My vote is “No”.
I am not making light of this desire of many diaspora Greeks to vote and to participate politically in the affairs of the homeland. Unlike many of the several million Greek diaspora, I am likely to be in an eligible category to vote. I am a Greek citizen, with passport and national identification card. I have lived in Greece, worked there, paid taxes there, and served in her army.
But I do not live there anymore, and I believe that those who live with the consequences of their vote – should vote.
I might be accused of hypocrisy, because as American citizens abroad for over seven years, we voted in US elections. It is my understanding that Australians abroad can also vote, but the differences between Americans (or Australians) abroad and Greeks abroad are many and fundamental.
Americans abroad are generally expatriates, whereas Greeks abroad are a diaspora. Let’s consider the difference. Roughly six million US citizens live abroad, approximately two per cent of the US population. Often enough Americans abroad work for large US multinationals, or their stay abroad is finite. I would imagine the case for Australians abroad is rather similar. Usually Americans do not integrate into their host societies, unless they are already dual nationals. Consider the large Greek American and Greek Australian pensioner population in Greece.
The Greek case is decidedly different. Greeks from time immemorial have been leaving their homeland, alternately integrating, assimilating, and sometimes repatriating. There are at least four million clearly identifiable Greeks in the diaspora. That number is almost forty per cent of the total population of Greece, and even a portion of those voting can seriously distort an election process.
While passionate about being Greek, the gap between the homeland and the diaspora can be vast. How much does a third-generation Greek American from, say, my Salt Lake City, Utah hometown, know about issues in Greece to make an informed voting choice? Why, too, with nothing at stake in terms of day- to-day life, should she choose for those who will live with the consequences of her vote?
Who is, further, a Greek? How far back to you go, what percentage Greek do you have to be? What are the criteria? Even if we use the criterion of Greek passport holders, I would suggest that this is problematic as well. We might argue that Greeks born and raised in Greece, or Greek passport holders, are well informed enough to exercise voter rights. Consider, however, this: my son and daughter are both Greek citizens, though my daughter has never as yet visited Greece, and my son lived in Greece for two years as a toddler. Absent their highly unlikely return to Greece to live, mere citizenship hardly qualifies them to make voting decisions.
Proper voting requires being informed. I like to think that I have a good understanding of Greece from being well-read and from living there. However, my living experience there was nine years ago, and already things have changed to the point of being unrecognisable. If just a few years’ separation is an issue, imagine decades.
Of course, there are many who would counter that “Greece needs us”, that the diaspora will infuse civic spirit into the motherland. Perhaps, but it is a dangerous generalisation to make, and one easily countered by another, that the diaspora is often more nationalistic. There is a useful parallel to draw with our northern neighbour, FYROM. Their government allowed the diaspora to vote, and their votes generally went to the most extreme nationalists. Often, people in-country are more tolerant of their neighbouring countries, because they must live with them, trade with them, and suffer consequences if the neighbourhood goes bad. We do not have the right to make that decision for them.
Greece is a land inspiring true devotion across distances of oceans and generations, and I do not doubt the love the diaspora has for her, but for the reasons I wrote about, my vote to vote is no. Those who live with the consequences should vote, and we can only hope they vote wisely. If we really must vote in Greece, we ought to vote with our feet first, by moving there!
Alexander Billinis is a Greek American with a lifelong interest in Byzantine history. He has worked at global banks in the US, Athens and London and has written books and articles for various diaspora Greek and Serbian publications in the US, Canada, Greece and Australia. He currently lives in the USA.