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Greece: Absolutely Absent... and Then Wondering Why

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FYROM a.k.a. Macedonia, coffee a.k.a. Turkish coffee, halva a.k.a. Turkish halva, olive oil a.k.a. Italian extra virgin olive oil, the Mediterranean Diet, now involving countries such as Lebanon, Spain and Italy, the Thessaloniki "koulouri" a.k.a. Turkish bagel, feta cheese a.k.a. white cheese and strained yogurt... only some of the political issues or products that have come to be associated with peoples or places other than Greece.

Greeks, on the other hand, claim these as their own. And of course there are historical references and sources other than Wikipedia ("the free encyclopedia... that anyone can edit"), which attempt to verify in some way the truer origins of the above. The issue of origin is however irrelevant and will forever be subject to debate. What is relevant is the fact that Greece and Greeks feel deprived of their historic entitlements, whether this be the geography of FYROM or the basics of baklava. And yet, rarely have there been measures on a governmental level, in an organized, systematic and coordinated fashion to explain to the world why Skopje is not Macedonia, how feta cheese dates back to ancient Greece, that behind the fancy Italian flag-clad bottles of olive oil there are surprisingly large quantities of Greek olive oil or that the Mediterranean Diet is in fact solely based on the Cretan male's nutritional habits.

And so my fellow Greeks appear aghast (myself included) when upon searching for Greek products or miscellaneous historical facts, we come across a plethora of misleading if not blatantly incorrect "ownership" titles and details.

It is undeniably true, that Greece and neighboring Turkey share a great deal of history, a turbulent history. It is also true that we Greeks have many things in common with our Balkan neighbors, such as our wonderfully colorful ethnic costumes or polyrhythmic songs and dances. It is also true that Greek philosophy forms the basis of all learning at prestigious universities across the globe which at least continue to appreciatively acknowledge it as being Greek.

National interests aside (and there are many), no Greek government to date -- with an exception perhaps in the 1960s -- has ever attempted in any way to promote Greek issues or products in any organized manner. Not to mention, Greek culture including the inimitable soprano Maria Callas, the great maestro Dimitri Mitropoulos or our Nobel prize-winning writers and poets. And in the 1960s and '70s it was mostly likely due to the clout of the ever-so-popular and influential Greeks like Callas and shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (also the husband of the former first lady, the late Jackie Kennedy) that got Greece into the international spotlight.

Instead, the Greek foreign ministry finds itself today spending endless hours and taxpayers' money in knotty negotiations with FYROM on the so-called name issue of the tiny country that some 130 nations already call Republic of Macedonia. We wonder why innovative marketing initiatives like Chobani yogurt, which has literally taken the U.S. by storm (owned by an astute Kurdish-American businessman), has left no room for Greek-produced strained yogurt. We are surprised to find pricy Italian olive oil in the finest food markets of the U.S. and UK, while behind the scenes in Greece, olive oil producers sell their top-notch product for pennies to Italian companies which package and market it as their own... and rightfully so. Despite producing some of the world's finest saffron, Greece is still at a loss as to why the world doesn't know. Then again there is the Aegina pistachio, a delectable variety exclusively grown on the Greek island of Aegina, that eminent chefs worldwide acknowledge as being superior in taste, as they do for the Tinos caper and artichoke -- both almost impossible to find outside Greece. And of course, my personal favorite, the Mediterranean Diet, which seems to be including all the more countries as the years (articles and blog posts) go by, with Greece and particularly Crete, on which the whole research was based, being slowly and steadily shunned into scientific stupor.

In an era when cutting-edge communication and laborious lobbying make or break the history of the day, it is vital to be there, to be present, to fight for your right to name and claim.... Doing so is all about hard work. It requires an organized effort, well-supported arguments backed by well-researched facts and indisputable data. It's about getting the gifted, studied and dedicated individuals to show, tell and inform. Relevant bibliographies must be available (and translated) in international libraries, explanatory material must be delivered to the international press, Greece must be present at expos and meetings and conferences taking place as we speak across the globe.

In this day and age of the fast and furious, with iPhones and Androids, Twitter and Facebook turning news into mass knowledge in nanoseconds, you have to be present if there is ever a chance of getting your foot in the door of mainstream experience... or you can always wait for centuries and hope that some form of historic document hidden in the depths of the earth on a floppy disc magically saved in a vault will come to the surface one day and set the record straight. Seeing that we still do not enjoy the eternal existence of the mythical Highlanders in order to see that day come, it is perhaps time to either pull up our socks and work, work, work hard to get the word across... or lay back and simply accept that history, our history, is being molded by the cookie-cutter of those more present than us.