Political candidates follow a time-honored campaign strategy of reaching out to ethnic groups and religious communities, and Orthodox Christians have been courted this way for years. It works both ways, of course. Now, little more than a week after the election, we’re getting a good look at how politicians and political operatives of Greek descent — many of them prominent in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese — have been working for years to promote President-elect Barack Obama and running mate Sen. Joseph Biden. The Greeks for Obama group, for example, developed this catchy slogan: “If you are Greek and love Obama, clap your hands.”
On Nov. 5, the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes told supporters that it had raised $500,000 for Obama’s campaign just weeks before the election. (full message appended at bottom of post). Andy Manatos, a public relations executive who also chaired last summer’s GOA Clergy-Laity Congress, led the effort for this group. “Moving the huge American bureaucracy to treat Greece, Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate fairly is never easy in light of competing American interests,” Manatos said. “However, having Obamakis and Bidenopoulos in the White House opens the door to some good possibilities.”
The blowback came pretty fast. Earlier this week, Greek News reported that the “Obamakis and Bidenopoulos” statement received an angry reaction from “almost every one of the community leaders that participate in the Coordinated Effort.” But, of course, that was more a question of how the press release was handled rather than the facts surrounding the “Coordinated Effort.”
Yes, those “competing American interests” that Manatos referred to after the election. Those would be the interests that are of great importance to the United States, and not necessarily to the nation of Greece. But if you read the statements of Obama’s ethnic Greek supporters, you get a sense that any American interests have been pushed completely out of sight. The focus is for the most part is on three issues: Cyprus, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Macedonia/FYROM naming issue.
Now, there are good reasons for Orthodox Christians — indeed all Christians — to have their voices heard on Cyprus, particularly about the ongoing the destruction and desecration of religious communities and sites in the Turkish-occupied zone, and on the longstanding persecution of the Ecumencial Patriarchate which threatens its very survival (see my article, A Patriarch in Dire Straits). The FYROM thing strikes me as simply farcical. Will the Mexican government one day demand that we come up with a new name for New Mexico?
On the other side of the presidential campaign, the Greek News reported that, “with Barack Obama monopolizing the Greek American media,” a statement was issued by Peter J. Pappas Sr., Chairman of the New York State Hellenic American Republican Association just before the election. Pappas pointed out that “John McCain has not issued any ‘Greek-American issues’ statement because he stands on broad foreign policy and national security standards and principles that apply across the globe.” He went on:
Democratic Presidents have often issued highly favorable campaign promises to the Greek American community, only to revert to establishment thinking in times of testing. Jimmy Carter promised to reverse the invasion of Cyprus, and instead lifted the arms embargo on Turkey without any reciprocity or concessions. Bill Clinton accepted the Turkish position of “grey zones” in the Aegean Sea after the Imia crisis and led the NATO bombing campaign of Serbia that delivered independence to Kosovo. Obama himself has already reversed his position on Jerusalem as an Israeli or Palestinian capital, on lifting or maintaining the embargo on Cuba, on the success of the surge in Iraq, and – most famously – on unconditional meetings with America’s enemies.
It will be interesting to see if President-elect Obama follows the pattern. There are skeptics about Greece controlling American foreign policy. “Starting tomorrow, the full force of the Turkish government will come down like a ton of bricks on Washington,” Ken Hachikian, chairman of the ANCA, said in a written statement to the U.S. Armenian Community shortly after the election. The ANCA endorsed Obama, who has pledged support for the Armenian Genocide Resolution “in no uncertain terms.”
Isn’t it curious that, among ethnic Greeks that support Obama, there has been precious little discussion of Obama’s views on important moral issues — particularly the sanctity of life and the family? Are any of Obama’s supporters, who now have their man headed for the White House, aware of his unstinting support for abortion? He describes himself as “a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President.” What about Obama opposing Proposition 8 in California, a successful measure backing traditional marriage that was supported by Orthodox bishops? That’s a good place to start. Just don’t expect members of Obama’s Greek American National Leadership Committee to get the discussion going.
Writing in Hurriyet, the Turkish paper, Ariana Ferentinou claimed that “the vast majority of Greek Americans” voted for Barack Obama. She explained how Alexi Giannoulias, treasurer of the state of Illinois, was influential in energizing supporters in the Greek-American community.
Speaking to 40 guests at a $28,500 per head fundraising dinner for Obama, at a restaurant and bar in downtown Chicago organized by Yannoulias [Giannoulias], Obama spoke about Alexi’s immigrant father, “He was extraordinarily successful and built his success from nothing… He was tough, he was shrewd, but he was also a gentleman. I immediately loved him and loved the family… It reminded me not only of what is best about the Greek community, but also about the American nation,” the President-elect said.
The Greek American supporters of Obama see the election of Obama as an opportunity for a new generation of educated Greek and Greek Cypriot Americans to give renewed impetus to the Greek lobby, and push forward Greek and Greek Cypriot issues, the majority of which involve relations with Turkey. Beside Yannoulias [Giannoulias], other new names are emerging. Ed Zemenides, another young Greek American from Chicago, made his mark during Obama’s emergence as a political force. A 35-year-old Greek Cypriot lawyer whose father fought against the Turks in 1974, he has been helping Yannoulias [Giannoulias] with every step and is a powerful young player in the new Chicago group clustered around Obama.
Giannoulias has closely identified his career with Obama. “Barack is not only a close, personal friend, but he is also my mentor,” he said earlier this year.
So much for the Greek lobby in America. In Greece, Obama’s victory was welcome news, too. The newspaper Kathimerini detected a “wind of optimism” following the American election.
This message has been heard loud and clear here in Greece as well, by the Greeks who are stumbling along without a compass, without goals, without cohesion and unity, apathetic and without drive, stripped of motivation by disappointment and cynicism. Obama’s message concerns us, not only because it will help us find a way out of the crisis, but because it allows us to look at ourselves without entertaining any illusions. Scientists, businessmen, intellectuals, laborers, the political leadership and ordinary citizens should pay heed to the message: We must chose whether we will be a society of We rather than I, of responsibility and progress, of positive thinking and innovation, rather than a society of quitters, a stagnant society.
Sounds like they could use a bit of “hope and change” in the Old Country, too.
THE NATIONAL COORDINATED EFFORT OF HELLENES (CEH)
1100 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037
(202) 393-7790 [fax] (202) 628-0225
Obamakis and Bidenopoulos
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 5, 2008 — “The new President and Vice
President of the United States know so much about Greece, Cyprus and
the Ecumenical Patriarchate that their names might as well be Barack
Obamakis and Joe Bidenopoulos,” said Andy Manatos, President of the
Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH). CEH Vice Chairman and PSEKA
President Philip Christopher said, “We awarded Senator Barack Obama a
year and a half ago for his assistance to Hellenes. He was the
recipient of the James Williams Award, named after the
African-American who left America to lose his life fighting with the
Greeks for their independence.”
CEH Chairman and UHAC National Chairman Andrew A. Athens said, “We
have been working closely, behind-the-scenes, with Illinois State
Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias to develop significant support for Senator
Obama over a year ago and raise another half-of-a-million dollars for
his campaign just a few weeks ago.” CEH board member and Cyprus
Federation Supreme President Panikos Papanicolaou said, “Our 2300 Club
was a major element in Senator Biden’s presidential bid, and we have
always been very close to him.” Manatos added, “CEH was also crucial
to securing half of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives
as advocates for Cyprus and in then-President Bill Clinton’s major
role in Cyprus’ early accession to the EU. We also helped cut
America’s aid to Turkey from one billion dollars a year down to zero
and secured the vast majority of the U.S. Senate and the House Foreign
Affairs Committee to press for religious freedom for the Ecumenical
CEH leaders noted that “President-Elect Barack Obama’s personal
relationship with Alexi Giannoulias is crucial to Obama’s policy
toward Hellenic and Orthodox issues, as was the relationship between
former President Bill Clinton and David Leopoulos. Without that
relationship would Cyprus have acceded to the EU early? Would Albania
have released the Omonia Five from jail? Would FYROM have taken the
threats against Greece out of its constitution? Would the Turks have
withdrawn from Imia? And, would a sitting President of the U.S. have
ever visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Giannoulias’ mother Anna,
now of Chicago, was born in Sfakia, Crete and grew up in Chania.”
As Chairman of the European Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Obama led the effort to press
FYROM to find a name agreeable to Greece, urged proper American
treatment of Cyprus and fought for religious freedom for the
“Senator Biden’s advocacy for Hellenic and Orthodox issues is
legendary. After former Senator Paul Sarbanes and current Senators
Bob Menendez and Hellene Olympia Snowe, no one in the Senate surpasses
Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in
terms of advocacy for our issues,” said Manatos.
Manatos added, “Moving the huge American bureaucracy to treat
Greece, Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate fairly is never easy in
light of competing American interests. However, having Obamakis and
Bidenopoulos in the White House opens the door to some good
Andrew A. Athens, Chairman, National Coordinated Effort of
Hellenes (CEH); National Chairman, United Hellenic American Congress
(UHAC), Honorary President, World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE)
Philip Christopher, Vice Chair, National Coordinated Effort of
Hellenes (CEH); President, International Coordinating
Committee–Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA); President, Pancyprian
Association of America
Andrew E. Manatos, President, National Coordinated Effort of
Hellenes (CEH); Executive Board Member, UHAC and PSEKA
Panikos Papanicolaou, Supreme President, Cyprus Federation of America
Nikos Mouyiaris, Executive Vice President, Pancyprian Association of America
George Tsunis, Chairman/CEO Chartwell Hotels
Tasos Zambas, Alternate President, PSEKA
Endy Zemenides, President, Hellenic American Leadership Council
Dr. Nicolaos Alexopoulos, President, American Hellenic Council of California
Zenon Christodoulou, President. Greek-American Chamber of Commerce
George Dovellos, Board of Directors, United Hellenic American