"Greek-American" - April 4, 1998

Fifth Avenue Goes Greek

By George Sarrinikolaou

NEW YORK, March 29 - On this Sunday afternoon, when the weather felt more like August than March, scores of Greek Americans, most of them young children and teenagers, marched up Manhattan's Fifth Avenue in celebration of the 177th anniversary of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

But this annual parade marks more than just a historical event. It is an opportunity for Greek Americans to celebrate their community in this region of the United States. And so the day's events showcased hundreds of Greek American organizations, ranging from parochial schools to banks.

Leading this year's parade were its annual organizers, the members of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York. They were followed by the grand marshals, New York State Governor George E. Pataki, and Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the woman who headed Greece's successful effort to secure the 2004 Olympics for the city of Athens.

The parade also attracted a sizeable contingency of honored guests, headed by Archbishop Spyridon of America. Among them was New York City's mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who marched side by side with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Theodoros Pangalos.

But Greece's elite presidential guard was by far the parade's greatest attraction. In traditional dress, including the short pleated skirt, or foustanela, two dozen members of the presidential guard, known in Greek as evzones, came all the way from Athens to thrill the crowd.

The steady stream of marchers, bands, and floats was punctuated by speeches delivered by the honored guests. Most spoke briefly in praise of the event and the Greek American community. Archbishop Spyridon, however, took his turn at the podium to denounce those who he characterized as working to divide the Church and the community. Although the Archbishop did not name names, the reference was apparently directed at the Greek Orthodox American Leaders (GOAL) organization. GOAL recently demanded that Archbishop Spyridon address the group's concerns or resign by May 1. His hand holding the microphone shook and he was visibly upset as he vowed, speaking in Greek, to quell what he described as divisive efforts.

It was difficult to gauge how many in the crowd were aware of this rift between the Archdiocese and a group of the Church's laity; the Archbishop's comments could only be heard in the area near the podium, and the parade spanned over 20 blocks.

Absent this year were the political slogans that have colored parades in the past. Those slogans were replaced with banners touting Greek history and culture. In a few isolated cases, some did call out in support of Cyprus or in defense of Macedonia. But with these issues no longer making headlines, Greek Americans seemed focused more on enjoying the day than on making political statements.

New York's Greek-language daily, Proini, reported that an estimated 120,000 people lined the parade route.Giannis Mouratoglou, a Greek American from the island of Ikaria, illustrated the spirit of the crowd: "We came here to honor with our presence this celebration. Our granddaughter, even though she is just three-and-a-half years old, knows about the parade because we have told her."

George Kosmidis, who came to the parade with his family, summed the day up with these words: "Today Greece and the United States are celebrating."

Three Greek Days in March

The parade along Fifth Avenue topped three days of celebration, which began on Friday, March 27, at a small park in the center of Manhattan's financial district.

With Greece's presidential guard lending a sense of military splendor, the Greek flag was raised in the Bowling Green. The occasion was celebrated by children in traditional dress who performed Greek folk dances. The celebration then moved to City Hall, where Mayor Giuliani presented Archbishop Spyridon and other Greek Americans with a declaration commemorating Greek Independence Day in the city.

On Friday night, more than 700 people turned out for a celebratory dinner at Astoria's Crystal Palace. The event honored a delegation of Greek officials that included Minister of Foreign Affairs Theodoros Pangalos, Mayor of Athens Dimitris Avramopoulos, Ms. Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, and a group of parliamentary deputies. Mr. Pangalos remarked that the event's great turn-out was an indication of how vibrant the Greek American community is.

The celebration continued on Saturday night, when the Federation of Hellenic Societies presented its Greek Independence Award to Mr. Pangalos at a Manhattan restaurant. In his presentation of the award, federation President George Georgopoulos told his audience that "Greece has yet to fully appreciate the Greek American community." By that, said Mr. Georgopoulos, he did not mean that Greece did not care for Greek Americans, but that Greece had not learned how to include the Greek American community "in its social and national debates, as well as in the search for solutions to its foreign policy issues."

In Boston, Too

An estimated 80,000 people turned out for the Greek Independence Day Parade in Boston, which drew Greek Americans from throughout New England.

Representatives from 62 parish communities in the region, 30 floats of Greek American organizations, and eight marching bands paraded along 2.5 miles on Boylston and Tremont Streets.

Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, and the mayor of Thessaloniki, Konstantinos Kosmopoulos, led the parade along with the Bishop Methodios of Boston.

The parade also enjoyed aerial support. A small plane flew over Boston dragging a huge Greek flag, while a US Air Force jet zipped over the parade.

[ EKKLISIA |  -  April 4, 1998 ]