Eight talking points to be the smartest person at the Thanksgiving table this year

By Evan Karambelas, Diana Economou, Jonathan Vasdekas, Peter Kourkouvis, Alexander Sotiropoulos, and Thanos Davelis

Every Thanksgiving we’re surrounded by friends and family, and you can count on family members loudly expressing their opinions. That’s especially true if your Thanksgiving is a big Greek affair! To prepare for this inevitable scenario, we’ve prepared a cheat-sheet of eight major talking points you should know before you engaging in any debates on Hellenic issues at the dinner table. Use these to showcase your knowledge about all things Hellenic.

1. Midterms 2018: Greeks & Philhellenes in Congress

The midterm elections brought a number of changes to the House and Senate, and regardless of your political affiliation, it certainly was a good day for Hellenism in America. Why? Let’s break it down. While some philhellenes retired and will no longer serve in Congress, Greek-Americans Gus Bilirakis, Dina Titus, and John Sarbanes were reelected. Newcomer Chris Pappas is also set to join them in the House. Meanwhile, all eyes were on the crucial reelection campaign of Bob Menendez, who can easily be described as the greatest philhellene in the US Senate. Hellenes stepped up on a state level as well, with Andrew Gounardes and James Skoufis joining the New York State Senate, and Eleni Kounalakis winning the race for lieutenant governor in California.

2. Turkey continues to harass Greece and Cyprus

Turkey’s threats toward Greece and Cyprus have raised tensions to new levels this year. Let’s start with Greece. The Aegean is currently experiencing the most dangerous escalation of tensions in decades as Turkish jets, vessels, and drones violate Greek airspace and waters on a daily basis. Turkey is even rehashing its threat of war should Greece decide to exercise its full rights in the Aegean. Meanwhile, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ministers continue to threaten Cyprus, challenging its right to exploit its natural resources. Ankara has issued a number of warnings to major US and European energy companies that are searching for oil and gas in Cypriot waters, and even used military ships to prevent an Italian vessel from drilling in Cypriot waters this year.

3. Religious freedom: The case for the Ecumenical Patriarch

The issue of religious freedom (or lack thereof) in Turkey recently came under national media scrutiny with the two-year detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson. After sanctions from the US, Turkey eventually released Pastor Brunson. However, the lack of religious freedom begins long before and extends far beyond the arrest of Pastor Brunson. The Ecumenical Patriarchate located in Turkey is a prime example. Turkey refuses to grant His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew legal personality, meaning that the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not have the right to own or purchase property, including churches or cemeteries. On top of that, the only seminary for the Patriarchate, Halki, has been closed since 1971, and Ankara has walked back all its promises to reopen it. Additionally, religious minorities across Turkey feel threatened on a consistent basis. This has not gone unnoticed, prompting the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to rate Turkey as a Tier 2 country, meaning it’s a country requiring “monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by governments.”

4. Energy hub of the Eastern Mediterranean

Greece continues to play an vital role in the Eastern Mediterranean’s evolving energy landscape. The discovery of hydrocarbons in the region has created an opportunity for Greece to emerge as a serious player in the European energy sector and has gained momentum over the past two years. As key projects like the Transadriatic Pipeline and Hellenic Energy Exchange continue to move forward, Greece will be well positioned in the center of the region’s gas and power markets. These recent developments will also help bring stability to the region as cooperation between Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the US continue to build. Developments in Cyprus are also kicking into a higher gear, with US energy giant ExxonMobil beginning its drilling operations in search of oil and gas in Cypriot waters.

5. In search of growth

Greece’s exit from the last of three bailout programs this year is an important milestone and gives the country a path to growth as it emerges from nearly nine years of economic crisis and austerity. As political and economic reforms continue to take shape, Greece will need to build on positive developments in tourism, agriculture, shipping and energy in order to regain investor confidence. The Thessaloniki International Fair honoring the US this past September was a major step in showcasing what Greece has to offer, and we saw an important signal of American support for Greek economic recovery. However, there will be several hurdles ahead. The country needs to find a way to reduce bank non-performing loans, lower unemployment, and reverse the brain drain in order to push the recovery forward.

6. Russia doesn’t have friends, it has clients

There is a long-held belief in some circles that Greece would be better served if it established closer relations with Russia, our “Orthodox brothers” to the north. Russia, however, doesn’t have friends, it has clients. There are many examples showing how its interests clash with Greece’s, but we’ll highlight two here. The first case is the deal between Greece and FYROM. Whether you agree with the deal or not, Russian attempts to undermine it — exposed by US intelligence — pose a direct challenge to Greek and Western interests in the region. The second has to do with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Kremlin is using the Russian Orthodox Church to actively undermine Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew — who is already in a precarious position in Turkey — with the goal of shifting the seat of Orthodoxy away from Constantinople to Moscow.

7. Republic of North Macedonia? Cheat-sheet to understanding the name deal

As most of us know, Greece and FYROM signed a deal this summer to resolve the longstanding name dispute between the two countries. Here’s your cheat-sheet to understanding the deal. Under the terms of the deal, FYROM will change its name to “Republic of North Macedonia.” Importantly, the deal obligates FYROM to renounce any claim on Greek history and culture, any territorial claim on Greek territory, and any other irredentist behavior. FYROM held a referendum which saw low voter turnout, but an overwhelming vote in favor of the deal. Next, it must now make key changes to its constitution. Only then will Greek Parliament examine the deal and vote to ratify the agreement, paving the way for FYROM to join Euro-Atlantic institutions like the EU and NATO.

8. US-Greek relations are better than ever

Ties between Greece and the US are at their best since President Harry Truman and the Marshall Plan. The US views Greece as a pillar of stability and an ideal partner in securing peace and prosperity in the region. As US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt recently put it, Athens and Washington share key interests with regards to the Western Balkans, Turkey, and the Eastern Mediterranean. This close cooperation is on display every day at Souda Bay, a key US military base in Crete which is home to the US Sixth fleet. The US and Greece are set to take this relationship to a new level as a strategic dialogue kicks off next month. The US and Cyprus are also enhancing their relationship, as evidenced by US involvement in the search for gas and the recent signing of an agreement to enhance security cooperation.