The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently unveiled its “Strategic Plan for the Hellenic Diaspora 2024” in the form of a rather aesthetically graphic-designed brochure with all the hallmarks of a power point presentation and has invited consultation as to the content therein.

Of note from the outset is the arresting image of the cyan outline of the map of Greece, or parts thereof. Far above it, are depicted three rather linear birds that appear to have been constructed by way of some sort of origami process. Fascinatingly, these birds, which presumably symbolise Greek migrants, the so-called «αποδημητικά πουλιά» are portrayed in the act of flying AWAY from Greece rather than towards her, a counter-intuitive choice, if the intention is to bring the Greeks Abroad back, if not physically then at least emotionally, to the motherland. As always, the subliminal is everything and a picture tells a thousand words.

The content of the “Strategic Plan” is thought-provoking but one must from the outset express reservations as to the extent of its outreach and the ability of key stakeholders to engage meaningfully in the consultation process. The document is in the Greek language, naturally, since it is a publication of the Greek Foreign Ministry. Sadly though, it must be recognised that in major diasporan communities outside Europe, the vast majority of those who identify as Greek do not have adequate facility in the Greek language to be able to comprehend the contents of the Plan, let alone comment on it. It is hoped that the Plan will soon be translated into the languages of the countries in which diasporan Greeks reside, so as to facilitate a full, frank and far-reaching exchange of views, for the inordinately lengthy consultation time of one whole month.

Having surpassed the language hurdle, we immediately find ourselves in a quandary: Who does the “Strategic Plan,” concern or relate to? On page four, entitled “Strategic Plan for Apodemic Hellenism” we encounter the terms: “Apodemic Hellenism,” “Hellenic Diaspora,” “Hellenic Element (στοιχείο), and “Homogenous” or “Of Same Descent” (ομογενείς), in rapid succession. All of these are loaded terms that in turn privilege certain facets of what is a polyvalent condition as well as an identity. However, none of these terms are defined in the document, something that is disquieting, considering the very real differences between post-war migrants and successive migrant waves and their descendants, all of whom identify with Greece in complex and different ways. If the above terms are to be used interchangeably by the Greek Foreign Ministry, are to we assume that its approach is one of “one size fits all?” Is this an indication of the “motherland’s” nuanced understanding of an ever evolving, constantly fluid and perpetually in flux relationship between the various communities and individuals that identify as Greek and the ‘centre?’

The “Strategic Plan” rests on three “Axes,” of which is stated to be the «Ενίσχυση της Εξωστρέφειας», this roughly translating as the “Strengthening of Extroversion.” Is our role, in the Plan, therefore, to assist Greece in become less introverted and more extroverted? Or is it the Foreign Ministry that will assist Greeks Abroad to become more extroverted, whatever that may mean? Considering that there has been a constant flow of Greek migrants from Greek lands since antiquity, we can be forgiven if we feel compelled to ask how more extroverted can a people who are constantly impelled to leave their land and engage with the “Other” be.

When we move on to the “Strategic Plan for Apodemic Hellenism,” again undefined, we learn that this is broken down into the following “Strategic Aims:” Firstly, the: “Support and development of the Homogeneia’s networks and structures with an emphasis on new ways for its organization.” From the outset, we are given pause. If the Foreign Ministry is supporting existing “networks and structures,” does not the “emphasis on new ways for its organisation,” which effectively signals organisational reform and change, contradict the whole idea of support? Considering that most diasporan organisations are constituted in accordance with the laws of the countries in which they operate, is not this emphasis on the new, effectively an intervention? Are we to assume that, as has happened in the past, Greece will seek to, or will arbitrarily impose its own chosen structures upon Greek homogenic organisations in the quest, if one pardons the pun, of homogeneity? What will the implications be for organisations who do not “conform?” Will the countries in which these organisations operate be at all concerned about the interference of a foreign nation, or will they merely shrug this off as an example of Greece’s newly found extroversion?

Further, at a time when, at least in English-speaking countries where people who identify as being “Greek” reside, the percentage of those who participate in or feel represented by such “organisations” is rapidly diminishing, most being by and large assimilated within the mainstream, what purpose is served by supporting or developing antiquated and moribund entities that no longer enjoy the confidence of those interests they purport to advocate? What does the Greek Foreign Ministry’s insistence upon recognising as representative and reserving the right to tinker with such defunct institutions suggest about its capacity to appreciate the centrifugal nature of the Greek communities abroad, that while homogeneic, are far from homogenous?

Then there is this lofty aim: “Utilization of the presence of the homogeneous element to promote issues of Greek interest and their integration into the host societies/countries.” In other words, the Greek Foreign Ministry wishes to use us and our brethren as their agents, not a bad goal per se, until such time as it is discovered that the “homogenous element” happens to harbour rather strident opinions on matters pertaining to Greek Foreign Policy, not all of which accord with the directions of the Foreign Ministry, because, believe it or not, it is able to exercise its own critical faculties via democratic discussion and debate. This strategic goal also tends to ignore the emotional cost, the turmoil and the loss of credibility incurred within communities who are called upon to strenuously defend Greek foreign policy positions, often for decades, only to have the Greece reverse its position or perform a series of dextrous backflips.

The third aim: “Preservation of elements of Greekness by supporting the Greek language, traditions and culture with emphasis on the new generation,” is laudable. However, it gives rise to a number of questions. Who defines Greek traditions and culture? Will this be Athens? To what extent is Athens able, for example, to appreciate the culture of the Australian Greeks, which has evolved over a century under unique conditions and differs from state to state, let alone understand how to support it in post-multicultural Australia? Again, to what extent are the bureaucrats in Athens possessed of the capacity to engage the almost entirely by now English speaking “new generation,” which has limited if any contact with the organised Greek community?

Undoubtedly the Greek state has enriched the teaching of Modern Greek in this country through the provision of teaching material and educators on secondment. Many of these however have been subject to arbitrary recall, often at moments when their contribution was most needed and without the fervent representations of the Greek communities being heeded. Further, there has not been ever any attempt to evaluate the results of the institutions Greece supports, so as to ascertain whether their efforts lead to effective language retention and propagation. Rather than the recitation of lofty aims, it is a workable action plan that the diasporic apodemic homogenes sorely need.

Embedded within the document is the projected relaunching of the Council of Greeks Abroad, abolished almost two decades ago but still present within the Greek Constitution and the projected creation of a database of all Greek community organisations, something that occupied the administrators of the Council of Greeks Abroad for many years, giving rise to questions as to what they did with all that information they gathered all those years ago, as well as causing us to ruminate over the cyclical perspectives of those who purport to reinvent the wheel after the effluxion of a given amount of time, not to mention again, in what way it is considered that having the details of defunct organisations that largely exist only on paper can be considered an asset, unless the intention is to on-sell that contact list to telemarketers.

Some of the activities projected in the plan, being the creation of one database or website after another, the arbitrary creation of a day to celebrate Greeks Abroad, the creation of a museum of Greeks Abroad, the holding of talkfests even as the ineffectiveness of the SAE talkfests has yet not dimmed from public memory, appear cosmetic and rather frivolous, evidencing an approach that tends towards smoke and mirrors than substance.

Other stated aims, such as the upgrading of Consular facilities, plainly hurt, considering just how understaffed many of our Consulates are, how overworked their staff is and how confused and frustrated the target homogenes are when often, this is their first contact with the State seeks their partnership and friendship.

In any negotiation, the participating parties proceed from prepared positions. The “Strategic Plan” is the Greek Foreign Ministry’s position paper and starting position. It cannot be doubted that it sincerely seeks to engage in dialogue. It is incumbent upon the Greeks who live Abroad to put forward their own positions in the hopes of reach some sort of agreement as to what form our partnership will take, given that both parties have need of each other and see the value of maintaining a relationship. For example, it could be put to the Greek Foreign Ministry that we, the Greeks Abroad ought to enjoy preferential treatment in matters pertaining to education in Greece (possibly with a number of positions in key faculties/universities reserved for Greek students from Abroad), less red tape and a more streamlined bureaucracy, simply because we lack the skills to navigate the quagmire that our Helladic counterparts and compelled to so do, daily, a quicker and easier method of obtaining Greek citizenship and passports that does not entail the provision of documents that have no counterpart in the countries in which we reside, the conclusion of reciprocal taxation and health agreements with our home governments and of course the reinstitution of filoxenia programmes for the younger members of our community who increasingly have no family ties to Greece and require a mediated introduction to the country.

And please, anything, anything but the inane and intensely lame creation of the Greeks Abroad mobile app, unless you can use it to play pazientza while waiting the two years for your appointment at the Consulate to arrive.