For some weeks now, the administrative crisis plaguing the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York – theoretically, the most comprehensive collective body in the Tri-State Area – has come to a head, disrupting scheduled elections. The Federation has been atrophic for the past 18 months due to the pandemic, but now, with New York returning to normalcy, the Federation’s underlying administrative problems are publicly manifesting themselves.
Although reports regarding the main antagonists in this particular conflict are circulating, they are of relatively little consequence. The issue at hand seems to be the existing mentality that precludes the greater democratization of this organizations and discourse regarding alternatives – something that ultimately harms the best interests of Hellenism at large. Until now, despite its various committees covering a variety of topics, the Federation’s main role has been to organize the Greek Independence Day Parade. This, in itself, is no small matter, because with the exception of Good Friday and Pascha, it’s the event with the largest annual turnout in the Community, and with analogous publicity in American society.
Moreover, there is now talk of promoting greater collaboration between Hellenic federations across the country, to ensure better coordination. However, the organizational and administrative problems that have come to the forefront in New York are cause for concern – especially if they are indicative of the state of affairs in the rest of the organized Greek-American Community.
For the moment, the cause of the discord in the Federation involves elections and finances. At the heart of the conflict are familiar names and faces who have been office holders for years, if not decades. In fact, typically the transfer of power between the rivaling sides could be seen as “more of the same,” or “same old, same old” in the sense that few new ideas and novel approaches are ever heard, with opposing sides focusing primarily on keeping their house in order.
In many ways, this is the same uninspired managerial spirit that typifies Greek political parties. Party heads limit themselves to promising efficient governance, better fiscal management, the passage of more laws faster (instead of repealing laws and cutting red tape…sic), etc.
Naturally, efficiency is a trait associated with good governance, but the latter is not limited to this factor alone. On the contrary, the absence of a cultural hierarchy of needs and critical outlook on our community life relegates leadership to mere pencil pushing. Inevitably, when office holders don’t realize their statutory obligation to pursue noble objectives and discuss the lofty aims that manifest Hellenism’s distinct qualities and universally relevant cultural proposals, it becomes much easier for administrations to display phenomena of complacency, groupthink that kills creative discourse and pioneering efforts, and even mismanagement.
The downgrading of leadership to mere housekeeping makes any organization unattractive to new members – especially young people. With what rationale does an organization like the Federation expect to renew its ranks with young people, who constitute the future of the organized Community, if it is characterized by the dysfunctionality described above?
The current issues affecting the Federation did not prompt this question. Rather, if there was a more mindful concern for Greek-American community affairs in the Federation, perhaps more people would be interested in the challenges it is facing and the present administrative issue might be more effectively addressed.
The underlying issue seems to be that a cultural hierarchy of values that could lend deeper meaning to participation in organized Greek-American Community doesn’t seem to have preoccupied Federation administrations. For example, the chronic and extremely critical issue of Hellenic Paideia has never really been examined with the necessary sobriety and wider sense of duty, so as to give rise to a broader dialogue regarding the challenges that Greek-American schools are facing and how these issues can be overcome (i.e., costly tuitions, woefully low teacher salaries, various shortcomings, a lack of competitiveness regarding the curriculum, and non-existent investment and interscholastic, inter-communal collaboration).
For that matter, the absence of a hierarchy of needs even on the symbolic level is concerning and depressing. Despite organizing the Greek Parade for so many years, the Federation has not yet managed to find an effective way to emphasize the colossal importance and vital need for Greek Education in the Community by having local Greek School students march in the first battalion, right after the Evzones and the dignitaries. Instead, parade order is determined by a lottery system, resulting in banks, football fan clubs, and local businessmen marching first, while students are left to march last, with few spectators to cheer them on.
Aside from the fact that this shortsighted process is not a very clever way of drawing in young people, who get their first taste of communal marginalization from a very tender age, it is also democratic in name only. If Federation leadership was truly interested in promoting democracy, it could at least implement the lottery system for administrative appointments as well, thus neutralizing factions and parties, and securing a fairer transition of leadership.
The existing administrative impasses that are plaguing the Federation may be generating some temporary media coverage for now, but if the deeper questions – what’s to blame for the younger generation being turned off by community service in general; what proposals do organizations like the Federation bring to the table regarding a communal hierarchy of needs – are not discussed openly and frankly, the present dysfunctionality will never be remedied.
Either office holders and everyday Greek-Americans will hearken to the shouting coming from our communal bodies as cries of agony and move ahead with the radical reorganization or replacement of the existing organizations in the event that they cannot attend to 21st century needs, or they will turn a silent ear and accept whatever disastrous consequences for the community life of a significant part of the Greek Diaspora goes along with it.
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