THE IDENTITY OF HELLENISM
Over time a large part of histry has Greeks living in various parts of the world and maintaining their Greek character through the Greek language and Greek culture.
For this part of Hellenism, the Hellenic Diaspora, Greek governments were involved occasionally and disjointedly without ever having formulated a concrete national strategy, although Greece has only to benefit from the organisation of the Hellenic Diaspora and vice versa. It is imperative, therefore, to develop a national strategic plan for the Greeks abroad in order to actively participate in decision-making processes for Hellenism issues.
To best understand the “Hellenism” phenomenon we should briefly refer to its appearance and historical development in order to create an image of the key elements that constitute and characterise its identity.
Hellenism, from 1200 BC until the appearance of the Romans in the 2nd century BC, founded more than 1500 cities scattered around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea that maintained close economic, trade, and family ties with their cities of origin. Within these 1000 years, and especially after the 6th century BC the scattered nation of free Greeks created an incomparable culture and a strong Greek identity. This freedom and creativity was suspended for about 1000 years due to the Roman conquest, the separation of the Roman Empire, and the creation of Byzantium, the Venetian and Ottoman rule. Under adverse conditions Hellenism succeeded to largely maintain its language and cultural identity in areas inhabited since antiquity, such as southern Italy, Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria, the Middle East, eastern Turkey, the Black Sea, Odessa, and Mariupol in Ukraine.
With the fall of Constantinople and the domination of the Ottoman Empire, a new phase of Hellenism diaspora began, mainly directed towards Europe, which ended with the liberation in 1821. Sixty years later the great overseas immigration of Hellenism began, which continued up to in 1920, and, at various times, depending on the political and economic situations, a strong mobility of Hellenism follows to and from Greece, which continues today.
It is therefore implied, that the Greek identity extends beyond the limits of Greece and is not entrenched in borders and ethnicity, as the Greeks were never focused only on them. In exactly the same manner the Greek language, which is the essence of Greek identity, also exceeds the limits. The entrenchment of the Greek identity, ignoring the existence and political power of the Hellenic Diaspora and the Hellenists and philhellenes, would mean the end of Hellenism. There are various examples in the long Greek history, showing that the Hellenic Diaspora, the philhellenes and Hellenists were the driving force behind the establishment of the modern Greek state.
The Greek identity should not be allowed to anchor with complacency in the territorial limits of Greece and rest on the laurels of a glorious past, but should continue to express with unparalleled creative intensity and dynamism, as it did over time in its long history. To not depend on the country concept of Greek identity and thus the Greek language, will further strengthen the constantly weakened international Hellenistic movement.
However, in order to make this possible, the respective political authorities of Greece have to go beyond partisan stereotypes and to look beyond the borders of Greeks living in Greece, in order to create the conditions of organising the Hellenic Diaspora. It is preferable for the Greek state to pursue the reactivation of the Greeks living abroad with the establishment and promotion of a single consciousness of the Hellenic Diaspora, focusing on Greek language, rather than being complacent to its hegemony, an attitude that leads to the rapid weakening of Hellenism. Hellenism cannot be activated through wishful thinking but has to actively participate in the political happenings of Greece and the diaspora.
In conclusion, the Greek state policy has to extricate itself from stereotypes and create a national strategy in the light of the Greek identity as it was formed in the long history of Hellenism, including the active participation of the Hellenic Diaspora as well.
THE PARLIAMENT OF THE HELLENIC DIASPORA
For the Greeks of the diaspora a strategic framework needs to be created, one that will operate independently of the governmental alternations of the Greek state, serving thus the development of the diaspora concept of Greeks living in the mainland and the Greeks living abroad.
It is inconceivable that the Greeks living abroad are not able to exercise voting rights in the elections for Greek party leaders and are exempted of the voting right that will allow them to play a part in what happens in the Greek mainland. This cannot be done by postal vote to parliamentary candidates of the Greek state constituency where they belong, for the reason that the Greeks MPs are not aware of the problems of the Hellenic Diaspora and the Greeks living abroad cannot be acquainted with the parliamentary candidates. Nor is a postal vote for a Greek state party the solution. Such a process is not for the benefit of the Hellenic Diaspora, as it cannot give the right voting rights to diachronic Hellenism everywhere, but only to a limited part of it, namely those who emigrated in recent decades. This will have a shrinking and inhibitory effect on the creation of Hellenic Diaspora awareness.
The right that is necessary to be given to the Greeks worldwide is not the right to vote in the elections for the Greek Parliament, but the capability to elect their own representatives and to establish the Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora, where the Hellenism of the diaspora may participate in a body.
As constituencies for the parliamentary election and formation processes of the Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora are designated to the regions specified by the Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE). The basic requirement for being a candidate for the parliamentary mandate is, inter alia, a good knowledge of the Greek language.
Each region elects its own parliamentary group, which consists of seven members who are elected every five years. The total number of parliamentary groups of the seven regions of the world of Hellenism constitutes the 49 members of Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora, which has no permanent seat but meets alternately in different regions or through teleconference, according to the decisions of the plenary.
Each parliamentary group shall send to the Greek Parliament one of its members as a representative of its region, which means that the Greek’s members of parliament are reduced by seven. The selection method of the individual representatives is appointed by the Assembly of the Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora.
The Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora is economically self-reliant, and draws financial resources, among other sources, through regular or contingent contributions of Greeks living abroad, grants from countries where Hellenism lives, from EU programs, grants from the Greek parliament or sponsorships from Greek business people.
Key objectives of the Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora, among others, are:
– Informing the Greek Parliament on matters concerning the Hellenic Diaspora worldwide and strategies that must be formulated so that the Greek national centre can operate more efficiently,
– Participation in specific procedures of the Greek Parliament,
– Promotion of the interests of Hellenism,
– Strengthening of the representation of Hellenism in political forums abroad, since its representatives are members of the Greek Parliament,
– Promoting Greek language to Greeks abroad, so that there is no Greek who does not know the Greek language and its dissemination throughout the world, and finally
– Promotion of Greek culture.
The responsibilities and the rules of procedure of the Hellenic Diaspora Parliament are drawn up by the Parliament itself.
The 49 elected representatives of the Hellenic Diaspora meet in electoral assembly and elect the Prime Minister and a SEVEN-member cabinet as follows:
1. Greek Language and Language Minister of Diaspora Affairs, aiming to promote the Greek language to Greeks abroad and its spread throughout the world, promoting the teaching of Greek language in the countries where Greeks live abroad.
2. Greek Culture Minister of Diaspora, with the aim of preserving, upgrading, and disseminating Greek culture.
3. Trade and Industry Cooperation and Development Minister of Diaspora, which promotes trade and industrial cooperation and exchanges between the Greeks abroad and Greece, as well as the commercial and industrial development and international cooperation.
4. International Policy and Diplomacy Minister of Diaspora, responsible for the support and improvement of living conditions of Greeks abroad in their countries of residence and strengthening the relations of their countries of residence to the country of origin.
5. Greek and International Migration Affairs Minister of Diaspora, with the aim to facilitate the Greeks who migrate abroad, Greeks abroad who wish to repatriate and generally international migration and migration policies in relation to the Greeks.
6. Tourism and Environment Minister of Diaspora, aiming at strengthening the development of tourist flows towards Greece and the promotion of the outstanding Greek natural beauty and seas abroad.
7. Youth Minister of Diaspora, aiming at the development of actions for rallying Greek youth abroad and their engagement with Hellenism issues both in their region and internationally.
To enable the formation of the Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora and policy-making on the part of the Greek state to create diaspora consciousness to the worldwide Hellenism, a census of all who make up the international Hellenism must be carried out.
THE HELLENIC DIASPORA CENSUS
The formation of the Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora requires that we have precise knowledge of the extent of Hellenism worldwide, so that it is clear who has the right to participate in the elections and be elected as representatives in the countries they reside.
Such a census can include, provided of course they wish to be included in it, both recent immigrants as well as immigrants of the last century and their descendants. All those who until today have Hellenic Diaspora consciousness, retain the Greek language and Greek culture and promote their relations with mainland Greece, no matter at which period and how they migrated to their countries of residence, can also be included.
Examples include, among others, the Grekanoi of Southern Italy and the Mariopoulites of Ukraine, which until this day live in their ancestral hearth and maintain their Greek identity. There is dispersed Hellenism in the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Balkans, who could possibly be interested in participating in such a process and could be included in a census of Hellenism. Let us not forget the countries of the North and South American continent, where the most populous part of the Hellenic Diaspora reside, as well as Africa and Asia where there are scattered Greeks, and especially Australia, where the most dynamic part of world Hellenism operates.
The census must be carried out with great caution and under the supervision of the local Greek embassies and consulates, which grant a Hellenic Diaspora ID card to those who have been registered. In the census process staff participate as assistants and associates to the overseas Greek communities. The census of Greek origin citizens for the electoral list of the Hellenic Diaspora is formed, which is renewed with the personal responsibility of those registered and controlled by the Greek delegations in their countries of residence.
In the census the following are involved: Greeks abroad, descendants of Greeks abroad, Emeritus Greeks, and philhellenes.
Greeks abroad are those who have Greek origin by one or both of their forebears and have sufficient knowledge of the Greek language, which they achieved by participating in educational processes while maintaining their Greek national identity. Therefore they are eligible to participate not only as voters in the electoral procedures for the Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora, but also to be candidates to win the parliamentary office.
The descendants of Greeks living abroad
Descendants of Greeks abroad are those who are of Greek origin from one or both forebears, who do not have knowledge of the Greek language but accept their Greek origin and potentially may acquire the Greek national identity. The descendants of the Greeks abroad, if they wish, can participate in elections only as voters, as they do not have knowledge of the Greek language, which is a prerequisite for participating in the elections for a parliamentary office.
There are a large number of foreign academics worldwide in university departments of Classical Studies, whose research and teaching discipline is ancient Greek language and literature and who are largely familiar with the Modern Greek language. Aside from these, there is also a significant number of foreign academics whose discipline is the Modern Greek language and literature, as well as Byzantine history and language. These people are termed “Hellenists”, which relates to the advocates of Greek culture and national rights of the Greeks. Consequently, those who wish to participate in elections for the Parliament of the Hellenic Diaspora both as voters and as candidates are entitled to as they have knowledge of the Greek language and have gained through their studies the Greek cultural identity and are therefore considered Emeritus Greeks.
Philhellenism, attested from 1761, is an ideological and political movement developed in European countries and in the US, which sought the moral and material support of the Greeks before and during the revolution of 1821. Accordingly, philhellenes are regarded as foreigners who show special sympathy, love and support to the Greeks and Greece and selflessly support their rights and interests.
Philhellenism never ceased to exist, but is manifested depending on the circumstances. Therefore, those who are proven to be philhellenes, are granted the identity of philhellene and can participate in elections for the Parliament of the Hellenic diaspora as voters, and if they have sufficient knowledge of the Greek language as candidates for a parliamentary office as well.
Pantelis Georgogiannis is the president of the political formation ‘Protagonistes’.