NEW YORK – The East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) presented Who Represents the Hellenic Diaspora? SAE / Συμβούλιο Απόδημου Ελληνισμού / World Council of Hellenes Abroad, and Current Hellenic Republic Legislation Panel Discussion Webinar on March 18. The panel for this informative discussion was introduced and moderated by Lou Katsos, EMBCA's President/Founder.
The distinguished panel included entrepreneur Stefanos P. Tamvakis, elected member of the Board of Directors of both the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit and Business Foundations, and former President of the Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE); author/ poet Nicholas Alexiou, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Hellenic American Project at Queens College; Genocide Scholar Dr. Panayiotis Diamadis, and historian/ translator Dr. Marina Frangos.
Entrepreneur Tassos Terzidis, President of Lion Design Hellas and former General Secretary of the Federation of Pontian Societies of Greece, and Member of the Pontian Studies Think Tank, was scheduled to participate but unfortunately could not attend, Katsos said in his opening remarks.
As Katsos noted in his introduction, “discussions have taken place in the Hellenic Republic Parliament and legislation passed relating to a new/ re-created SAE/Συμβούλιο Απόδημου Ελληνισμού / World Council of Hellenes Abroad. The legislation for the Hellenic diaspora, Hellenic government outreach, or who was representing the diaspora in those discussions with Hellenic politicians around this legislation is not known by most Hellenes in the diaspora, nor has it appeared in the Hellenic American press. ‘Who Represents the Hellenic Diaspora’ in the title is being asked rhetorically. It is the hope as a transparent diaspora community service this panel discussion will help demystify the current legislation, and lead to more research and discussions on this very important topic.”
Katsos also offered background information, pointing out that “the Hellenic diaspora (Ὁμογένεια) , is one of the oldest and largest in the world, with a continued presence from Homeric times to the present and has played a very important role in Hellenic history.”
“Currently, the total number of Hellenes living abroad is uncertain depending on studies and definitions with estimates varying from about three million or so to about seven million worldwide,” Katsos continued. “Assimilation and loss of the Hellenic language has influenced that definition in studies including factors such as intermarriage, assimilation and self-identification.”
“The World Council of Hellenes Abroad known as SAE or in the Hellenic Συμβούλιο Απόδημου Ελληνισμού, ΣΑΕ) was originally founded in 1995 in Thessaloniki following the passing of Hellenic Republic law no. 3480/2006,” Katsos noted. “It was given an advisory role to the Hellenic state on matters relating to the Hellenic Diaspora/ Omogeneia. It was anticipated to be the main body representing people of Hellenic ethnic descent living outside the boundaries of the Hellenic state. Its stated main goal was to ‘bring together the Hellenes of the Diaspora creating a global Network aimed at planning and materializing program for the benefit of the Hellenic diaspora to be subsequently conveyed to the Hellenic State thus fulfilling its role as an advisory/consultative body.’”
The panelists explored the brief history of the organization which at its peak had youth camps and academic conferences, humanitarian projects and political lobbying coupled with some active participation of the diaspora.
Katsos pointed out that, “over the last few years there had been numerous discussions about restructuring it with new legislation. The new / recreated SAE/Συμβούλιο Απόδημου Ελληνισμού/ World Council of Hellenes Abroad legislation was passed in the Hellenic Parliament (158 votes out of 300) on February 26, 2021. It was publicized in the past by various Hellenic governments that the new legislation would ensure transparency while maximizing engagement.”
Tamvakis discussed the details of the new legislation and noted that “the power of Hellenism all over the world is the one that represents the Greek Abroad, the Church, the Greek Diaspora, the new generation, the youth, culture, language, Greek education, form the components of the strength that reflects the Greek diaspora.”
Alexiou offered facts about the diaspora in the United States noting that Greece is probably the only ethnic group that had two mass waves of immigration in the 20th century.
Diamadis spoke about Australia, noting that it is the size of the United States with the population of New York and with a Hellenic population of about 450-500,000. He discussed the issues concerning voting for Greek citizens living abroad, especially the lack of a postal ballot and pointed out that other European countries, even those that are non-EU, have a way for citizens living abroad to vote, but Greece does not. “I have all the responsibilities of a Greek citizen, of a politi, and yet I’m denied the basic right of being able to be elected and being able to vote,” Diamadis said.
Frangos spoke about how Greece led the way with SAE but the government control was its main issue and the main complaint about it, but the new legislation allows the diaspora to run it. “It’s a great opportunity,” Frangos said. “We have the resources, and the world has changed, everybody is looking to engage their diasporas and we as a historic diaspora cannot let this opportunity pass us by.”
The video of the discussion is available on YouTube: