Rethinking Organizational Structure? The Case of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater NY

An October 6th story appearing in TNH’s Greek sister edition reporting that the ongoing turmoil in the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York is likely headed to court causes disappointment and pessimism regarding the prospects of the grass roots organized local Greek-American Community to play any significant role in the immediate future. Presently, the reasons for the dispute are not as important as the unwillingness or inability to overcome internal differences without polarizing the situation to such a degree that it would lead to organizational paralysis and require outside intervention, with at least one – and very likely all – of the sides coming out on the losing end.

In a healthy organizational environment, disputes that inevitably arise are resolved through collaboration, with the goal being a win-win outcome. Facilitative conflict resolution provides an opportunity to calibrate and solidify organizational operation. Otherwise, organizations risk becoming dysfunctional, which poses a direct threat to their cohesion, and ultimately their future.

The dispute in question is taking place at a time when Turkish aggression against Greece is dangerously high. Greece’s armed forces and diplomatic corps are engaged in a daily struggle against manifold Turkish threats.

The Hellenic-American Leadership Council, led by Mr. Endy Zemenides, and great Philhellenes like Senator Robert Menendez are also making a major contribution. Turkey’s current inability to upgrade its existing F-16s or purchase new ones is proof of their seminal role.

Unfortunately, during this critical juncture, the Federation of Hellenic Society of Greater NY has been absent from this mix, due to its lingering problems. In light of the developments taking place at such a lightning-fast pace, with unknown consequences for Hellenism, key figures involved in the internal strife plaguing the Federation must see the bigger picture and realize unity and coordinated action is the absolute priority. Dissention is a luxury Hellenism can’t afford at this moment.

The Federation is responsible for organizing the annual Greek Independence Day Parade on New York’s world famous Fifth Avenue. Last year, the Federation infighting nearly jeopardized the organization of the parade. In the end, it was held almost three months late, thanks to the help of a neutral committee that was formed following outside intervention. Can the Community expect more of the same uncertainty and anxiety ahead of the next Parade?

If the Federation’s issues end up in litigation, it will be unable to respond to what is essentially its sole responsibility, and thus, will no longer have a raison d’être. Simply put, it will be rendered obsolete by the developments, if it hasn’t already.

The solution of random selection provides a truly democratic exit from the current crisis. This is the exact same method employed by the Federation to determine the marching order in the annual parade. Why can’t it be applied to help renew its administration and restore proper operation?

Besides, the mechanism of random selection was used in ancient Athens during its ‘golden era’, when its polity had reached its apex. Since there appears to be disagreement regarding the election process and committee membership, the formation of a new governing board through random selection would be a fair way to redistribute authority and contribute to institutional renewal. Meanwhile, the board’s term could be reduced to allow for a more frequent exchange of power, while plenary sessions taking place at regular intervals could play an increasingly active role in setting policy.

If the heads of the opposing sides could forego their leadership aspirations, the situation could boil off and the necessary adjustment period could be secured to enable the Federation to regain its footing. Besides being the responsible thing to do, this would help save whatever remaining credibility it has left and serve as a good example for the Community at large.

Otherwise, in the event that rival factions put their personal disputes ahead of the best interests of the Community, the future of this organization, which has until now not managed to evolve along with the demands of the times and play a greater role in community affairs, looks bleak.

If the general consensus finds that the Federation causes more problems than it solves, the Community will turn its back on it. The responsibility for organizing the Parade will end up in someone else’s hands, one way or another. The void left by the Federation will inherently be filled because “nature abhors a vacuum.”

However, the needs of the Community go far greater than the organization of an annual parade, which, after all, is not without its fair share of problems. Therefore, there must be public discourse regarding the current structural model of the Community and its shortcomings; which at the moment, neither the Federation nor other major organizations have seemed interested in addressing.

In light of its dysfunctionality, perhaps the time has come to seriously consider a new body that could more adequately facilitate the Community’s present needs. It’s peculiar that all these decades, the Greek-American Community has opted not to follow the traditional route of self-organizing into geographically delineated communities (i.e., at the city level), which would encompass all Hellenic institutions and aim to coordinate them, as the Hellenic Diaspora has done in other nations, or as other ethnic groups in the United States do.

Perhaps the time has come to consider the possibility of forming a Hellenic Community of New York, which, aside from the organization of the parade, could undertake an active role in critical issues such as supporting Greek education, organizing cultural events, aiding in Hellenic national issues, spearheading of public benefit projects, etc.

It is often said that crises give rise to opportunities. Perhaps, then, the protracted crisis threatening the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York may provide an opportunity to upgrade and evolve this institution…so long as the opportunity is seized in a timely manner.


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