ATHENS – The Order of AHEPA was established in 1922 as a bridge between Hellas and America, aiming to preserve Hellenic culture and values while introducing immigrants to the American way of life. AHEPA also promotes the Greek language, and one of the events inspired by International Greek Language Day was a webinar presented by AHEPA Greece Chapter HJ 10 – Faliro on Feb. 10.
Chapter president and past District Governor of AHEPA HELLAS-D25 Nicholas Papadopoulos welcomed 1400+ participants from around the world and provided an overview of what is now a global organization that was established in America in 1922. Current District Governor Constantine Varsamis also offered greetings. Apropos of the Bicentennial of the Greek Revolution, AHEPA Supreme President, attorney George Horiates, spoke about famous American philhellenes and praised the hundreds of parishes and Greek schools in America.
Natassa Byssarionos of ERT TV moderated the program that featured Ioannis Korinthios, professor and the University of Calabria in Italy, Dr. Giannis Chrysoulakis, Secretary for Hellenes Abroad, past Regional Gov of AHEPA Australia Ilias Toufas, and from America, Dr. Alexander Kitroeff, and Lou Katsos.
The endeavor was organized by Papadopoulos, Angelos Bergetis, and Alex Drivas, grand-nephew of the late Senator Paul Sarbanes and PhD candidate in Greece-America relations. Also assisting were Andreas Pantazis, Vice President of HJ-10, and Dr. Aristotelis-Nikolaos Rapsomanikis, Director of Education of HJ-10.
Later extending to a fascinating discussion about the future of the Diaspora, the program first focused on the preservation of the language, a topic several speakers noted was important for its current status – “Greek words are used everywhere” – and a diachronic reality stretching back 5000 years, being, with Chinese the oldest continuously used major language on Earth and the receptacle and vehicle of both Classical civilization and the Orthodox Faith.
Korinthios expressed pride in having launched the international holiday and highlighted both the Greeks in southern Italy who still speak Greek and Italian Philhellenic institutions and initiatives.
Katsos, a distinguished builder and developer in New York and president and founder of EMBCA, noted Papadopoulos asked him to address Hellenic Soft Power in the East Mediterranean.
“Language being a part of culture, it affects a nation’s influence,” he said, and expressed hope that “our short discussion contributes to … action.”
He exlpained that “the term Soft Power, coined by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, relates to the ability to persuade others to do what a nation wants,” without the coercion or the military force of traditional Hard Power, and includes all elements that make others want to be on your side.
“And it explains Hellenic influence over a long period of time, for example, how Greece conquered Rome … and how it set off what the American press referred to as ‘the Greek Fever’ or ‘Greek Fire’ across the United States during the Hellenic revolution of 1821.”
Katsos said, “it also explains the success of AHEPA… in using Soft Power to effect policy relating to Ellas, Cyprus, and the East Mediterranean.”
After highlighting the successes of nations like America, Britain, France, Spain, and others using their language, culture, and companies very effectively to project Soft Power, he noted Greece is slipping in many of its rankings, holding its own only in the area of Culture. Given Turkey has high rankings too, “there is a need Hellas’ game to be stepped up” and “it can benefit from the Diaspora in attracting partners and supporters.”
Language being part of Hellenic identity, Katsos decried those who create “Hellenic linguistic litmus tests as to who is a Hellene …we should reject the concept that those in the Diaspora, with their hellenic language skills … are somehow less Hellenic … the Diaspora is valuable as a multiplier of Hellenic Soft Power.”
Katsos stressed, however, that Diaspora Hellenic language skills can and should be improved, with work and innovation, a theme picked up by Kitroeff.
Kitroeff, professor of history at Haverford College, also made a timely and fascinating presentation, unpacking in a productive and promising way the complexities of Hellenic identity in America and the relationship between Greek Orthodox and Hellenic identity.
He noted that renowned historian Spyros Vryonis, emphasized that where Diaspora Hellenic children don’t learn the language first, they should be taught Hellenic history in English, which will cause many to study Greek later, cementing Hellenic identity. Strengthening the other cultural elements, you help language preservation.
So despite the natural decline in homeland language use among immigrant’s descendants – although Greek fares better than almost all others – Kitroeff is optimistic, but he stresses the need to be realistic. And open-minded.
Kitroeff’s most powerful revelation was studies showing the remarkable preservation of Orthodox Christian identity through later generations, a fact that offsets both the decline of the Greek language schools of the Archdiocese of America, and the increasing use of English in its services.
It has also been noted by many that the intermarriage rate approaching 90% has its bright side in that in-laws and their friends tend to become Philhellenes, with tourism a powerful vehicle.