This summer, The National Herald Publisher-Editor Antonis Diamataris lamented the tepid response of the Greek-American community to yet another calamity in Greece, the wildfires in Attica that burned to the ground a large inhabited area, claiming 99 lives.
He astutely cited the fatigue of the community, emanating largely from a lack of trust. This sad observation follows on the heels of the embarrassing headlines only a few months earlier about the resignation of the newly formed Hellenic Space Agency’s (HSA) Founding Director, Stamatis Krimigis, a world leader in space exploration.
These two seemingly unrelated events bring to the surface a fundamental issue
concerning Hellenism. A seafaring nation of merchants, artists, and intellectuals, we Greeks have always moved to all parts of the world as colonizers, migrants, immigrants, and the like.
This situation, unique in world history until 1948, when the Jewish state was established,
has resulted in a dichotomy: the Greeks of Greece and Hellenes Abroad.
Since 1453, this dichotomy has faced challenges and opportunities centered on Greece, the Diaspora, and the relationship between the two.
Since 1821, Greece has struggled to develop its own identity, as have Hellenes Abroad, and their relationship has always been difficult, rendering apt the saying “emeis maziden kanoume kai horia den boroume – it’s hard for us to be together, and impossible to be apart.”
Modern Greece is wrestling with three key parameters: 1) its history, which embodies
the greatest contribution any nation has ever made to the world; 2) its small size, with
no prospect whatsoever of ever expanding; and 3) a level of development that is inferior to the talents of its citizens.
Current turbulence notwithstanding, Modern Greece has failed to mature at a pace similar to that of comparable European nations and to incorporate in its fabric the elements that would secure an upward trajectory. Tellingly, it has taken Greece nearly two centuries to settle the language issue and the shape of its flag.
Hellenes Abroad continually affirm the force of the Greek talent, especially in business.
Two examples: for more than a century, the Rallis Brothers and their descendants dominated commerce and banking from New Orleans to Europe, Russia, and India. They amassed colossal fortunes and numerous nobility titles in many countries.
The second example is world dominance of the Greek merchant marine, which continuesto this day.
The dream of the typical Diaspora Greek has been to contribute something to his or her patrida. It is no historical accident that three Hellenes Abroad established the Society of Friends (Filiki Etaireia) that made possible the 1821 War of Independence.
Therefore, we have in place all the elements for a perfect transaction: Greece has a desperate need to receive, while its Diaspora has the strong desire and ability to give. Yet, the eminent Dr. Krimiges feels “betrayed” byGreece, where he returned, from
the United States, to do his “patriotic duty” (his words) and establish and run the HSA.
Sadly, he is notalone in this. His case highlightsan almost universal experience: Greece, in its perpetual hour of need,chases away its Hellenes Abroad, who unselfishly want to give.
But why? The reflex response is to say: it is all Greece’s fault. It certainly is, but to some extent, it is the Diaspora’s fault as well. The debate is in the respective levels of extent.
Hellenes Abroad must appreciate that it would be best if their giving was structured, targeted, and systematic. They can offer ideas, lend talent, and give money. But offered haphazardly, these contributions would be ineffectual at best, bitterly disappointing or even damaging at worst.
Hellenes Abroad need an entity that will identify, synthesize, and prioritize those needs of Greece that they can support; coordinate the contributions (ideas, talent, money, etc.); and monitor the direction and consequences of such contributions.
Vision on a scale commensurate with Greece’s historical importance would be paramount.
Swift implementation, combined with transparency, will resonate with Hellenes Abroad and will make the giving and receiving process possible. Then, the miracle that generations of Greeks, all over the world have been dreaming about will become reality – and will bring pride and joy of us all!
Basil Rigas, MD, DSc, is professor of Medicine and the William and Jane Knapp Chair of Pharmacology at Stony Brook University.