ASTORIA – The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York organized a rally in support of Greece that was also a demonstration of solidarity for the Greek people in Athens Square Park on the evening of July 1.
The organizers emphasized that the rally’s purpose was to demonstrate the unity and solidarity of the community to the people of Greece and American officials as the homeland prepares for what might prove to be a historic referendum on Sunday, June 5.
Petros Galatoulas and Timoleon Kakouros, president and first vice president, respectively, of the Federation, thanked the attendees and the volunteers who organized the rally on very short notice.
They said that supporters of all the parties in Greece and all sides on the issues presented in the referendum positions were welcome, but they emphasized that they were not there to represent particular parties or positions, but to support Greece and its people.
Nicholas Alexiou, Chancellor’s Lecturer of Sociology at Queens College, is the General Secretary of SYRIZA in New York, but he emphasized to TNH that his participation, was independent of party affiliation. He congratulated the Federation for being the first to organize a solidarity rally.
“Here in New York, we gathered in support of the democratic right of a people to decide its own fate,” he said.
The speakers, who were few and spoke to the point, repeatedly said the rally was not whether a Yes or a No vote was best, but they did note, as was expressed by journalist Dimitris Philippides, that Greece’s citizens should not suffer due to the bad decision of its leaders, and the errors and further demands of the troika and Vasilios Petratos declared that “Greece must free itself from punitive measures.”
Galatoulas said he was filled with joy to see so many Greek flags waving. He too thanked the participants, whom he said do not forget “the land where they were born, where they first saw the light of day, and where they went to school.”
Kakouros sounded the unity theme: “United, we will succeed, divided we will not,” amid shouts of “OXI – NO,” which were louder than the “NAI – YES,” to other pole of the referendum choice.
The Federation worked hard to create a politically neutral event, but some leftists took offense at what others perceived as the common sense or patriotic message of the banner – “Support Greece – Continue Negotiations” – that was spread across the doric columns that signal the Hellenic heritage Athens Square was designed to evoke.
The banner was supposed to reflect the views of OXI and NAI supporters alike that the current deal being offered to Greece is bad and must be reworked.
A scuffle and shouting broke out at the start and some of the more boisterous OXI people tried to tear down the banner.
Alexiou said the episode was unfortunate, but that disagreement does not constitute disunity. He characterized the incident as “tension” between passionate people on both sides of the vote.
Kakouros seemed to reflect the view of the majority of the more than 100 participants when he said a failure by Greece and the troika to reach an agreement is unacceptable.
Arthur Cheliotes, President of Local 1180, Communications Workers of America AFL-CIO was given the microphone after the event’s formal program concluded. He was cheered on by the OXI supporters. He began speaking in Greek, with pride, but switched to English when he said “My family in Greece is about to make a very important decision on July 5.” The day after America celebrates Independence Day, he said, “the people of Greece must make their own Declaration of Independence from the tyranny of the troika.”
He hopes the people of Greece will make July 5 a new OXI day, but the language of the referendum and the dynamics of the negotiations makes its unclear to what exactly they would be saying OXI.