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Tuesday, April 15, 2003


Who Speaks for Greek Americans (And Who Sings for Them)?

The respective reviews of the concert by George Dalaras and Marinella at Radio City Music Hall on April 4 in The New York Times and the National Herald revealed two very different perspectives. Jon Pareles’s article focused exclusively on the two singers’ performances, without any reference at all to Dalaras’s rather tepid antiwar comments at the end of the concert (“I thank the US army for liberating Cyprus. Next year in Beijing.”). For Pareles, no doubt, such comments did not come as a surprise since they are common in concerts of popular music. Since Dalaras’s very brief remarks were anything but unusual, Pareles perhaps chose to ignore them, at the same time respecting the artist’s right to express his opinion.

In contrast to Pareles’s professional concern with the music, the National Herald’s coverage of the concert focused exclusively on Dalaras’s 10-second commentary at the end of the performance. To the newspaper, his remarks were ironic and offensive, as well as another example of the deep chasm that separates the Greek American community from the Greeks of Greece. I’ll ignore the fact that the newspaper seems to suggest that the singer did not have the right to comment upon the war or to express any political view that is different from that of the newspaper. What is critical here is that the newspaper appears to imply that the Greek American community holds a different view from Dalaras, and that, therefore, his comments were insulting.

A few weeks ago, in an article in the Times on the attitudes of the different ethnic communities in New York City toward the war in Iraq, the National Herald’s editor had suggested that the majority of Greek Americans supported the war. How did he know? He, of course, did not provide any data to support his assertion; in the event, since that is the nature of anecdotal evidence, for every 10 Greek Americans who proclaim support to the media, one can easily provide 10 others who don’t.

The same assumption motivated the newspaper’s reaction toward Dalaras. Without doubt, the majority of those attending the concert were familiar with Dalaras’s work, and thus also very familiar with his political proclivities and the fact that he has never shied away from expressing them. Furthermore, if the audience was indeed as shocked and outraged with his comments as the newspaper seems to suggest it was, it would certainly have reacted to them. As the National Herald points out, however, there was, in fact, no immediate reaction; whatever “outrage” was expressed was done so outside Radio City Music Hall, on the street.

Finally, it is hard to understand why the Greek American media consider anyone’s position against the war as offensive and, consequently, anti-American. Indeed, if we want to look at a much bigger picture, it is hard to understand why the Greek American media cannot accept the Greeks’ fundamental right to oppose this war. If anything calls for outrage, it is the idea that free speech is only a relative — and transient — right.

In addition to being a co-founder of, Stelios Vasilakis is a classical philologist and a former associate of the Speros Basil Vryonis Center for the Study of Hellenism.
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