Potentially useful context for current events

Some of the reading I’m doing on my own right now includes a book called A Concise History of Greece, Second Edition, by Richard Clogg, a historian of Greek issues at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford. In light of various current events, I found the following couple of paragraphs intriguing:

The Greeks are a people of the diaspora. It was during the period of Ottoman rule that patterns of emigration developed that have continued into modern times. It was during the period of Ottoman rule that patterns of emigration developed that have continued into modern times. Even before the emergence of a Greek state Greek merchants established during the late eighteenth century a mercantile empire in the eastern Mediterranean, in the Balkans and as far afield as India. In the nineteenth century migration developed apace to Egypt, to southern Russia and at the end of the century to the United States. Initially, these migrants to the New World were almost exclusively male. They were driven by poor economic prospects at home and, for the most part, intended to spend only a few years abroad before returning permanently to their motherland. Most, however, stayed in their country of immigration. The emigrant flow was limited by restrictive US legislation during the inter-war period, when Greece herself welcomed within her borders over a million refugees from Asia Minor, Bulgaria and Russia. Emigration once again got under way on a large scale after the Second World War. Prior to the ending of US quota restrictions in the mid-1960s much of this new wave of emigration was to Australia, where Melbourne, with a Greek community of over 200,000, had by the 1980s emerged as one of the principal centres of Greek population in the world. The postwar period also saw large-scale movement of Greeks to western Europe, and in particular to West Germany, as ‘guest-workers’. In the course of time many of these returned, using their hard-won capital for the most part to set up small-scale enterprises in the service sector. For a considerable number, however, the status of Gastarbeiter took on a more or less permanent nature.

Xeniteia, or sojourning in foreign parts, on either a permanent or temporary basis has thus been central to the historical experience of the Greeks in modern times. As a consequence the relationship of the communities overseas with the homeland has been of critical importance throughout the independence period. The prospect of the election of Michael Dukakis, a second-generation Greek-American, as president of the United States naturally aroused great excitement in Greece and, inevitably perhaps, unrealistic expectations. His emergence as the Democratic presidential candidate focused attention on the rapid acculturation of Greek communities abroad to the norms of the host society and highlighted the contrast between the effectiveness of Greeks outside Greece and the problems they experienced at home in developing the efficient and responsive infrastructure of a modern state. The existence of such large populations of Greek origin outside the boundaries of the state raises in an acute form the question of what constitutes ‘Greekness’ – presumably not language, for many in the second and third generation know little or no Greek. Religion is clearly a factor, but again there is a high incidence of marriage outside the Orthodox Church among Greeks of the emigration. In 119 of the 163 weddings performed at the Greek church of Portland, Oregon, between 1965 and 1977 one of the partners was not of Greek descent. It seems that ‘Greekness’ is something that a person is born with and can no more easily be lost than it can be acquired by those not of Greek ancestry.

In the United States, in particular, the existence of a substantial, prosperous, articulate and well-educated community of Americans of Greek descent is seen as a resource of increasing importance by politicians in the homeland, even if the political clout attributed to the ‘Greek lobby’ is sometimes exaggerated, particularly by its opponents. Despite some successes Greek-Americans have had relatively little effect in generating pressure on Turkey to withdraw from northern Cyprus and in negating the tendency of successive US administrations to ‘tilt’ in favour of Turkey in the continuing Greek-Turkish imbroglio. (Richard Clogg, A Concise History of Greece, 2nd edition, 2002, Cambridge University Press, pp4-5)

The second edition was published in 2002 and gets up to about 2000, but there seems to be much to unpack here. However, before I accept this uncritically and presume to say too much, I’d rather give my Greek friends a chance to respond to Clogg’s assertions, and see if it matches up with how they would define themselves.


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