If you were to deconstruct Washington, all you’d be left with was a think tank, a lobby and a hotel. The crossroads of K and 15th now has all three components, as the newest member of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s lobby, the “Macedonia Political Action Committee” (MACPAC), just opened next to the almighty Atlantic Council and across the street from the Architect Hotel.
MACPAC does not boast lofty offices, but is tucked away behind hundreds of small boxes lining the wall of a well-known express delivery firm. It is a common practice of many new businesses, but also of shady organizations like MACPAC, to use PO boxes for their international correspondence. But what makes MACPAC stand out is not its location, but its founder, a woman by the name of Louette Ragusa.
Ragusa did not appear to be in any way associated with the Skopje lobby until recently. She is better known as the operations director of the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) and her office is just a 5-minute walk from MACPAC’s PO box. This suggests that MACPAC is not some formal yet negligible effort of the colorful yet active FYROM lobby, but is rather an initiative of the powerful Turkish lobby.
The TCA poses as an independent nonprofit organization of the Turkish-American diaspora, with revenues of nearly a million dollars a year and assets of more than $8 million. It employs a professional, full-time staff and has an active volunteer corps that donates thousands of dollars a year. Similar Greek diaspora groups are nowhere near the TCA in terms of organization, funding and strategy, with the exception of the Hellenic American Leadership Council – an oasis in the diaspora desert.
We do not know whether the TCA created MACPAC on its own initiative in order to further Skopje’s agenda or whether it was in communication with mother Turkey or the FYROM lobby. I believe that there was some level of coordination, but nevertheless, the main message behind the move is that the Turkish Americans are very well aware of the importance of backstage lobbying in the American political system.
The same cannot be said of the Greek Americans, unfortunately, as many of our leaders – and politicians – are more concerned with applause and lack the know-how to carry out the duties they chose to undertake.
Political action committees (PACs) like MACPAC are aimed at finding funding to support members of Congress and promote issues that concern specific social groups and interests. In the US, in contrast to Greece, there is significant transparency regarding the funding of parties and politicians.
According to the federal database, the TCA has created various PACs across American to promote the Turkish agenda and undermine Greek national issues like Cyprus and the Pontic and Armenian genocides. The largest of the TCA’s PACs has spent nearly $2 million in the last decade working closely with more than 140 members of the House of Representatives who comprise the Turkish alliance in Congress – one of many informal congressional groups that come together to promote various issues.
The Greek alliance has about the same number of members, some of which are also funded by the Turkish community, but it doesn’t have the dynamism it deserves. Most diaspora groups have failed to rise to the occasion and expend their energies on initiatives that have zero impact in Washington.
Thus, the diaspora’s significant political and economic capital remains unused, wasted in the pursuit of self-promotion. The problem is that if the diaspora ever wants to support or create a PAC similar to its only professional grassroots organization, the Hellenic American Leadership Council, it will mean its members having to dig into their pockets without enjoying any applause.
There is no glamour in that, however, as the real work that needs to be done is hard, systematic and comes at a personal cost, with the only reward being the satisfaction of serving the greater good.
In most cases, the real work is done in silence, away from the cameras and the lights, unacknowledged on Facebook and Twitter, hidden away in the most unlikely places – even PO boxes. Unfortunately, these boxes appear too small and dark for our great leaders.
* Nikolas Katsimpras is a lecturer at Columbia University's Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program and an assistant adjunct professor at the Dispute Resolution program at City University of New York. He is also a consultant on strategic planning and analysis for conflict management and a former officer of the Hellenic Navy.