The celebration held at the White House earlier this month to mark Greece’s 1821 uprising against Ottoman rule was not one of the finest. The general atmosphere and the partisan slogans shouted by some attendants degraded rather than honored the event.
Not a single word was heard on Greece’s role as a strategic ally in a difficult region of the world, while the references to the role and contributions of the Greek-American community seemed rather superficial. For someone who has participated in dozens of similar events, the feelings were disappointment and sadness.
Holding an event like this on Greece’s independence at the White House is an important achievement that we must safeguard. The fact that it has been repeated every year for the past three decades is a victory of the diaspora. However, things can and should be improved. This would be to everyone’s benefit: the US government and Hellenism – both in the US and in the homeland.
It is clear that Greece has every reason to take advantage of the diaspora that lives in the world’s most powerful country. This annual celebration could function not just as a symbolic act of recognition, but as a practical channel of communication and reciprocal cooperation.
The event could be enriched with the presence of the Greek prime minister. This is not a new or radical proposition. It has been suggested by many people – including this writer – repeatedly in the past. Nor is it an unrealistic idea. Former premier George Papandreou set a precedent in 2010.
The idea is for the country’s prime minister to participate in the event, along with representatives of the Greek-American community, in the way that it is done by other diasporas – for example Irish Americans. This would offer an opportunity for informal contacts between the leaders of Greece and the US, which would not necessarily have the form of an official meeting with the participation of advisers, but would nevertheless offer an exceptional opportunity to build a personal relationship.
This would also highlight to any occupant of the White House the power of the Greek-American community, in terms of votes and influence in the political process, as well as its economic size and role in financing parties and candidates.
Also, in this context, the Greek-American community has to reach a point of maturity and be represented by a secular leader who will be voted or selected by prominent members of the community, and not by the archbishop. The Jewish and Irish communities are not represented by a rabbi or cardinal.
The US president could welcome to the White House the Greek prime minister and the Greek-American community’s secular leadership, along with the archbishop – whose presence would highlight the influence of Orthodox Christianity. The aim would be to honor the independence of a country that is a point of reference for the world’s democracies, including America, while bringing the close bilateral relationship to the forefront.