By Nick Larigakis
On March 9 President Obama hosted a celebration at the White House in honor of Greek Independence Day. In addition to PM George Papandreou, and Archbishop Demetrios, the East Room was filled with some of the most prominent members of the Greek and Cypriot American communities and notables from the diplomatic community, Capitol Hill, State Department, and the Church.
The President invoked the usual courtesies, but also made some very specific and poignant comments that should not be merely relegated to the annals of Washington political rhetoric. He referred to that one special word that, by all accounts, is unique to only the Greek lexicon—“Philotimo.” He defined it as“…a sense of right and wrong and a duty to do what’s right.”
He spoke of the historic relationship that exists between Greece and the U.S.: “Greek Americans, in turn, served and fought to preserve our Union. And through two world wars and a long Cold War, America stood with our Greek allies and friends.”
The President also acknowledged the numerous contributions of Greece today.
“And since the Prime Minister is here, let me acknowledge Greece’s efforts to extend the security and stability in our time—toward a just and final settlement in Cyprus, fully integrating the Balkans into Europe, and the Prime Minister’s personal work to improve relations with Turkey. We thank you for your leadership.”
“And let me commend Greece, our close NATO ally, for standing up for the security and opportunity of people around the world—from the Balkans to Afghanistan, where Greek service members are helping to give people who have know[n] too much war the chance to live in peace and security.”
“This solidarity continues today—whether it’s the close counterterrorism efforts between our governments or the deep partnerships between our people…[and]Greece’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program will strengthen security in both our countries…”
These comments underscored what we in the community already know—That Greece is a loyal and reliable ally of the U.S. and that she takes her NATO commitments and obligations very seriously. And while previous administration’s were aware of Greece’s contributions, they always failed to do “what’s right” by supporting Greece when she has been provoked and threatened by her neighbors.
So, will President Obama have the “Philotimo” and feel the “Duty to do What’s Right”, as Greece has done for over a century?
“What’s right” is also good for U.S. interests and sends a message to the world that the U.S. does not compromise its principles, such as the rule of law, support for international law and the codes and declarations of international institutions such as the UN and NATO.
The projection of U.S. interests in the southeastern Mediterranean depends on the stability of the region. Therefore the U.S. has an important stake in fostering good relations between two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, in achieving a just and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem, and resolving the Macedonia name issue.
However, Turkey’s continuing occupation and intransigence regarding Cyprus, its continuous violations of Greece’s territorial waters and airspace, its violations of religious and human rights, especially with respect to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, coupled with the actions of the intransigent and provocative government in FYROM, and its failure to negotiate in good faith over the name issue, foster instability and damage U.S. interests.
And as it relates to Greece’s current economic crisis, it is estimated that it costs Greece approximately a half billion Euros a year for all the times that the Greek Air force has to scramble its planes to respond to violations of its airspace by Turkish fighter jets.
President Obama has the “duty to do what’s right” toward our faithful ally Greece, and our good friend, Cyprus, by asking Turkey to:
• Demilitarize Cyprus now, beginning with the withdrawal of its illegal 43,000 occupation troops and remove the 180,00 illegal settlers in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949;
• Act in good faith and support the ongoing negotiations process regarding Cyprus;
• Recognize the Ecumenical nature of the Patriarchate and provide proper protection for the Ecumenical Patriarch and Patriarchate personnel;
• Reopen the Halki School of Theology;
• Adhere to international law and legal procedures with respect to any dispute it has with Greece in the Aegean Sea; and immediately cease its violations of Greek territorial waters and airspace.
Further, the President must strongly persuade the government of FYROM to negotiate in good faith with Greece to resolve the name issue and to cease their irredentist propaganda against Greece.
If his comments are not destined to be added to the large catalog of great but empty rhetoric in Washington, the question still remains. Will he?
*** Nick Larigakis, Executive Director, American Hellenic Institute