New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Consul General of Greece in New York, Dr. Konstantinos Koutras justifiably observed that the Consulate General of Greece in New York and its services, communications and goals that involve the Greek American community and Greece are a vast topic that can barely be touched upon in a brief conversation. Nonetheless, his extemporaneous summary of the surprising new electronic services at the Consulate General and some significant contributions for physical improvements to the Consulate General in 2017—the first full year of his posting in New York City—provides an overview of the Consulate.
The GN has reported on events at the Consulate during 2017 but this is the first interview with the confidence-inspiring Consul General.Koutras began the interview with a statement.
“We can approach the huge topic of what we do at the Consulate General of Greece in New York by separating it into two parts. Like all Greek Consulates General in America, the Greek Consulate General in New York provides a “gate” through which Greek nationals can come to America and Greek Americanscan go to Greece, benefitting Greece. We at the Consulate General are here as representatives of Greece serving our Greek American community in the best way possible, promoting connections with Greece as they should be, and, also, in the best way possible, helping Greek Americans who have Greece in their thoughts, who want to travel to Greece and are living legally in America, to go. We want the gate to open both ways.
Secondly, we want to make the Consulate more dependable, more modern, and more attractive to the Greek American community and to the public…so that when people think of our Consulate, a beautiful place comes to mind…because our country is the most beautiful country in the world…as I say. I’ve been in New York for a year and a half now and we have made a major improvement in the services we offer.
We’ve set up an electronic system connected to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Greek Americans can go online to obtain necessary certificates. This change took place in June 2016, when I came to New York, the first at any Greek Consulate in the world. You can’t imagine what a meaningful change this is, what this service provides to people! When people come to apply for a new passport or to renew an old passport, it isn’t necessary to apply for credentials and then return to see if they arrived after 3-4 days. It is a start to finish procedure with immediate results.
Another meaningful service now provided by the General Consulate in New York is the e-Appointment Service System, the ability to make appointments on our website. The old system of waiting your turn in line doesn’t exist anymore; people come and are taken care of in the best possible way. Clicking on the banner (Make an Appointment) you choose the time that’s convenient, an e-mail confirmation is sent with information on necessary papers to bring. This is a very meaningful change. This e-Appointment System alone has made a huge difference in efficiency, increasing the number of people served by 40-50%. On Christmas Eve we also pioneered, as a Consulate, an ID scanner that replaces the guestbook at the entrance, making possible. We are very proud that we have installed this. The only thing we ask is that the Greek American community provide us with e-mail addresses to receive invitations, announcements, messages about Greece, or other communications. And a telephone number. These are of enormous assistance for communication with the community.”
KK: We’re trying to get the help of the Greek American community, particularly in view of the crisis in Greece. The Greek American community helps Greece through the Consulate General. It doesn’t ask anything of Greece; there is only one thing it needs: respect.
There have been some very touching responses to an appeal from the Consulate for its physical improvement. You know, since the beginning of the 2000’s, the elevator at the Consulate has been a problem. I was stuck in that elevator, so had the Prime Minister of Greece, the Minister of the Interior…and many others. An anecdote circulating around New York was not about who was dying, rather “who was getting stuck in the elevator at the Greek Consulate”! A shocking situation. So, the first thing I asked when I came was for someone to help us replace the elevator in its entirety, because it could not be fixed. With donations from the Niarchos Foundation, offered through Mr. Andreas Dracopoulos, and Mr. and Mrs. Demetrios and Georgia Kaloidis, the Consulate’s two elevators are being entirely replaced, a very difficult undertaking, with interventions in the building being an issue, so the changes are necessarily tailor-made.
This was very moving. For me, the most touching is that we have an international foundation, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which has donated so many millions inside and outside of Greece, as the international media notes so often—believing in Greece, helping the Consulate General of Greece in New York… helping Greece, essentially, through these works.
And it is meaningful that an international foundation and a Greek American family, which had literally nothing in Greece, came to America without shoes, so to speak, and made progress, are working together, helping Greece. In the same moment, an international foundation and a Greek American family have offered nourishment to Greece.
More moving examples of Greek American help, are Mr. Valiotis, of Alma Bank. Mr. Valiotis sends his personnel to the Consulate to scrape and paint walls. Anything we ask of him, he’ll fix. Then there is the President of the Cyprus Federation, Mr. Kyriakos Papastylianou, who came by one day, noticed our lighting and replaced all of it. Mr. Pateroulakis, who donated the scanning system which replaced the sign-in guestbook. Both men come here frequently. And there are others. One firm is replacing the windows, another is reorganizing the accounting and other logistics.
My goal is to leave behind a Consulate General that is worthy of Greece and of the metropolis in which it is situated, when my post here ends. A Consulate that makes me proud that I am Greek, even down to the ways of the personnel, and the appearance of the Consulate…to be proud of that, too.
I am here temporarily; I come for a short time, then I leave. These offerings, however, are for Greece. They are not for the Consul General, they are for our Greece.