OPINION

Winning back the diaspora

One of my favorite objects is a poster dating back to 1941 showing Athens in the background with a Greek flag in the foreground bearing the words ?Greetings, we have won,? in Greek, echoing the words of the runner who brought news of victory at the Battle of Marathon. It?s a poster that was printed by Greek Americans in a campaign to raise money for their troubled homeland during the Nazi occupation.

The Greeks of the diaspora have always stood beside the motherland, be it in times of war, in times of crisis or during natural disasters.

Speaking to many friends who live abroad, however, I have discerned for the first time a spiritual and intellectual distance growing between some among the diaspora and society in Greece. It is not that they don?t sympathize with what is going on here, or that they are indifferent to the problems faced by Greeks. It is more as though they don?t really understand us right now and they are terribly saddened by the decline of the country.

They are bothered, for example, by the widespread corruption that usually manifests itself in the ostentatious lifestyle of the nouveau riche. They find the sight of hundreds of young men and women whiling away their days at cafes, apparently free of any angst about their futures, odd. They are enraged by the behavior of the Greek state, and by that of many of its representatives, toward people who want to make an investment in Greece or who have a job to get done.

Meanwhile, they also feel that most of their relatives and friends refuse to see the reality of the situation or to discuss it in a rational manner. They wonder where so many of the traits that they still carry inside them — the traits of two, even three generations, like a strong work ethic, the simplicity of hospitality and warmth of spirit — have gone, how they were lost under the steamroller of cheap tourism and easy money.

Greece needs to win back its diaspora because it needs allies everywhere it can find them right now and it needs to rebuild its international image.

For this to happen though, we all need to start questioning why Greek talent and Greek qualities are appreciated so much more outside the country and why we in Greece have constructed a system that fights so hard to undermine them.