NEW YORK.- By Apostolis Zoupaniotis
GreekNews’ special insert on the occasion of the 4thInternational Chian Convention (published in Greek in this issue) brought up an issue that concerns not only the Chian organizations, but every Hellenic society and every federation in the United States. The issue of renewal, not only in their membership, but in their mission and their priorities. But, while this fact is widely recognized, very few organizations take practical measures that will help the new generation (American born and educated) of Greek-American descent, to lead our societies into the 21st century.
Alex Doulis, former president of the Chian Federation, is definitely a man who knows that if his federation and all other Greek organizations are to survive, they must take sharp measures. In his interview, he talks about the history and course of the Chian Federation, and its prospects for the future.
The reason for the genesis of the Chian Federation was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. As he explains, one of the factors that set the federation apart from the other organizations was the fact that the threat to the island was direct and not a distant threat. It was an immediate threat that galvanized the community and the result was the creation of the Federation.
“One of the most important things that we had been able to accomplish through the Chian Federation,” Alex Doulis explains, “was the ability to get involved in the political arena. The Greek-American community in general has been absent from the political landscape over the last 20-25 years. Whatever we do, we do on the margins. The Chian Federation proved to be the vehicle where we could direct our energies to influencing the decision makers at the local as well as the national level. The means by which we do that is through the Homeric Award, where we come into contact with the elected officials and through that process were able to educate them, instruct them and provide information on national issues as well as what we think they ought to be supporting in Congress.”
Since 1974 many things have happened that influenced various society members and Greek-Americans in general. Most of all, the national issues have started settling down. Alex Doulis points out that there is a threshold that was reached in the early 80s which, was a result of two major things that happened. The almost total cessation of immigration from Greece and, second, Greece’s accession to the European Common Market.
“That changed the landscape,” he says. “The national issues were then redefined by the Federation. They no longer meant Cyprus and the Aegean. National issues meant the preservation of the religion and language and the ability to transition over to a membership that was made up of Americans of Greek descent, not first-generation Greeks, but people that were born, raised, educated here and tended to view things in a totally different perspective.”
As a result, from the mid-80s onwards, the Chian Federation evolved into more of a community-based, non-profit organization, whose mission primarily has been to keep second- and third-generation Greek-Americans engaged in the community.
“In order to do that we offer a host of services from a very young age. The kids can come in and get involved with dance groups to youth chapters, the culture chapter, as well as a women’s chapter. These mechanisms were meant to provide an avenue for the youth to be involved in the activities of the Federation,” he says.
We ask Alex Doulis if he thinks the role of the so-called “Nikotopikes Omospondies” (federations representing people from certain Greek provinces) had expired.
He thinks that they do have a role, but this role has to be redefined.
“If we look,” he says, “at the Chian Federation of 1974 and compare it to the federation of 2003, the structure is pretty much the same, its membership to a large extent remains the same, but its mission has changed, and it must change if it is to survive.”
He further reveals something that has been undertaken for the first time by any federation in New York: a strategic planning task force, made up of first-, second- and third-generation members, mostly professional people who have come together with the objective of defining the federation for the next 15 years.
“They will look for answers on questions, like, ‘what should the federation evolve into?’, ‘What are some of the critical issues that must be at the core of its mission, and how will the objectives be accomplished?’,” Doulis explains. “It will be a strategic plan that will be put forward over the next six to seven months. It’s not going to be a committee that comes together, talks about it for two hours, then puts the issue to rest. This is a long-range plan that will attempt to answer the critical question: “Since the criteria that existed are no longer relevant, what should we be doing and how? Should we be restructuring ourselves, metamorphosing in order to insure that the Chian Federation as an organization still exists 15, 20, 30 years from now?”