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Delphi and The Diaspora

By on March 17, 2017
Endy Zemenides

by Endy Zemenides

I had the privilege of being a participant at the second annual Delphi Economic Forum the beginning of this month.  One of the panels on which I participated was titled Linking Diaspora and Homeland.  This subject resulted in a very lively panel discussion – a predictable outcome given the discussions regarding new policies to govern Greece’s relations with the diaspora.

As I have discussed in these pages before, the lamentable state of relations between the Greek diaspora and Greece was largely a policy choice. The focus and resources dedicated to SAE/the World Council of Hellenes Abroad kicked off a “race to the bottom” all over the world. Hellenes worldwide competed for positions and the attention lavished by Greek officials to those holding such positions. Greek officials reveled in having yet another constituency to court and transact with.  When the full history of SAE is written, it will be eerily similar to the official rousfeti that has directly led to the catastrophe that Greece is suffering today.  We can quantify what resources were devoted to SAE, but can we quantify any benefits that went back to Greece or the retention of the Greek language or to links between the diaspora and the homeland?

Unfortunately, Greece seems intent on perpetuating this transactional relationship with its diaspora.  Just as SAE was once the magical solution for linking Greece with its diaspora, now we have the prospect of the diaspora voting in Greek elections and being represented in the Hellenic Parliament.  If one seeks evidence of how poorly conceived and studied this policy option is – and how likely it is to be as monumental failure as SAE was – one can listen to the official line on the diaspora vote as articulated (or more accurately, regurgitated) by Savvas Anastasiades, the Vice President of the Special Standing Committee on the Diaspora, at the Delphi Economic Forum.

One of the great Delphic maxims is “Know Thyself”.  Yet the Hellenic Republic has suspended belief in this ancient wisdom when it comes to pursuing a diaspora policy.  There is no clarity on how Greece informs itself when it comes to setting such policy, but it is painfully clear that it proceeds under false premises and incomplete information. Take, for example, the official line on the number of Greek-Americans.  The web site of the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad clearly states that there are approximately 3 million.  The United States Census indicates that there are between 1.2 million and 1.3 million Greek Americans.  I mean, I’ve heard of significant margins of error, but a 43% margin of error?

Greece is in desperate need of a new diaspora policy. The diaspora response to the Greek crisis – in terms of relief, in terms of investment, in terms of lobbying the European and American governments – pales in comparison to what the Greek diaspora offered the homeland during the Balkan Wars, during World War II, or after the invasion of Cyprus. But to get to that point, Greece has to study its diaspora and really know what it has to work with.

Kathimerini’s Katerina Sokou, the moderator of the panel on the diaspora at the Delphi Economic Forum, posed the following question:

“Since we are discussing how to strengthen ties between the diaspora and the homeland, a natural starting point would be defining the target audience.

Is there a single diaspora?  Can this strengthening of ties occurs via a blanket strategy that covers all of overseas Hellenism?”

For anyone who has closely observed or participated in the Greek-American community, it is clear that there is no singular manner in which to define the diaspora here in the United States.  This makes it impossible – at this point – to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to Greece’s diaspora policy.

There appear to be at a minimum four distinct demographics in the diaspora:

  1. The immigrant generation. These are the Greek-Americans that are most closely linked to Greece.  There are sub-groups within this demographic, depending on which phase of immigration they were part of.  This is the most rapidly diminishing group.
  1. Orthodox first, Greek second. This is a particularly important demographic to study, especially since the Church (i.e., Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) has traditionally held the institutional role of safeguarding the Greek identity in America, and thus presumably keeping the diaspora close to Greece.  The Church is literally shrinking, and it replenishes itself with members that are increasingly neither Greek nor Orthodox.  To survive, it seems that the Church can no longer prioritize the “Greek” in “Greek Orthodox”. As such, it is time to reconsider the role it plays in the role in linking the diaspora and Greece.
  1. The children (and perhaps grandchildren) of immigrants. This is the second most likely group to retain strong ties to Greece, to speak the language, and to have common points of reference (Greek school attendance, multiple vacations to Greece, family in Greece).  SAE failed spectacularly in engaging this demographic, and if the next policy doesn’t attract these people, there is no hope for a successful diaspora strategy.  This demographic is capped as well, since the age of immigration is over.
  1. The unattached. This is the largest and most diverse group.  Third and fourth generation Hellenes.  The offspring of mixed marriages.  Those who don’t speak Greek (the Census indicates that less than 25% of Greek-Americans actually speak Greek).  Yet many in this demographic are at least philhellenes, and the great challenge for Greece is how to reattach them to worldwide Hellenism.

Before Greece adopt policies that are as likely to divide as it is to unite, it is time for it to recommit to the “know thyself” when it comes to the diaspora.  Without that knowledge, Greece might as well ask the Delphic oracle on how to engage Hellenes worldwide, and hope that it gets clearer direction than Croesus did.

About Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community. To learn more about HALC, visit www.hellenicleaders.com