Dukakis wins US votes, while Doukakis wins Greek hearts. Democratic candidate seen as hometown boy in the `old country'
Athens — Greece has a way of recognizing its own that surpasses a lot of cultures. For thousands of years, Greeks of Greece have clung tenaciously to the achievements of Greek-heritage citizens abroad as if they were their own. So it's not surprising that Greeks are following the campaign of front-runner Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis (or Maikl Doukakis, as he's known here) with ``hometown'' interest. A leading Greek analyst describes support as ``unanimous'' for Dukakis, the super-achiever son of Greek immigrants.
Dukakis' gains in the campaign are covered by the Greek press, regardless of its political leaning. State television and radio, run by the socialist government, often lead with news of primaries in which Dukakis is competing, even interrupting regular programs for updates.
There are nervous daily reports leading up to the crucial New York primary on April 19, in which Dukakis has been tagged as ``the favorite.'' He often makes the front page or fills the center feature spread of Athens tabloids.
When Dukakis emerged as the big winner of the Super-Tuesday primaries on March 8, the independent newspaper Messimvrini printed a second edition with a banner headline proclaiming Dukakis' ``triumph.'' One magazine urged readers to rub his picture for good luck.
A top Dukakis campaign organizer, in Greece to get the backing of the 35,000 Greek-Americans here, expressed ``surprise'' at how closely Greeks are following the campaign of their native son, one generation removed. ``It's unbelievable. Some of them are better informed than me. They're obviously spending a lot of time on this campaign,'' says Tony Sereslis, Dukakis' chief Connecticut campaign organizer and a member of the national finance committee for Dukakis.
When Mr. Sereslis arrived, Athens newspapers reporting his visit were swamped with inquiries about his whereabouts. Rumors abound that moneyed Greeks wanted to contribute to Dukakis' campaign. Sereslis, a real-estate agent from Hartford, Conn., acknowledges that a few Greeks ``asked how they could help, but I told them not financially ... impossible. Mike Dukakis is not accepting money from [Greek] Greeks.'' He termed such potential contributions ``politically dangerous'' for Dukakis.
An American teacher here of Greek descent, active in Greek-American affairs, describes Greek-Americans in Greece as ``delirious'' about Dukakis ``for emotional reasons, not because of what he stands for.'' She estimated the entire Greek-American community, ``even Republicans, will vote for him over Bush ... even though some have been turned off by his support of the Jewish lobby.''
On the Aegean island of Mytilene, also known as Lesbos, the name Dukakis is mentioned with special pride. Dukakis' deceased father, Panos, emigrated from Pelopi Mytilene as a boy of 15 to Boston, where he worked his way through medical school. The six or so Dukakis cousins left on Mytilene, all middle-class achievers themselves, say they are ``convinced'' their 55-year-old kinsman will win the Democratic nomination.
Cousins of his mother Euterpe, who emigrated as a girl from the small blue-collar city of Larissa in northern Greece, call Dukakis ``a man of principle,'' somewhat like his mother. Euterpe, now 83 and a lively voice in her son's campaign, is described as a ``tough lady'' who became one of the first Greek-American woman teachers.
While support may be high, expectations about what Dukakis may do for Greece, if elected, are ``cautiously optimistic,'' according to Athens public opinion analyst Panayotis Dimitras. He points out that Greeks have become ``realistic, even cynical'' about the powers and promises of US presidents ever since the days of former president Jimmy Carter, who hinted during his campaign at sympathy for Greece, then, once in office, lifted a US arms embargo on neighboring Turkey, Greece's long-time arch-rival.
At best, Dukakis would be ``more sensitive to Greece than any other US presidents'' after years of what Greeks see as US favoritism toward Turkey, says Titos Athanassiades, a journalist in Athens.