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The GreekAmerican - March 14, 1998

Getting the Ball Rolling:
A Call for Greek American Unity

A Call for Political Unity,
But Are They Listening?

NEW YORK, March 10 - In his first major political initiative since taking office in September 1996, Archbishop Spyridon convened a "unity meeting" of 33 Greek American lobbyists, advocates, former politicians, and businesspeople in Washington, DC yesterday.

The goal of the meeting was to spark a coordinated effort of advocacy concerning issues affecting Greek Americans, as well as those affecting Greece, Cyprus, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. A strong, united Greek American push is considered especially important this year if the American initiative for a Cyprus solution is to bear fruit.

The Archbishop urged his audience to develop a "unity of purpose," according to his remarks released to the media (see page 18). Reporters were not allowed to attend the meeting.

In his address, the Archbishop observed "that we do not always move together as one community on issues that affect us all. As the spiritual father of this Greek American community, I have called this meeting today to encourage us to strive together toward singlemindedness regarding these issues."

Several Greek American lobbying groups operate in Washington, DC, often with competing agendas and different points of views. The disparity of views and lack of collaboration among Greek American advocates has, at times, weakened their effectiveness, and even brought them into conflict with the governments of Greece and Cyprus.

"We do not coordinate about what we want to say," said Timothy J. Maniatis, executive director of AHEPA, who attended the meeting. But Mr. Maniatis said that if Greek Americans "are going to succeed, we should not be discussing what the problems are." And, he added, "we all know what the problems are, now we need to talk about how to solve them."

"It's not as though the issue of unity has paralyzed us," said another Greek American advocate, Mike Manatos, spokesman for the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes. The phenomenon of having multiple voices of advocacy, he said, is "simply the case in any ethnic community." Still, Mr. Manatos added. "the more unity, the more effective we will be."

By organizing this meeting, the Archdiocese clearly intends to play an active role in building unity. In his remarks, the Archbishop asserted that the Church does not "intend to play a political role." But the Church's political involvement is inevitable.

"My friends, I see the common good in terms of these universal issues: human rights, religious freedom, justice, and peace. The specific issues on which you work daily impact, and are impacted by, these universal issues. Thus the Church is necessarily involved," said the Archbishop during the meeting.

Both Mr. Maniatis and Mr. Manatos agreed that the Archbishop is the appropriate person to lead efforts toward unity. "He is the unifying person and we support him 100%," said Mr. Maniatis.

But how unity is to be achieved is a matter yet to be worked out. Building a coordinated effort is said to have been discussed onlygenerally during the meeting, although there was talk of convening a steering committee in six weeks. And several of the people in attendance are said to envision themselves as the ones leading that coordinating body.

"The meeting was effective because we got the ball rolling," said Mr. Maniatis, but "it's a Greek ball so it rolls slowly."

George Sarrinikolaou

[ The GreekAmerican - March 14, 1998 - pp. 1 and 9 ]