Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
Eftihia A. Voutira
Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 24, Number 2, October 2006, pp.
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Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics:
The Case of the Soviet Greeks
This paper focuses on the emergence of a new, post-Soviet, diaspora: the Greeks of
the former Soviet Union (FSU). Although Greeks belong to classical or historical
diasporas, their Soviet presence has only recently been formally acknowledged
and their diaspora status has of late been recognized by their historical home-
land (Greece). The analysis focuses on the politicization of post-Soviet Greek
identities after 1991, and on the diaspora’s progressive mobilization into
corporate groups. Like other former Soviet citizens with claims to an “ethnic
European historical homeland,” post-Soviet Greeks enter Greece with special
rights and privileges concerning membership and belonging. Yet, acquisition
of citizenship and acceptance by Greek society remain fraught with bureaucratic
and intercultural problems that give rise to various causes of resentment. For
some, the process entails mobilizing a culturally bounded “refugee discourse”
drawn from experiences following the Lausanne Treaty. For others, it involves
negotiating Greekness in the face of an antecedent Russophone identity. A
third option is retreat to ethnic enclaves aiming to reconstruct life according
to Soviet norms and values; thus, the post-Soviet Greek diaspora functions
like a reverse diaspora.
Historically exemplied by the exodus of the Jews from Babylon, the
concept of a “diaspora” has witnessed an unprecedented popularity
among social scientists over the last twenty years. As used in social science
research, the concept has typically referred to ethnic minority groups
who live outside the territory of their “historical homelands.” During
the 1990s, the term attracted the attention of anthropologists, sociolo-
gists, geographers, political scientists, and cultural critics searching for
more comprehensive analytical terms to accommodate the admittedly
complex transnational and global linkages among economies, cultures,
and peoples (e.g., Clifford 1994; Cohen 1997; Hall 1990; McDowell 1997;
Journal of Modern Greek Studies 24 (2006) 379–414 © 2006 by The Johns Hopkins University Press
380 Eftihia Voutira
Ohlinger and Munz 2003; Safran 1990:83; Van Hear 1998; Vertovec and
Cohen 1999). At the core of this concern is a critique of the underlying
assumptions about the “natural” bonds that connect traditional anthro-
pological concepts such as kinship and membership with a territory
or place. Under the inuence of post-modernism, scholars have often
employed the term to express notions of “hybrid” identities and loyalties
(e.g., Hall 1990:235; Clifford 1994:306).
While acknowledging the need to rethink basic concepts and catego-
ries used in migration and refugee research and to capture the changing
patterns of social relations on a global level, such developments tend to
undermine the important and urgent need to study and understand the
formative processes of new diasporas and the redenition of old ones at
the end of the Cold War. The creation of a massive post-Soviet Russian
diaspora of approximately 25 million Russians outside Russia’s borders is
one dramatic case of an “unintended” diaspora creation occurring prac-
tically overnight (e.g., Kolstoe 1995; Laitin 1999; Pilkington and Flynn
1999; Sheffer 2003). Both within and outside former Soviet space there
is now more than ever an urgent need to rethink some basic assumptions
about displacement per se. Specically, in discussing displacement, we are
not merely referring to people moving across borders (which is presupposed
by the conventional view of “diaspora”), but also to borders moving across
people. One major consequence of this type of “border displacement” is
the radical dispossession of those who are found not to “belong” within
the new territorial boundaries (e.g., Russians in the Baltic states, the
Caucasus or Central Asian States). This involves the divorcing of popula-
tions from their ostensible homelands and the creation of another crisis
of identity and responsibility that also includes the impact of reshufing
populations along “ethnic” lines. On the positive side, for many non-native
Soviet groups that had been displaced, forcibly uprooted, deported,
dispossessed, and underprivileged in the old Soviet regime (e.g., Bulgar-
ians, Germans, Greeks, Jews, Poles), the redenition of identity along
ethno-national lines has led to an improved access to emigration to the
West under the redenition of “repatriation” as the “right of return” to
one’s historical homeland (e.g., Bade 1993, 1997; De Tinguy 1997:44;
IOM 1998:160; Weiner 1995; Voutira 1991, 1996, 2003a).
At the core of the very concept of “dis-placement” (which carries
the semantic references and connotations of the prex “dis,” as in, e.g.,
dis-gured, dis-abled, dis-proportionate) are implicit assumptions about
the natural correspondence between a people and a territory, or the proper
place for a people and, by implication, an assumption about every people
having its own place. Anthropologists like Malkki (1990, 1992) have
gone a long way in showing the complex “botanical metaphors” through
381Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
which anthropological and nationalist discourse has rooted people in
“soils” of national and ethnic territories, thereby reafrming the natural
connection between people and the places they inhabit. Assumptions
about the sedentary nature of human existence, which take for granted
people’s naturalized territorial belonging, are embedded in the European
political theory of nationalism. More recent metaphors like “grafting,”
“rhizomes,” and “transplanting” simply reafrm the manner in which the
arboreal imagery persists in Western collective imagination particularly
when it comes to conceptualizing the relation between identity and place1
(Deleuze and Guattari 1987). As Malkki notes, there is a new awareness
of the fact that, “people are chronically mobile and routinely displaced
and invent homes and homelands in the absence of territorial national
bases—not in situ, but through memories of, and claims on, places that
they can or will no longer corporeally inhabit” (Malkki 1992:24). Argu-
ably, the realization of people moving by force or desire on a mass scale
may be inuenced by post-modern concerns with the de-territorialization
of cultures, diasporization and the expansion of social spaces. Maybe such
concepts are new ways of describing old regularities, since the reality of
migration was never in doubt.
This paper focuses on the emergence of a new “post-Soviet dias-
pora”: the Greeks of the former Soviet Union (FSU). Signicantly,
although the Greeks belong to the classical or historical diasporas (e.g.,
Clogg 1999), their presence in the former Soviet Union has only recently
been formally acknowledged by the “host state” (the FSU) and their
status as a “diaspora” group has only of late been recognized by their
“historical homeland” (Greece). The introduction of the Soviet Greek
diaspora into the public consciousness is related to post–1989 events
and the mutual need for recognition by both sides of the old Cold-War
divide. Nevertheless, it is important to note it, because one aspect of
the concept of “diaspora” involves, as I will argue here, this dual process
of legitimation: by the group (as a type of self-ascription) and by the
“homeland state.”2 The focus of this analysis is on the processes of politi-
cization of post-Soviet Greek identities since 1991 and their progressive
mobilization into different corporate groups (e.g., cultural associations
and ethnic guilds).
I point to two distinct empirical contexts of investigation of such
corporate group formation: The international congresses that have
become the new fora for the articulation of diverse elite diaspora inter-
ests and the formation of a post-Soviet Greek diaspora (in the FSU), as
well as the establishment of “repatriate” associations upon arrival in the
historical homeland (Greece).
The rst context explores the role of the national center, or
382 Eftihia Voutira
“homeland state,” to use Brubacker’s (1996) terminology, in determining
diaspora agendas, which in the case of Greece include specic strategies
for engaging Soviet Greeks in the “national issues,” launched in the early
1990s. After 1995, there is a progressive process of enlargement of the
formal organization of the global Greek diaspora structures, manifested
in what is called by its members “a global manifestation of Hellenism.”
The World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), established in 1995, is
ostensibly a non-prot, non-governmental organization whose proclaimed
mission is to: “unite diaspora Hellenes among themselves and with Greece
as the national center” and “assist in the preservation and ourishing
of Hellenic culture and heritage abroad” [World Council of Hellenes
Abroad (SAE) 2005]. The rationale for this undertaking is explained
in the web pages of the association as follows: “It is the rst time that
such an effort has been undertaken since antiquity when Alexander the
Great—the unier of the ancient Hellenes—accomplished that feat.
With Thessaloniki as the permanent headquarters of SAE, the unity of
Hellenism is once again centered in Greek Macedonia. SAE’s constitu-
ency consists of seven million Hellenes around the world in unity with
ten million Hellenes in Greece” (ibid).3
Since its establishment, SAE has been recognized by the Greek State
as the advisor and clearinghouse of information on issues involving the
diaspora and Hellas. This view is also stated in President Andrew Athens’s
inaugural speech on the mission of the World Council of Hellenes
Abroad. Current priorities of this new Panhellenic organization include
the setting up of a $100 million medical aid infrastructure in different
CIS states where Greeks nd themselves and targeting members of the
“Panhellenic diaspora” in those areas where “they are least developed”
(i.e., the Caucasus and Central Asia).4
The second context of post-Soviet Greek diaspora politics which I
identify as a feature of transnationalist dynamics is the process of reverse
diaspora formation,5 whereby the Soviet Greeks who have returned to
Greece, upon becoming progressively more disappointed with govern-
ment integration efforts and programs, organize into associations that
often bear the name of their regions of origin in the FSU.6 Furthermore,
far from displaying a negation of their diaspora identity upon arrival in
their historical homeland as suggested by Clifford (1994:307), once in
Greece they feel “rooted in Russian soil” and display elements of national
pride in using the Russian language and/or referring to Russian literature
as a sign of self-identication (cf., Markowitz 1995). They also challenge
the government’s labeling them as “repatriates,” adopting as a term of
self-ascription the predicate “refugees.” This fact, which has largely gone
unnoticed in most contemporary discussions about the “problem” of
383Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
Soviet Greek integration into mainland Greek society, is a critical indica-
tor of the level of their actual integration into the mainland Greek value
system, because it points to the fact that these newcomers have already
appropriated the mainstream societal norms.7
My strategy will be to identify the main phases of transformation
in the organization of the Greek Diaspora, from its “host land” (FSU)
formation (1989–1991) and its “homeland legitimation” (1991–1993) to
the emergence of a “new post-Soviet diaspora” that became recognized
as a part of the “genealogy” of some seven million Greeks abroad in the
post-Cold-War era (from 1995 until now).
The process of diaspora formation involves two parallel, but not
necessarily congruent, processes:
a) The formation of communities in dispersal that remain con-
nected and attached through transnational kin networks, and
which inform and support decision making concerning past,
present, and future transmigration to, from, or close to what is
perceived to be their “own people,” and
b) The creation of particular corporate groups, cultural associa-
tions that are the main actors in the new arenas of diaspora
politics whereby the national center has traditionally played a
signicant role in setting the agenda (cf., Josselin and Wallace
2000; Oestergaard-Nielsen 2003).
The “ethnographic context” of this investigation is the series of
Greek diaspora international congresses (1988–2003). In these con-
gresses, whether they take place in the FSU (1989, 1991) or in Thessa-
loniki, Greece (1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003), the traditional
tripartite relation among homeland, diaspora and host country as articu-
lated in more classical analyses (e.g., Armstrong 1976; Sheffer 1986) has
been under transformation since 1995, as the new seat of “ecumenical
Hellenism” is the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE). SAE is the
new structure operating in collaboration with the Ofce of the General
Secretariat for Greeks Abroad (headed by Mr. Andrew Athens, a U.S.
citizen and committed Greek diasporist), within the Greek Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. Within this reformed structure, the political role of the
post-Soviet Greek diaspora is being undermined under the auspices of
the new “ecumenical” structure.
Specically, the establishment of the novel organizational structure
entailed a series of changes in priorities and roles. From a key actor to be
recruited in the “national interest” (1991–1995) through the organization
of a “repatriation plan” of resettlement in the ethnologically sensitive
384 Eftihia Voutira
region of Thrace, the post-Soviet Greek diaspora is currently experiencing
the predicament of progressively becoming a marginal political player on
the global Hellenic stage. As narrated by the old FSU leaders, their role
has been reduced to that of recipients of ethnically motivated humanitar-
ian assistance, aiming at the provision of medical and development aid
to “our poor brothers abroad.” For many, the main available alternative
response is the mobilization of their ethnic networks in the West, which
they use as a type of private investment and/or competitive advantage,
in the context of improving their individual livelihoods in their new
A history of the Soviet Greek diaspora
The majority of the people, whom I will call, for the sake of simplicity,
Soviet Greeks, because of the common experience they have shared as
members of the old Soviet regime, do not speak Modern Greek. The
political semantics of Greekness in Soviet and post-Soviet space presup-
poses an understanding of the history of displacements to and from
Soviet space and the regional variation in the idioms of group member-
ship used by the different groups, most of which were codied during
the formative years of the Soviet regime (Voutira 1997a).
Briey put, there are three main categories of Greeks living in
the FSU, representing different migrant and refugee “vintages,” to use
Fred Kunz’s (1973, 1982) apt term for the varieties of times, causes,
backgrounds, and places of origin that distinguish settler groups from
1) Approximately 100,000 Greeks live in the Ukraine, where they
settled in the eighteenth century as a result of Catherine the
Great’s settlement policies, eeing the Tatar Khanate in the
Crimea and building the town of Marioupol, named after the
Virgin Mary, and 25 adjacent villages. These Greeks speak their
own dialect, Marioupolitika or Urum—a Tatar-based dialect
(Karpozilos 1985 40:97–112). Together with the Donetsk Greeks
they call themselves Rumaioi (cf., Kaurinkoski 1997, 2003).
2) In small cultural enclaves in Stavropol, Krasnodarski Krai,
Abkhazia, Adzaria, in Western Georgia, and among the deportee
communities of Greeks from the Crimea and Southern Russia in
Central Asia, the old generations speak Pontic Greek, a Greek
dialect of the Northeastern Black Sea region of the Pontos
(Mackridge 1991) or Rum, a Turkish dialect belonging to the
mountainous region of Tsalka (e.g., Aklayev 1988:60–62).
385Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
3) Less numerous are the Greek “political refugees” (polit emigranti
in Russian, politikoí prósges in Greek), members of the Greek
communist party who ed to Tashkent after the defeat of the
Leftist forces in the Greek Civil War in 1949, most of whom
“repatriated” to Greece at the end of the Greek military dicta-
torship in 1974. Many of them were also of Pontic Greek origin
and spoke the dialect; their parents had ed to Greece rather
than the FSU at the end of the Greek Asia Minor Catastrophe
in 1922 (e.g., Voutira 1991:400; Lambatos 2001:27–29).
Greeks in Soviet space: what type of diaspora?
Robin Cohen’s seminal comparative work (1997) offers a typology of
global diasporas in terms of their conditions of emergence and a dis-
tinction among diasporas in terms of the different causes that give rise
to their subsequent trajectories. These include: Victim/Refugee Diasporas
(Refugee Jews, Africans, Armenians, Irish, Palestinians), Imperial/Colonial
Diasporas (Ancient Greek, Russian, British, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch),
Labor/Service Diasporas (Indians, Chinese, Sikhs, Italians, Japanese, Turks),
Trade/Business Diasporas (Venetians, Lebanese, Chinese), Professional
Diasporas (Indians), and Cultural/Hybrid Diasporas (Caribbean Peoples/
Afro-Caribbean post-modern). Thematically, the innovative component
of Cohen’s classication relates to his gardening metaphors used to
denote the form of dispersal embedded in the concept of diaspora.
These include “Weeding,” “Sowing,” “Transplanting,” “Layering,” and
While challenging in comparative sociological terms, one of the
main weaknesses of the above typology is that it underestimates and
obscures the fact that most diasporas can claim reference to each one
of these categories (e.g., victim, colonial, professional, hybrid, etc.)
if examined over time.8 Secondly, the typology does not allow for an
exploration of the relations between homeland and diaspora, normally
dened politically in terms of the way states care about the members of
their nation residing outside their territorial boundaries, and the man-
ner in which state concerns change over time.
In the case of post-Soviet diasporas, the issue is acutely raised in
relation to the new CIS states and their corresponding nationals living
outside their state-borders, as well as the “old” diasporas whose members
can now exercise the right of return to their ancestral homeland (e.g., Ger-
mans, Greeks, Jews, Poles). By comparison to the other, better-recognized,
Greek diasporas (Western European, American, Australian), the post-Soviet
386 Eftihia Voutira
Greek diaspora faces both a denitional and an administrative predica-
ment. The two predicaments are compounded. On the denitional level
their predicament is ushered in by a Soviet legacy, whereby their identity
in the Soviet nationalities context was exclusively designated as “Grekí ”
(Voutira 1997a, 2003a:158, note 6). On the administrative level, since the
dissolution of the USSR (1991), the new operational framework for cul-
tural associations is on the basis of the post-Soviet state level (e.g., Russian
Federation, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc.).
This new political reality of the post 1991 nationalizing states in the FSU,
within which Greek cultural associations must exist as “federations” with
a minimum of seven national associations, has imposed new strictures
on the political organization and cultural dynamics of the post-Soviet
Greek cultural associations. In some areas like Central Asia, where Greek
communities are shrinking because of large-scale emigration to Greece
and Russia, this administrative requirement was experienced as a fear
of cultural extinction.
“Look, we are like the Etruscans here, we will soon disappear and
no one will know that we have ever lived in Central Asia,” one of my
local hosts in Kazakhstan remarked in 1992. A similar fear of disap-
pearance/extinction is now put more urgently by one of my traveling
companions and hosts during eld research, who regularly writes to me
from Kazakhstan, and who pessimistically insists that the Greek pres-
ence in the region is dwindling away, slowly succumbing to the lure of
emigration to Greece, Cyprus, and European Russia. Such fears were
echoed in discussions with other presidents of the cultural associations
during the SAE meetings that took place in 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2003
Post-Soviet Greeks: a model diaspora?
Seen over the timeframe of a century and in its simplest possible form,
Greek culture in the FSU may be represented as a model of innitely
dividing segmented groups, spreading across internationally established
state boundaries. The principle of segmentation is primarily related to
forced migration, a phenomenon which has by virtue of its repetitive
nature acquired the status of a regularity that needs to be accounted for,
particularly in the case of the Pontic Greek people, who constitute the
most numerous and, since 1991, the most visible (from the standpoint
of the Greek homeland) regional Greek group in the FSU.9
Evidently, the picture on the ground is messier than the adoption
of a segmentation model may imply. However, the theoretical point is
supported by two empirical observations based on comparative refugee
387Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
research: as a survival strategy, segmentation increases the comparative
advantage of the group as the members invest in alternative settlement
options during times of crisis (Voutira 1994:ch2). The decision to ee
or migrate is based on the historical experience of past displacement,
existing relatives, friends, or simply luck. Furthermore, in the case of
the Pontic Greeks, as the ethnographic evidence shows, the decision to
divide entails a commitment to unite at a later stage, depending on which
conditions appear preferable in the long run (Voutira 1991, 1997, 2004).
In this sense the “segmentation principle” that I describe above may
be simply put as the rule: “the more you divide the more you survive”!
Used as an interpretative device, segmentation becomes the means by
which people conceptualize their uncertainty regarding their future. As
Michael Meeker has noted, segmentation is a “metaphor connoting the
uncertainties of social life” (1979:100). The use of this metaphor allows
us to understand the fusion and ssion patterns that emerged among the
Soviet Greek communities during the “repatriation crisis,” which reached
its peak in 1990–1993 (Voutira 2004). It also accounts for the variations
in the emerging divisions and intra-group conicts that developed in the
context of resettlement in the Greek government-designated region of
Thrace in 1994–2000 (e.g., Keramida 2001; Voutira 2004).
The making of a diaspora over time and space: the prototype
Pontic Greeks use the term “t’iméteron” (ours, one of us) in a charac-
teristic idiomatic manner to denote membership in the group. The
further qualication “t’ iméteron ti família” is used to describe the basic
unit of belonging, the family. It is useful to construct a typical Pontic
Greek family as an illustration of the patterns of adaptation that have
developed over a hundred-year period spanning over ve generations
and extending from Europe to north Kazakhstan.10
Case 1: A twelve-member family household ees from Kars to Kuban
in 1918 with the arrival of Turkish troops in the region after the Brest-
Litovsk Treaty. There, the household divides: the grandparents and the
mother with four daughters ee to Greece from Batoum, while the father
and two male siblings stay in Kuban, at Krymsk. In the early 1930s one
of the sons who had stayed in Kuban marries and moves to the Pontic
Greek settlements in Chalka (50 kms. NW of Tbilisi in Georgia), a labor
migrant settlement of Turkish-speaking Pontic Greeks in place since the
mid-nineteenth century; the other marries locally. In the period between
the two World Wars, the members of the family who stayed in Kuban
seek to “emigrate” to Greece; they receive invitations from their Greek
family members, but the Greek Embassy does not give them repatriation
388 Eftihia Voutira
visas. In 1937, during the Stalinist repressions, the father, who works as
a teacher in the Greek school, is exiled to Siberia. In 1942, as the Ger-
man army moves towards the Caspian Sea, the Greek passport holders
in Kuban are evacuated to North Kazakhstan, to the Pavlodar region.11
They return to Krymsk in 1946, only to be deported again in 1949 with
the rest of the Greeks deported from the Black Sea regions to Western
Kazakhstan. Those family members who had settled in Chalka (the high-
land Turkish speaking region of Georgia) were not deported. In 1957,
after the restrictions on the special settlements where the deportees lived
were waived, half of the deported family moves to collective farms in
Southern Kazakhstan, in the Chirchik region; the other half returns to
Kuban and settles on collective farms (kolkhozy) in the region. In 1970,
the children (Third Generation) of both branches (Caucasus-Central
Asia) migrate to the capitals of their respective regions (to Tbilisi from
the Chalka region in Georgia; to Alma-Ata, in Kazakhstan). The parents
stay in the collective farms, allowing for a rural-urban complementarity
and household adaptation pattern to emerge (the village provides the
foodstuffs, always in decit, and the urban context provides the options
for social mobility and cash). Meanwhile, the side of the family that settled
in Greece in 1923 also follows a rural-urban migration route; they leave
the village and settle in Salonika, in the early 1960s. Two of the younger
sons (Second Generation) marry Pontic Greek brides locally, and the
third goes to Germany as a Gastarbeiter.
In the early 1990s, the Second and Third Generations of the Cen-
tral Asian settlers emigrate (ofcially, “repatriate”) to Greece. While in
Greece, the Soviet Greek extended family divides; one household follows
the urban settlement route (self-settled) in Salonika, the other pursues
rural settlement supported by the National Settlement Plan in Thrace,
a program set up in 1990 to channel Soviet Greeks in Thrace. The
mainland Greek side of the extended family networks, including uncles,
nieces, and godparents, are mobilized in Salonika, while the six-member
household that went to Thrace divides into three distinct household units
in order to increase their chances of receiving permanent state housing
accommodation. The cousins from Salonika help the newcomers obtain
temporary jobs in the construction industry in nearby regions.
In the meantime, the Gastarbeiter cousin from Germany visits Greece
annually with his German wife and considers “repatriation” to Greece
on his own terms, i.e., when he has fully owned his business in Munich.
A meeting with the “Soviet cousins” in Greece during a recent annual
visit occasions his mediation to invite two of the younger males to work
in his Munich business, which they can do on their newly acquired EU
389Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
This typical diaspora case illustrates the way Pontic Greek networks
extend through space over time even in a context, such as the Soviet, where
residence and identity were both sedentarized and localized because of
the particular registration regulations (propiska). Seen over ve genera-
tions, the Pontic Greek kin networks extend from Eastern Anatolia to
Russia, to Greece and the North Caucasus, Siberia, Kazakhstan, back to
Kuban, back to Kazakhstan, to Russia, to Greece. This multiplex migra-
tion pattern nds the Fifth Generation as migrant workers in Cyprus,
Gastarbeiter in Germany, self-settled in Salonika, or as “repatriates” fol-
lowing the National Settlement Plan in Thrace—an option that lays out
new routes of out migration within the EU.
The birthright of the Soviet Greek diaspora
From the mainland Greek perspective, the Pontic Greeks who resettled in
Greece after the Lausanne Treaty agreement on the exchange of popu-
lations between Greece and Turkey (1923), and/or from the Caucasus,
where many had ed between 1918 and 1922, belong to the “Third and
Fourth Generation” of Greek Asia Minor refugees. Through the activi-
ties of their cultural associations12 (Síllogoi Pontíon) set up upon arrival
in mainland Greece, and often through family socialization, many of
the Third Generation Pontic Greeks grow up to speak, understand and
practice different types of Pontic Greek “exotica,” e.g., dancing, dialect,
or culinary tastes (Hadzitaki-Kapsomenou 2001), or pursue longer
term historical issues that impact on the group’s self-identity (Deltsou
The organization of the First International Pontic Congress in
Thessaloniki on 15 July 1985 marked the beginning of a “cultural revival”
period for the Pontic Greeks at home and abroad. The Congress became
the rst formal forum allowing for the encounter between mainland
Greek and Western diaspora associations. An international executive
body—the International Confederation of Pontic Greek Associations—was
formed, choosing Thessaloniki as its formal seat of operations.13 The main
theme discussed in the Congress was the threat of cultural assimilation,
both at home (Greece) and in the different diaspora regions. There
was a collective recognition by all participants concerning the need to
reinforce the existing networks and promote the cultivation of Pontic
Greek identity in the Third Generation against “assimilation” (Efraimi-
dis 1986; cf., Bryer 1991:315). The proposals referred to the “need for
the codication” of the “dialect,” the “history,” and the revival of “local
Pontic Greek traditions.” A surge of publications on Pontic Greek folk-
lore and memoirs of resettlement appeared, followed by research on
390 Eftihia Voutira
regional Pontic Greek dialects in the FSU (Simeonidis and Tompaidis
1999; Tompaidis 1994; Tompaidis and Simeonidis 2002).
The Second International Congress on Pontic Hellenism, in July
1988, brought to Greece a new twig from the Pontic Greek family tree,
the Soviet Greek group. The formal encounter of the two groups began,
as would be expected, with euphoria upon rediscovering their “long-lost
brothers.” Media articles greeted their presence with admiration for
their “cultural resilience.” “They have remained pure Greeks, and until
today . . . they ght without forgetting and without losing their Greekness
(afellinízonte)! The Pontians are a great case, an amazing lesson for all of
us, an example to be taught at school” (Katsanevas 1988).
The Congress became the forum for the exchange of information
on the Soviet (Pontic) Greeks, their situation, cultural survival prospects,
and lifestyle, as noted by one of the Pontic Greek activists from Rustavi,
Georgia (Tsepidis 1990:415ff). The claims of the Soviet representatives
to the homeland were for support in cultural activities (education,
schoolbooks, recognition of degrees for those who were contemplating
return). Brought up to think of themselves as Greeks within the Soviet
Nationalities model, the Soviet Greeks were for the rst time confronted
with their Pontic identity: “we didn’t know we were Pontic Greeks before
we came to Greece or before the Greeks came to the FSU,” many insisted
For some homeland associations, and many of the Second and
Third Generation Pontic Greek intellectuals promoting the cultural and
political revival of their group, the aim was the revitalization through “re-
pontianization”14 of the younger generations faced with the prospects of
assimilation. As dened by one of its main activists, the aim of cultivating
this “revived” Pontic Greek identity was threefold: a) “The recognition of
the genocide ‘our people have suffered’ at the hands of the Turks and
the condemnation of the Turkish state; b) the promotion of Black Sea
Greek culture and history in mainland Greece, and c) the solidarity with
the Pontic Greeks of the FSU in their struggle for ‘recognition of their
past sufferings’” (Charalambidis 1990:186–187; Vergeti 1994:335).
Homeland politics: the invention of the Pontic Greek “genocide”15
The rst time the term “genocide” appeared with reference to the
Pontic Greek experience at the end of World War I was in the context
of an explicit revitalization effort undertaken by the new Center for
Pontic Greek Studies (Kéntro Pontiakón Meletón, KE.PO.ME). As stated
in their rst publication, Pontic Greeks: The Right to Memory, the explicit
aim was to restore the collective memory of Pontic Greek history as a
391Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
“national issue” on a par with the ght against historical oblivion and
its catastrophic consequences for Pontic Greek identity (Fotiadis and
Charalambidis, 1987:28).16 The formal recognition of the “genocide” as
a “historical event” was accomplished in three steps: It was mentioned
in passing as a concluding remark by one of the participants during the
First All-Pontic Greek Congress that took place in Thessaloniki (7–14
July 1985). The issue was revisited in the Second All-Pontic Greek Con-
gress, also held in Thessaloniki three years later (31 July–7 August 1988).
The plenum, including the Soviet Greeks, then voted on the decision
introduced by the organizing committee, which included the following
claim: “We are requesting the international condemnation (katadíki) of
the Turkish policies of genocide, whose consequences for the Pontic
Greeks entailed 350,000 neomartyrs killed before the uprootment”
In the second phase, at the Third International Congress of Pontic
Hellenism (August 1992) the same decision concerning the request for
the condemnation of the Pontic Greek “genocide” was introduced to the
plenum and passed unanimously without any discussion, which was pre-
sumed to have taken place four years earlier (Soanos 1994:398–399).
The third phase involved in fact the acknowledgement of a type
of collective memory by decree. On 24 February 1994, the “fact” of the Pon-
tic Greek “genocide” was accepted as a given by Congress participants.
Under the pressure and active lobbying by Congress representatives,
the Greek Parliament unanimously voted on an amendment, which
“ofcially recognized May 19 as the day of National Commemoration
of the Pontic Greek ‘genocide’ by the Turks.” All the relevant political
parties (The Right, the Left—with some reservation—and PASOK) sup-
ported the decision, which was voted in. The decision introduced the
Pontic Greek “genocide” as a “major moral, historical, and political issue
. . . with wider implications” (Annals of the Greek Parliament 1994; see
also Kaklamanis 1996). According to the arguments of its main lobbyist,
Michalis Charalambidis, “Greece and the Greek state, for moral, histori-
cal, and legal reasons, as well as for reasons of its own defense, should
recognize the great wrong that was done to us. Today, Greek sovereignty
in the Aegean and in Thrace hinge upon the recognition of the Pontic
Greek ‘genocide’ issue” (1990:190).
The issue is indicative of the changing climate of Greek-Turkish
relations, and the choice of date is quite signicant both historically and
sociologically: May 19 is the date of Kemal’s landing in Samsun and his
masterminding of the counterattack on the Greek forces. In Turkey, it is
a major national holiday and celebrated as the victory of the republican
forces. The same day is also meant to commemorate, on the other side
392 Eftihia Voutira
of the Aegean, the “genocide” of the Pontic Greeks. Interestingly, this
particular commemoration date stands over and above the general day
of commemorating the victims of the Asia Minor catastrophe (Septem-
ber 14). The privileged treatment of the Pontic Greek sufferings as a
national holiday is explained by Charalambidis as follows: “Pontos, and
the Pontic Greek issue, is a special case vis-à-vis the whole Asia Minor
experience. The Pontic Greek case is not closed; it is not a historical
issue. It reappears in its new form as one of our national issues with
regional and international implications” (ibid.).
The choice of the particular commemorative date17 of Kemal
Ataturk’s atrocities against the Pontic people as May 19, the same date
the Turkish people celebrate their republican victory, is too fortuitous
to be accidental. As Connerton has argued about commemorative cer-
emonies, the knowledge of a collective past enters into public conscious-
ness through its ritualized observance, which is then internalized and
incorporated as “bodily social memory” (1989:70–71). In the case of the
Pontic Greek “genocide” memorial celebrations, such memory by decree,
has entered into the collective imagination of those who participate in
the celebrations organized by local Pontic Greek associations, both in
the mainland, and the diaspora, which now include it in their annual
ceremonial celebration schedule.
Soviet Greek “cultural revival”
For the Greeks in the FSU, the rediscovery of an ethnic past, which did
not correspond to the ofcial state socialist model of territorial autonomy,
came in the late years of Perestroika. Informal groups that had met for
years and spoke their dialect during weddings, baptisms, and funerals,
where the older generation sought to arrange marriages for their children,
began to organize into formal associations with names like “Prometheus,”
“Ellada,” “Gretsia,” and “Athina,” The rst Greek cultural association
charters, originally written in 1989 (the rst associations were formed
in Moscow, Stavropol, Tbilisi, Essentouki, Batoumi, and Alma-Ata) all
included in their mission statements, a clause concerning the preservation
of Greek cultural life in the Soviet and, later, the post-Soviet setting.
In the early 1990s, elements of a Soviet Greek “cultural revival” were
evident at different levels of daily and market life as illustrated in the pic-
ture above. Hellenism was also promoted through cultural policies aiming
at “exhibiting” Greek culture in museums and making it visible through
ritual celebrations. A museum of Greek traditional life in Marioupol was
inaugurated by the town’s mayor, who promoted his Greek origins and
instituted the Méga Yiortí in 1990, as an annual dancing celebration the
393Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
rst week of September. A festival was introduced at Anapa, among the
ruins of Goripya, whose Hellenistic legacy provided the background for
new memorabilia among the youth clubs that competed in the amphi-
theater among themselves for prizes in Greek dancing and singing. The
erstwhile mayor of Moscow, Gavriil Popov, promoted his Greek ancestry
both as a Soviet politician and as the President of the All-Union Greek
Association (1990–1993). In August 1992, I participated in a three-day
celebration of the Virgin Mary of Kabardinka in Southern Russia, where
Greek associations had begun the previous year a pilgrimage that included
dancing and drinking by candlelight, although no church or icon was
visible in the vicinity. Greekness, like other “less privileged nationalities”
under the Soviet regime, was becoming a “competitive resource” in light
of the prospects of emigration it entailed for its members.
In the different regions of Central Asia and Transcaucasia where
I conducted my eld research, people found themselves in a state of
unrest, faced with the dilemma of staying or going (e.g., Voutira 1991;
1997a). Depending on community needs, the associations played a role
Figure 1. Café Elláda: A coffee shop in Adler, a town in Southern Russia, May 1991. The
printing on the window reads “Russian Socialist Federation: ADLER-AOP Ltd” (top left), and
“Semi-Luxurious Category, Open 11:00–23:00 hrs” (bottom right).
394 Eftihia Voutira
in arranging visa papers for those who went to visit Greece, in checking
out prospects for emigration and return to the FSU, or by organizing
emergency Greek lessons using Marina Ritova’s “Teach Yourself Greek”
The rst All-Union Greek Congress:
the problem of representation, unity and organization
Until January 1992, Greek associations in the FSU were organized accord-
ing to a federal (All-Union) structure. The First All-Union Greek Con-
gress in Yelendzik (28–30 April 1991) was held with a view to resolving
the basic issue of the Greek Federation of Soviet Greek Associations: the
prospects for the establishment of territorially based “autonomy” of the
Soviet Greek minority in accordance with the practice of the nationalities
policies of the Soviet regime at the time. The Yelendzik Congress was also
heavily attended by mainland Greek and Western diaspora association
leaders and Greek state ofcials.18
The tensions among the different organizations’ priorities reected
regional priorities as dened in terms of the changing social contexts
within Soviet space. The different positions were reected in the ambi-
guities surrounding the concept of “autonomy”: territorial autonomy and
cultural autonomy. The rst meaning was reected in the priorities of the
Central Asian and Transcaucasian Greeks who opted for mass “repatria-
tion” to Greece and/or for resettlement within Russian territory from
the Soviet periphery (Greek All-Union Congress 1991). The second
meaning reected the priorities of the Ukrainian and Russian associa-
tions who opted for a broad agenda of cultural revival in a Russophone
The reasoning of the former group was based on the realization
that life for the Greeks was becoming increasingly difcult given the rise
in titular nationality nationalisms, and the progressive marginalization of
Russophone and other pro-Russian minorities, with whom the majority
of Soviet Greeks had identied for years (Kessidis 1996:112–118). Thus,
emigration to Greece or resettlement in Southern Russia appeared as
the most attractive options. For those who aimed at resettlement within
former Soviet space, the consolidation of the dispersed Greek presence
across Soviet territory was the main agenda. Seen in political terms, the
pro-resettlement group focused on the denition of “autonomy” as a
strategy for establishing a concrete “territorial base” for the Soviet Greek
diaspora. In the spirit of a dwindling Soviet federalism, they opted for
their political legitimization on the basis of territorial autonomy as a
Gretsiski rayon. The target area identied, on historical grounds, was,
395Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
quite unrealistically, the region of Anapa and the Krimskayia rayon in
the Krasnodar region.
The supporters of cultural autonomy were mainly the Ukrainian
Greeks. In the words of Leontii Nesterovich Kiriyakov, a Greek Ukrainian
intellectual and member of the USSR Writers’ Union from Sartana:
The Greeks of the Ukraine will never leave for Greece, because they feel
far surer of themselves living here (Ukraine) together in close-knit com-
munities. . . . We feel this is our land and we will never leave it, since we
live in harmony with all nations and in particular with the Ukrainians. . . .
I am convinced that not one Greek will leave for Greece. (Interview with
the author, Sartana, 15 June 1992)
Similarly, the President of the Greek Association of the Crimea also
insisted that, since “there are no poor Greeks in our region (Symferopol),
we have no reason to go to Greece.”
Clearly, the perception of Greece as a lost paradise missed by parents
and grandparents who tried to emigrate and failed during the Soviet
period, or the view of Greece as the land of afuence by comparison
to life in former Soviet space, was not a universal notion for all Soviet
Greeks. The prospects and manner of cultivating Greekness varied with
the degree of commitment to stay or to go. From the standpoint of the
regional community leaders, another determining factor was the level of
expectations and loyalty among their constituencies. Some of the partici-
pants, particularly from associations in Armenia, who had suffered the
earthquakes of 1988, refused the resettlement and local reconstruction
option: “If we are to rebuild our homes and resettle it will only be to
go to Greece.” The nal vote was 71–65 in favor of promoting “cultural
autonomy” for the Soviet Greek diaspora rather than pursuing the politi-
cal path of establishing a politically recognized “territorial autonomy.”
The Greek Executive Committee, in collaboration with Greek state
ofcials, dened the future political agenda of the Natsional’nie Palata in
the FSU (staffed by presidents of the cultural associations in Stavropol,
Moscow, Alma-Ata, Kobouletti, Tbilisi, and Vladikavkaz). They drew up
a strategic plan to promote the cultural representation of the Greek
minority at the All-Union level in the Natsional’nii Soviet. In promot-
ing their efforts for the Soviet Greek diaspora’s “cultural revival,” they
requested material assistance from the Greek state in the form of books,
educational programs, and human resources. The Greek state set up a
continuous program of summer camps for children and pensioners in
Nea Makri and Skotina, where members of the diaspora were to spend a
month of vacation, and established a number of scholarships for Soviet
396 Eftihia Voutira
Regrouping and returning diasporas: the Greek state’s
perceptions of the newcomers as subjects of policy
One important set of considerations in assessing policies and their impact
on social life concerns the implicit assumptions embedded in the manner
in which policies, and policy-makers, construct their subjects (Shore and
Wright 1997:3). In the case of Greek state policies vis-à-vis the “repatri-
ate” Greeks, the main underlying assumption was that the newcomers
are our “kith and kin.”
By 1995, some 140,000 Soviet Greeks had “repatriated to Greece”
(Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace 2000:6–7). In the ofcial publications
of the National Foundation, the organization formed for their reception
and resettlement in 1991, and during my numerous interviews with state
ofcials, the view that Soviet Greek “repatriates” are Greeks appeared to
be unassailable (Apostolidis 1992).19 This perception, coupled with the
legacy of the 1923 Asia Minor “refugee past,” reinforced the view that
the newcomers can be used in the interests of “national development”
(Voutira 2003a; 2003b). Thus, the newcomers could be settled in remote
regions from which the local population was emigrating (i.e., Thrace).
The main assumption, articulated by policy-makers and state of-
cials, was that Soviet Greek presence in these regions would be able to
create in and of itself an economic revitalization and this would generate
“the pull” for a return migration among the local population that had
emigrated (EIYAPOE 1991; Voutira 2003a:152).
The early 1990s: a period of rising expectations
For the majority of ex-Soviet Greeks, the variety of expectations from
their “historical homeland” was informed both by an emerging mistrust
toward the disintegrating Soviet system and by their progressive engage-
ment with the capitalist order of the West, to which they saw themselves
as having a privileged connection by virtue of their ethnic membership in
the Greek nation. The stronger they felt their disillusionment with their
Soviet past, the fear of economic and physical insecurity, and the threat
that minority rights would be undermined in the context of an emerg-
ing nationalist discourse in different regions of Central Asia, Georgia,
or Southern Russia, the more they expected from Greece.20
Inter-cultural comparisons and disillusionment among newcomers and hosts
Elements of cultural collision between newcomers and hosts involve
largely incongruent expectations, a type of cognitive dissonance between
397Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
anticipation and reality. For both hosts and “repatriates,” the last ten years
have been a time of wishful thinking followed by disenchantment.
On the inter-group level, (Greeks vs. Soviet Greeks), Soviet Greeks
are seen as Russians, as lazy and ignorant. By comparison to the 1923
refugees, who had been hailed as a critical resource of Modern Greece’s
national development, the newcomers are seen as “not real Greeks suffer-
ing under the Soviet regime; they are capitalists. They only come here to
trade and make a better living.” This is repeated by those who arrived in
Greece in the early 1990s from the FSU. Among the Third Generation of
Asia Minor refugees in Thrace, the disillusionment with the newcomers
is voiced in terms of a comparison with their own perceptions of their
grandparents’ experiences of settlement and the ways those people
“tamed their own fate” through personal sacrice and hard work:
When our families came from Asia Minor they had nothing and it was only
through their hard work and sacrices that they were able to succeed. . . .
They worked and worked until they would get juice from the stones (na
vgáloun zoumí apó tis pétres) . . . but these people who are coming now from
Russia are lazy (tembélides). They don’t like to work—they prefer to sit and
wait or to get money from the state through the EU subsidized professional
qualication programs. (Interviews with local authorities, Komotini, 25
A different view, also denoting disillusionment with the newcomers,
was voiced by government ofcials in Athens, who saw them as unap-
preciative of the state’s efforts and provisions of “material assistance and
the training programs we were devising for them” (Voutira 2003:156).
Elements of mistrust seemed evident on both sides. As Mr. Yiorgos Iako-
vou, the erstwhile president of EIYAPOE put it,
these newcomers are not refugees—they come voluntarily to improve
their lot, they are economic migrants, they don’t speak the language, they
have a different culture but they are ofcially ethnic Greeks so they share
the same rights as other Greeks in terms of employment, protection and
political rights. What is still lacking is social solidarity. (Interview with the
author, Athens October 10 1995)
1995–2000: new homeland politics and state priorities for the Soviet Greeks
Perhaps one of the most critical factors determining the assessment of
the “National Settlement Plan” as a failure of national policy (EIYAPOE,
1994) is the recognition that the new approach adopted by Greece vis-à-vis
its diaspora in the FSU has changed. Since 1994, the ofcial Greek policy
has been one of containing, rather than encouraging, the immigration
cum repatriation inux.
398 Eftihia Voutira
The problem of settling Soviet Greeks in Greece had become
that of dealing with the large numbers of those who are already inside
the Greek state boundaries as “illegals,” i.e., those who had arrived on
a tourist visa and overstayed it. An ofcial assessment of the changing
social realities since the original 1989 “immigration crisis” is illustrated
in the Memorandum of the General Secretariat of Repatriated Greeks,
an organization established in 1990 under the auspices of the Ministry
of Macedonia-Thrace, but only set in operation in 1994. The allocation
of responsibility to this new body came after pressure from civil society
organizations and the progressive realization that the problem with the
existing National Settlement Plan for Soviet Greek settlement in Thrace
was not simply one of effectively completing housing construction in
Thrace. It was related to the fact that the vast majority of the newcomers
preferred to settle in urban areas, where housing is scarce and expensive
but employment opportunities are much greater.
The Memorandum notes that from the state’s perspective, the criti-
cal problem for the majority of Greeks from the FSU is their legal status
(Kamenidis 1996:4). Since 1996, more than half of the total estimate
of 150,000 newcomers from the FSU who have entered Greece have
neither repatriate nor refugee status! Ofcially, they are illegal immigrants,
either because they have extended their stay on the “tourist visa” entry, or
because they have acquired their documents illegally on the black market.
This realization clearly inuenced the perception of “the problem,” and,
by implication, the policy response appropriate to address it.21
Homeland immigration/repatriation policies
Like other southern European countries in transition from emigration
to immigration states, Greece does not have formal immigration policies
(e.g., Fakiolas 2004; Lazaridis 1996; Triantallidou and Veikou 2002).
For the last 10 years, repatriation has functioned as a substitute. This
practice derives from the fundamentally nationalist ideology by which
membership in the state presupposes membership in the nation. The
manner in which Greek citizenship is allocated according to the Greek
constitution to all members of the Greek nation (to génos Éllines) includes
by denition all members of the Greek diaspora that are ethnically Greek
i.e., to génos Éllines;22 hence the signicance of the concept omogenís. Like
Germany, which is a better-known example, Greece includes as members
of its nation the diaspora in the former Soviet Union, giving the latter an
axiomatic right of entry.23 In the language of Benedict Anderson (1991),
these diasporas belong to the “imagined community” that makes up the
nation. Both citizens of the homeland and their omogeneís in the FSU are
399Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
presumed to belong to the same community, sharing a collective identity
independently of any actual collective experience. It is in this sense that
individuals who had carried Soviet passports all their lives are not migrat-
ing but “repatriating” to Greece, “returning” to a homeland they may
never have seen before. This apparent paradox of “ethnic return” may
be explained by the underlying assumption that supports the rhetoric of
repatriation per se. It is borrowed from the dominant idiom of national-
ism, whereby everyone belongs to a place, everyone presumably wants
to go to their place, and everyone ideally should be in their place, viz.,
their putative homeland.
It is this assumption that animates the current “repatriation as
immigration” policies in countries like Germany, Greece, Poland, and
Finland, turning the East European newcomers into “privileged” return
migrants with direct access to civil, political, and economic rights (Voutira
2004). Thus, such policies place them, in terms of their ethnic afnity to
the receiving nation, in an improved position vis-à-vis other newcomers
Conclusion: elements of globalization
In the preceding discussion I have described Greek diaspora politics
with a view to showing the dialectics between homeland priorities and
diaspora expectations. I have also traced the evolution of the Soviet
Greek diaspora that emerged in the climate of “crisis” and unrest, which
at the time dened the structure of Soviet Greek identity in terms of
new prospects that were experienced by many as a dilemma: to stay in
the FSU or go to Greece.
Each choice entailed different advantages relevant to the condi-
tions of different Soviet Greek groups: Ukrainian Greeks, who had no
kin networks with the homeland, were concerned with an ethnic revival
and the formation of business contacts with mainland Greece. Caucasian
Greeks, whether in the Caucasus or Central Asia, attracted by family
networks, enabling conditions of documenting their ethnic descent, and
pushed by deteriorating conditions in the host land, were concerned
with emigration to Greece.
Today, despite the continuous transfer of information and personnel
across the old Soviet borders, relationships to Greece remain for both
groups ambiguous and elusive. For the Ukrainians whose children are
now learning Modern Greek and traditional Greek dancing at school,
the discovery of their ethnic past is used as a resource in cultivating
relations to the EU and the US (cf., Kaurinkoski 2003). For the latter
group, ambiguous feelings about their historical “homeland” they were
400 Eftihia Voutira
so proud to promote some years back is the result of disappointment
experienced by kith and kin who have “returned home.”
For both, however, the relation to the homeland is experienced in
emotional rather than pragmatic terms. Like cosmopolitanism, dened
by Hannerz as a kind of mentality, a connectedness with the outside
world (1997:110), the new Soviet Greek diaspora, now ourishing
mainly in the Ukraine and Southern Russia, may “feel Greek” without
ever going to Greece. Most (Pontic) Greeks from Russia, the Caucasus
and Central Asia have developed a novel transmigrant mobility pattern
that includes multiple return journeys “home,” specied according to
context as Greece, Cyprus, Akhmola, or Munich. Patterns of “return”
are now less permanent and hence less emotionally taxing than before.
This may be a feature of what Appadurai has noted concerning shift-
ing priorities about collective loyalties; indeed, for the former Soviet
Greeks, “mono-patriotism is becoming a thing of the past” (1997:176).
Such a change of attitude may not only be part of the shifting loyalties,
feelings and attitudes among the membership of the diaspora towards
the homeland, but also of the national center’s attitudes towards its
diaspora, now dened as a “global network of Hellenes” and viewed as
an international “resource.”
The mission of the new World Council of Hellenes Abroad is to
establish new patterns of social relations between homeland and diaspora
“in a manner that it would be benecial to both sides” (World Council of
Hellenes Abroad 1998). Despite, or even because of, the humanitarian
rhetoric articulated in the Web pages of this organization, the establish-
ment of an extensive network of medical centers in the Ukraine, Georgia,
Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan is creating new markets for medical technol-
ogy and medical products in the FSU. At the same time, this new network
is fullling important regional needs for the population, which, however,
is unable to communicate in the same language with their donors. In
terms of the emerging power relations within SAE, it is worth monitoring
what appears to be an emerging trend over the last four years. There is
a type of marginalization of the Soviet Greek diaspora, not least because
the language used in the World Council of Hellenes is mainly English
and/or Greek, and in this respect the Russian-speaking post-Soviet Greek
diaspora is found wanting. Nevertheless, the processes of interaction of
the members of the post-Soviet Greek diaspora with their transnational
co-ethnics now includes a more effective network of cultural and humani-
tarian assistance which functions as a reminder to the recipients of this
aid, of their membership in a global Hellenic network.
The metaphors used to describe the current power relations as they
401Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
emerge among the cultural associations are part of the global trend of
“exporting democracy,” lucidly described by Sampson (1996:128–130).
It is also the case that the younger generations of post-Soviet Greeks are
no longer being socialized by their families through dramatic stories of
failed emigration to Greece, as their parents’ generations were through-
out the Soviet years. In the case of the parents, the family socialization
stories played an important role in the creation of a “memory of Greece
as a homeland” and as a place to go. For the post-Soviet Greek youth,
the options of staying or going do not pose a dilemma. As most of them
tell me, it is mainly a matter of having the funds to travel back and forth.
Those who have access to the Internet can also read about their fund-
ing options and their historical homeland’s achievements on the World
Wide Web, and feel proud for it, at a distance!
In conclusion, it is evident from the argument above that for
the majority of Soviet Greeks, the reversal to becoming a “privileged”
group is related to the fact that from the standpoint of the Greek state
they are members of a kultur nation, something for which many had to
suffer in the past under the Soviet regime. The new, post–Cold War
generation may use this ethnic membership as part of its social capital in
investing in new arenas based on the logic of co-ethnic networks. The
Soviet Greeks are part of the Greek diaspora today because they have
ofcially recognized their own ethnic capital, and because they have, in
turn been recognized by the Greek state, which allocates citizenship and
other rights based on this liation. The process of including the Soviet
Greek “other” into the Modern Greek national family has been neither
smooth nor unproblematic24. For as in the case of family relations the
presence of liation, does not necessarily include or entail “philiation”
in the more traditional Aristotelian sense of philía. The allusion to the
Aristotelian concept of friendship suggests a far more demanding concept
of “recognition;” it suggests the mutual acceptance of self-other and a set
of relations that make life tolerable, worthwhile, and rewarding: the stuff
that makes “life worth living” (Aristotle 1968:ch. xi–xii). To paraphrase
Wayne Booth (1993:96ff), it takes no social scientist to recognize that
too many people in the modern world lack this “type of stuff” (philía);
but it does take a social scientist, who has coined the term social capital
(Loury 1987:247–271), to decide that this essential stuff should, today,
be promoted in an economist’s vocabulary.
402 Eftihia Voutira
1 It is noteworthy, that despite the aforementioned theoretical preoccupations with
“roots,” empirical historical and anthropological research consistently shows that migra-
tion is not an aberration but a constant (Voutira 1994:25; Sanjek 2003:315); and yet, the
collective awareness of this fact appears novel each time it is asserted.
2 The term “homeland state” is here borrowed from political science and specically
the work of Rogers Brubaker (1996), who has used it to identify a series of options that have
emerged in the context of the reorganization of political space of post–Cold War Europe:
e.g., autonomistic nationalisms of national minorities claiming a homeland (e.g., Kosovars
in Kosovo), “external homelands” nationalizing their minorities abroad or increasing their
constituencies at home (e.g., post 1991 Russian Federation), nationalizing nationalisms
of new states (e.g., Baltic states nationalizing their constituencies through new legislation
aiming at cultural homogenization legislation for those who live in their boundaries). In
the case of Greece, one could argue that it is a homeland state without having to accept
the less useful category of “external homeland,” which remains redundant as a concept
given that a diaspora is by denition outside the homeland. The substantive theoretical
point I am making here, refers to the structure of diaspora groups and the process of the
legitimating of new diaspora members to a pre-existing core diaspora, which of course, also
needs to be acknowledged by the homeland state. This may sound a bit Hegelian but one
can talk about a diaspora in-itself and a diaspora for itself. The post Soviet Greek diaspora is
an interesting case because it was not ofcially acknowledged by Greece as the external or
historical homeland and it had no structure to acknowledge itself before 1988. In this case
it was like an unborn illegitimate child. Its birth and legitimation is discussed below.
3 The choice of term in Greek apódimos is interesting. In ancient Greek apódimos refers
to the one that nds oneself away from the “demos,” i.e., their habitual place of residence
(Liddle and Scott 1996). There is no allusion as to what today we may call immigration or
resettlement of mainland Greeks outside Greece’s borders. The reference is to the activ-
ity of leaving, including the world of living, which is coined in the expression, apodímíse
eis kírion (he/she passed away). The choice of concept then is indeed fortuitous since it
allows for a euphemistic reading of the people who are abroad since it focuses on the fact
that they nd themselves “away from home” rather than that they have made another! In
Modern Greek apodimía as a common noun refers to the process of emigration (Manolis
Triantallidis Foundation 1988). The adjectival use apódimos refers to the person who lives
away from the homeland and apódimos ellinismós according to Kriaras refers to sínolo ton
ellínon pou zoun sto eksoterikó (1995).
4 The particular projects implemented in different CIS states include a $40–70 million
primary health-care initiative program, micro-credit loan projects for business initiatives for
women, and peace initiatives in South Africa and the Caucasus (e.g., see World Council
of Hellenes Abroad 1998–2000).
5 The term is borrowed from T. Trier’s (1996) discussion concerning similar phe-
nomena among post-Soviet Jewish migrants in Israel. As presented in Trier’s analysis, post
Soviet Jews experience ethnic resentment on the part of both Israeli and earlier arrivals
of Soviet Jews. One can observe similar phenomena of ethnic resentment among post-
Soviet Greeks who experience rejection by the local populations, who call them “Russians”
and Rossopóntioi. Of late there are elements of a type of “re-Russianization” among Soviet
Greeks, particularly those that are over 35 years old, married “within” and bringing up
their children in a Russophone environment.
6 In a eld-study done as a senior thesis at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki
on the role of the cultural associations of the Greeks from the FSU in the Thessaloniki
403Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
area in 2003, it was found that 61 such associations have been established since 1993; the
majority has the name of their place of origin in the FSU. The logic and rationale of their
establishment is the promotion of an “intermediary” space between “homeland” and “host-
land.” On the local level, these associations can and do serve multiple affective, restorative
and integrative functions for their members in mainland Greece (Hatzitaki-Kapsomenou
2001:46–49). At the same time, seeing the two concepts of “homeland” and “host-land” as
indexical terms, one may anticipate the integration dynamics and the way in which these
can be transformed over time, as people progressively begin to think of their past experi-
ences in the FSU as belonging to either of these categories, depending on their assessment
of their particular situation as time goes by. For example, for some of the elderly Soviet
Greek repatriates, the FSU still represents a “homeland” where they can get improved
and less expensive medical care in the local “sanatoria” in Southern Caucasus with which
they are more familiar, and which they see as preferable to the expensive medication and
hospitalization system practiced in Greece.
7 Elsewhere I have discussed in some detail the reasons that account for this particu-
larity in Modern Greek usage of the concept of refugees seen in terms of positive cultural
connotations. This particularity has some relevance from the standpoint of refugee research
in that, unlike contemporary constructions of the term based on negative stereotypes
casting refugees as a burden and state liability, in Greek it is still used as a term of honor
(Voutira 2003a). This positive connotation is largely due to the collective perception of the
“successful” integration and publicly acknowledged contribution of Asia Minor refugees
to Modern Greek economic, social and cultural development (Voutira and Harrell-Bond
2000:58–60). Specically, the meaning of the term “refugee” in modern Greek is informed
and mediated by the collective memory of the Asia Minor refugees as a national asset; i.e.,
as integrated refugees, after their rehabilitation and effective adaptation in modern Greek
society (Voutira 2003a:66).
8 The presence of Greek communities in Russia is a case in point. Greek colonies were
established along the shore of Iberia, modern Georgia, the Azov Sea and the coastline of
Southern Ukraine. Greek merchant communities existed throughout the Middle Ages and
upon the fall of Trebizond to the Ottomans many Orthodox Christians ed to the lands
of Orthodox Christian Czars (Bryer 1991; Karpozilos 1999:137). Czarist Russia during
Ottoman times favored Christian settlement by encouraging it through imperial decrees
that granted special privileges to the newcomers, leading to the settlement of the Pontic
Greek-speaking population in the Caucasus in the eighteenth century and the repeated
waves of settlement in the region following the retreat of the Russian army at the end of
each Russo-Turkish war, that resulted in the creation of Greek-speaking communities in
the Cuban Valley, the Western, and the Northern Caucasus. The last great exodus from
the Pontus to Russian soil was in 1918–1919 when some 100,000 “refugees” ed to the
Caucasus with the change of borders in the Kars Ardakhan region shifting between Russian
and Turkish occupation until the nal border settlement in 1921 (e.g., Xanthopoulou-
Kiriakou 1991; Chassiotis 1997).
9 The fact that the regularity of forced migration and segmentation has coincided with
the peak of every generation since the beginning of this century (1918–1922, 1942–1951,
1988–1993) would require visualizing a spatial as well as a temporal depiction of the seg-
mentation pattern. The model may be represented as a kinship structure organized in space
and read generationally as each segmentation involves displacement across international
or regional boundaries.
10 The concept of “generation” familiar in social science research represents a twenty-
year period. Specically in the Pontic Greek cases described, the “First Generation” includes
those who were born at the end of nineteenth century. The “Second Generation” includes
404 Eftihia Voutira
those who were born in the Inter-war period. The “Third Generation” includes those who
were born in the 1950s. The “Fourth Generation” includes those who were born in the
1970s, and the “Fifth Generation” those who were born in the 1990s.
11 The vocabulary of forced migrations under the Soviet regime has its own history
and specic connotations. The concepts (a) “repressions” (1935–1939), (b) “evacuations”
(1940–1942) and (c) “deportations” (1944–1949) were three distinct concepts used to
characterize forced transplantations of populations during the 1935–1949 period within the
FSU. It is interesting that Greeks from different regions within the FSU were included in all
of the above exiles (e.g., Alieva 1993:221; Voutira 1991, 1997a; Chassiotis 1997). Estimates
of the total number, ethnic, national and political afliations of these deported people
differ particularly, since relevant archival evidence has only recently become available [see
for example, Pohl (1999:13) who brings the total to some four million].
12 These associations constitute strong political lobbies (e.g., Panagía Soumelá, Éfk-
seinos Léschi), seats of political peddling, labor recruitment and, since PASOK’s coming
to power in 1982, they have been revived to promote cultural activities concerned with
the rediscovery of the different groups’ “roots.” Vergeti (1994:291) provides a useful list
of the cultural associations in the Athens-Piraeus area for the period 1923–1985 (27) and
1976–1986 (9). Evidently, there was a scaling up of the associations in the 1990s if one
compares the situation in the Salonika region in recent years (see note 3 above).
13 The history of the lobbying activities of the Pontic Greek cultural associations is
long and fascinating; it includes a series of congresses deciding on the future of pre-Soviet
Hellenism in Taganrok (May 1917), the nation-building activities of the French and U.S.
groups that played a decisive role in articulating the priorities of the Pontic Greek self-
determination claims, concerning the political agenda of an autonomous Pontic Greek state
in the Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920), and their political pressure on the Venizelos
government to assist Pontic Greek refugees in the FSU during the period between the two
World Wars (cf., Vergeti 1994; Chassiotis 1997).
14 The concept of “re-pontianization” is coined in this context by Charalambidis on
a par with the agenda of cultural revival and the politicization of the Pontic Greeks from
the Soviet Union in Greece. The implementation of this agenda has been taken on board
by cultural associations throughout Greece and the diaspora.
15 The introduction of the “genocide” case may be seen as a strategy adopted by the
organizations in concert with the state to turn Pontic Greeks into “Greeks,” i.e., members
of the nation. The story of “Pontic Greek genocide” becomes an initiation rite both into
their “legitimate grievances and their national claims” among association members. The
effectiveness of the method is intimated in their statements that “We didn’t know we were
Pontic Greeks; we learned it from the mainland Greeks, or when we came to Greece” (cf.,
16 Unlike the Armenians, who had begun their worldwide campaign immediately after
the mass exterminations in 1915, the Pontic Greeks introduced the issue of their “geno-
cide” by the Turks (1914–1922) some sixty years later. One can speculate on the reasons
for this delayed response; one possible hypothesis is that it appeared at such a later stage
as a political claim to mobilize the existing associations and imbue them with a spirit of
patriotism thought to be lost after the Greco-Turkish Treaty between Venizelos and Kemal
Ataturk in 1930. The original target audiences were the Second and Third generations of
Pontic Greeks in Greece; one of the unintended consequences of this mobilization effort
is that a large part of the target audience remains skeptical, while the issue was picked up
and promoted by the Soviet Greeks in Greece and in the Western diaspora contexts (e.g.,
the U.S., Canada, Australia).
17 The core of the “genocide argument” is based on confusion over population census
data group categories which are often manipulated for sensationalist purposes and are
405Post-Soviet Diaspora Politics: The Case of the Soviet Greeks
now available on the Internet: (http://www.geocities.com/pontos1923/). If one were to
take such arguments seriously enough to refute them, one would have to start from some
reliable source. Kitromilidis and Alexandris (1984–1985) estimate the size of the Ortho-
dox Greek population in the regions of Eastern and Western Pontos (i.e., Sivas, Trabzon,
Kastamonou) at a total of 482,404 in 1916. Of these, approximately 200,000 ed to Rus-
sia, while 183,000 went to Greece. It is thus difcult to imagine how 350,000 could have
been killed between 1916 and 1923. The more serious issue is of course the question of
the concept “genocide” itself, which is being used rather loosely in both scholarly and
journalistic writings. In his recent editorial entitled “Towards a theory of genocide? Not
yet!” the editor of the Journal of Genocide Research recommends caution to the readers and
contributors to the journal, which was named after the very phenomenon on which caveats
are being presented. He warns the audience against facile generalizations and speculative
accounts in the absence of a theory of “genocide.”
18 The main concern of these associations has for the past three years been to establish
economic opportunities for their members, to facilitate the acquisition of tourist visas to
Greece, and, whenever possible, do “bizness” with their compatriots across the borders.
19 The meaning of “Greek” in this context was mainly informed by the bureaucratic
criteria of identifying a Greek in terms of a “repatriate visa” acquired in Moscow through
the Greek Embassy. Since the acquisition of this visa involves, in principle, the proof of
one’s ethnic Greek descent to be established by the Greek consular authorities in the FSU,
the assumption that those who come with a visa are Greeks simply reafrmed the belief that
the bureaucracy worked! The eventual ofcial Greek state acknowledgement that people
could hold “repatriation visas” acquired through illegal means, and that people who had
claims to Greekness might not be able to acquire repatriate visas because they lacked the
necessary funding, seriously undermined this view (Kamenidis 1996:12–14). Overall the
perception of the newcomers as “Greeks” remains dominant. What has changed is the
debate about what criteria should be used to dene “Greekness” as an entitlement in the
context of immigration. According to the new Greek legislation (2910/2001, Par. 1 and 3
Article 76) the “Greekness” of omogeneís from the FSU is to be ascertained by a four-mem-
ber committee that determines the degree of “Greek National Consciousness” present in
the newcomers through an interviewing process (Voutira 2004:240–241; Pavlou n.d.; cf.,
Triantallidou and Veikou 2002).
20 For a sociological study (conducted in Greece) that examines the issue of the
expectations of newcomers from the FSU with reference to those who arrived in Greece
between 1985 and 1989, see Kassimati et al. (1992).
21 A new policy of legalization of status for those FSU citizens already within Greece’s
borders was introduced in 2000 with a view towards addressing the problem and legalizing
those without immigration or repatriation visas (Voutira 2004).
22 As Roger Just has succinctly argued, the problem of dening “ethnicity” in rela-
tion to “nationality” in Modern Greek is more of a problem for the historians and the
anthropologists than for the Greeks themselves (1989:71). Arguably, the most appropriate
equivalent for “ethnic Greek” denoting membership of the nation in Modern Greek is to
génos Éllinas (Richard Clogg, personal communication).
23 The German case is an interesting example. Recent research shows that there is
an emerging “reversal” in the preferential treatment of newcomers: a fairly rigid German
language test is introduced as a prerequisite for Aussiedler from Eastern Europe, while under
the pressure of local associations a more liberal allocation of jus soli is deployed to allocate
citizenship rights among second and third generation immigrant Turks (Dietz 2002).
24 As Michael Herzfeld (1996) has noted in his discussion of “cultural intimacy” in
the Modern Greek context, the manner in which this condition of “intimacy,” which is a
desideratum of social relations in the nation-state, is fraught with cultural biases, is based on
406 Eftihia Voutira
powerful localisms and/or nationalist ideologies. The ethnographic evidence used in this
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and hosts, at least in the context of the National Repatriation Plan in Thrace, is the high
and divergent expectations between “us” and “them”; in this respect “cultural intimacy” is
clearly being undermined and given no ground to ourish (7ff.).
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