- Modern Greece and the Diaspora Greeks in the United States by George Kaloudis
Poor economic conditions, instability within the country and the region, and a unique geographic location explain Greece’s intimate connection with migration, mostly as a sender and less frequently as receiver of refugees or returnees. In Modern Greece and Diaspora Greeks in the United States, George Kaloudis, a native of Greece and a US-educated academic, has tackled an important and, in view of the rising tides of anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe and the United States, increasingly relevant subject. The author recognizes that dealing with the Greek diaspora throughout the ecumene would be an enormous task and instead focuses the book on the causes and evolution of Greek immigration to the United States as well as the standing of and issues facing Americans of Greek ancestry in the “New World.”
Kaloudis traces the trajectory of Greek immigration to the United States by identifying and examining “major episodes in domestic and foreign policy developments” in the mother country’s turbulent history. The author sees a close and conspicuous relationship between domestic economic, political, and social developments and the peaks and valleys in the history and nature of Greek diaspora. He identifies four fairly distinct periods. The first occurred before Greece achieved independence in 1830 and encompasses the nearly four centuries of Ottoman subjugation. In fact, aristocrats and intellectuals left the crumbling Byzantine Empire even before the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The subjugated people suffered from all sorts of restrictions and were subjected to heavy taxation by the Ottomans. Taxes became harsher as the empire lost the ability to expand and descended into poverty and decay. Oppressed Christian [End Page 95] subjects, mainly Greeks and Armenians, relocated to major European cities, Egypt, Russia, and distant India, where they engaged in commerce and other activities. Many of them not only prospered but were exposed to the ideas of the Enlightenment that eventually lit the spark of the Greek national awakening and provided the underpinning for the struggle for independence.
The second period of the Greek diasporic experience—and actually the first that relates directly to the United States—commenced with the dawn of independence and lasted until the outbreak of World War II. Domestic developments in Greece during this long period were dominated by the “Megali Idea” (Great Idea), an irredentist policy aimed at resurrecting Christian Byzantium by redeeming territories once held by the empire in the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor. This grandiose, cosmogonic project captivated Greek national consciousness, permeated all aspects of national policy, consumed much of the poor country’s energy and resources, and was one of the key underlying causes of political and regime instability and social ferment. In fact, the very notion of national identity (Hellenism), argues Kaloudis, had “grown out of the concept of the Great Idea.” This state of hostility resulted in Greece going to battle against the Ottoman Empire no fewer than five times. These included the undeclared war of 1854, the disastrous war of 1897, the successful Balkan Wars (1912–13), World War I, and the calamitous Asia Minor expedition, which sealed the fate of the Megali Idea. Although Greece managed to gain considerable territory from the Ottomans, the economic and social consequences of these conflagrations were devastating. Greece was forced to declare bankruptcy twice: in 1893 and in 1932. Political instability and lack of consensus characterized the politics of the Greek state, as well, marked by frequent changes in government and coups d’état, unstable democracy, the assassinations of the first ruler, replacement of one monarchical dynasty with another, dethronement and reinstatement of kings, and abolition of the monarchy in 1924, followed by its restoration in 1935.
As one might expect, destitute Greeks took to the road to migrate in droves. As in the preindependence era, Western Europe was the primary choice of destination, but in the second half of this period the United States became an increasingly desirable alternative. It is estimated that...