New U.S. Ambassador to Greece George Tsunis. Photo: TNH/ Christodoulos Athanasatos
NEW YORK – The Benevolent Society of Platanos Nafpaktias honored George Tsunis, the new U.S. Ambassador to Greece, on May 1 at the Swan Club in Roslyn, NY.
“It is an honor for me to be the U.S. Ambassador to Greece. But I will always be a son of Platanos,” said the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Athens George Tsunis in his speech during the farewell dinner organized in his honor by his fellow members of the Platanos Society.
In a sometimes emotionally moving event, with familiar faces to the new ambassador present, dozens of members of the Platanos Society, and not only, who know George Tsunis and his family, hurried to shake hands and wish him “good luck” in the difficult task he undertakes.
Special, but also discreet, was the presence of his mother, Eleni Tsunis, his sister, Anastasia, but also his wife, Olga, with their three children, Dimitris, Eleni, and Yanna, who also received congratulations for the new ambassador to Athens, who is taking office at a critical juncture.
Among those present were Consul General of Greece in New York Dr. Konstantinos Koutras and former New York Senator Al D’Amato who spoke about his collaboration with Tsunis during the early days of his career.
The retired teacher, Dimitris Kostaras, originally from Platanos and a friend of the Tsunis family, who had recognized from an early age the gifts of the newly appointed Ambassador, also spoke with particularly emotional tones.
In any case, a common component for all those present, apart from the personal reference to George Tsunis, was the importance for the Greek Diaspora in general, the appointment of one of its members in the crucial diplomatic role, which is the most direct channel of communication between Washington and Athens.
“My obligation to be effective”
In his speech, Tsunis initially spoke about the symbolism of his personal path to the position of ambassador, in contrast to the dream of a Greek immigrant who fights for his family in a country as far away as the U.S.
“They came to the United States determined to work hard because they wanted their families to have a better life. They did everything to educate their children. This is important for all of us, the contributions of our grandparents or parents who came here. We will never be able to repay what we owe them,” said Tsunis, and describing the years he spent in Platanos, Nafpaktia, as” the best of his life.”
“There is this invisible bond that we from Platanos have between us. We will stay together, we will succeed together, and we will help each other. We are proud to be American, but just as proud of our Greek heritage. My years in Platanos are the best of my life,” he noted and then made a special reference to his father.
“My father told me never to forget my roots. He spoke of the Greek ideals of kindness, love, integrity and philotimo. Nowhere else is there the meaning of philotimo,” said Tsunis.
Mitsotakis’ visit and Greek-American relations
Of course, the beginning of Tsunis’ term at the U.S. Embassy in Athens coincides with the forthcoming visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Washington, DC for a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, but also to address Congress.
Tsunis praised Greece’s stance on the issue of Ukraine, emphasizing that “it is always on the right side of history,” while adding that both the timing of the visit to the White House, and the speech in Congress, show a great deal about progress in Greek-American relations.
“As you know, the Prime Minister of Greece is visiting the United States in a few weeks. I will have the honor of accompanying him to the Oval Office to meet with the President, so that Greece and the United States can talk about Ukraine, stability in the region, international issues, and the strengthening of relations. There are not many bilateral meetings in the Oval Office these days. Greece is receiving important geostrategic significance. It is always on the right side of history,” Tsunis said.
At the same time, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador expressed the belief that, if his own term is considered successful, he will pave the way for other Greeks in the Diaspora to take on a similar role.
“We trust him”
The proven love of Tsunis for Greece was one of the main comments from the attendees, both in the speeches and in statements, about the difficult task undertaken by the new ambassador.
Of course, the most typical case was his mother, Eleni, who stated that she was convinced that her son would help Greece, in the context of his duties, while she spoke about a development that he himself wanted very much.
“I am very proud of George. He is a good boy who grew up beautifully. Every year, we went to our village, in the mountainous Nafpaktia. We had a nice family. I believe that he will help Greece a great deal, because so far he has done many things for Greece and Cyprus. From a young age, he liked to help and give. He is a very good son and a good person. Be proud of him, too. When his nomination was approved he was very happy and excited, he wanted it very much. He dreamed of getting involved in politics from a young age,” said Mrs. Tsunis.
His sister, Anastasia, moved in the same direction. “I am just happy for my brother. Greece will be lucky because he loves it very much,” she said.
Consul General of Greece Konstantinos Koutras, after congratulating the mother and family of George Tsunis, expressed confidence that he will succeed, but urged everyone to “protect him,” emphasizing that he knows his duties and goals.
“Your George, our George, is the ambassador of the United States. We do not need to ask him anything. He has everything you will want to ask him in his heart. We have to protect him to succeed – which we are sure of – and to admire him in even higher positions,” said Dr. Koutras.
For his part, James Kostaras praised the skills of George Tsunis and the success he had in his life, urging him “not to forget Greece and Cyprus.”
“George will make us all proud. We feel great joy and special honor that a son of parents from Platanos reached this great office. We are sure that he will emerge as a worthy representative of this great country. I am sure that wherever he goes he will represent with great love both countries, but he must never forget the interests of Greece, especially in this critical period,” noted Kostaras.
Also convinced Tsunis will be a success, Platanos Society President – and his cousin – Georgia Tsunis. “We are very proud as Plataniotes, because a small village like ours, like Platanos in Nafpaktia, has borne a great one. We firmly believe that he will help Greece. Since he was a small child, he loved Greece and I am optimistic that he will do great things and will support, of course, America as well,” said Ms. Tsunis.
Vasiliki Vlantis expressed herself in a similar style. “We are very proud and happy. I have known him since he was a small child, from our parents, and from Platanos, Nafpaktia. I know that the whole village is happy for George. His father was born there and now his child started a family in America and came to be an ambassador in Greece. He is very proud of his origin and I have heard that he wants to come to our festival this year as well,” concluded Vlantis.
As a souvenir, the Board of the Platanos Nafpaktias Society presented the ambassador with an icon of St. Nicholas, in the presence of Fr. Panteleimon Papadopoulos, presiding priest of the Holy Resurrection community in Brookville, NY.
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