NEW YORK – January 1 is just a date, but it forces a focus on all the dates running up to it and extending into the future, and meditation on where we have come from and where we are going, as individuals, and communities, and for Hellenism as a whole.
Though not an extraordinary year, 2014 was filled with the expected mix triumphs and disappointments, resolutions of old problems, and the rise of new question marks for its institutions.
CRISIS AND GREXIT
The Greek crisis had all but fallen from the community radar, even as some dedicated groups and individuals like Michael and Mary Jaharis, Stavros Niarchos Foundation co-President Andreas Dracopoulos, the Hellenic Relief Foundation, and The Hellenic Initiative continued to raise and disburse funds and develop programs to help Greece. But now, the Greek crisis and the possibility of a Grexit loom once again.
Three days before the New Year, anxiety about the homelands – if Greece goes down Cyprus could follow – are about to skyrocket. National elections set for January 25 promise at least short-term instability – with a run on banks and a disorderly default and exit from the Eurozone within the realm of possibility.
A Greek economic collapse would present new challenges to Diaspora communities and leaders.
The relief activities of Cephalonian organizations in response to the February 2104 earthquake may be models for quick responses, but the possible deepening of the crisis will increase calls for more coordinated activity.
POLITICS AND CULTURE
Relative calm in Greece in 2014 allowed the global media to focus on the cultural reasons why Hellenism still matters. Greeks and non-Greeks alike await with bated breath to see who is buried in Amphipolis, exhibits with Greek themes drew crowds to museum exhibits like that on El Greco at the Met, and Joan Breton Connelly packed halls with lectures on her book, The Parthenon Enigma.
Greek-Americans continued their steady rise in the political realm, most notably, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who was appointed Secretary of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, although at least one distinguished public servant, George Venizelos of the FBI, announced his retirement.
In New York City, Councilman Costa Constantinides joined members of the community rising up the ladder, and the indictment of Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm opens a path to Congress for Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.
Charlie Crist failed in his quest to return to the Florida state house, and several new candidates for office fell short, but it Is a good sign Greeks are throwing their hats in the political ring across America.
In the media, George Stephanopoulos was named chief anchor and chief political correspondent for ABC News, and Arianna Huffington’s endeavors continue to grow and prosper. Huffington Post Greece premiered in November and her book Thrive became a best seller with its message – especially valuable for workaholic Greek-Americans – of the need for balance in our lives. And more sleep.
BIG BROTHER AN ISSUE FOR ALL OF US
The rapid march of technology continues to both promise benefits – everyone loves their iPhone – and generate new fears. Cybercrimes – spectacularly highlighted during the holidays by the SONY hacks – and revelations about government surveillance have given people and entirely new dimension of fears and has triggered debates across the political spectrum about the proper roles of agencies like the NSA and the CIA.
Whistleblowers like John Kiriakou are still paying the price for their attempts to warn their fellow citizens about the brave new world. He is still in Federal prison, although his 30-month sentence will come to an end by mid-2015.
QUO VADIS ECCLESIA?
The experience in 2014 of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America year reflected that of the community as a whole.
The highlight of 2014 was the October 18 groundblessing for the new St. Nicholas at Ground Zero when thousands filled the site on a glorious autumn day in New York.
The purchase of a new home for the beloved St. Michael’s home for the elderly on November 20 also bodes well for the future, but the year was filled with ups and downs of various kinds.
In December TNH broke the story that priests are angry over a $3 million shortfall in funding their pensions, adding to the question marks over the soundness of the Archdiocese’s finances and administration.
Some longstanding parish disputes were apparently resolved – in Lynn, MA and Salt Lake City, UT and the Archdiocesan Cathedral in New York.
Fr. James Dokos, the long-time pastor of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, WI, was indicted for allegedly stealing more than $100,000. Other clerics have been implicated, and Fr. Dokos can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
40 YEARS OF CHEERS AND JEERS
The year featured two major 40-year anniversaries, one auspicious, the other distressing.
July 20 marked 40 years since the illegal Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus. While community organizations continue to fight the good fight, all the positive signs that appeared throughout 2014, including a rare vice presidential visit to the island nation, appear to have been for naught.
The year ended with a Turkish incursion into Cyprus’s EEZ and more threats against Greece and Cyprus from Ankara.
On the bright side, the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies of Queens College celebrated its 40th anniversary at its 2014 graduation ceremony. It is a tribute to the Center’s success that the children of past graduates are now in the spotlight, and soon it will be grandchildren.
The regular and financial media were filled with Hellenic success stories throughout the year but in New York Greek real estate developers have begun to make their mark. Billionaire John Catsimatidis licked his 2013 mayoral candidacy wounds – and learned his lessons as he now hosts a successful radio interview program on Sunday morning – and has moved forward with major projects in downtown Brooklyn and Coney Island. The Astoria Cove development, in which Alma Bank is a major investor, received a green light from the New York Council.
The positive and negatives trends of recent years suggest that there may be upheavals and breakthroughs in the Greek world on both sides of the Atlantic in the years to come, perhaps as early as 2015. In the meantime we wish a Happy and Healthy New Year to all.