Greece is Burning – What Can the Diaspora Do? Let’s Not Drag our Feet Finding Out

Αssociated Press

A burned family summer camp is seen in Mati, east of Athens, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Rescue crews were searching through charred homes and cars for the missing after wildfires decimated seaside areas near the Greek capital, killing at least 74 people and sending thousands fleeing. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – There are few more frightening or heart-rending experiences in life than seeing people flee flames or watching houses burn to the ground. Everyone’s hearts – Greeks and non-Greeks around the world – are aching over the images and numbers pouring into our hearts and minds.

As horrifying as the current death toll is – 74 as of Wednesday afternoon – the “dozens missing” headlines are terrifying.

That said, as a community we have Hellenic and humanitarian obligations. Priorities must be set – both for the immediate tasks at hand and for the long-term.

TODAY: PRAY – for the first responders and the residents in stricken areas. GIVE – reach into your pocket and into your contact lists for people who can tell you what groups are helping now.

TOMORROW: Start thinking about what the Hellenic Diaspora can do to prevent or seriously mitigate the effects of fires in Greece in the future.

Thankfully, this is an occasion where social media apps are not mere toys. People are getting information about groups that are already on the ground helping – The Hellenic Initiative is one, and others are gearing up.

One friend immediately began urging groups to start fundraising campaigns through GoFundMe and other means – the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) is one of the first. Supreme President Carl Hollister mobilized AHEPA and “authorized the Emergency Relief Fund to be opened in an effort to help the survivors of the natural disaster.”

Imagination and outside-the-box-thinking are needed. Greek authorities will use a drone from the United States to monitor and track any suspicious activity – it should have happened sooner, and developing such a permanent Greek service supported by the diaspora should be explored.

There are also companies and organizations that can be recruited.

Among the bright spots on Greece’s commercial horizon are successful established and start up IT firms. I am aware of one that works to improve communications between different levels of government and to directly improve the functioning of municipal government in Europe and the U.S. Diaspora firms and individuals can partner with and invest in them – and finance programs in Greece.

I began with the positive, but the anger I am hearing from people calls for some criticism too.

The bad thing about headlines like “Worst Fires in 10 Years” is that I don’t think much has been done since 2007. In the coming days, other articles may prove me wrong – I hope so – but some finger pointing is called for by the horrific scenes.

What role did bureaucratic ineptitude and dysfunction play - at local, regional and national levels? The EU is a flawed but necessary institution; it has often bungled its response to the Greek crisis, but it also has been the loudest voice for reforms and improvements - how come there aren’t strikes and protests calling for better government services?

Second, where Is the rest of the world?

Yes, a number of countries are helping now – but couldn’t better coordination and resource sharing among Mediterranean counties have helped? Is there a better way for the EU to prove its worth?

Finally, what has the Diaspora done since 2007 – other than the immediate relief and rebuilding assistance of groups like IOCC?

That question has a broader context that the fires call attention to – what is the diaspora doing and where is it going in general.

The immediate responses to the current fires are heartwarming, but they are all “ad hoc” actions.

The problem is, almost all Community’s responses to problems are ad hoc.

With the exception of groups like AHEPA and THI, there seems to be a powerful allergy to vision and long term planning.

Allergy, because the Community definitely has the brains, passion and financial power. One can characterize modern Hellenes generally by their individual success – even brilliance – but collective mediocrity, and over and over one hears Greek and non-Greeks experts complain “they just can’t work together.”

That must change – immediately if not sooner - for the well-being of Hellas and the survival of Hellenism in America, I believe the Community needs restructuring. One new structure that I suggest is the equivalent of Jewish community’s Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. The blueprint exists. The brainpower and money exist. The will is lacking or the rivalries are interfering – and that is tragic.

Such an organization with a board consisting of people with skin in the game – I suggest a minimum annual contribution of $100,000 by groups (like the larger regional organizations and the professional associations) and individuals – can be created without anyone’s “permission.”

Some tell me only the Archdiocese can or should take the initiative, or that the community needs “an Archbishop like Iakovos” to move forward on such things. I disagree. We are a mature community and we don’t need an ethnarchos, as AHI’s Founder Gene Rossides has said for years.

Vision and will. That is the ticket out of our messes and tragedies and for building a New Greece and Greek-American Community.

As we see today in Greece, procrastination kills.