By Ariana Ferentinou
“Vote for the “mavro” (black), the other one is a malaka, (much worse than stupid).” This politically incorrect banner, placed outside the entrance of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity somewhere in the United States, was taken seriously by the vast majority of Greek Americans who voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in last week’s presidential elections. The Greek-Americans with their well organized lobby and a new generation of Democrat voters have managed to position themselves near the 44th President-elect expecting a quick return for their support in hot foreign policy issues that involve Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.
To start with, the Greek-American community who traditionally vote Democrat not Republican, were pleased when Barack Obama chose Joe Biden as his vice president.
In his 35 years as a member of the Senate, Biden was known for his pro-Greek stance. “Joe Biden became acquainted with the Cyprus issue first when, as a 30-year-old senator, he received a telephone call from one of his voters of Cypriot origin in Delaware, Costas Georgiou, who briefed him on the Turkish military operation in Cyprus, the occupation of 38 percent of their land and the 200,000 refugees.
This relationship continues today,” writes New York based journalist-editor, Apostolis Zoupaniotis. He added, when Biden received the “George Livanos prize” last May, in tears, he expressed his gratitude to the Greek American community who stood by him in his two failed attempts for the presidency and apologized for not having done more for the community.
The Greek Americans are looking to Biden to maintain his critical approach toward Turkey over Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They clearly remember that he has called the Cyprus issue “a blatant injustice” and pointed out that “there is no excuse regarding the treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
Greek Cypriots in the United States were also exhilarated with the Obama-Biden duo when they read their vision for Cyprus, in a message to a Greek American internet site;
“Cyprus should remain a single, sovereign country in which each of the two communities on the island is able to exercise substantial political authority within a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. There must be a just and mutually agreed settlement of difficult issues like property, refugees, land, and security. A negotiated political settlement on Cyprus would end the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and repair the islandʼs tragic division, while paving the way to prosperity and peace throughout the entire region. It would also give Cypriots a firm foundation on which to build their future after many years of division and uncertainty. It would help foster better Greek-Turkish relations, strengthen Turkish democracy, reduce the risk of military conflict and remove a major obstacle to Turkish membership of the EU.”
If you are Greek and love Obama, clap your hands
Alexis Yannoulias, 32, son of Greek immigrants who moved to the United States in the 1960s met Obama in the 1990s at the University of Chicago when the “mavro” senator was teaching as an academic instructor. A brotherly friendship resulted in those years, Greek sources claim.
With the help of Obama, Yannoulias, now the treasurer of the State of Illinois, became the right-hand man of Obama during his election campaign. If gossip circulating among Athens media circles is true, Obamaʼs amazing physical stamina during the election campaign was due to the special “honey and cheese” pies made by the Cretan grandmother of Yannoulias. Yannoulias says he treats Obama “as a family member.” Like Obama, Yannoulias uses modern technology for political means. He is the president of the “Greeks for Obama” group that used the Internet extensively to collect funds during the campaign. Their Web slogan was, “If you are Greek and love Obama, clap your hands.”
Speaking to 40 guests at a $28,500 per head fundraising dinner for Obama, at a restaurant and bar in downtown Chicago organized by Yannoulias, Obama spoke about Alexiʼs immigrant father, “He was extraordinarily successful and built his success from nothing… He was tough, he was shrewd, but he was also a gentleman. I immediately loved him and loved the family… It reminded me not only of what is best about the Greek community, but also about the American nation,” the President-elect said.
The Greek American supporters of Obama see the election of Obama as an opportunity for a new generation of educated Greek and Greek Cypriot Americans to give renewed impetus to the Greek lobby, and push forward Greek and Greek Cypriot issues, the majority of which involve relations with Turkey. Beside Yannoulias, other new names are emerging. Ed Zemenides, another young Greek American from Chicago, made his mark during Obama’s emergence as a political force. A 35-year-old Greek Cypriot lawyer whose father fought against the Turks in 1974, he has been helping Yannoulias with every step and is a powerful young player in the new Chicago group clustered around Obama.
Last yearʼs Democratic congressman for Maryland, 47-year-old John Sarbanes, lawyer and son of former Senator, Paul Sarbanes, is another politician seen as a powerful voice Obama’s new administration. The same applies to Zac Space, 47, another Democratic congressman from Ohio. There is an equally interesting group of new, young Greek American politicians who are making their mark in the Republican camp.
It is too soon to say whether these new Greek American voices, supporters of Obama, will result in any real support for the Greek or Greek Cypriot causes. Experience says that very few political promises are realized. To what extent the new resident of the White House will want to upset Turkey with a pro-Greek stance, depends on far wider considerations, such as the policies of the United States in the region and the extent such policies include helping Turkey.