The View from Greek-America
A great uncle of mine in Greece liked to say that God created man, then He created woman and only after that did He create the Greek-American.
Ribbing often more successful cousins across the Atlantic has always been a pastime in Greece. Just as loudly extolling the virtues of the homeland has been a mainstay of the Greek-American community.
With the Greek economic crisis, things have changed. While the great accomplishments of Ancient or Byzantine Greece are still a source of pride, the Diaspora increasingly sees the trajectory that modern Greece has taken as a mark of shame. Many Greek-American entrepreneurs have always lamented the more constricted business environment and business culture in Southeast Europe. But, there was a sense that with the diversification of the Greek economy, EU membership and attendant reforms, the opening of the Balkans and better relations with Turkey, Greece was heading in the right direction. It was just a matter of time.
Now, after countless exposés and questions of “how did we get here,” the consensus view among Greek-Americans is that Greece was mired in a crippling cycle of political, institutional and commercial stagnation. At the worst of times, this sense is tinged with feelings of betrayal: due to the perceived irresponsible behavior of cousins in the homeland, and guilt: at having been away from the homeland as the catastrophe unfolded.
But for those that have been active bridge-builders for a long time, the events that unfolded were less of a surprise. As John Sitilides, a government relations specialist and advisor to the State Department in Washington DC framed it, “Greek-Americans are experiencing less of a perception change than the realization that much of the political and economic dysfunction in Greece of which they have been aware has now been exposed to American and international audiences. Greek-Americans worked hard for years with Greek political, business and social counterparts to promote reforms fostering educational enrichment, meritocratic advancement, streamlined public administration, responsive governance, economic competition, labor productivity, civil society engagement, the rule of law, and an energized coupling of personal responsibility to individual rights.”
Paul Glastris, Editor in Chief of the Washington Monthly magazine and a former Clinton speech writer, was “struck by the number of Greeks who understand that this is an ill that has been visited upon them with their active cooperation. Greeks know that their government and society has been living beyond its means.” One of the main repercussions over the long run may be that the world will benefit from the emigration of young, talented Greeks. “Maybe America will get some smart Greeks and better food.”
But like many Greek-Americans, Glastris also looked to the future. It will be a “keel-hauling, ugly experience,” but “Europe will figure itself out. Sticking with Europe over the long-haul will be to Greece’s benefit.” This was echoed by an Obama administration official working on Southeast Europe who preferred to remain anonymous: “U.S. policy towards Greece in the long-run will be predicated to a large extent on how much Greece can genuinely reintegrate into European institutions. Much depends on Europe’s trajectory, but we also see many opportunities for Greece going forward.”
Sitilides summed up the way forward from the standpoint of many in the United States: “the Greek people have it in their power to initiate and commit to the effective rebranding of their nation and their society in the eyes of the world. To the degree that essential reforms are actually implemented and fully institutionalized, Greek Americans will be Greece’s most enthusiastic, innovative, and reliable partners.” In terms of relations between Greece and the United States, Sitilides added that, “Washington…looks forward to a redoubled commitment to Greece’s regional leadership if it successfully emerges from the depths of the crisis in the years to come.”
Alexandros Petersen is an advisor with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC and author of the critically acclaimed book The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West, available at Amazon.com.
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