On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Hellenic American National Council
In Memory of T.G. Spyropoulos, founding member and president of H.A.N.C.
By Paul Kotrotsios*
We are going through a time of a great geopolitical upheaval throughout the globe. The social and economic shocks caused by these changes have had a major effect on our lives. The challenges we are facing everyday are ever-growing and the time we devote to ourselves has dramatically decreased.
The Hellenic American community itself has undergone significant changes during the previous decade. Its demographic, social and economic data have also been shifted and the majority of its members now belong to a second or higher-generation of Greek immigrants.
Immigrants have now become the minority. The associations and unions that we have created haven’t been able to bring together the America-born younger generations. With the a few great exceptions, those numbers are shrinking, affecting in return our secondary and tertiary organizations causing them to lose their power, consequently affecting the power of the Hellenic American community as a national entity in the United States. In one of his articles our fellowman Nicholas Gage mentions that “while, during the previous generation, the Hellenic American lobby was amongst the most powerful within the U.S.A, now it has become a paper toy-tiger -week, tired, ineffective and leaderless”.
A brief look at the background of the events during the last decades will help us understand how the organized Omogenia gradually started to lose its power and cohesion. During the ‘70s, Federations were powerful and numbered various associations throughout the country -at times more that 100- and were operating independently. Their way of action and organization was extremely parochial, aiming at giving back to their countries back home. Every immigrant’s dream was to offer something to the country where he came from. The intense regionalism of our associations -that is also present, to a great extent, today- prevented our cooperation on common goals concerning Hellenism. So, at that time, our forces were, just like they are now, fragmented and divided, since each organization was functioning independently and autonomously.
In 1986, 50 years after the death of Eleftherios Venizelos and upon celebrating the anniversary of the Venizelia Committee, the Pancretan Association of America (PEA) has requested the help of all Omogenia organizations in order to pay tribute to the Greek leader. All Hellenic American federations and associations, AHEPA, the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America responded to PEA’s invite. Dr. I. Nathenas, president of PEA’s Cultural Committee, was elected president of the Venizelia Committee and His Eminence, Iakovos, Archbishop of North and South America was named honorary president.
It was the first time in Omogenia’s history that its major associations, along with the Archdiocese, worked together for a common cause. The success of “Venizelia” was unprecedented and became the reason to propose the creation of an “umbrella” organization for all Federations and, through them, for their National and Regional Unions and Associations, with the purpose of coordinating activities of the Hellenism in America. That proposal was enthusiastically adopted by the majority of the Venizelia Committees’ members and was characterized as the “missing link” of the Omogenia. It was unanimously decided to name the organizational Venizelia Committee, “National Council”.
Indeed, the Hellenic American National Council was created during a time of acute national issues, a time when there was a great need for defending and joining our forces.
For the first time, all organized Omogenia in the U.S.A created an organization representing more than 1830 unions with 280.000 members thought-out the country. This organization addresses issues concerning the prevention and protection of the Greek element in North Epirus, national issues such as the Macedonian, Cyprus and Pontian, implementing the Treaty of Lausanne for the islands of Imbros and Tenedos, reopening the Halki Seminary, issues of the Patriarchate and the Greeks of Istanbul, of the former Soviet Union as well as the Greek presence in Calabria.
During the early ‘90s we organized the greatest and most successful demonstrations and rallies of the Greek element in America, in the history of Omogenia, regarding the Macedonian issue. The National Council along with the Panmacedonian Association of America staunchly resisted the White House decision to recognize Skopia in 1994. As a result of our actions, more than 200.000 faxes and letters were sent to the American president in February 1994.
We sent humanitarian aid to the Pontians of Georgia in the former Soviet Union; we raised financial aid for the 5 captives from North Epirus and the Saracatsans of Bulgaria. We also put effort in the coordination and cooperation of the Hellenic American National Council with AHIPAC (American Hellenic Institute Public Affairs Committee). The H.A.N.C. played a crucial part in mobilizing the Omogenia for the anniversary of 20 years after the invasion of Cyprus.
We supported AHIPACs’ initiatives concerning human rights and applied pressure to the American Government and Congress in order to solve the Cyprus issue and that of the 1619 missing persons. The Porter Amendment passed in 1995 as a result of the mobilization of the Federation-members of the National Council (the first one since 1978). The Hellenic American community coordinated successfully on all regions and with the guidance of AHIPAC achieved this great victory. It’s worth mentioning that AHIPAC is Hellenic American Institute’s (A.H.I.) political action committee and is the sole Hellenic American organization registered as a lobby.
The H.A.N.C. was the first organization that supported the efforts for the creation of the Council of Hellenes Abroad. Since the early 90s’ the H.A.N.C had successive meetings with the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and made several proposals and submitted ideas about the functions of this global organization. But after some time, the representatives of the Greek state, using their political party strength and influence and with their interventions as early as H.A.N.Cs’ first general assembly, tried not only to patronize the strong Hellenic American community but to divide it as well.
The H.A.N.C. received a heavy blow when, during the 1995 elections, was prompted by the Greek government to alter the results that elected T.G. Spyropoulos as the president of H.A.N.C. The incidents from that time are still fresh in our memories. After that, an era of “divide and conquer” policy followed and the H.A.N.C. started to gradually lose its cohesion.
This last decade, the H.A.N.C. continued to support its regional and national Federations in safeguarding our national issues. Additionally, it focused on Greek education issues by supporting the work of expatriate teachers, by organizing nationwide Education Symposiums and by promoting Charter schools. At the moment, the H.A.N.C. is going through a decisive stage for its future course.
It is a fact that the existing organizational structures of Omogenia have served our needs and our country the best way possible during the previous decades by contributing to the Greek element worldwide. However, since everything around us is changing and evolving, those structures can no longer serve the needs of the modern Omogenia. Hellenism in the United States, as a national entity, is still strong and active, yet his forces are week and fragmented. There are no collective programs and no interventions on issues of Greek interest; there is no coordination and interaction because cohesion and a common vision are both missing. Furthermore, what remaining bridges of communication with the Greek Authorities we had in the past, have been cut off since the cease of the Council of Hellenes Abroad 3 years ago.
Omogenia’s rich history; Omogenia’s great struggles regarding national matters; preserving our unique cultural characteristics; these are elements that bring us face to face with our responsibilities. The time has come to confront the issues of our organization with an open and frank dialogue. No matter how much it hurts us, the truth is that the majority of our fellow Greek Americans are not part of the organized Omogenia. The H.A.N.C., a pioneer during the time of its establishment, mentioned in its statute the provision that all natural persons are free to participate. It also mentioned the establishment of an Advisory Council consisting of various prominent figures of Hellenism. These provisions must be implemented as soon as possible, allowing all interested to participate in the H.A.N.C., whether or not they belong to a Union under the Federation-members of the Council. Modern technology and the social media can help us accomplish this goal.
Seizing the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Hellenic American National Council, we conducted a survey to explore new ways of enforcing and updating the institution. We have initiated an ongoing dialogue with its members as well as with all interested Greek Americans and Americans of Hellenic descent.
It would be easy to criticize our organizations’ leaderships. And it would be as easy to say that the institution is now outdated and ineffective. But the real challenge is to show flexibility and to work collectively, constructively and coordinated as a united Omogenia, daring to make the necessary changes this new era dictates. We are, after all, accountable to all pioneer immigrants that set the foundation for the Hellenic American dream that we are living. But most importantly, we are accountable to the younger generations that, during these difficult times, need our help and support.
*Mr. Paul Kotrotsios is the president of Hellenic American National Council
*Mr. Paul Kotrotsios is the president of Hellenic American National Council