National Herald, OCTOBER 7, 2006
By Demetris Tsakas
NEW YORK – The Pan-Cretan Association of America honored former Prime Minister of Greece Constantine Mitsotakis with the Eleftherios Venizelos Award and the Nikos Kazantzakis Award to the California real estate magnate Angelo Tsakopoulos during a special dinner in honor of the two men at Flushing’s Terrace On The Park last weekend. Almost 1,000 members of the Greek American community from the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), as well as from Illinois and Texas and other states, attended, easily making the dinner the most well-attended Greek American event so far this season.
Event Chairman Kostas Travayiakis, former Pan-Cretan Association President Manolis Chrysis and current Association President Emmanuel E. Velivasakis made an extensive presentation about the organization’s history, and noted the high level of enthusiasm among the Association’s membership in organizing the event.
Greek Ambassador to the United States Alexandros Mallias introduced Mr. Mitsotakis, and spoke about the former premier’s political career, pointing out that the name, FYROM, was established for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia during Mr. Mitsotakis’ administration, and that FYROM is the only internationally recognized name for that country.
Mr. Mitsotakis, who is also chairman emeritus New Democracy, the current Greek Government’s ruling party, spoke of Venizelos and Kazantzakis’ towering legacies, noting that both the esteemed statesman and renowned novelist left indelible marks on the worlds of diplomacy and literature. The former prime minister cited the hard work and sacrifice of Greek immigrants in their efforts to forge a new life in America, their adopted home, and preserve their rich cultural heritage for their children’s sake. He also underscored the Greek American community’s crucial role in advancing Hellenic issues and interests outside of Greece. His address was punctuated by several rounds of resounding applause. “Tonight’s gathering reminds us that the spirit of Eleftherios Venizelos will always remain alive and well in the hearts of Greeks, and especially in the hearts of Cretans. His ideals and visions still inspire us. His liberal political ideology prevails on a global scale, and his realism – especially in regards to the foreign policy – and honesty, by which he led the people, will always constitute a major part of our heritage,” Mr. Mitsotakis said.
“These two world-renowned Greeks were, and still are, inspiring not only those of us who live in Greece, but even more so the Greeks who live in the four corners of the Earth, and especially you, the Greek Americans of Cretan heritage. Tonight is proof that Greeks, wherever they happen to be, carry the values and ideals of the Greek nation with them, enrich and pass them onto succeeding generations which, although they are born and brought up thousands of miles away from the motherland, always feel proud of their country of origin,” he said.
“When the first generation of Greeks came to this great and welcoming country, they carried, along with their meager possessions, the hopes, ideals, visions, Greek Orthodox faith, merits of our people, universal virtues of our civilization, and a fervent desire to succeed in this, their future homeland. With their sacrifice, hard work and wits, their restless and creative spirit, they managed to stand on their own feet in this blessed country, not only to overcome the obstacles that any immigrant would face, but also to stand out as distinguished individuals and as a prominent social group,” Mr. Mitsotakis added.
“We, the Greeks of Greece, feel so very proud of you. In this great and democratic country, the United States of America, the greatest democracy in the world, where there really is equal opportunity, you managed to become the second most affluent, as well as the most well educated, ethnic group in America,” he said.
“Today, there is an enormous human resource of Greek Americans in all fields, which constitutes major capital not only for this country, but also for Greece, the country of their origin, which they never seem to forget. Given American standards, one can say that you have realized the American Dream, but I would also add that you made the Hellenic Dream a reality. You have managed to create hundreds of Greek Orthodox communities, churches and schools which are the cornerstone for the preservation of Greek culture and the Greek language in this land. Throughout the Hellenic Republic’s most difficult periods, you stood up for the freedom of your country by coming back to fight, and even die, in the Balkan Wars and both World Wars. In peaceful times, I can confidently assert that you constitute our paramount national support, as I was directly responsible for dealing with our major national issues as foreign minister and then as prime minister,” he said.
Speaking about his 60-year political career, Mr. Mitsotakis stressed that the “truth is often bitter, but I never regret what I said or did,” adding that “a politician should above all be useful, not just popular.” Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni, Mr. Mitsotakis’ daughter, conveyed a message from Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who emphasized his faith and pride in the Greek American community.
“In looking throughout this room, one can readily see how many important people have gathered here this evening – people from all walks of life, from academics and the arts to business. These people have maintained very strong relations with Crete, and with Greece. I want to express my deepest appreciation, and tell you that we feel very proud of you, and we know very well that, in good times and bad, during any difficult moment our country might be going through, we can count on your help and support. We know that we have a strong and powerful community by our side,” she said.
Mrs. Bakoyanni, who was stateside during the previous two weeks for the United Nations 61st General Assembly, also mentioned three reasons which made her feel especially glad about attending the Pan-Cretan event that evening. First, because the event was organized by a Greek American organization, and was attended by almost a thousand Greek Americans. Second, because her father, “a man who is a genuine Cretan, who fought against the current and who never wavered or compromised,” was being honored. And third, because Mr. Tsakopoulos, “a man who has delivered invaluable services to society, and to the Greeks,” was also being honored.
MODERN ODYSSEUS “Angelo Tsakopoulos is an atypical man. He is a modern Odysseus – a man who, when he left for California, no one could imagine his tremendous success or his valuable and longstanding contributions to the cultural and academic spheres over so many years. He consistently offers so much to the country and to Greeks, often quietly, and therefore perhaps few people are aware of his great contributions,” Mrs. Bakoyanni said, as the crowd erupted in applause. Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, Executive
Director of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, introduced Mr. Tsakopoulos, emphasizing on his philanthropy.
Marcos Kounalakis, Mr. Tsakopoulos’ son in-law, described his father in-law as a genuine human being and devoted family man, and praised his love for, and dedication to, education, highlighting his generosity in helping to establish Greek Studies chairs at the State Universities of California in San Francisco and Sacramento, and at Georgetown and Columbia Universities. Mr. Tsakopoulos thanked the Pan-Cretan Association and its guests, and urged them to support Greek American candidates for the upcoming municipal, state and federal elections in November.
The event was also attended by, among others, Greek Ambassador to the U.N. Adamantios Vasilakis, Consuls General of Greece and Cyprus Catherine Boura and Martha Mavrommati, respectively, President Emeritus of New York University Dr. John Brademas, Democratic Nominee for Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District John Sarbanes, Rhode Island State Senator Leonidas Raptakis, outgoing New York State Assemblyman Mathew Mirones of Staten Island, Prefect of Crete Serafim Tsokas, Council of Hellenes Abroad World President Andrew Athens, Hellenic American National Council President Theodore Spyropoulos, and the presidents of numerous Hellenic American organizations.