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Conference On U.S. Relations With Greece In The Twentieth Century Offers Insights, Recommendations For The Future
June 8, 2001 No. 30/01 (202) 785-8430

Conference OU.S. Relations With Greece In The Twentieth Century Offers Insights, Recommendations For The Future

C-SPAN Covers Luncheon Speaker, World-Renowned Historian William McNeill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Saturday, June 2, 2001, The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) hosted a conference on "United States Relations with Greece in the Twentieth Century" at the Capitol Hilton Hotel. Conference speakers analyzed the various elements that contribute to this longstanding relationship, including the political, economic, social and cultural links which have been constructed throughout the past century. Speakers also provided forecasts and recommendations on how to further strengthen and improve the relationship between the U.S. and Greece in the 21st century.

Conference Chairman Professor Van Coufoudakis, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University-Purdue University, opened the event by welcoming attendees and providing a brief overview of the themes to be addressed by the two panel sessions throughout the day. Panelists for the morning session were introduced by the first moderator for the day, Panagiotis C. "Aki" Bayz, Legal Counsel for the Hellenic American National Council (HANC).

Peter Bien, Professor of English at Dartmouth College, lead the first panel with the topic of "What Non Greeks Can Learn from Modern Greek Literature." Citing the work of legendary literary figures such as Arthur Miller, E.R. Dodds, and Edmund Keeley, Bien highlighted their impressions of Greece and its people. By analyzing several passages from celebrated Greek literary figures, he noted that these works could best be described as palimpsests -- documents in which a latter piece of writing is inscribed over an earlier piece of writing. Bien concluded that what non-Greeks can learn from modern Greek literature is that everything in Greek life and politics is a palimpsest. In other words, everything is "likely to rest on a previous event or...a whole series of events that may seem to be effaced but are nevertheless part of a definitive parchment that is Greek intellectual, political and artistic culture."

The next topic addressed was "U.S.-Greek Relations 1917-1945: Relief Agencies and the Megali Catastrophe," by Harry Psomiades, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College in New York, N.Y. Psomiades traced the involvement and role of various international relief agencies in the region during this traumatic time. While they functioned as a primary source of intelligence on conditions in Turkish-controlled territories, these agencies unfortunately became the unwilling accomplices of Turkey for ethnic cleansing. According to Psomiades, "the American and Allied reluctance to interfere in the internal affairs of a resurgent Turkey...along with the successful work of the international relief agencies encouraged the Turkish nationalists to expedite their plans for ethnic cleansing by minimizing the risk for international intervention and by relieving them of any responsibility for the welfare of the refugees."

Professor Van Coufoudakis then discussed the history of Greeks in America, focusing on the community's active involvement in American civic and political life. Coufoudakis asserted that the second, third and fourth generations of Greek Americans are not expatriate Greeks longing to resettle in Greece. In fact, they are "an integral part of their society" and remain as "the link between two proud democratic states that share...common values."

John O. Iatrides, Professor of International Politics at Southern Connecticut State University, addressed conference attendees on the topic of "The Origins of the U.S. Involvement in Post-War Greece: A Reconsideration." With no traditional interests in Greece and the Balkan region in general, the U.S. was initially unwilling to incur new responsibilities in a region notorious for instability and conflict just following World War II. However, "searching for a place to inaugurate its new policy of containment of Soviet expansionism, the Truman administration settled on Greece" and contained the threat of communism, thus beginning a more cooperative relationship that continues today.

Concluding the morning session was S. Victor Papacosma, Professor of History and Director of the Lemnitzer Center for NATO and European Union Studies at Kent State University, Ohio. Speaking on the topic of "Greece and NATO," Papacosma retraced the development of Greece's role in the NATO alliance from its inception in February 1952 to today. He focused on the often-tortuous relationship with Greece's NATO ally, Turkey. Papacosma concluded that "a more secure Greece is becoming an even better ally of the U.S. and member of NATO as it concurrently assumes an increasingly important role as a guarantor of peace and stability in Southeastern Europe."

Following Papacosma's address, conference participants attended a luncheon honoring world-renowned historian William McNeill, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago. The luncheon session commenced with remarks from Demo Kolaras, the Executive Director of the Order of AHEPA. McNeill was then introduced by Professor Iatrides. McNeill's address, titled "Reminiscing About Postwar Greece," was covered by C-SPAN ( and rebroadcast twice on Monday, June 4, 2001.

McNeill reflected on his initial encounter and subsequent experiences as Assistant Military Attaché of the U.S. Embassy in Greece, beginning in 1944. What he expected from Greece and its people and what he encountered were two vastly different realities. While he expected to come upon a land replete with links to its ancient glory, he realized instead that the country's Byzantine past was far more important to the people at that time. As McNeill became better acquainted with the land, the people and the culture, he was surprised by numerous other realities. For example, he was especially impressed by the intense sense of pride held by the Greek people, especially as a consequence of their valliant contribution to the war effort. Furthermore, McNeill was amazed by and grateful for the tremendous hospitality showered upon him and his wife throughout their travels.

These characteristics of pride and hospitality, especially in the economically, socially and politically chaotic aftermath of the post-World War II era, were not the characteristics that McNeill believed would dominate, yet they were visible everywhere. In his closing remarks, McNeill noted that "I was lucky, I was very very lucky at the time I was there [of] the privileged position which I had, the privileged mobility that was at my disposal" to come into close contact with the people of Greece. McNeill received a standing ovation from the audience and was then presented with the AHI Lifetime Achievement Award by AHIF President Gene Rossides, thereby concluding the luncheon portion of the conference.

The conference reconvened for its afternoon panel, moderated by Maria Stamoulas, Vice President of the Hellenic American Women's Council (HAWC).James E. Miller, Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, discussed the complex relationship between the U.S. and PASOK during the period 1981-2001 with emphasis on the important and often turbulent influence of former Prime Minister of Greece Andreas Papandreou. Despite various points of conflict in the past, Miller asserted that currently "the relationship is rather close and cooperative. We have in a sense passed from confrontation and ideology to conciliation and cooperation." His speech addressed how and why the relationship has developed in this positive manner.

The former U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Monteagle Stearns, followed Miller's address. His presentation analyzed U.S.-Greece relations on a broader scale. Examining the immediate effects of the post-Cold War era on the balance of power in the Southeastern Mediterranean and Balkan regions, Amb. Stearns drew critical assessments on the future of this relationship. He pointed out that "the end of the Cold War enhances possibilities for Greek-American cooperation, seeking common goals, sharing many of the same values even though we carry that burden of the past, some of the bitterness of a too-intimate relationship during the Cold War. Nevertheless, I think that, too, will be transcended. Greece will not be marginalized by the end of the Cold War."

The conference concluded with the presentation of Gene Rossides, President of AHIF, who spoke on "The Executive Branch in U.S.-Greece Relations" during the period of 1947-2000. Rossides commenced by outlining positive moves in U.S. Executive Branch policy towards Greece, citing as primary examples the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. However, for the remainder of his address Rossides was more critical, highlighting detrimental actions taken by the U.S. in Cyprus and in the Aegean. In these cases, the Executive Branch appeased Turkey by not applying the rule of law to Turkey to the detriment of U.S. interests and Greece. In future relations between the U.S. and Greece, Rossides recommended that "the U.S. should develop a special relationship with Greece because of that country's key strategic value for U.S. interests in the region, Greece's history, its reliability and because the U.S. is able to achieve its objectives with such a relationship based on mutual interests and benefits."

The conference was held in cooperation with the Order of AHEPA and was sponsored by the Foundation for Hellenic Studies, the Hellenic American National Council (HANC) and the Hellenic American Women's Council (HAWC). Conference benefactors included: Nick Bouras (Summit, NJ); George Chryssis (Weston, MA); Nick Karambelas (Washington, DC); James H. Lagos (Springfield, OH); Dr. Spiro Macris (Wilmington, NC); Jim and Ted Pedas (Washington, DC); John Politis (Boca Raton, FL); Gene Rossides (Washington, DC); Savvas Savopoulos (Bladensburg, MD); Ted G. Spyropoulos (Chicago, IL); and Stephen G. Yeonas (McLean, VA).

For additional information regarding the event or the work of the AHI, please contact Chrysoula Economopoulos at (202) 785-8430, and visit our Web site at