Tag Archives: Greece

Ancestral homeys make me proud

Many of my friends are aware of my ethnic ancestry; I guess my last name is a dead giveaway … you know?

One of them sent me a link from The New York Times that contains a story about how well Greece has responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

You can see the story here.

What fascinates me is how well the Greeks have responded to the pandemic in light of the intense criticism that has come their way over the years with their myriad financial issues, their reneging on national debt, the bailouts given to them by the European Union, not to mention the political chaos that kept waters roiling in Athens.

It appears that Greece got way ahead of the curve when the pandemic began leveling Europeans. They enacted “social distancing” measures right away; they began imposing restrictions on gatherings; they shut down business and effectively shut down their borders. They didn’t celebrate Orthodox Easter in the traditional way, as the picture attached to this post attests.

They have recorded fewer than 150 deaths from the viral infection. The Times article notes that Belgium, an EU member of comparable population, has suffered thousands of deaths and far more reported infections than Greece.

OK, have said all that, the report card isn’t a straight-A grade. Greece has tested a small percentage of its population of 10.7 million citizens, which means the reports of infections might be understated.

Still, according to the Times: Now, a country that has grown used to being seen as a problem child in the European Union is celebrating its government’s response and looking forward to reopening its economy.

“Greece has defied the odds,” said Kevin Featherstone, director of the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics.

I have been critical of my ethnic brothers over the financial hassles that they have brought on themselves. On this matter, they make me proud that they have responded proactively — and successfully — in response to a worldwide crisis. Other nations and their leaders ought to pay attention to how they have responded.

Yes, that means you, too, Donald Trump!

Mamma Mia! Take me back … to Greece!

It’s not often that I get moved by a film to visit a place where the film was shot. Such a feeling overwhelmed me today as my wife and I sat through a delightful musical, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”

The music is fabulous. The cast is stellar, containing many of my favorite actors. But the setting! Oh, my goodness.

It was set in Greece, although the principal filming was done in nearby Croatia. My wife and I have been to Greece twice. My wife and I have been blessed over the years with the opportunity to travel around the world. She once told me after our first visit in 2000 that Greece is “the one country I’ve seen where I could go back again and again.”

Me, too, sweetie.

Greece is recovering from the financial calamity that befell the country. It’s trying to repay its enormous debt owed to the European Union; make no mistake, a payment in full is highly unlikely. The country, though, is in nowhere near the dire straits it found itself not long after playing host to the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Well, that’s another story.

I just watched a beautifully filmed movie that was set in a country in which I have a keen and lifelong interest. It’s my ancestral homeland.

I long have wanted to return. A musical film today added a lot of fuel to that burning desire.

I know. It’s weird. It’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Now … for a moment of ethnic pride

I make no apologies for the hyphenated nature of my U.S. citizenship.

I am a Greek-American, which was bred in me by my grandparents, all four of whom were proud old country Greeks. One of them, my paternal grandmother — Katina Kanelis — once informed me of a historical military action about which I knew nothing at the time. I must have been around 9 or 10 years of age.

It produced something of a national holiday in her native Greece. It’s called “Ohi Day.” What is that? I’m about to tell you.

My grandmother and I were sitting in her kitchen one day when she told me of when, on Oct. 28, 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini issued an ultimatum to the Greek prime minister, Ioannis Metaxas: Let the Italian military use Greek bases from which to conduct operations in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations or else face the prospect of war.

Legend has it that Metaxas replied with a simple “ohi!” which is Greek for “no!” Grandma told me he said it with emphasis, meaning I suppose it was taken as “hell no!”

The Italians invaded Greece from Albania. Grandma said with great pride that the Greek army responded with such ferocity that they drove the Italians out of Greece. Mussolini’s forces supposedly were better equipped, better trained, more seasoned. They ran into a ruthless enemy in the Greeks.

I’ve done some research in the decades since I heard that anecdote from my dear, beloved grandmother. I learned that the Greeks essentially let the Italians storm into their country, then cut them off in the Pindus Mountains in northwest Greece — and then slaughtered them.

It was warfare at its ugliest. The Greeks then drove the Italians out of Greece, just as Grandma told me. The opposing forces fought to a stalemate in Albania, prompting the Nazi Germans to invade Greece in April 1941. The Axis forces eventually conquered Greece — but they would pay dearly for their occupation until they were driven out in 1944. The Greek resistance was among the fiercest of any in Europe during World War II.

I bring this to you courtesy of my late grandmother, who became a proud American, too, by choice.

Happy Ohi Day, everyone! Have a glass of ouzo to commemorate it.

Might start looking for ancestral identity

I am being tugged slowly into a form of an identity crisis.

It deals with my ethnic heritage.

You’ve seen those incessant TV commercials, I’m sure, about the people who thought they were derived from some ancestral background, only to find out their roots were planted elsewhere. The guy who thought he was German, bought the requisite clothing, and then learned he is of Scottish descent? He’s my favorite.

Here’s the deal with yours truly.

I have spent my entire life believing I am one of those rare pure-bred Americans. My last name is Greek. My parents were born in the United States of America. All four of my grandparents were immigrants.

Dad’s parents came from southern Greece, the Peloponnese. Mom’s parents came from Marmara, an island in the Sea of Marmara, the body of water that separates the European portion of Turkey from the part that’s in Asia.

My maternal grandmother always spoke proudly of her Greek ethnicity. I believed her. Nearly 40 years after her death, I still do.

Now, though, the slightest twinge of doubt is starting to creep into my skull. It concerns Mom’s branches on the family tree.

My grandparents, and their ancestors, were surrounded by Turks. They lived in fairly primitive conditions on Marmara. Is it possible that one or more of them might have been smitten by a Turkish neighbor? Might they have, oh, acted passionately on those feelings in the dead of night, away from prying eyes?

What’s more, might there even have been a visitor from, say, Bulgaria or Russia who ventured onto the island? Might said visitor have consorted with a distant member of my family?

Remember, too, the history between the Greeks and Turks. The Ottoman Empire controlled Greece for hundreds of years until the 19th century. The Greek war of independence ended that domination, but the nations have fought many conflicts over the years since that time. They remain to this day wary of each other; they cannot even decide which of the Aegean Sea islands belong to Greece and which of them belong to Turkey.

Still, I see these commercials that tell us about DNA tests that prove beyond a doubt our ethnic makeup.

Here’s where the identity crisis gets even more dicey for me. I am not sure I want to know. Moreover, were I to learn that the “truth” behind my ethnic background is different than what I have thought my entire life, would I be willing to share it?

Science has this way of complicating matters … you know?

Visiting a relic of a glorious past


A young friend of mine has just returned from a trip spanning several days in Greece.

Butler Cain, a journalism professor at West Texas A&M University (for now) has been good enough to post many of the pictures he took of his journey on his own blog.

Here’s the latest batch:


This group features shots taken at the Acropolis, which looms over Athens as a reminder of the greatness of the civilization it represents. The Greeks aren’t enjoying too much of that greatness these days, as their country struggles its way through a crippling recession.

But the pictures of the Acropolis — and of the Parthenon — remind me of two things.

One is that I’ve been able, along with my wife, to visit that magnificent place more than once. We went there together in 2000 and 2001; I was able to return a third time in 2003.

For those of us of Greek heritage, the sight of those antiquities sends chills throughout our body. I hope to return again.

The second reminder is of something my late father once told me when he was able to visit Athens with my grandfather — who came to the United States from Greece not long after the turn of the 20th century.

Dad told me that when he walked to the top of the Acropolis and was able to sit inside the Parthenon — which I guess you could do back in 1970 when he and my grandfather were there — he could feel his mind expand. He said something like, “I thought of things I never thought I could ponder.”

He felt smarter just being there, inside those columns erected 400-plus years before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Butler Cain is going to move on soon to another academic post in his native “sweet home Alabama.” I wish him well.

Thanks, young man, for sharing these wonderful pictures.

I feel smarter just looking at them.

PBS deserves a shout-out for ‘The Greeks’


Public broadcasting is a jewel.

It’s a polished piece of art that should be required viewing/listening in every home in America.

OK, I’m kidding about the “required” part.

I watched a one-hour special last night that gave me chills; they were the good kind of chills.

“The Greeks” aired on Panhandle PBS. It was the first of a three-part documentary series produced by NOVA and National Geographic.

Point of personal privilege. My last name gives away my particular interest in this series. It reveals my Greek heritage. Both sides of my family hail from that part of the world. I am almost as immensely proud of my ethnicity as I am of my country.

There. That’s done.

“The Greeks” tells the history of the earliest inhabitants of the Aegean Sea region. It tells how they became superb seafarers and how they laid the groundwork for the immense contributions to civilization that would come later, during Greece’s “Golden Age.”

The cinematography in this series is magnificent, showing the restoration of the Parthenon, glimpses of the amphitheater in Epidaurus, the ruins in Mycenae and in Delphi, and oh yes, the ancient Olympic stadium in Olympus.

My wife and I have been privileged to have seen all those sights. They took our breath away when we saw them and seeing them again on this magnificent, publicly funded television broadcast sent chills through my body.

Public broadcasting gets hammered on occasion by politicians in Washington who wonder why the government must spend money on television and radio.

Well, programs such as what aired last night give me all the justification I need, although I should note that much of the money comes from corporate sponsorships and contributions from viewers … such as yours truly.

I learned plenty during the hour-long broadcast. Learned scholars spoke to viewers about what they believe inspired these ancient geniuses and spoke also about the consequences of their actions.

It wasn’t all sweetness and enlightenment for those who carved out the beginnings of a civilization 5,000 years ago. “The Greeks” told that part of the story as well.

Next week, PBS will reveal how the Golden Age came about and what transpired to make Athens the center of what was then thought to be the universe.

Bravo to PBS.

You make me proud … to be a Greek-American.


Turks vs. Russians in the sky over Syria

turkish jets

Just how tense is it getting in the sky over Syria?

Or over Turkey, for that matter?

It’s tense enough for the Turkish air force to shoot down a Russian air force fighter jet for encroaching on Turkish airspace … allegedly.

President Obama, of course, is right to assert that Turkey — like all nations — is entitled to protect itself against foreign incursions. The Turks said they warned the Russians aboard the downed fighter at least 10 times that they were flying in Turkish airspace. The Russians reportedly ignored the warning, so they were shot down.

A couple of things are worth keeping in mind.

Tensions are tighter than a tick right now. The Russians might have flown into Turkey’s airspace, but it wasn’t by very much.  The countries are supposed to be on the same side in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey, though, is a NATO nation and the shooting down of a Russian jet by a NATO power is the first since 1952.

Turkey might have been within its rights legally, but does the Ankara government really want to anger the Russian high command?

What’s more, Turkey has been known to violate other countries’ airspace with a fair amount of recklessness. Greece, for example, has registered a number of complaints to Turkey for its airspace violations regarding the many Greek-owned islands in the Aegean Sea. Indeed, the two countries’ air forces have faced off countless times in the sky over the sea. Some of us, therefore, might take Turkey’s claim of territorial integrity with a bit of salt.

My own hope is that all the parties in this heightening war with the Islamic State take extra care to avoid future confrontations.

This alliance is tender and fragile enough without one principal shooting down warplanes from another.


Peace for Aylan?


Aylan Kurdi may become a symbol the world needs to remember.

He was 3 years old and was fleeing the devastation in Syria. He didn’t make it to safety. Aylan drowned when the boat carrying him and others apparently capsized and his body washed ashore in Turkey. He had been headed for one of the many islands of Greece that dot the Aegean Sea.

An essay by a doctoral candidate at American University makes a compelling case that Aylan’s death ought to signal to the warring sides that the time for peace really and truly is at hand.

Read the essay

Suzanne Ghais writes:  “The priority must be to find a peace plan that all major players can get behind, even if our favorite dogs don’t win. If Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Europeans agree with us that (Syrian dictator Bashar) al-Assad should go, there will be a way to get him out. The exhausted Syrian government could not oppose such an overwhelming consensus for long.”

The Syrian civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. Many have died from terrible weapons deployed by the dictator’s military forces.

And as the world has seen, the victims too often are helpless children … just like Aylan.

How can the world continue to let this happen?


What was Greek referendum all about?

Those nutty Greeks are driving me nuts.

They spend themselves into near oblivion. The European Union has bailed them out more times than I can remember. They run out of money, default on their debt payment, close the banks and then call for a referendum.

Greeks vote overwhelmingly to reject further austerity plans and, in effect, endorse the principle of pulling out of the EU.

Then the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, goes to the EU, offers a compromise package that includes — yes, indeed — more austerity in exchange for more bailout money.

Now the Greek Parliament has approved the deal and is awaiting word from the EU whether it will accept it.


All of this forces me to ask: What was the referendum all about?

I’ve been to the country three times. It’s a beautiful place, with lovely people, priceless antiquities, breathtaking landscapes, great food and — in Athens, at least — legendary traffic jams.

They threw over their currency, the drachma, to join the EU, adopting the euro as its currency. It staged a fabulous Olympics in the summer of 2004 — and went bankrupt in the process.

I do not want Greece to relegate itself to becoming an outlier nation in Europe. Its history is too rich, vivid and important to the development of the rest of the continent.

However, I’m tellin’ ya, they’re driving this Greek-American insane watching this drama unfold.

If a bit more austerity is what it takes to pull the Greeks’ chestnuts out of the fire, then the socialists who run the place need to suck it up just a little while longer.

Once-vital nation set to cast itself aside

Greece has become a joke. And a decidedly unfunny one at that.

The country is about to conduct a referendum on Sunday. The outcome may determine whether the nation remains part of the European Union and a partner in one of the world’s pre-eminent international consortiums.

How did it come to this?


It sickens me.

I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of visiting my ancestral homeland three times. I know of the country’s rich history. I am acutely aware of the pride the Greek diaspora around the world have of this place. It’s magic is beyond belief.

Now it’s about to be reduced to a bit player, an outlier on the world stage.

The nation cannot pay its debt. Other European nations have grown weary of bailing out the Greeks. Frankly, who can blame them?

What’s more, the Greeks are letting their own pride take them down the road perhaps to further ruin.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras opposes further austerity measures designed to enable Greece to pay its debts. He is urging a “no” vote on the referendum, suggesting that it will strengthen the country’s hand and enable Greece to reopen negotiations with the EU.

All the while, the country — this cradle of western civilization — is being relegated to some peanut-gallery place on the world stage.

Those of us around the world who are proud of our ethnic inheritance are saddened beyond words by what’s happening there.

My own hope is that the majority of Greeks let some common sense rule by voting “yes” on the referendum.

As the essay attached to this post notes, the Greeks are left with two options. One of them is bad; the other is worse.