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Who Speaks for the Diaspora Greeks?

By on July 3, 2021
Alexander Billinis

Alexander Billinis

Greeks are a very individualistic lot. We often quarrel, and tend not to like others speaking for us. Having said that, for centuries Greeks have had to create organizations to foster community, educational, and religious cohesiveness, whether during the years of the Ottoman Empire, or before and since in the Diaspora. As individualistic as we Greeks are, we are all oriented to some degree towards institutions. This is both natural and a good thing, yet it does require a bit of scrutiny. Do our organizations speak for us, or do they speak for themselves? Do we Greeks in the Diaspora speak to each other, or only to Greece?

It’s time to ask these questions.

We are a global and globalized tribe, with an ancestral center of gravity in the Balkan and Asia Minor peninsulas. Most of us are Orthodox Christian, and as such the Church, as ever, is a key reference point for us and our hierarchs do play a role in our lives. The Church, however, is not designed to be representative and indeed may not reflect normative opinion for everyone in the Greek Diaspora. As such, while I am personally an adherent of Greek Orthodoxy, I do not think that the Church speaks for the Diaspora. To speak for us, I believe, requires a representative process, which the Church is not designed to accommodate.

For many of us, particularly our parents or grandparents, there were the regional origin syllogoi centered around one’s ancestral region (Crete, Macedonia, Pontus, etc) which do a great job in preserving ties to the region, fostering local traditions and pride, but are less important in an era of intermarriage where ties to a Greek heritage may be hard enough to preserve. Here, I am speaking as a Greek-American, it may be that in Australia or, say, Germany’ these organizations still have a longevity, but eventually the issue will be the same.

There are also any number of professional, cultural, intellectual organizations again with a limited scope and a questionable shelf-life, but these too should be fostered to bring individuals together and to build a wider awareness of Hellenism both within the community and without. Again, the degree to which they are widely representative is an open question. Also, it might help if such organizations go global. What stops a Greek American Doctors Association from pairing up with a Canadian or Australian counterpart? Nothing at all, particularly in the Zoom Era.

We also have various Hellenic advocacy organizations, in the United States often as not based in Washington, D.C., who claim to speak for Greeks here. However, these organizations generally respond to their funders, donors, or membership, who do not necessarily represent a wide spectrum of Greek America, and often they are compensated by the Greek or Cypriot governments for advocacy. It is hard to suggest that they represent us. Yet they often do suggest just that. A small membership of a few hundred or a clique of donors does not representation make.

It is also questionable the degree to which such organizations are “in touch” with the realities of Greece, or with the widely dispersed, diverse Diaspora they claim to represent. They may be, but we ought to see evidence of this and some sort of performance indicators.

In the United States, we do have the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), a lodge type order with chapters all across the US and nearly 100 years of history and gravitas. AHEPA emphasized American citizenship and Greek heritage; in World War Two the organization raised more war bonds than any other single entity.

This organization could, potentially, with the right leadership, up its game and be truly representative. Their growing youth arm, the Sons of Pericles/Maids of Athena, is doing excellent work in empowering youth—another area neglected by and large by our ethnic organzations. AHEPA has the history, infrastructure and gravitas, and AHEPA does have European/Greek, Canadian, and Australian chapters. The AHEPA model, if internationalized, might be a flexible yet credible representative of the Greek Diaspora. It would, however, require an AHEPA that acts like a dynamic international organization aware of its heritage and responsibility.

I suggest that we do need something, perhaps less formal and infrastructural than AHEPA, taking into account our diversity and wide geographies. We need an organization, or series of organizations, that will connect the Diaspora to each other, as well as to the motherland. A participative series of fora where ideas can be shared, decisions made, and people empowered. A model that have a sense of history to inspire us, but with the means to take us forward and empower us to ensure that we are not a historical footnote.

Perhaps we all speak for Diaspora Greeks, and we need a model to empower us to speak individually and collectively. As a mosaic, individuals but coordinated, we do well. In art as in life.

It’s time to talk about this. Events both in the motherland and in our own countries demand it.

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.