Othon Anastasakis, Manolis Pratsinakis, Foteini Kalantzi, Antonis Kamaras, editors, Diaspora Engagement in Times of Severe Economic Crisis: Greece and Beyond. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 2021. Pp. 467. Paper $110.04.
Greek Diaspora engagement in “times of severe economic crisis” now has its first synthesis, an edited volume that deals with the various roles the diaspora played in the post-2010 period, when Greece took a downward economic spiral characterized by lost income, high unemployment, and a “brain drain” brought about by out-migration. The book under review, Diaspora Engagement in Times of Severe Economic Crisis: Greece and Beyond, focuses on the effects that this major migration wave had on the relationship between the (Greek) diaspora and the (Greek) state. Edited by Othon Anastasakis, Manolis Pratsinakis, Foteini Kalantzi, and Antonis Kamaras, the volume has many contributors and is comprised of eighteen chapters in five parts: 1) “Homeland Reform and Diaspora Involvement,” 2) “Crisis-driven Emigration and Diasporic Interactions,” 3) “Diaspora Institutions Before and After the Outbreak of the Crisis,” 4) “Diasporic Identities and Transnational Mobilisation During the Crisis,” and 5) “Beyond the Greek Case.” Published in 2021, the volume concludes with a comment on the Greek state over the last 200 years, reflecting on state-diaspora relations. Importantly, one of the book’s main foci are diaspora “actors.” However, the “actors” are rather broadly defined, and one is left wondering who belongs to the diaspora and how a sense of belonging among diaspora communities emerges. While the volume does not address such issues, it does set an agenda for further research. This is so even though some of the issues discussed say more about the moment in which specific chapters were written rather than the diaspora’s engagement during times of crisis.
In addressing the main question, how did the Greek crisis affect engagement between homeland and diaspora, the authors assume that economic crises such as the one experienced by Greece lead to major shifts in patterns of engagement, and, indeed, the book (through its various studies) offers evidence that such a shift has already occurred among Greek diaspora communities. Despite the authors’ primary focus on the UK as well as their choice of methodology—one author, for example, interviewed thirteen Greeks aged eleven to twenty-five, thirteen parents, and a few teachers—the book is innovative and quite comprehensive, even if too ambitious at times. An edited volume comprised of several British studies that, in some cases, present the results of the South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX) research group, the volume’s perspective is novel and eclectic; the concluding chapter argues, for example, that “the Greek state developed institutional links with the diaspora only after the return to democracy in 1974 by establishing new institutions as well as financing a number of institutes and operations abroad for the promotion of Greek language and culture. In this way, the state aspired to become the main actor in structuring its relationship with diasporic Greek communities and individuals” (434). Given this conclusion, it is important to note that the authors are providing a different understanding of “institutional links”—one that shifts the focus away from official consular representatives of the Greek state and the Orthodox Church to focus instead on “new institutions.” It is important to note, however, that the institutions mentioned (the World Council of Greeks Abroad [SAE] and the World Council of Hellenes) remain irrelevant to diaspora communities today. In fact, as evidenced in the elections of May and June 2023, the law that gave Greeks abroad the right to vote did not result in high levels of voter registration and turn out. While a more recent law—one that abolished the criteria that kept the numbers of voters low—will probably lead to a much larger number of registered voters, it still remains unclear how many Greeks abroad will actually register.
Other chapters deal with the representation of diaspora Greeks in the above institutions and their participation in Greek political life. For example, Chapter 2, by Othon Anastasakis and Foteini Kalantzi, which focuses on the participation of Greeks abroad in elections, is more positive than what occurred in the 2023 elections, the first in which the diasporic vote was included. Again, what remains to be seen is whether diaspora Greeks will vote in large numbers in the future, what issues will resonate with them, and how Greek political parties will relate with Greek voters abroad (41).
Chapter 4, by Antonis Kamaras, maps and analyzes specific organizations and their activities as well as the role of cultural foundations as actors, or “agents,” of the diaspora. However, some of the chapter’s facts could have been comparatively contextualized. For example, Kamaras rightly notes that, following the entry of Greece into the European Community in 1981, diaspora remittances were replaced by European Community and, later, by European Union transfers. This, however, raises the question of why Portugal, which joined the European Union later (in 1985), continues to receive both large remittances from its migrants as well as large transfers from Brussels—transfers that have been used to modernize its economy and, more recently, to support its banking sector.
Chapter 8, by Marina Frangos and Othon Anastasakis, is a perceptive and meaningful historical account of the rise and fall of networking and lobbying organizations, as well as of the de facto abandonment of the project aimed at SAE’s rebirth. As rightly argued, a 2021 law provided for the re-emergence of SAE but under a different structure. It also provided a different funding formula as well as a different model of participation of Greeks abroad, one that has failed to materialize since hardly any interest among diaspora institutions exists and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has shown a lack of initiative. In fact, there is no indication to date that the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis has any intention of bringing SAE back since, according to the 2019 law, such an initiative remains in the hands of diaspora organizations.
Yiorgos Anagnostou’s Chapter 11 presents the case of diaspora public diplomacy in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s March 25, 2010, speech that evoked philotimo as a quintessential Greek cultural value at the beginning of the economic crisis—a time when Greeks needed all the support and philotimo they could get. Anagnostou’s chapter offers a discourse analysis that shows how diaspora public policy can (attempt to) reverse global socioeconomic hierarchies (247). The author argues that the kind of engagement that emerged during the crisis distinguished Greece as a moral nation and was peppered with hints of superiority. The branding that was involved in this form of engagement, Anagnostou notes, is not only problematic because of the claim that values such as philotimo are associated with the Greek national “character” but especially because such branding is devoid of democratic principles of citizenship.
While, as already noted, the volume offers many diverse studies on various aspects of the Greek diaspora, several issues require greater elaboration. First, even though a selective range of types of diaspora engagement is presented by authors, the volume would have benefitted further from a more focused approach. In Chapter 10, for example, Ioannis Grigoriadis examines the Patriarchate’s role with the Church of Greece and the Greek American diaspora, as well as the partnership of the Greek state with the Patriarchate, one of the leading Greek diaspora institutions. However, this is a topic that would require several books to do it justice. Secondly, there is an overreliance on the findings of a survey conducted by the research team at SEESOX, which makes the volume primarily a British-origin and British-focused study. In addition, some chapters, such as Chapter 7 that focuses on “whether Greek migrants adopt new norms on corruption while living abroad” (7), expand the meaning of diaspora “engagement” and really do not fit within the volume’s overall philosophy. Similarly, Chapter 3, by Platon Tinios, on the portability of social rights in origin and destination countries, fits rather awkwardly into the volume, as the chapter concerns bilateral labour and pension agreements between Greece and other states primarily of the European Union. Finally, Alexander Kitroeff’s Chapter 9 offers one of the few historical approaches to the rather unexplored engagement of the diaspora with the Greek state and with homeland politics through its analysis of the Nazi occupation of Greece and the transition to democracy in 1974. However, a chapter in the history of diaspora engagement that continues to remain unexplored is the 1967 to 1974 period—a period that saw an expansive network of anti-dictatorship groups that spanned several countries in Europe and North America, and which mobilized large numbers of Greek migrants but also divided communities.
While, as just noted, the volume exhibits an understandable UK focus since many of its authors reside in the UK and, thus, a UK bias, it also provides readers with a model by which many Greek diasporas in other countries around the world can be studied. A particularly innovative chapter is the one focused on Greek diaspora youth because, as Elizabeth Mavroudi notes in Chapter 13, it engages with the generation that will be at the forefront of diaspora issues in the near- and long-term future. Young people, Mavroudi writes, are more likely to lead and to assist future initiatives that are aimed at engaging with the homeland. While geographically limited and focused on the UK, Mavroudi’s chapter focuses on what the author terms the “new diaspora”—one comprised of families who left Greece during the economic crisis. Following this author’s lead, much can be said about families who settled or emerged from the 2010 to 2015 migration in countries such as Canada, where a new diaspora emerged in Toronto, Montreal, and in smaller cities and towns. Mavroudi’s chapter therefore broadens the definition and understanding of engagement by extending the concept to a younger generation and by showing how the process of engagement is reflective of this generation’s perceptions of Greeks and of identity negotiations among young Greeks in the UK. Clearly, a comparable process of negotiation is present in many age groups throughout the diaspora.
Using this current moment to interpret how diaspora engagement with the Greek homeland and with each other has had an impact on the crisis, the volume will help readers understand the unique diaspora-homeland relationship. For example, Chapter 14, by Vassiliki Chryssanthopoulou, on the identities of Greek Australians from Kastellorizo––most of them born in Australia––offers a public history approach that demonstrates the significance of local and ethno-regional diasporic engagement. The author illustrates this engagement with the example of a wealthy Kastellorizian-Australian who is among the leaders of The Hellenic Initiative, the foremost charity organization of the diaspora that emerged during the early years of the crisis and continues to be active today. Chryssanthopoulou offers readers a perspective of homecoming that is not only a physical return to the island but also a transnational “internet-mediated connection … with the island” (331). Chryssanthopoulou evokes the trope of a “model Australian” like that of the “model American” but, interestingly, hers is a much more nuanced understanding of diaspora than that of many Greek scholars. Although there are many diaspora groups from the Greek islands in Australia, Kastellorizians are unique among them. Their philanthropy addresses challenges in their ancestral homeland, which is different from the more ambitious organizations such as The Hellenic Initiative. The chapter serves as a reminder that to understand transnationalism one must study the ethno-regional dimension of diaspora engagement.
The volume concludes with several cases beyond the Greek diaspora. One study shows how the Portuguese diaspora’s engagement increased after 2008, as it mobilized to attract investment to Portugal to promote the export revenues of Portuguese companies as well as to increase tourism to that country. Still, in Portugal, as in Greece, it is difficult to assess the impact of such practices of engagement or, at least, it may be too early to do so. The only exception may be Portugal’s high percentage of remittances relative to its GDP until about 2019, as compared not only to Greece but to all countries of the European Union (363) as well as the fact that recent Portuguese migrants have higher rates of political participation. By contrast, the chapter on the Irish diaspora and its engagement shows that the crisis had a weaker impact on the engagement of the Irish abroad with their homeland. According to the author, this phenomenon is primarily due to the very long tradition of Irish emigration. Moreover, although the Irish state did not engage with its diaspora communities until the 1990s, the Global Irish Economic Forum was created in 2009 as was the Global Irish Network. Both were the result of the 2008 economic crisis that hit the Irish economy primarily in the construction and banking sectors rather than in public finance, as in Greece. It may be interesting to note that similar initiatives have not emerged in Greece, with the exception of the 2022 creation of the Toronto Economic Forum organised by The Hellenic Initiative and modeled after the Delphi Economic Forum that focuses on Greek Canadian relations as well as projects intended to promote investment and trade and highlights stories of economic engagement and philanthropy between the two countries. While the chapter concludes with a useful comparison between the Irish and Greek cases, the data upon which the argument is based is significantly different from the data provided in the book’s introduction (340,000 Greek migrants during the 2010-15 period compared to 500,000 that are mentioned in the volume’s introduction). This numerical discrepancy illustrates the difficulties in establishing accurate migration flows during the crisis.
The editors and authors conclude their study in 2021, a highly symbolic year due to the bicentennial anniversary of the Greek Revolution. However, as the authors soberly argue, it is impossible to identify a uniform type of diaspora engagement, not least because there are many diasporas with different agendas and various levels of engagement. One of the most interesting conclusions of the volume is the rebranding of some Greek Americans to counter negative images of Greece in the media and in the public’s perception. According to the book, the way forward will include a new “model” of diaspora engagement (439)—one based on multiple centers of diaspora rather than a state-centric one. This new model will be founded on pragmatism and the necessary realization that the diaspora is not a resource to be “tapped” but, instead, one’s “partners in a shared mission” (440). Still, one is left wishing that the editors had defined what the “mission” is, whether there might be multiple missions (which in my view is more plausible), and they could have made an argument in favour of inclusivity, which would have been more convincing. Finally, despite its shortcomings, some of which have been highlighted in this review, Diaspora Engagement in Times of Severe Economic Crisis needs to be read by scholars, diaspora actors, and anyone interested in engaging more with their Greekness, whether in the Greek diaspora(s) or in the homeland(s) beyond the times of crisis.
February 1, 2024
Sakis Gekas is Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair in Modern Greek History at York University. His research interests include the history of Greeks in Canada. His latest publications include “‘Hellenes of Toronto: Proud of Canadianism.’ Commemorating the 1821 Revolution in Canada, 1920s–2021” in Maria Kaliambou (ed.), The Greek Revolution and the Greek diaspora in the United States (Routledge 2023) and “Islands on Fire? Navigating Ambiguity and Space during the 1821 Greek Revolution in the Aegean Sea,” published in Historein (2023).