An interesting debate in this year’s Delphi Economic Forum focused on the subject of diasporas bringing to the fore new ways of looking at an emotive question that has been discussed with feelings ranging from old-time nostalgia to “diaspora nationalism”. Sociologist Riva Kastoryano, Senior Research Fellow, SciencesPo-CNRS, Yossi Shain, Professor of Political Science, Tel Aviv University, Richard Clogg, Emeritus Fellow, St. Anthony’s College and Georges Prevelakis, Professor Emeritus at the Sorbonne University (Paris I) took part in an interesting debate


Greek Business File, April – May issue

The dispersion of peoples has a long history. In the present era, conflicts around the globe as well as the realities of globalization and recurring economic crises have created new versions of an age old phenomenon. Greeks have had a long-term understanding of the diasporic condition, but the recent fi nancial crisis which has sent a new wave of highly-educated youth abroad gave this phenomenon new relevance. Sociologist Riva Kastoryano, a Senior Research Fellow at CNRS, France (born
in Istanbul, lectured at Harvard and Sciences Po) made the distinction between the concept of diaspora, applied to populations suffering from expulsion, persecution and forced migration from their homeland due to religious and political reasons and the phenomenon of transnational communities, constituted of migrants originally belonging to nationstates with which they maintain a link.

“A new centre”

If the concept of diaspora fi nds its roots in the religious-motivated departure of Jews “in exile”, transnational communities seek to create a “new centre” creating identities within immigration countries. Diasporas, retaining the memory of the centre – usually “idealized and mythologized” – plan to return there; this is the heart of diaspora nationalism: “its goal is to construct a nation state on the ancestral land as a “retrieval” of its history and the “restoration” of its territory before exodus. The plan is thus a re-territorialization of the reunified nation after dispersion”. What of transnational nationalism? “[It] borrows an opposite route. Reproduced and diffused by the migrants’ states of origin, it is reinterpreted and reappropriated in the case of immigration […] to redefine the content of country-of-origin nationalism”. To Kastoryano, the emergence of transnational communities is a “global phenomenon” and mainly concerns post-colonial migration. Immigrants are involved in structuring networks based upon economic interests, cultural exchanges, social relations and political mobilisations. Through new means of communication and their influence on institutions and national and international policies, transnational actors are also at the centre of networks through which knowledge and power circulate – knowledge about other cultures and other institutional structures – and the power to act beyond territorial boundaries.

The case of the Muslim “ummah”

The evolution of Muslim populations settled in different European countries offer a notable case study. To them, Islam represents a unifying identity, “a way of asserting a collective interest and restructuring a transnational community which transcends the boundaries of States”. A re-imagined, worldwide Muslim community – the ummah, “In which national, religious and worldly attachments are all mixed up” – affords a basis to a narrative of belonging. A further paradox of globalization often emerges diasporas as the vision of a re-territorialisation, “restoration” or “recovery” of a real or mythical territory. The ummah generates new impulses based upon the transnational communities and networks that seek to consolidate themselves through the strength of a single narrative fed by symbols, images and objects in order to elicit politically motivated obligation. “Space replaces territory, it re-localises extra-territorial references and re-defines identity boundaries with new boundaries with new inclusions and exclusions”.

The Jewish Diaspora and the “start-up nation” of Israel

Yossi Shain, Professor of Political Science at Tel Aviv, Israel and Georgetown University (born in Israel, served as special advisor to Israeli’s Foreign Minister) described how the “chaotic global order” of the present times contributes to what he terms the glorification of the diasporic phenomenon. Ancestral references to Jewish diaspora were re-inforced by the fate of European Jews between the two Wars and the establishment of the state of Israel which “created a real homeland, with borders where there was a legendary one”. The present-day phenomenon of mass emigration due to economic reasons as well as regional confl icts is now causing “borders to run out of people”. Today “diasporas associate with liberal states to allow for the emergence of “global tribes”. While States are about borders and protection, the circulation of people increases – but “identities don’t go away”. “People have attachments. Liberal states tried to undo these attachments but this has failed”. Chinese are fast becoming the largest diaspora, while Indians are closely following. Mexico has established 40 consulates throughout the USA, considering them “an asset for Mexico. “Don’t lose people who leave” is fast becoming more than a slogan, as is the effort to convert “brain drain” to “brain gain” through encouraging the build-up of networks between diasporas and their home countries.

Shain reported extensively on the radically changed relationship between the Jewish diasporas and the State of Israel, stressing the fact that – starting from a core population of half a million within extremely reduced borders – today the majority of Jews reside in Israel. Also, within half a century, the relationship between the two has re-equilibrated, since Israel has clearly stopped carrying an image of nostalgia and solidarity and converted to the present reality of a “start-up nation”.

Greece and the Academia abroad

Richard Clogg, Emeritus Fellow, St. Anthony’s College, whose autobiographical book Greek to me was recently published in Greek translation, presented the problems of Academic Centers having as their object the study of Greece and Hellenism. He explained how the Greek networks often interfered with their functioning, leading to decline. The Corais Chair and the way that Arnold Toynbee was obliged to resign from its Professorship has been revealed in Clogg’s research.

The failure of the Greek State to convince the Diaspora

Georges Prevelakis, professor of Geopolitics (Emeritus) of Sorbonne University/Paris-I, started by recalling an incident of the invitation extended to a group of Cretan-Americans at the first stages of the recent Greek debt crisis (and the threat of Grexit), to come and invest in Greece. “We won’t throw good grain on arid land” was the sharp retort. This incident illustrates the deeper misunderstandings and distortions that have come to permeate the relations between Greek diasporas and the Greek State. The instrumentatisation of the Diaspora in the early stages of the Macedonian/FYROM dispute as well as the ill-fated effort to control the Diaspora through the Council of the Greeks abroad have created bitter feelings, aggravated by the effect of the negative image of Greece during the crisis on the relationship of diaspora Greeks with their professional and social environments. According to Prevelakis, those failures are related to three conceptual mistakes.


The 19th and early 20th century diaspora that created the Greek State and then constituted a major power in support of the Great Idea was composed of elites residing in backward societies. This diaspora was replaced by a very different “proletarian” diaspora. The successive waves of Greek emigration – first to the US, later to Australia and Canada, then to Western Europe (mainly Germany) – have had widely differing socioeconomic characteristics: fleeing from rural poverty at the beginning of the 20th century; the post-WWII emigration where fl eeing the country’s destruction met with political considerations; and both have little in common with the building of elite communities abroad throughout the 20th century or with the current brain-drain phenomenon. We are now in fact witnessing a transnational network, with some elite elements, able to understand the global trends and to guide the Greek State. It is a much more complex situation that requires a much more important theoretical effort to understand and cope with it. Empiricism simply does not work.

Perceiving the Diaspora as a homogeneous, yet amorphous mass

Greek diasporic networks are varied in nature; in fact there exists a network of networks. Networks based on regional identities, which were pre-eminent in the past; networks based on occupation (an important case is the network of Greek shipowners; a contemporary one which is the one of scientists in Universities and Research Centres around the world); the Church has traditionally constituted a further – superimposed – structure, which is not only Greek but includes the versatility of Orthodoxy; last but not least, the Greek diaspora is supplemented by that of the Cypriot one (as shown by the joint lobbying efforts after the Cyprus invasion). All those networks interact and at the same time function separately. According to Prevelakis, they “constitute a “super-network” created incrementally and empirically and constantly evolving. The role of the Church is fundamental in this “chaordic” (combining chaos and order) world. The “circular” ways of the Church, that are rooted in an experience that goes back two thousand years, off er as considerable long term coordination. It is an illusion to believe that the centralised ways of the State, can compete with it. This illusion is related to the mis-perception of the structure of the diaspora.

Rent-seeking approach

According to Prevelakis the Greek State has always operated in a “rent-seeking” way; just as when using the Marshall Plan funds and later EU Structural Funds, that was the way it has approached the diaspora. It expects to obtain financial and political resources by exploiting the need for belonging of its members. However, after numerous disappointments, the members of the diaspora have become conscious of exploitation and traps: businessmen avoid investing in Greece after having lost money; Greek diaspora Academics, after having been humiliated, are no longer ready to invest their time and prestige to the reform of the Greek University system. The diaspora somehow continues to help by bypassing the State and by adapting its strategies. They give money to trustworthy foundations or to local communities as long as the State cannot interfere. However this approach has limited results, negotiation is necessary, guarantees have to be offered. Overcoming these handicaps implies a critical and scientific approach. It is necessary to open up to a global theoretical discussion about trans-nationalism and globalisation and to promote comparative studies in order to learn from the experience of e others. The purpose of the panel was to open a window in this direction, to show that we are not alone in this new adventure of trans-nationalism in a globalised and technologically changing world.