February 25, 1997
On January 14, 1997, the UCLA Hellenic-American Students' Organization was honored to have former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis speak at our first general meeting of the winter quarter. He is teaching some courses at the UCLA School for Public Policy and Social Research this quarter, and he very graciously agreed to address our club. Before a full audience, he spoke on several interesting topics, including his own political career, the importance of his Greek identity and his assessment of Greek-Turkish relations.
His central message to students was two-fold. First, he encouraged us to get involved in public service and the political sphere. He said that, as Greeks, political involvement is part of our heritage. He quoted Pericles who stated that the Athenians looked upon those citizens who did not participate in politics as useless, not harmless. Governor Dukakis also pointed out that the door is wide open for those Greek-Americans who want to run for public office, especially in such an ethnically diverse state as California.
Secondly, he urged us to be aware of and active in Hellenic issues. He spent quite some time discussing Greek-Turkish relations and the role the United States should play in the resolution of their differences. He made it clear that it is unacceptable for the American government to continue supporting a Turkish regime fraught with corruption and in constant violation of international law. He also asserted that student involvement in these issues is imperative. Because it is so difficult to explain the injustice of the current situation to someone who is not Greek, it is that much more important for everyone to take an active role and ensure that these topics remain visible to the American public.
Governor Dukakis was optimistic that 1997 could be the year that, with the help of the United States, many of Greece's problems with Turkey are resolved favorably. He stated several reasons for this conclusion. The end of the Cold War has meant that Turkey is no longer a critical buffer against Soviet expansionism. The internal changes in Turkey (the ascendance of Erbakan's Islamic government) have forced even Turkey's traditional friends in our government to reconsider its alleged strategic role as a secular democracy. With the election of the new government in Greece it is apparent that the anti-American bias of Papandreou's government is no longer present. These developments alone have made it exceedingly difficult for anyone, except perhaps career bureaucrats in the State Department, to rationally support a continuation of the status quo in American foreign policy towards these two countries. The key players in Washington have also changed. Governor Dukakis stressed Clinton's personal commitment to "solving this problem" (is he willing to be forceful with Turkey, I wonder), the influence of several top aides in the Clinton cabinet who are Greek, and the attention of our new Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. According to him, these factors all point to a positive change in the current state of affairs.
Of course, Governor Dukakis did not only address international issues. He had several entertaining stories to tell about his own life and career. He mentioned one incident that happened to him while he was growing up in Massachusetts. While rummaging through the attic one day, he came across a large bell which he immediately began ringing as loudly as possible. His mother heard the racket and he soon learned that the bell had been bought by his uncle, a staunch Venizelist, in anticipation of the celebration that would occur when the monarchy was rejected by the democracy-loving Greeks. Unfortunately for his uncle, this did not occur as he had expected it, and the bell had ended up costing him quite a bit of money for nothing until it was found by Mr. Dukakis.
Another anecdote that he shared with us involved an incident that occurred during his campaign for the presidency in 1988. While visiting the town of McAllen, Texas, he attended a rally at which the audience was primarily Mexican-American. At one point, when asked why they should vote for him, he replied jokingly, "Tengo una cara Hispana" (I have a Hispanic face). He remembers that after the rally, he stayed for hours as every Mexican family came to meet him and shake his hand. He felt very proud to be there because to them he represented the possibility that their children, though born to immigrants, could one day become president too.
Governor Dukakis mentioned his regret that he had not been able to travel to Greece very much during his political career, and, after finally making the trip this past summer, he was surprised to see how much has changed since he was last there. His impressions of modern Greece were very favorable; he encountered a modern, dynamic country in which the young people were beautiful and generally a foot taller than they were when he last visited twenty years ago. His impressions of the new Greek government were favorable as well. He was pleased to see that, unlike before, there are now men (and women) under 60 years of age working in the government.
During a final question and answer period at the Greek club meeting, Governor Dukakis elaborated on his analysis of the current situation in Washington concerning the Cyprus and Aegean issues. Many Greek graduate students were skeptical that the current American political climate was as favorable to Greece as Mr. Dukakis seemed to think.
While personal politics vary, it is undeniable that Michael Dukakis is one of the most prominent and respected Greek-Americans of our time. At our meeting, it was clear that he cares very deeply about his community, his American society and his Greek heritage. No one else could have conveyed his message of optimism and encouragement as well to our student body, while at the same time conveying the tough challenges facing Greece today and urging us to use our voices to make a difference. His talk was informative, entertaining and inspiring and we were truly honored to have him as our guest.
I have been to hundreds of funerals over the course of a long career in public life.
None was as difficult and as moving as Paul Tsongas's funeral in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts on January 23.
Paul and I grew up in the politics of Massachusetts. Both of us were political oddities in many ways. For one thing we were Greek-Americans, and no Greek-American had ever won anything more than a local political office or a state legislative seat before we came along. That wasn't because there was any bias against us; in fact, Greeks were popular and well liked.
It was just that, given the ethnic politics of older industrial states like Massachusetts that had been dominated by the old Protestant Brahmin elite and the rising and skilled politics of Irish-Americans, members of smaller ethnic groups like ours just didn't have the kind of ethnic "base" that it was assumed you had to have to succeed beyond what was basically local politics.
We were also blessed with a lot of the same community and family support that is so typical of the Greek community. Our parents were immigrants, but in both cases they had gone on to college -- a rarity in those days. We had strong roots in the city of Lowell. He had grown up there. My father and his family had settled there when they arrived from Greece in the early 1900's, and I spent a lot of time there visiting my aunts and uncles and cousins, including my cousin Olympia. We understood the struggles of immigrant groups and the strengths of their communities, even if by 1975 Lowell was a tired, depressed and increasingly distressed city.
We were also blessed with the work ethic for which Greeks are known. There may have been two candidates for public office who worked harder at the grass roots, but I don't know them. Paul, in particular, was extraordinary. After he had won a seat on the Lowell City Council, he decided to run for Middlesex County Commissioner and literally walked hundreds of miles across the county to win. He worked just as hard to win his Congressional and Senatorial seats, and you all know how he gave of himself under extremely difficult circumstances to run for the Presidency.
Paul was a complicated human being. He had a deep and abiding interest in national and international affairs, but he was absolutely devoted to his home town and spent thousands of hours helping to turn it into a model of what an old gritty, industrial city can become in the modern age.
He cared deeply about his community and its people, but he could also be very cerebral, if not philosophical, about himself and what he was doing in the world.
And he had courage to spare, as a public figure and as a human being. Two weeks before he died, he was on the phone to members of the Lowell City Council urging them to vote for still another important measure that would help his city.
Paul knew what Pericles meant when he said that it was the obligation of every citizen to be deeply and actively involved in the politics of his country.
He also knew what the Athenian oath meant when it committed Athenian youth to making their city state "stronger, better and more beautiful" than they had found it.
He didn't just pay lip service to these ideals. He lived them every day of his life.
On January 25th, several UCLA students attended a Legislative Policy Conference organized by the American Hellenic Institute Public Affairs Committee (AHIPAC for short), one of the most prominent Greek lobbying organizations in Washington, DC. The purpose of this conference was to discuss the various foreign policy positions important to Greek-Americans and to re-emphasize the importance of community involvement in influencing our government's policy towards Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.
The conference featured several prominent Greek-Americans. James Dimitriou of AHEPA spoke of the need to affect "the minds of our children" (I assume he meant us). James Birakos of the Hellenic Cultural Society mentioned that though we face detractors in academia and Congress, it is we who will decide "the living fate of Greece". He also quoted Lawrence Durrell who said that in Greece, "light seems to shine from the ground up." He finished with a quote from a plaque in Syntagma, Athens: "Greece wants to survive [live] and WILL survive [live]".
Eugene Rossides of the American Hellenic Institute spoke on legislative strategy. He stressed that we must always focus on policies that are in the best interest of the United States not just Greece. He stated the U.S. and Greece are strong historical allies, Greece being one of the few countries that fought with the U.S. in four major wars in this century. He talked about the Greek contribution to Desert Storm, citing the use of the British Air Force bases on Cyprus during the initial bombing of Iraq. He stressed the four areas in which the Greek community must have a political influence: the executive branch, the legislature, the media and academia. He concluded that as American citizens we can have an impact; he said "it CAN be done, and it MUST be done".
Many prominent Greek-Americans spoke on the the details of various specific policy issues. Washington attorney Nick Karambelas discussed the legal evidence that supports Greece's sovereignty over the Aegean sea and its islands. Nicholas Gage, the famous author of "Eleni", talked about the persecution of the Greek minority in Northern Epirus (in modern day Albania). Dr. Van Coufoudakis, a Dean from Indiana-Purdue University spoke about the problem with FYROM (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia) and its territorial and symbolic claims against Greece. Savas Tsivicos of AHIPAC talked about recent developments in the Cyprus situation which he emphasized is not a "bi-communal conflict but an invasion and ongoing occupation". Finally, Professor James Counelis of University of San Francisco discussed the treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul and the violation of Greek Orthodox churches in Turkey.
At the luncheon, Aris Anagnos of the Hellenic-American Council spoke about some of the Greek-American lobbying accomplishments in the recent past. Greek Consul General Panagopoulos gave a brief greeting speech and was followed by Andreas Kyprianides, the Honorary Consul General of Cyprus, who gave a fiery speech, stressing that we (the Greek community) have been too nice and that we need to get angry in order to have an effect on our representatives. Next, United States Congressman Brad Sherman, who is a freshman on the Foreign Affairs Committee, gave a humorous and self-deprecating talk on his own decision to become a Congressman. He called for a halt on foreign aid to Turkey and stressed the need for U.S. policies to reflect the principles of democracy and human rights since our "strength comes from our values".
After lunch the seminar continued with a one-hour session on "How to Lobby Congress" in which the moderators emphasized the need for everyone in the community to be active in lobbying. The most effective tool for influencing policy, they said, is to have frequent and personal contact with our local representatives in Washington, through letters, visits, and phone calls.
All in all, the Legislative Policy Conference was very informative. It helped elucidate the foreign policy issues which are most important to Greek-Americans and it also helped clarify the role that every one of us can play in making sure that the United States adopts the right policies with regard to Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.
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