This past weekend the Hellenic American National Council held its 26th General Assembly and Elections at the Capital Hilton Hotel, in Washington DC. The event marked the closing of an important chapter in the Council’s history because during the proceedings Paul Kotrotsios, its president of the last five years, passed the torch to a new leader, despite calls from his many supporters to seek another term in office. The new leader is Bill Mataragas, president of the Federation of Hellenic American Organizations “Enosis” in Illinois, who concurrently served as Treasurer of the National Council. His nomination proved to be a most popular choice. Mr. Mataragas received three fourths of the eligible votes cast in Saturday’s election.
The American Hellenic National Council was founded 1992 by a group of visionary community leaders serving at Federations level and the late Ted Spyropoulos served as its first elected president. It was designed as an “umbrella” organization for all Federations and, through them, for their National and Regional Federations and Associations, with the purpose of coordinating activities of the Hellenism in America. In the more than two decades since its establishment HANC worked to safeguard the rights of the Greek minority in Albania, addressed the Macedonian and Cyprus issues, advocated adherence to the Treaty of Lausanne for the protection of the islands of Imbros and Tenedos, urged the reopening of the Halki Seminary and joined US Congressional leaders and administration officials who called on Turkey to respect the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In the late 1990s Manolis Velivasakis, a successful Greek-American business executive and leader of the Pan Cretan Association in America became the second president of HANC, succeeding Spyropoulos. Mr. Velivasakis believed in the mission of the National Council and devoted considerable time, energy and financial resources to promote the noble goals set by HANC’s founders. But times had changed and so had the composition and the mentality of the Hellenes in America. As indicated in a historic account printed in the program of the 26th General Assembly, he made an appeal to modernize the structures of the Diaspora urging that we get rid of “the restless selfishness, the philautia and the ‘Greek know-it-all’ on everything.” In his words: “The biggest enemy of Hellenism is itself.” He reportedly did not file an-end-of term report, saying “we have not executed remarkable work because we failed to agree and create programs, work collectively and harmoniously (and) we lost valuable time in fights and conspiracies.”
Paul Kotrotsios, who had served HANC in various capacities for 18 consecutive years, took over as president of the National Council, in May 2010 with the hope that the critical challenges faced by Greece and Cyprus at the time would unite all the elements of this organization and give them a powerful incentive to cooperate. His desire was to once again turn HANC into a common action front of “shared responsibility” and “synergy” for the benefit of Hellenism, as was envisioned by its founding members in 1992. The critical national challenges helped bring the HANC members closer together but did not completely eliminate disagreements among them. It is entirely true that this institution could have done more and I am confident it would have done much more had it been able to increase its financial resources. HANC’s treasurer reported that their annual income was about $2.000 a year for each of the last five years. Yet the organization spent three to four times that much. The difference was always covered mostly by the Executive Board members willing to put their hands deep in their own pockets. We should be grateful to Mr. Kotrotsios and his associates for their tireless efforts to work with all the Diaspora organizations and keep the National Council alive, sometimes under adverse circumstances, because this institution is still needed to play a catalytic role in cooperation with AHEPA, the American Hellenic Institute and other major community advocacy groups in support of Greece and Cyprus.
Passing on the administration to the new HANC leadership Mr. Kotrotsios said: “I would like to give special thanks to the Executive Board Members for their cooperation, K. Koutrakos, Chr. Christakis, B. Mataragas, K. Hatzistefanidis, D. Hios, St. Manis, K. Ouranitsas, K. Lambrakis, N. Gage, N. Larigakis, Dr. J. Grossomanides, E. Tomazos, the Ladies St. Kokolis, A. Filiotis and V. Filiotis; to many members of Pan-Macedonian, Panepirotic, and Cypriot Federations, Phil Christopher, President of PSEKA, the AHI Leadership, and the AHEPA Leadership. I express my gratitude to the Archdiocese of America and our Legal Advisor Aki Bayz, Esq. for his valuable contributions over the years. I invite you all to make a fresh start. To awaken and revive the sleeping giant, the Hellenism of America who has had a brilliant journey so far and must continue forward. I wish you all Good luck and hard work.”
Main speaker prior to the elections was Philip Christopher, president of PSEKA, the International Coordinating Committee “Justice for Cyprus”, who discussed the continuing efforts for a just solution to the Cyprus problem and congratulated the Executive Board to move on with the elections and all the present Presidents and Delegates of Member Federations. “We must pay tribute to all those that came before us fighting for Hellenic issues. We must continue their legacy. Before I came here today, I received several calls from people not to come here. This organization was established in 1992 and it should continue and move forward,” said Mr. Christopher. He praised HANC for its efforts over the years of fighting for national issues as well as their embracing and supporting youth organizations such as NHSA.
“We need to take the word Philotimo into consideration to help us move forward. We have a bright future. Lets not criticize one another. Instead let’s focus on the positive and praise one another and move forward. We have several important organizations as well as issues we are all fighting for. We need to get all Federations and Organizations back and involved in HANC. We need to educate them and get them involved to make sure that this organization continues to survive. I have always believed in unity, and I believe if we are all united, there would be less problems amongst us. We must unite. We can each have our organizations, but when it comes to our national issues and helping Hellenism, we have to have one strategy and one policy working together. An update on the Cyprus issue, we have not given up. We look at the positives, the republic of Cyprus is part of the EU now, it is still a member of the United Nations, and is also coming out of its economic problem. We still have a strong republic and the people of Cyprus are still fighting for their freedom,” said Mr. Christopher.
Important speeches on targeted issues were also given by a few invited experts. Lexington Institute policy analyst and program director Constance Baroudos brought us up to date on the Greek economic crisis; Nicholas Karabelas, Esq., AHI Board Representative, outlined activities of the American Hellenic Institute in support of the principles of Hellenism; and State Senator Lou Raptakis provided an insight to the work of Hellenes elected to state legislative positions. I was indeed honored to have been included in the group of such distinguished speakers. Subject of my speech was the “Stand with Greece Policy Summit” recently held on the U.S. Capitol at the initiative of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues.
A total of 19 Federations participated at the 26th General Assembly and Elections. 15 of them were up to date paid and eligible to participate in the Voting process. The election results are as follows:
President: Bill Mataragas
A Vice President: Dimitris Hios
B Vice President: Chistos Christakis
C Vice President: Stavros Antonakakis
Treasurer: Konstantinos Hatzistefanidis
Assistant Treasurer: Aleka Kaloudelis
Secretary General: Dr. Panagiotis Baltatzis
Assistant Secretary: Angeliki Kolla Alissandratos
The spirit of brotherhood and cooperation advocated by Mr. Kotrotsios apparently influenced the two candidates running for the presidency of HANC, Bill Mataragas and Stavros Antonakakis. Each of them agreed that in case of defeat he would work for the elected president in any capacity the new leader saw him fit, in order to strengthen the unity of the organization. Something else worth noting is that Mr. Mataragas, upon his election, donated $10,000 so that the new Executive Board would be able to manage its business a little easier. This prompted Ted Tsafatinos to donate an additional $5,000. Within a couple of minutes Chris Christakis donated $2,000, Savas Tsivicos and Dr. Panagiotis Baltatzis joined in, donating $1,000 each.
Chris Christakis served as the Convention Chairman and Terry Tsafatinos as elections Chairman. Tsafatinos, a long-time supporter of HANC and the founder of the Greek Charter Schools in America, predicted that HANC would have a great future because no one would be allowed, “to dissolve it”. In his words: “We did not make all those sacrifices to advance Hellenism so that we can let them go to waste. Whoever wants to work they can join in. As the President said, HANC is inclusive.”
Two more highlights: The Younger generation was very well represented at the Conference and The General Assembly approved a request made by captain Constantine Galanis to open a new Chapter of HANC in Mexico and Mihalis Siscos, representing the HANC Chapter in Ioannina, Greece. Siscos, brought tsipouro and caviar from Preveza that were served gratis at the event’s luncheon.