North Carolina’s Greek population closely following European financial crisis

Greek flag

Image credit: Flickr via Alehins

RALEIGH – North Carolina’s Greek population is watching events in the Mediterranean country closely, where European leaders will convene in Brussels once again this weekend to debate emergency financial aid to the country. Greece, which defaulted June 30 on a loan from the International Monetary Fund, has refused to accede to European demands since Alexis Tsipras’s anti-austerity government came to power in January.  Some Greeks are calling for the nation to exit the eurozone entirely.

The Rev. Angelo Artemas, a priest at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Charlotte, says the crisis is affecting Greek-Americans.

The Yiasou Greek Festival, held at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, has been a  Charlotte tradition for decades. Image credit: James WIllamor

Greeks have a long history in North Carolina. The Yiasou Greek Festival, held at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, has been a Charlotte tradition for decades. Image credit: James WIllamor

“It really is impacting a lot of Greeks. Some people are cancelling vacations. Some people are losing their assets that they’ve left behind,” Artemas said, estimating that there are 5,000 Greek-Americans in Charlotte metro area alone. “So it does impact people who are living here in the United States.”

North Carolina has long had a large Greek-American population. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 28,000 North Carolinians were of Greek ancestry in 2013.

One of those is Yanni Lambropoulos, who holds a PhD. in biochemistry and works in the biotech industry in the Triangle. Lambropoulos, who was born on a farm in Greece and came to America in 1989 when he was 23 years old, says he bristles at media portrayals of Greeks as lazy and greedy. He would remind people of Greek history.

“Greece has been through tough times. If you look back through history, after being occupied by the Turks for 400 years, Greece had barely came out of it in the 1800s. Then the First World War, the Second World War, a civil war, and then on top of that a dictator. I don’t think the country ever got back on its feet.”

The Rev. Steve Dalber, a priest at St. Nektarios in Charlotte, said most of his church members merely want to see the situation resolved.

“Many of the immigrant generation are watching Greek television to see what’s going on,” said Dalber, who like Artemas and Lambropoulos was born in Greece. “Everyone is holding their breath, wanting to see what the outcome is.”

National Greek-American organizations also seem alarmed but reluctant to take sides. Following Greece’s default of the IMF loan, the head of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association issued a statement that called for cooperation. Phillip T. Frangos, of East Lansing, Mich., said “it is our expectation that all parties involved will work together to find a viable, balanced solution to overcome the difficult challenges Greece faces and which will grant it economic stability.”

19347118886_0db53e42e9_kThe Greek Orthodox Church has been involved but has also tried to steer clear of politics, according to Artemas.

“Church officials have been calling for aid to families in Greece who are homeless and hungry. There’s been a good response from Greek-Americans in supporting aid for those who have lost their jobs,” said Artemas. “Beyond that, we are calling for civil officials to exercise humility and responsibility. That’s about all we can do.”

Lambropoulos says that a true union can only survive if, as in the United States, when states come to the aid of a part of the country, there is no quid-pro-quo payback expected. He is incredulous that Germans have been one of the major hurdles to more lenient terms toward Greece.

“Everyone else in the European community stepped in and helped Germany get back on its feet after the Second World War — and they were the ones who started the thing! It’s a little bit selfish on their part.”