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Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Our Opinion

Monumental Stupidity


With apparently no other equally important cause – such as schools, Greek-language retention, scholarly or cultural institutions, or serious and responsible community media – worthy of funding and support, the Greek American community, or certain (invariably self-appointed) representatives thereof, has set its eyes and efforts upon a project for the ages: carving a monumental head of Alexander the Great – approximately 240 feet high, or four times the size of Mount Rushmore – on Mount Kerdyllion in northern Greece! As always with Greek America, you can’t make this stuff up, although in this case we wish we had, and this were all some kind of stupid, infantile joke.

It is stupid and infantile, but it’s no joke. This “project” is the demented brainchild of a Greek American sculptor from Chicago, and is supported by influential Greek Americans who have actually created a foundation (!) called – what else? – the Alexander the Great Foundation in order to raise the necessary funds ($45 million). Both The New York Times (August 28, 2002) and, more recently, The Economist (January 4-10, 2003) have written about it, albeit with not a little (understandable) sarcasm. The Economist’s recent reference, however, should give Greek Americans pause, because it appears in the context of a “special report” on the unhealthy influence of ethnic diasporas on their countries of origin.

“Why might a mountain in northern Greece,” The Economist asks, “soon be disfigured…?” And why, the British magazine goes on to wonder, in genuine perplexity over the monstrous nature of this obscene proposal, would the Greek government even consider “yielding” to it, “[g]rotesque as it may consider the scheme”? Why indeed? The Economist’s answer is terse, and an extraordinarily painful rebuke to Greek America: “It is to rich Greek-Americans that [the Greek government] turns when it wants to promote its interests in America.”

So, despite the Greek government’s own opposition, as well as that of Greece’s archeologists and environmentalists, the project is moving forward because of the lobbying power of some apparently lunatic – we’re sorry, but there’s really no other way to describe this premeditated environmental felony – Greek Americans. This is all supposedly happening to appease Greek American political interests that have presumably “promoted” and furthered Greece’s interests in the United States. If this last “fact” is actually the heart of the story – and we think it is – then the question immediately arises: Does anybody still believe it?

The effectiveness of Greek Americans in promoting Greek national interests in Washington is a longstanding myth perpetuated, for obvious reasons, not only by those who have profited handsomely from it, but also, inexplicably, by those who have had to pay the piper. It is a myth that has prevented both sides from focusing on the genuinely important issues facing our community – such as those mentioned above – and has led to the creation of utterly useless, and downright obstructionist, entities such as the magniloquently named but pathetically inept Symvoulio Apodimou Ellinismou (Council of Greeks Abroad, or SAE). One does not need to be an expert on either Greek America or ethnic lobbying to know that, despite their assertions to the contrary, Greek Americans have failed completely and thoroughly in promoting Greek interests in the United States. Despite the indecent boasting by many Greek Americans about their “close” or “warm” relationships with various American presidents or politicians, and those risible photo-ops, concrete gains on behalf of Greece have effectively been nil.

While it is self-evident why this myth of Greek American political potency is perpetuated by Greek Americans, it is difficult to understand the reasons that every Greek government, regardless of ideology or political party, has aided and abetted this elaborate scam. Who’s kidding whom, and why? These claims of political influence have not only resulted in significant financial gains for the lobbyists involved – some of whom are so incompetent as to make one marvel at their ham-fisted clumsiness – but also in prestigious leadership positions within the Greek American community. It is, of course, the typical big-fish-in-a-small-pond concept, but both Greek America and, especially, Greece deserve better. As incredible, not to say scandalous, as it may sound, there are now Greek American leaders who are claiming responsibility for the positive developments on Cyprus – which, of course, are exclusively the result of long and tedious effort by the United Nations, the European Union, Turkey’s new leadership, and, above all, the current Greek government.

Why does the Greek government put up with this manifest fraud? What does it gain from it? Has it ever considered how much it loses because of it? This is all the more puzzling if one considers that the Greek American community has no real political (that is, voting) power inside Greece (or, for that matter, in the United States itself, but that’s an issue for another day). It is either a profound misunderstanding and misconstruction of reality, or an infatuation with Greek American wealth, which has motivated various Greek governments in regard to Greek American lobbying. Both cases are inexcusable, and equally sad.

It is time for both sides to get off the lobby-horse. Promoting Greek interests should be left to the Greek government. It is actually in other areas – such as, most obviously, culture, the media, and the economy – in which the relationship between English-speaking Greek communities and Greece will be determined in the future. Finally, we hope, and fervently encourage, all Greek Americans to register their disgust at and repudiation of any desecration of Greece’s precious, and continually threatened, environment. Whatever they think of Alexander the Great, it is clear that the people behind the Alexander the Great Foundation have nothing but contempt for Greece. It is about time that Greek Americans stop allowing various opportunists to hijack our community’s name for their self-aggrandizing and, more often than not, destructive purposes.

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