Our Reciprocal Best Wishes in 2005 to Our Greek Cousins: But We Still Harbor Deep Fears, Too! A Reply to Andrew Leech.

Editorial by Christos and Mary Papoutsy

Hellenic Communication Service recently received an articulate, thoughtful article by Andrew Leech-a reprint from Greek American Review, January 2005, p5-about the nature and origins of the current anti-American sentiments in Europe. Naturally, we, the publishers, forwarded it to our webmasters for immediate posting to the Internet, feeling that this fine piece could only help facilitate dialogue across the Atlantic.

We were indeed sorry that Mr. Leech didn't enjoy writing the article, but we agreed entirely with his notion that it was "one. . .necessary to write." It is a sad state of affairs whenever someone so talented must lift a "heavy pen" to try to clarify strong emotions; we, too, feel no particular joy in responding to it, but also believe that a dialogue about the damage done to our countries' relationships must begin somewhere.

Longtime travelers to Greece, until last October my husband and I had always been keenly aware of European views about American governmental policies. And, to add more fuel to the "Archimedean" fire now being hurled there, we must state clearly that we have agreed with nearly everything said in Europe about American foreign policy. We even wrote editorials and opinion pieces about the Kosovo war, which we had staunchly opposed for a number of reasons, articles that appeared in toto on entire pages of American newsprint, and copies of which we had sent to the American ambassador in Athens; we urged concerned folks to support charities there helping refugees. Our voices were-as one friend so succinctly put it-as vox clamans in deserto.

Over the years we have tried repeatedly to persuade folks here in the U.S. of the misguided nature of American foreign policy in the Balkans. To no avail. It seems that no presidential candidates here in the U.S. will listen to any alternate voices. During this last presidential election, many Greek-American organizations and think-tanks repeatedly asked for statements on key issues; the few replies that were granted addressed none of the questions posed. Policy seems to have been carefully crafted many years ago by veteran state department and other middle-management governmental officers and continues forward without any deflecting influence from people who express disagreement. This is especially disheartening because the voices of dissent come from people whose entire lives have been spent reading and watching affairs in the Balkans, professional people whose knowledge and expertise compare favorably with so-called foreign studies experts in Washington.

Late last year a number of leaders of Greek-American institutions, including Archbishop Demetrios, met with top Washington officials in the State Department to voice grave concern over U.S. foreign policy in the Balkans. The principle topics were issues raised by the Pan-Macedonian group, issues concerning FYROM's usurping of Greek national symbols, revisionist accounts of Macedonian history, expansionist aims of small but well-armed insurgent groups, the pivotal role played by Communist propaganda over many decades. Reliable sources quoted officials as replying dismissively that "all that happened a long time ago," when the delegation tried to raise these valid concerns. Greek-Americans-almost to a person throughout the country-reacted furiously to the U.S. government's sudden recognition of FYROM, fanning the flames of a constituency already angry over repeated gaffes. Now we can add to the growing list of painful issues-support for the Greek military dictatorship in the 70s, support for Turkish armed invasion and continued occupation of Cyprus, support for Turkish bellicose behavior and repression of minority rights and disregard for international treaties, support for armed ethnic Albanian insurgents wishing to seize Greek lands, support for FYROMians wishing to seize Greek lands and appropriate Greek history and culture.

But unlike our European cousins, we are not surprised. Our concerns have never been fairly heard here in the U.S. Every year we renew our efforts to persuade government officials of the folly of our policies adversely affecting the Balkans. And every year we receive the same answers. Occasionally during election years one of the leading politicians will sit for a photo op session with Archbishop Demetrios. But the results are the same. It's incredulous, particularly since Greek-Americans rank among the top nationwide in earning professional degrees. If we Greek-Americans have a limited voice here in the U.S., it's not for want of trying. Nevertheless, our heroic efforts are due in large measure to persistent lobbying by such groups as AHEPA, the American Hellenic Institute in Washington, and such press as the National Herald. These groups deserve our continued and unwavering support.

What makes it interesting-and holds out a ray of hope for us--is that there is now a much larger segment of the American population that is voicing similar displeasures, as Andrew Leech has so noted in his article. Perhaps this will lead to some necessary changes. We can only hope so.

But we must point out that on our last visit to Greece in October 2004, we detected a much more widespread anti-Americanism than what Mr. Leech has acknowledged. We observed-and were told pointedly in some cases-that the anti-Americanism which used to be directed only at the American government was now directed also at the American people because of George Bush. And keep in mind, we have never criticized the policies or politics of our European cousins when we were visiting them-not once-even though we have at times strongly disagreed with them.

Perhaps, however, it is time to speak a little more frankly about the differences that really separate us. Not the geographical miles between our continents, but the cultural milieu that surrounds each of our groups, affecting our choices and outlooks. Although we, the publishers, of HCS largely agree with the opinions expressed by Mr. Leech, we find that there are several key points that he has not yet raised, issues that must be discussed if our nations are to hold any kind of productive dialogue.

So far as we can discern, the U.S. and Israel are the only two countries that international terrorists have pledged to destroy. Greece is not on their list. Nor are Germany, Italy, France, Spain (now that the former government has been replaced by the voting populace), Portugal, or any other sovereign states in Europe. To be sure, our European cousins have suffered over the decades from terrorists and dissenters setting off bombs in public places, facts which Americans often forget. But no one has blown up Great Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel Tower, Mont-Saint Michel, St. Peter's Square, or any other European national symbol. In our relatively young country, we cannot boast of many national monuments over 200 years old. Our national monuments-like the Twin Towers of New York City-testify not to centuries of culture but to a free society in which oppressed people from Europe and other continents continue to flock for economic freedom, for an opportunity to make a better life based on merit and hard work, not on social or royal connections.

And the social connections in Greece deserve a special mention here. We are acutely aware of how necessary connections are in order for anyone to live and survive in Greece. It's a fact of life. But here in the U.S.-a key difference with our European cousins-a hard-working and honest young person can forge a good life, can start up his or her own business relatively easily. There is no need for the "white envelope" so ubiquitous in Greece. Prices are posted here and payment is rendered. Business owners pay a fair share of taxes, not a crushing burden, and earn a profit almost always in proportion to their hard work and ingenuity. It's that simple. But not so in Greece. Widespread tax evasion and perceived corruption in all sectors have led to cynicism. Young people, unable to start businesses or to find decent jobs, have little hope of creating a decent life. Increasingly they must search outside of Greece for their futures. And increasingly the people blame the "establishment" or the "government," as we hear it, prompting even more calls for socialist policies to mitigate the harshness of economic reality in Greece. With so precious few opportunities available for jobs and careers, only those with connections in Greece can make it happen, as the Greek public perceives. But not so in America. There is a shortage of labor. For anyone who is willing to work and has good communication skills, there are jobs waiting. Just walk into the Human Resources office of any company, bring a resume with you, and you'll probably come out with a job offer. You don't need to know anyone. The job description and necessary skills are posted for everyone to see. Job discrimination brings swift and harsh public penalties, so it doesn't happen regularly. Resident aliens can apply; we don't care where you come from. But if you're willing to work hard and to work honestly, we want you to work with us. But it's not that way in Greece, according to what we've been told.

But why is this mention of social connections even necessary? Because it goes to the very heart of what makes us different from our European cousins. You see, we open our hearts and our pocketbooks more often and more quickly than anyone else. And that's a fact. Even poor people here who struggle each week to make ends meet donate money to charitable causes, to people they have never meet, to people they don't know. We're essentially a friendly, generous, and open society. And those very salient cultural characteristics have been gravely wounded by international terrorism. The 9-11 attack was a wound that struck more deeply than our European cousins can have imagined. The attack did not just strike at unofficial national monuments, but also at our way of life. We have not been the same since then. And we have taken the repeated threats against all of us, men, women, and children, very seriously, believing that our very existence may be at stake because of our friendliness, generosity, and openness. We now understand and fully comprehend what Israelis have been trying to tell us for many years, that terrorists want to destroy our way of life, that they don't respect anything we hold to be precious, that they will even murder innocent children indiscriminately, as has happened so tragically in Russia and other places.

We are afraid because we really cannot defend ourselves on home soil. American freedoms overprotect people who want to kill us. American openness invites them in. And that fear won George Bush re-election in November.

Don't believe for one moment that we voters are happy with the war in Iraq. We aren't. Don't believe for a moment that we think that President Bush and the U.S. Congress will do what's best for retirees or workers. We're not hopeful. Don't believe for a moment that we, the people, are not concerned about the erosion of civil liberties. We are. Don't believe for a moment that we aren't aware of the dangerous precedents that have been set in foreign policy. We are. Don't believe for a moment that the entire country doesn't have serious apprehensions about great powers falling into the wrong hands. We all do. But the only greater apprehension and fear we as a nation have is the one that seems to threaten our immediate existence. The enemy waiting to strike again at home. Faced with this fear, we voters have "circled the wagons" and handed our leaders greater powers to eliminate this threat, hoping that we have made the correct choice.

If the terrorists succeed in completely destroying us, who will be next? And what will be left? Even more important for our European cousins, however, are the next questions which Americans keep asking: "Why don't the Europeans, people who are acutely aware of history, understand our fear and understand what is at stake?"

As we wait for time to bring clarity to our choices as a nation, we urge Andrew Leech and others like him to continue to dialogue with us, to continue to remind us about what effect our actions have on others around the globe and about how important it is for us to adhere to our founding principles as we move forward. Our common goal should be to work together actively to enhance our relationship as brothers and sisters, rather than as distant cousins. But in the end, we must all embrace our similarities and differences. For it is only by participating actively that we can all ensure the health, dignity, safety, and freedom of our societies.

(Posted February 2005)

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