Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

Reclaiming influence

COMMENT

TAGS: Diplomacy, Diaspora

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to travel to the United States on October 17 for a visit where he will probably see for himself how much the Greek diaspora’s influence in Washington has waned.

The Greek-American lobby was in its prime back when the name dispute with Skopje was at the forefront. It was so powerful that it managed to convince then president George Bush and his mighty secretary of state, James Baker, to change position on the recognition of former Yugoslav republics.

This was the time of Archbishop Iakovos and Father Alexander Karloutsos, who were frequent visitors to the White House and managed to combine the wisdom of Halki with the savvy marketing of Madison Avenue. This period also saw the emergence of new players, like Angelo Tsakopoulos, who joined forces with officials produced by the Michael Dukakis campaign.

The Church’s presence is also negligible today as the Patriarchate – for its own reasons – prefers ecclesiastical leaders who are very low-profile and do not fulfill the diaspora’s needs. There are, of course, events and occasions to socialize with the powerful of the land, but everyone knows that this is where the Church leadership’s influence ends.

The Patriarchate needs to be careful as the distance between it and the Greek diaspora’s base and leaders has grown. One more bad decision and that distance can become a serious rift. This would come at a heavy cost for the Patriarchate, which depends on the diaspora in America for a lot of its power.

Beyond ties with the Greek Orthodox Church, the diaspora is assimilating at an incredible speed and losing many of its bonds with Greece and its Greek identity.

The only people fighting the tide right now are a handful of Greek Cypriots who are trying to pull their lobby back together. They may lack specific targets but they are active and, together with certain traditional allies, managed to forge a crucial alliance with the pro-Israeli lobby.

Greece is looking at a number of geopolitical opportunities. With Turkey fast becoming a huge question mark for both the United States and Europe, Athens could secure significant tradeoffs if it plays its cards right. To do this, however, it needs a strong lobby that will forward its interests on the front line. It is time, therefore, for the leaders of Hellenism to use Tsipras’s visit as an opportunity to contemplate the diaspora’s responsibilities and forge a strategy before more time is lost.

Online