Greece grew and won important battles when it counted on the support not only of its citizens, but also of Hellenism as a whole. The diaspora is a power multiplier. The important leaders of this country understood its role and cultivated it carefully.
Our country today needs its diaspora more than ever – especially Greek Americans. But on this topic there is good news and bad news. The bad news is the great vacuum in leadership. Historically, the leadership was always assumed by the archbishop of the time and some prominent figures who enjoyed wide acceptance. The Greek prime minister almost always knew who to call if he wanted to send a message to the White House.
In the old days, it was the now late Archbishop Iakovos; later it was some businessmen who worked closely with former president Bill Clinton. Today, some people claim to call the shots in the White House but those who are in the know understand their influence is limited to outdated fiestas like that held to mark Greek Independence Day.
If we’re honest enough to call a spade a spade, we should be willing to admit that the old status quo is in decline. The diaspora organizations exchange awards and praise at social events. Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is essentially rudderless, burdened with a huge debt as a result of financial mismanagement. The Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox National Shrine stands like a stain and provocation opposite the 9/11 Memorial.
The good news is that a new generation of diaspora leaders have emerged who know how to play the power game and who have forged strong alliances in Congress and other centers of power. They have also strengthened ties with the pro-Israel lobby, a fact which obviously gives them more power and influence. This was evident in the efforts to block the sale of Lockheed Martin-made F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.
At the same time, young Greek-American businesspeople are looking for ways to bring the next generation closer to Greece. For example, they are sending students to Athens to work or attend academic programs over the summer. Others provide help as mentors or investors to young Greeks in the startup community.
We need to break with the old habits, and break with those who think that they can show up as the rich uncle from abroad so they can buy up anything at half price. This country needs to embrace and promote the next generation of diaspora leaders.