Diasporas and their homelands are benefitting more and more in this era of globalization and dynamic transnational networks. International relations experts have been telling us this for a while now. It rings very true judging by the growing affinity between the Greek-American community and Greece which we witnessed this past year. And a lot of good can come from cultivating the ties between Greece and Greek America when Greece is dealing with domestic economic challenges and external threats and, when Greek America confronts the ongoing challenges of preserving its cultural heritage.
The closeness and better understanding achieved this past year was due to the celebration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the Greek revolution of 1821 on both sides of the Atlantic. Greek America’s participation was a reminder to Greece of the existence of a Hellenic culture and entity beyond its borders, one that shares its pride in the achievements of the Greek revolution.
Because of the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, there were not as many parades and social gatherings as there might have been, and many events took the form of lectures and presentations. Yet, with fewer panegyrics there was an opportunity for deeper reflection on the significance of 1821.
Many of the presentations offered by Greek American scholars focused on how American philhellenes helped the Greeks during the revolution of 1821. Thanks to technology these virtual lectures were followed by big audiences in Greece, whether they were hosted by Greek-based or Greek-American institutions, of which there were many.
The stories of American support of the Greek revolution became widely known in Greece for the first time. Greeks normally associated the philhellenism that greeted the 1821 revolution with Europeans, especially the British poet Lord Byron. Now they learned of another equally powerful bond that contributed to Greece gaining its freedom.
Such an appreciation of the closeness of America and the Greeks in the 1820s brings the two countries closer today and enables a smooth relationship between Greek America and Greece. That bridge has suffered in the past when relations between the two countries became strained because that puts Greek-Americans in an awkward position. Examples include the time Greece was ruled by the colonels’ and when the United States appeared to be unwilling to put a halt to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Those times seem very distant now in light of Greece’s newfound appreciation of American philhellenism and of the Greek-American community’s contributions to the celebrations of the revolution’s bicentennial.
There were other ways that Greek America came closer to Greece this past year. The largest Greek American organization outside the Church, the Order of AHEPA, held its 99th Anniversary Supreme Convention in Athens in July. It was a decision designed to honor the 200th anniversary of the Greek revolution. AHEPA went through with it despite all the obstacles posed by COVID-19, a bold decision worthy of its current campaign to ‘Defend Hellenism.’
And while AHEPA is used to the red carpet being rolled out in Greece, the welcome this time was very impressive. It included a reception hosted by the President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a banquet addressed by the Prime Minister of Greece Constantinos Mitsotakis and the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades, and several other events attended by Greek government ministers and the mayor of Athens.
Greek America’s commemorations of the revolution’s bicentennial also drew the Greek media’s attention to other Greek American events this year, happenings which normally would not have been reported as extensively. Examples include Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit to the United States, a panel discussion on the role of Greek America in U.S. Greek relations organized by the American Hellenic Institute in Athens, and a gala fundraiser for Greece hosted by The Hellenic Initiative in New York.
We have, of course, the occasion of the anniversary of the Greek revolution to thank for this year’s productive interactions between Greek America and Greece. Coincidentally, 2022 also offers an opportunity for those connections to be strengthened. The new year will bring three significant Hellenic centenaries. The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s ratification of the creation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America in May; the establishment of AHEPA in July; and in September the Asia Minor Disaster that ended the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. Hopefully those anniversaries will be commemorated in a way that will bring Greek America and Greece even closer.
Yet not every year will offer a similarly significant events that can be remembered jointly and thus strengthen the Hellenic transatlantic connection. The challenge is to find creative ways to nurture the closer relationship the 1821 anniversary has produced as well as to find other ways to sustain it into the future.
The National Herald is pleased to introduce our new regular columnist, Dr. Alexander Kitroeff. Many of our readers are already familiar with him through his books and articles, lectures and panel discussion participation – and previous contributions on our Op Ed pages. His research and publishing focuses on nationalism and ethnicity in modern Greece and its diaspora, and its manifestations across a broad spectrum, from politics to sports. He holds a PhD from Oxford University and is Professor of History at Haverford College in Haverford, PA.