COMMENT

Engaging the Greek diaspora

By Tom Ellis

Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his aides must realize what the country has to gain from diaspora Greeks. Then they must take steps indicating that they respect these people and are willing to work with them for the good of the country.

It’s hard to see how a nation whose diaspora population around the world numbers millions – including, it has to be said, people with significant economic and political influence – has failed to elevate relations with them to a top priority. At this time when the government is calling for the opposition’s support, the diaspora is an area that is open to cross-party consensus and cooperation.

Diaspora Greeks have proved time and again that they love Greece more than its inhabitants, they are anxious about its fate, and are ready to help. All they want is some inspiration from the Greek leader, a tangible sign that some things are changing.

Through their political, financial and social activities in key nations such as the USA and Germany, diaspora Greeks are able to influence political and economic developments. Their intention is to help any Greek government regardless of ideological tags. During their recent visits to Washington, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias both met with well-known members of the Greek diaspora. According to an influential Greek American with strong entrepreneurial, political and diplomatic activity, “they are an unknown quantity in Washington and we are trying to build bridges between the new Greek government and the centers of power.”

Furthermore, many diaspora Greeks are keen to invest in Greece, in projects of all sizes, often in their place where they or their families are from. The problem is they are put off by the notorious Greek bureaucracy, or corruption.

One might ask whether Tsipras can really succeed where Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou or his conservative successor Antonis Samaras – both of whom had close ties to the diaspora – failed. In any case, the new premier still ought to invest time and effort. It will boost his political capital and, most importantly, help Greece.

A first step in that direction would be to introduce a deputy minister for diaspora Greeks. Considering the number of alternate and deputy ministers in the leftist-led government, there is certainly room for an official who could act as a bridge with Greeks abroad. And, finally, we should start a debate about how these people can vote and if they should be represented.

Their participation and presence would enrich the public debate, bring fresh ideas and build bridges with other countries. Any government that opens this chapter will win considerable support among young voters.

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