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Greek Diaspora Commemorates Homeland’s Bicentennial

Greek diaspora
Members of the Greek diaspora dancing at the Los Angeles Greek Festival. Credit: InSapphoWeTrust CC BY-SA 2.0/Wikipedia

By Constantine Passaris

Every year Greece and the Greek Diaspora celebrates its national day on March 25th. This day commemorates the start of the War of Independence fought against the Ottoman Empire.

On March 25, 2021, Greece will commemorate the 200th anniversary of its great national day.

This bicentennial will be marked with great pomp and ceremony not only in Greece but in Greek communities of the diaspora around the world.

Tragically, Greece missed out on celebrating the centennial of this historic event in 1921 due to the conflict in Asia Minor against Turkey.

Most countries celebrate their national day at the end of their revolution or the termination of hostilities after their war of independence. But that is not the case for Greece.

The principal reason why Greece embraces the start of its war of independence as its national day is because historians are unanimous in pinpointing that actual day. However, they cannot agree on the exact year that Greece actually achieved its independence.

In effect, the war of independence lasted over a decade and territorial victories were achieved over a protracted timeline.

“Freedom or death!”

The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 with the rebellion of the Greeks who had been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire since 1453.

The Greek revolution itself started on March 25, 1821 with patriots uttering the slogan “Eleftheria I thanatos!” meaning “Freedom or death.”

This was, of course, a modern twist on the Ancient Spartan dictum that required Spartan warriors to return home either victorious — or dead and carried upon their shields.

Modern Greece can be described as a small country, with an inquiring mind, an independent spirit, and a global outreach.

Its sparse population of slightly more than 10 million inhabitants who live in the contemporary state of Greece is deceptive in many ways, considering the vast impact that Greeks and Greek culture have made, and continue to make, in the world.

A global outreach with a Greek mindset

Census reports from around the world estimate that the Greek diaspora, which includes first-generation immigrants, and those of the second or third generation with Greek ancestry who were not born in Greece, is approximately 7 million.

The Greek mindset, however, has always embraced a peripatetic nature and a global outreach. This explains the existence of Greek communities in every corner of the world.

The unsettled, adventurous nature of Greeks has been a hallmark of their character since time immemorial.

Even in ancient Greece, Homer recorded that Greeks had long been wanderers and travelers venturing through foreign seas and lands, motivated by trade, science, intellectual curiosity, poverty, or war, and in consequence creating colonies and cities far and wide.

Oldest and largest diaspora

As a result, the Greek diaspora became one of the oldest and largest on the entire globe.

Today, the Greek diaspora can be found in every single corner of the world, with significant numbers in the United States, Australia, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Armenia, and South Africa.

The largest contemporary concentrations of the Greek diaspora are in the USA, Canada, and Australia.

The city with the single largest Greek community outside of Greece is on the other side of the world, in Melbourne, Australia.

On every occasion that I visited Melbourne, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Greek being spoken everywhere I went. It forced me to do a double take to make sure that my plane had landed in Australia and not in Greece.

Diaspora in Canada

The largest Greek immigrant stream to Canada commenced after the second World War.

The first-generation of Greek-Canadians were mostly self-employed in the service sector. They established restaurants, retail outlets and small businesses.

Having instilled the value of education in their children to mitigate the effects of discrimination and improve their career opportunities, the second and third generation of Greek-Canadians have joined the ranks of white collar professionals such as lawyers, accountants, public servants, academics, scientists, engineers, nurses, and medical practitioners.

Greek-Canadians can be found in every province and territory in Canada. However, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have the largest concentrations of Greek-Canadians.

The 2016 Canadian census recorded that 271,405 Canadians were Greek by ancestry and 62,715 people in the country had been born in Greece. A more recent publication, Greeks around the Globe, records that the Greek-Canadian population actually totals about 450,000.

Right to vote

Greeks of the diaspora will receive a special gift during the bicentennial year.

The Greek government has initiated legislation to give Greeks living abroad the right to vote in national elections, effective in 2021. Greek expatriates will be able to vote from their current place of residence.

More specifically, the right to vote will be given to expatriates who can prove that, over the past 35 years, they once resided in Greece for an uninterrupted period of two years.

However, Greek expatriates will be able to vote only for at-large members of Parliament, elected on party lists, whose number will expand from 12 to 15 in the 300-seat Parliament.

The 2021 bicentenary will provide Greece and the Greek diaspora around the world with an opportunity to celebrate the resilience and the accomplishments that this small country and its people have achieved during the last 200 years.

But even more importantly, it will empower all Greeks to strive for even more spectacular accomplishments in the service of humanity during the next 100 years.

Dr. Constantine Passaris is a Professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick and an Onassis Foundation Fellow. He was recently included in the inaugural edition of Who’s Who in Greece 2020.

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