An Interview with the Consul General of Greece in New York
New York.- By Vicky James Yiannias
The new first couple of the land whose open-hearted approach to the public is establishing a new mood in Washington D.C. has its counterpart in the Greek Consulate in New York, where the first couple, Ambassador Aglaia Balta, Consul General Of Greece in New York and her husband, Ambassador Dimitris Alexandrakis, have opened the doors of the Consulate wider than ever before to the Greek American community.
A recent example was an elegant gathering, in January, for the cutting of the Vasilopitta for the Greek and Greek American media at the Consulate residence, where the coupleʼs precocious eleven-year-old son, Menelaos, a student at the French Lycee of New York, responding to a guestʼs request that he join the party, was a refreshing source of youthful optimism.
On February 25 Ambassador Balta, who was expecting the arrival of Greeceʼs Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni, spoke with GreekNews about the Consulate, present and future.
GN: Do you have any advice for the Greek American community in New York regarding inter-community cooperation?
AB: It is my opinion that since their arrival in the US the Greek Americans have established strong communities.
Itʼs been a year now since my arrival in New York and my first impression has not changed. The Greek American community is one of the best communities of the Omogeneia. Their long history in the United States is full of achievements and accomplishments. They have succeeded in their new homeland, maintaining, at the same time, strong links with their country of origin, their Motherland. So there is no need for advice. The role of the Consulate General is to keep these links alive, be it for the promotion of our Greek culture and traditions and education or interaction with the Greek State.
Our main and foremost priority and concern, I would add, is to help Greek Americans maintain their Greek Identity. I would like at this point to emphasize the importance of education and commend the role of all parties involved, especially that of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios.
GN: What is the main function of the Consulate?
AB: The Consulate is a link between the Greek American community and our homeland, Greece. We are constantly striving to improve our services and assist with every single issue thatʼs presented. I strongly believe in an “open-door” policy and our community should never hesitate to request our guidance or assistance in issues involving the different aspects of Greek law: power of attorneys, various certificates, passports, visas, etc., in addition to proposals for promoting our rich culture, etc.
GN: What are some of the Consulateʼs plans for 2009?
AB: One of the goals for our 2009 agenda is to help promote the work of various Greek American artists who reside in New York. We will organize a variety of exhibitions ranging from photography, paintings, lectures and various other events from Greek American organizations, utilizing our premises here in the Consulate. We will begin with a photography exhibition mounted by the Greek Museum, the Center for Greek American Heritage, opening on March 25, Greek Independence Day, which will commemorate the start for a yearly exhibition displayed on that day. This exhibition will be followed by other projects, to be announced later.
GN: Are there any other plans in the works?
AB: Yes, we are trying among other things, to coordinate and combine synergies with several EU and Non EU Consulates, to solve problems our citizens face when arriving in New York either for business or for pleasure.
GN: How would the consulates present this service?
AB: This is not a service to be presented to the public directly. This would be in an unofficial way; we and several EU and NON EU Consulates in a coordinating effort, will present different problems or questions that arise from time to time concerning foreign nationals coming to New York to the US authorities.
GN: Are any changes being made to the Consulate website, www.greekembassy.org?
AB: Yes, we have been diligently updating and completing our website for the past couple of months; itʼs an ongoing effort. Once complete, the website will offer various information and links which will be a very useful tool, I hope, for the entire Greek community — citizens of Greece traveling to New York and Americans and others wishing to travel to Greece on business or leisure.
GN: What are your personal feelings about New York?
AB: It is a diverse multicultural city with a variety of attractions and landmarks. Iʼm blessed to be amongst the Greek American community. We love living in New York.
GN: The Greek Americans of New York are likewise blessed to have as Consul General one who thinks highly of the community and who approaches her posting in New York with joy, vigor, and commitment.