ASTORIA – The doors were locked and security guards barred entrance to the Stathakion Cultural Center on September 14 after a scheduled General Assembly of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York was canceled.
The outgoing president of the Federation, Cleanthis Meimaroglou, was inside the building, with the executive board members who were to participate in the meeting left outside, unable to enter the building, and they reacted strongly.
The Secretary of the Election Committee, Anastasios Karagounis, called the police, and officers from the 114th Precinct soon arrived to try to understand what was happening and whether they could intervene.
Inside, apart from Meimaroglou, was the newly appointed president of the Election Committee, Demetrios A. Gonias. Members of the majority of the Steering Committee, such as the appointed Coordinators, Demetrius Kalamaras and Nikos Diamantidis, also entered, and then Karagounis finally entered. Lawyer Maria Markou also entered in the capacity of the legal advisor of the majority.
"I do not take anyone's side. I simply do not have the authority to enforce your statute. You tell me your side, the gentlemen inside say otherwise. You tell me that you are a president, but the other gentleman also says that he is the president,” one of the police officers said to the representatives, while another police officer who accompanied him urged them “to sit down and discuss things as adults and get along.”
On the opposite side, the climate was tense and there were moments when the intervention of the calmer ones was needed in order to prevent something worse happening, especially when the executives from the opposing sides came face to face. Characteristic was the moment when Meimaroglou was leaving in his car, receiving jeers or even insults, while the member of the majority of the Steering Committee, Kalamaras, had an intense exhange with former president Petros Galatoulas.
According to the Coordinator appointed by the recent General Assembly, Nikos Bardis, the attendance log was signed by representatives of 37 Associations, indicating that the process would be participatory.
The gap remains unbridged and no one can predict the upcoming developments in one of the most important organizations of the Greek-American community in New York.
Speaking to The National Herald, Karagounis, warned of legal action, firing arrows against Kalamaras, Meimaroglou, Gonias, and Diamantidis.
"We will take legal action. We will go to the lawyer and all the solutions that need to be given will be given. If there is time, we will try to hold the elections on September 19 and those who are responsible will have to answer to the Greek community for what happened tonight. Today is obviously sad. Specific people are responsible: Demetrius Kalamaras, Nikos Diamantidis, Cleanthis Meimaroglou, and Demetrios A. Gonias, the member of the Election Committee,” said Karagounis, while, in a more intense tone, Georgios Georgopoulos stated that "elections will be held, even outside.”
"We will go to the polls. We will also seek justice and the elections will take place on September 19. We will be here, that does not change. And if the Stathakion is closed, we will have the elections outside,” he said, commenting that Tuesday's incident "is humiliating" but also that "something good will come out of this process and the Federation will find its way, whether they want it or not.”
For his part, Apostolos Tomopoulos expressed his disappointment, claiming that "Messrs. Kalamaras, Meimaroglou and their company, want to close the Federation forever,” while he added meaningfully that “someone has emphasized it here, that it has a legal interest.”
Finally, Bardis commented that "the fact that 37 Associations were present but were prevented from entering, says it all.”
Clearly outraged by the verbal attacks he received, Gonias told TNH, that “I do not deal with bullies, but with the law.”
“Shame on me; Why my shame? Because I want elections to be transparent? Aren't Mr. Georgopoulos and Mr. Tomopoulos the ones who initially asked me not to run in the elections? Is it possible for this to happen? Should Mr. Karagounis call me and tell me that he will handcuff me because I changed my mind about holding elections?" he stated, among other things, clarifying that his attitude is not a matter of bias towards specific persons.
"I am not close to Mr. Kalamaras. What they have not understood is that for me all former presidents are the same. I have told everyone: They should go to their homes and offer their services only as advisors. All of them. If anyone has a personal issue with Mr. Meimaroglou or Mr. Galatoulas they should resolve it with them, not through me and the members of the Committees. But it is not possible for them to call for elections here and now to cover everything. There is the issue of the register, but also the financial transparency. How can we hold elections?,” concluded Gonias.
Finally, Kalamaras characterized the convening of the General Assembly as illegal, claiming that "it was done unilaterally by Mr. Tomopoulos, who has proclaimed himself General Secretary, with the signature of Mr. Bardis" and that "we have the authorization from the General Assembly to ensure the safety of the building.”
On the same wavelength is Christos Vournas, who said that "some people want to hold elections and cover everything and some people want to bring transparency.”