American community (1.5 – 2 million, half of 1% of the entire U.S. population) is ranked a close second per capita to the Jewish-American community in education and wealth.

However, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) the leading pro-Israeli lobby in Washington, DC boasts more than 100 full-time staff persons and an annual budget of more than $20 million from Jewish Americans! We are nowhere near the Jewish American community when it comes to community support for issue advocacy.

There are those who might say we have some great friends on Capitol Hill. They point to meetings with leading administration officials and the multitude of congressional resolutions that have been introduced as proof that the community does care. Yet I ask “What change has occurred for our issues as a result?” The sponsors and co-sponsors of these non-binding congressional resolutions are the same 30 to 40 names! Congressional hearings about our issues are scarce and few of these “feel-good” resolutions ever see the House Floor let alone an up-or-down vote in committee. The last meaningful legislation to see congressional action was the arms embargo legislation against Turkey in 1975.

Non-binding congressional resolutions, proclamations, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate receiving the Congressional Gold Medal all have their place, serving to educate, bring awareness, and help to provide something tangible for the grass roots community to rally around. But now it’s time that we graduate. We must actively pursue legislation that can effect positive change on our issues. This will involve across the board, unequivocal support from all facets of the Greek American community in the form of proactive advocacy and stronger financial commitment.

Does anyone care?

Our effectiveness is predicated upon forming a singular, unified message supported by many voices for support of our issues in Washington. However, this message derives its life and meaning from the voices in the home districts and communities. It is a mission of shared responsibility. Without all these voices our message is just a whisper. After all, Democracy is ancient Greece’s greatest legacy - Demokratia literally means of the people. And in our form of government, American citizens are constitutionally entitled to petition the government through our elected representatives for any purpose. This is why the voice of the people is of a paramount importance when trying to change policy.

But as mentioned equally as important is financial support.

Organizations like AHI rely exclusively on the Greek American community to sustain their operations and strengthen a collective message through grass roots involvement. As mentioned, there are lots of ways to get involved, but there are two that are most important – your engagement in the issues and your financial support.

Greek Americans have a solid track record with giving to mainstream causes. This is both admirable and positive because it provides goodwill in the name of the community and at the same time it supports universal causes that affect all mankind.

I understand there are a lot of non-profit organizations that are vying for Greek American dollars – higher education, human services, healthcare, the arts – everyone is asking. In the midst of a global recession that is truer than ever. At AHI, we are no exception. Our own operating budget was down almost 20% last year and 2011 has been extremely difficult.

Greek Americans can – and should – give gifts to higher education. However, remember there are Greek American organizations that help to educate thousands across the country in the form of legislators and policymakers in Washington and diplomats across the globe.

Greek Americans can – and should – give gifts to hospitals and healthcare organizations. However, please remember there are Greek American organizations that are seeking to remove an ill from Cyprus that is suppressing the prosperity and stability of an entire region, to the detriment of U.S. interests.

Greek Americans can – and should – give gifts to human service agencies. However, please remember Greek American organizations are working diligently to restore dignity and religious freedom in Turkey for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Greek Americans can – and should – give gifts to the arts, but remember, there are Greek American organizations that are working to restore antiquities and property to their rightful owners and striving to preserve a future for Hellenism and Hellenic culture in America and elsewhere.

Our ancient Greek ancestors believed in truth, beauty and the eternal values. The fundamental beliefs and principles have been passed on to us to carry the torch and move forward. America’s Founding Fathers took these ideals and built the foundation upon which America was founded and has continued to flourish for over two centuries.

However, each one of us has a major responsibility to bear. We are reminded of this in Pericles’ funeral oration when he said, “We alone regard a man who takes no interest in public affairs not as harmless, but as useless character.” Strong words.

Are we a community useless of character? Obviously not. Therefore, we must care enough about our future so that we can build on our great legacy and defend not only our rights as Americans and threats towards America, but also against the threats of Hellenism everywhere. For if we don’t, we will have to answer to those who one day will ask why? They will be our future generation of Greek Americans…our children and grandchildren!

It will take an effort from all of us to become more actively involved, understand the issues, and help support organizations whose mission it is to address these issues. For our sake, I hope that we will and that we will be successful. Frankly, failure isn’t an option.

Does anyone care?

Nick Larigakis is President of the American Hellenic Institute


web stats tracker