An interview with HALC’s executive director Endy Zemenides.
New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Some 22 years ago Greeks were informed for the intention of then Prime Minister Mitsotakis to call snap elections in September of 1993 from a slip of the tongue of a leading member of U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. That was a pretty quiet period in the Greek – American relations, compared to the interferences few decades earlier. But still, leading Greek political figures were feeling obliged to inform Greece’s big ally.
Things now are even calmer as the United States avoids interfering directly in the affairs of its allies, although it keeps being vocal in the cases it considered a threat to the U.S. national interest, such as in Venezuela, Iran etc.
United States has kept quite in the Greek crisis. Of course as it was revealed in the Wikileaks, there was always a huge interest in the Greek political affairs, during the last PASOK administration.
U.S. has kept even quieter present during the election campaign, something that wouldn’t have been the case, if there was a danger for Greece to become Venezuela or North Korea, as Prime Minister Samaras and his party accuse SYRIZA.
Very indicative of this is the reply of Marie Harf, the Department of State deputy spokesperson, when she was asked to comment on the elections.
“I don’t have any specific comments on them. We’ll see what happens with them. Obviously, we have a very close relationship with Greece, but we’ll see what happens”.
Even when she was reminded of “the possibility for the leftist party to take over the government is real, according to the polls. And since these guys wre not friendly to the United States and to NATO, isn’t she worrying”, the answer was the same:
“I think I will take the luxury of not doing political analysis on Greece’s upcoming elections before they occur, or commenting on polls, obviously. But Greece is a very good partner, so we’ll be watching.”
Similarly, the Greek – American community stays quite neutral, despite the strong preference to the New Democracy and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. There were very few exemptions, coming from well known supporters of the New Democracy Party, some of them linked with special interests to certain political families.
The majority of the Greek American leadership remained calm and pretty neutral, even standing ready to offer guidance, advice and assistance to the next Greek government, even if this is SYRIZA.
Endy Zemenides is the executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), an organization representing the younger generation of Greek American professional doing grass roots activism in support of the Greek national issues, promoting Greek culture and supporting Greeks with interests in the public affairs.
He has a vast knowledge in foreign policy and in how the Washington works and he has served as Alexi Giannoulias’ political director.
Mr. Zemenides has spoken exclusively to the Greek News about the upcoming Greek elections, offering his advice on how a new Greek government led by Mr. Tsipras should move regarding Greek – American relations.
Zemenides along with other prominent leaders of the Community have cooperated with every Greek and Cypriot government, promoting our National issues in Washington. They have also play a critical role in assisting Greece and Cyprus to upgrade their relations with Israel.
INTERVIEW OF ENDY ZEMENIDES
Q: How do you see things moving in Greece with the upcoming elections?
A: Since we are in the NFL play-off season, I will use the famous word of Green Bay’s quarterback Ed Rogers: “Relax”. Everybody needs to relax. Greece is a democracy; like America is a democracy and the elections are part of democracy. Some people don’t like the way the polls are going. We call silly season the stretch-run of an election and we have entered that silly season.
The Greek crisis was a huge one and last week in the Brookings Institution they had a program on Euro crisis and they called it “the first war of the interdependence”. The speaker said “we don’t use the word war lightly. But the suffering of the Southern European countries, with 30% contraction of their GDP etc it’s something you only see in war.”.
When people are face such circumstance you are going to see overheated rhetoric. But rhetoric during a campaign is something different than what governing will be. Right now we have to realize that the Greek people have been asked to decide whether they want a future that is completely following the course of the last 2-3 years or they want some type of change.
It’s a huge political drama and we have seen these dramas before, even here in the United States. It’s a drama that it is typical in many democracies and we see it right now in Israel, a more stable state than Greece. But, it’s a drama that will have consequences as well.
Q: Can we say that as Greek American community we have a preference?
A: I am fond of quoting one of the presidents of AIPAC who once said “there is no democratic AIPAC, or Republican AIPAC; there is no LIKUD AIPAC or Labor AIPAC, there is just AIPAC.”
We have no partisan preference. Our job as a community is to preserve the Hellenic identity and a big part of it is a strong Hellas. We stand ready as we have proved it before in Cyprus. We supported one president after another, from different parties. Same thing in Greece, we supported one Prime Minister after the other. Our job is to see Greece to recover and remain strong.
Q: While we know the policies of the political parties that ruled the country before, New Democracy and PASOK, regarding Greek – American relations, the national issues, the relationship with Israel etc, if SYRIZA becomes the next Greek Government, what are advising them to do?
A: The biggest concern about SYRIZA is they don’t have a record because they never governed. They are defined by being anti-austerity, but this is not a holistic agenda. I would like to see a holistic agenda; I would like to see a governing philosophy, not just a campaign; I would like to see a team rolled out as soon as possible, speaking with all stakeholders in Greece, in Greece’s interest and all the rest. But most specifically, how to govern in all the levels.
Campaign slogans like “when Troika comes we will offer them a coffee and nothing else are very cute, as are “hope and change”. We have learned during the six years of President Obama that hope and change is not a strategy. It’s not even a tactic, but just a slogan.
I will expect that SYRIZA is serious about getting reform in Greece; not only getting Greece out of the crisis, but reforming Greece.
If they want to learn something of what he have had over the last six years in America, Obama was pretty good about stopping the crisis, but America doesn’t feel like it’s been reformed.
The next government, whoever wins, has to be committed and have the political will to really reform the Greek economy and bring the country together. Like you said, the previous parties have the record of governing the last four years and SYRIZA doesn’t. If SYRIZA wins it’s imperative for them to roll out a “national security document”, a “government reform document”… You remember when Bill Clinton has won, he immediately named Al Gore “re-inventing government Czar”, giving a big report. It’s imperative to give people direction; give some predictability, so we don’t go through years of campaign after campaign in Greece. Because the big danger is becoming Italy, where no government last over six months. Greece cannot afford that.
Q: Let’s focus on Greek – American relations and the national issues. What do you want to see from a SYRIZA government?
A: I would like to see some consistency, because we have gone through a very good period of relations in the policy. During both Papandreou and Samaras governments Greece was seeing as a front line state, a serious state, a partner state for the West. Given what’s going on in the World right now, Greece can only improve its standing in terms of the Western security alliance; and Greece must improve its standing.
I am happy to see even some backing off by Alexi Tsipras on earlier rhetoric on things like we won’t follow the EU on Russian sanctions”, or that “we will pull out from NATO”, but we think we have to capitalize on this consistency. Greece has probably made more friends in the last few years that it has for decades before that.
I want also to see him reaffirming immediately the relationship with Israel, not only for geopolitical reasons, but for economic reasons as well. Israel, Greece and Cyprus have very much the same energy future. This is especially important for Greece that is kind behind in the energy game. Cyprus has already declared an EEZ and has been already exploring, while Greece has not even declared an EEZ.
For Greece to develop a real energy industry they need to built on that relationship with Israel and whoever is in government needs to reaffirm that relationship and energy alliance.
Q: Given the priorities they have to immediately negotiate an agreement with Troika, how much time you give them to clarify few things regarding the United States and other foreign policy issues?
A: I think they should do that immediately. The priorities with troika will be handled at Prime Minister’s and the Finance Minister’s level. It’s very important to bring somebody at the Foreign Minister and Defense Minister level with credibility and seriousness and we proceed immediately. I am speaking not only as one who is consistently advocating for the Hellenic issues but also as an American citizen and someone who considers himself part of the West. There are problems in that region of the World that Greece could be a leader. And frankly, if they continue the leadership role it gives them even a greater case and a greater moral imperative on economic issues and debt relief.
I an article I wrote recently, I stated that Greece is subsidizing Western Security by spending tens of billions of Euros on boarder security, so northern European countries can spend only four million.
Q: Do you have you any concerns regarding their positions on Cyprus and Macedonian issues?
A: I am not happy with their rhetoric, but rhetoric is one thing. My biggest concern is the lack of experience. So, what I would like to see is a clear governing philosophy.
Here in the United States we consistently do national security planning. My recommendation is, whoever wins to do such a National Security Plan and strategy and most of all to stop treating the Foreign Ministry as political tool. Even in this last coalition government, I was not happy when they kept switching Foreign Ministers. It will be nice to have somebody with experience, certain sense of sobriety and some credibility in other capitals as well.
Q: By listening to all that, I understand that the Greek American leadership is extending to a SYRIZA government as well the invitation to assist them.
A: Me personally, the Hellenic American Leadership Council and the Greek American Diaspora that is really active stands ready to help Greece in any way. But whoever is in government has to seize that opportunity, come soon to Washington and reaffirm the positive moves that have been made over the past few years.