The members of the Greek diaspora are not asking too much. What they want is respect for their efforts and recognition of their contribution. They also want to see rules introduced that will enable them to help the homeland – something that they have been unable to do for all their good intentions. Most attempts run into a wall of red tape, preposterousness, occasionally exploitation and, eventually, disappointment. This is the outline of the sensitive relationship between the so-called “national center” and overseas Greeks – a reservoir of people that the Greek premier of the time is expected to support and use to the country’s advantage.
Many different people have said many different things about this relationship. The extent to which they actually believe what they say is, however, questionable. I remember 20 years ago the members of the Greek-American community being eager to hear a speech by George Papandreou at the Chian Federation in Astoria. One of their own boys, irrespective of his political ideas, was in town to address them as foreign minister of Greece. I still recall the enthusiastic welcome and the expectations that this relationship would finally change.
Apart from some basic gestures, nothing really changed. Establishing a workable connection between Athens and Hellenism around the globe, a connection that would bolster the influence of the Greek capital, has remained a pipe dream. Here is a wager for the new premier. He needs to translate his actions into words. New Democracy’s diaspora vote proposal was in the right direction. It will be very important to reach a consensus here with the opposition parties. It goes without saying the issue requires unity. You can’t be in a situation where each new government scraps the measures of its predecessor.
As well as the Greek-American entrepreneurs that Kyriakos Mitsotakis will meet in Manhattan, the diaspora also features many ordinary people. He is right to be visiting Astoria, the heart of Greek-born blue-collar workers and small-time New York entrepreneurs. He should address these people not along the lines of public relations, but with an eye on substance. Above all, the conservative premier needs to convey a message of unity. The deputy foreign minister responsible for the Greek diaspora is himself a member of the Greek-American community. He has good knowledge of the sensibilities and the challenges facing the community.
Greece needs its diaspora – its political influence and economic support – more than the diaspora needs Greece.