By Nikos Konstandaras
Whenever Greece is in danger, the Greeks of the diaspora feel the need to contribute to the national struggle, honoring their roots, helping fellow Greeks whom they may never meet. The same applies today, with Greeks around the world wondering what they can offer. Many have reservations, fearing that whatever they offer will be lost in the chaos. The truth is that the Greeks need as much help as they can get, and there has to be a way that this can be achieved in the most effective manner.
It is difficult to know how many people are of Greek descent, as many descendants of emigrants have been assimilated in the lands where they settled. Some estimate the total at about 20 million, with 11 million of them in Greece. In a study published in 1987, the Greek Foreign Ministry estimated that about one-third of Greeks lived outside Greece – for a total of about 15 million. Whatever their number, the Greeks of the diaspora are many and their achievements significant. They are often outstanding businessmen, entrepreneurs, professionals, academics and intellectuals. Many maintain ties with their country of origin – through the Church, through pride at the achievements of Greeks of the past, and through the memories of parents and grandparents.
How the Greeks of the diaspora can contribute to dealing with today's crisis was the subject of an interesting discussion at a recent conference organized in Athens last week by the International Herald Tribune and Kathimerini. Participants focused on the value of maintaining open channels of communication between Greece and the diaspora. The issue is not to collect money and material aid, but to facilitate contacts. Jenny Bloomfield, the Australian ambassador in Athens, who was born in Greece to Greek parents, described the opportunities that her country offers its people by being an open society with an open economy. She spoke also of the benefits of “brain circulation” in today's world, as opposed to the “brain drain” of emigration in the past, when people could not move back and forth easily between countries.
Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a member of the European Parliament for a German party, stressed the need to project whatever good is happening in Greece, as well as informing Greeks about what is happening abroad. The site www.resetgreece.gr is a contribution to this. Gregory C. Pappas from Chicago (who, among the many hats he wears is publisher of the Pappas Post [www.pappaspost.com] and founder of the Greek American Foundation) noted how Greek Americans mobilized to help Greece during World War II, in a huge effort that was generally underreported. He stressed the need to inspire young Greeks to become entrepreneurs, not public servants, as well as the need for exchange programs and support. Manos Sifakis, born in Larissa, president and CEO of the Customedialabs interactive agency, which is based in the US and Greece, with major global companies among his clients, was a living example of the success that talented young people can achieve when they seek it. In another discussion, Peter Economides, brand strategist and owner and founder of Felix BNI (and also a child of the diaspora, starting out in South Africa) presented a panel of friends and “heroes” – Greeks who have made an impact in their field. He stressed the need for 11 million Greeks (of Greece) to gain the strength “of 20 million” and show their talent: their love of life and creativity.
Participants had many interesting things to say, sharing experiences, talent and their concern for Greece. My conclusion (as I had the honor of chairing one panel) was that the greatest contribution that the Greeks of the diaspora can make is not charity but keeping open channels of communication with Greece. For the Greeks to be able to marshal the strength of Greeks everywhere, Greece must acquire a functioning economy, an education system that nurtures talent, and the effective public administration which, when Greeks encounter it elsewhere, helps them fulfill their potential as businessmen, professionals, academics, and so on.
In other words, for Greece to be able to receive the benefits that the world's Greeks can offer, it will first have to provide fertile ground for development for its own people and anyone who wants to create here. To gain from Greeks everywhere, Greece has to rise to the level of a modern society with an open economy.