The Gap Must Be Bridged

September 11th reveals abyss between Greeks and Greek Americans

An Editorial by Peter Makrias
Reprinted from The Greek-American Review

In the afternoon of September the 11th, while Greek TV and radio stations were reporting about 20,000 victims at the New York Twin Towers and the Pentagon, several inhabitants of the island of Telos gathered to joyfully celebrate the event outside the house of a Greek-American couple from Florida.

Another Greek-American couple, this time from New York, heard their neighbor saying, "they deserve it." An Athens taxi driver told a Greek American visitor: "it was coming to them [the Americans].  They've gone too far."

A young man from New Jersey changed his American car plates to avoid the dirty looks. At a time when thousands of innocents had become chopmeat in the ruins of lower Manhattan and Washington, Athenians went out and partied. No theatrical performance was cancelled; no movie theater closed its doors that night.  Instead, Dalaras was on stage in Nikaea, performing songs by Tsitsanis.  Our compatriots, it seems, mostly rejoiced. It was the happiest day of their lives.

Many Hellenes have written letters to the Greek-American press expressing shock, disappointment and anger over the reaction in Greece. Most have experienced "shame" concerning their lineage. Some said that they don't wish to be called Greeks, that they will never again set foot in Greece. Others have sent notice to stop the construction or the decoration of their houses in Greece. Almost all who were in Greece on Sept. 11th came back shaken. They felt that anti-Americanism has turned also against them. In their letters, they refer with disgust to the monstrous distortions, the unbelievable theories and the hatred fostered in the Greek mass media against the country that helped Greece resist Communism, remain free, and become prosperous today. According to a recent poll published in Eleftherotypia,
28.2% of Greeks believe the Twin Towers attack was the work of American secret services. Another 7.7% think the Israelis did it.

The undersigned was in Athens on the 11th of September. He tasted the same disappointment, the same disgust at the widespread, smug satisfaction over these events. No one doubts the right of Greeks to disagree with official American foreign policy and to express freely their views. What, however, became of their humanity, sorrow, and compassion for the thousands of victims, including 39 Greeks?  Instead, many prefer to analyze and "explain" the motives of cynics and murderers, to make heroes out of thugs like Bin Laden, just as they have previously idolized the likes of Slobodan Milosevic, Arafat, and the November 17th fanatics.

There were also Greeks who were saddened, who didn't indulge in kneejerk anti-Americanism or align themselves with the Taliban. There was no lack of glowing exceptions who, through their writings in the press and on TV, confirmed that logic and honest objectivity were not altogether lost. Some indeed transcended lazy prejudice and conspiracy theorizing and dared to become "profiles in courage."

But the overwhelming majority of Greek-Americans now feel exposed before the eyes of their American compatriots because of attitudes in Greece, the deleterious comments of a large segment of the press and TV, demonstrations in which the stars of the American flag were replaced by swastikas, and other actions of hate. Greek-Americans have worked hard to help Greece. They have participated in the demonstrations for Cyprus, have gone out of their way to buy Greek products, and have invested in the beloved motherland. Now, looked on as enemies, many don't want to have anything to do with the Greek lobby or with Greece. For its part, the Greek lobby feels exposed, with its arguments against Turkey neutralized. While Greeks were busy showing how much they disdain the West, Turkey has been winning the war of public relations. Few now will be ready to speak badly of America's "best, proven ally."  

We are in the midst of a big problem. A large gap now exists between Greece and the Greek-American community, despite the realistic posture of both the government and the main opposition party in Greece. Something has to be done to reinstate the compassion and love between mother and children. It is a duty, indispensable and immediate for both sides. And the creation of a Greek-American lobby could very much contribute to it, as the undersigned has maintained for 25 years now. Maybe we need it in Athens, as much as we need it in Washington, D.C.

Peter Makrias is the Editor and Publisher of The Greek-American Review, a monthly magazine dedicated to Hellenism in the New World. This article appeared in the January 2002, and is a translation of an editorial originally written for the Athenian daily "Eleftheros Typos."

Simitis Sees "Democratic, Prosperous, Peaceful" Future for Europe

Athens, Jan. 31st (ANA) -- Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis on Wednesday emphasized that the successful euro changeover in 12 out of the 15 European Union member-states constitutes proof to Europe's citizens that the idea of a unified Europe isn't an abstract idea, but an attainable reality.

Simitis made the statement during his address to the European Commission's plenum here, while outlining what he called five major challenges for the bloc in the upcoming future, namely, expansion; implementation of the Lisbon strategies amid a negative economic climate; Europe's sensitive farm sector; citizens' security and, the continent's future.

In terms of EU expansion, Simitis said the goal is to form an expanded and well-structured region that will rank as a model for the rest of the world, which citing what he called "the vision of a democratic, prosperous and peaceful Europe, one which, among others, will include the countries of south and southeast Europe."

Regarding the funding and organizational aspects related to the inclusion of several prospective new EU members in the near future, Simitis called for a solution combining "effectiveness, efficiency, stability and diverseness in a more fully integrated Europe."

As far as economic growth in the Union is concerned, the Greek premier said particular emphasis should be focused on technology and education; policies to increase employment and social cohesion, along with the more effective operation of the markets, "particularly in the most protected sectors, such as energy, transports and telecommunications."

Touching on agriculture policy in the EU, Simitis --who at one time served as Greece's agriculture minister -- said a truly common agriculture policy should be promoted and safeguarded throughout the Union.

The growing problem of illegal immigration was also prominently featured in the Greek PM's address, as Simitis cited the Laeken commitment by EU leaders for a common policy on asylum and migration.

Specifically, he called for the need to finalize various bilateral and multilateral agreements on the repatriation of migrants -- something Greece and Turkey agreed to late last year -- development of a common policy on asylum; creation of a special fund to finance repatriation as well as the establishment of a special body to monitor EU-wide immigration and related issues.

Greek-Turkish relations: Simitis cited the recent rapprochement in Greek-Turkish relations in his address as well, agreeing that progress has been recorded, "although we're waiting for clear indications that attitudes, behaviors and other aggressive positions of the past will be forever abandoned before we move even further ahead.

"The Helsinki decision was significant for all sides; it created an intense mobility towards efforts to find a political solution for Cyprus. Cyprus' European course, regardless of its political problem, as well as Turkey's efforts towards a European vocation, are correct strategic choices. Their fulfillment will create a new positive reality for the region, as well as for the European Union," Simitis stated.

Finally, Simitis said conclusion of accession negotiations with a handful of "first group" EU member-candidates will be among Athens' priorities during the Greek EU presidency in the first half of 2003.

Archived Headline News