Elias Koutinas: The realist, with media expertise, educated and dedicated volunteer with a unique clarity of our murky reality.
Elias Koutinas represents the “mid generation” of expatriate Greeks, of those educated both in Greece and in Canada, who came in this land with very little in possessions and assistance and yet managed to “integrate” in the Canadian society and succeeded like any fellow Canadian around them. Yet, what is unique in Elia’s case, is the breadth and wealth of experience he has gathered in the Media Business and in his service as volunteer with the Greek Community of Toronto and other Associations, and how such experience is present in his written and spoken commentaries. In fact, what distinguishes successful people from the rest is that pivotal moment when in their decisions they call on their education, experience and character and grant the rest of us the gift, or “charisma” of an “aha” moment. Elias’ experience is handy when it comes to describing the Media business and predicting its course: He is a realist in characterizing the fate of Media today faced with Internet and modern communication technology: “just keeping their mouth out of the water”. In the same vein he provides valuable advice for newcomers from Greece: Make use of your education and any advantage you may have over the previous generation, team up and volunteer so that you can find the niche that fits your character. All these tips come from a seasoned radio producer and senior editor of the weekly you now hold in your hands “The Greek Press”, where he contributes regularly. In fact, Elias’ column “Weekly DNA” is unparalleled for its surprisingly realistic views of political and global complications around us but all that given in his particular simplified style. Elias is proud of our accomplishments as an organized Community and praises collective initiatives and leadership values. This recognition comes from a past GCT director who, like many others in the Community has offered countless hours and effort in volunteering for a common cause and the collective goals of organized Hellenism. Realistic and down to earth criticism of current political and social happenings. The same goes about Elias’ prediction on the course of the “dispute” between the Greek Community and the Metropolitan: The Metropolitan once said that he can wait (forever if he must) so that the Greek Community will one day “fall into his hands”. However, how valid is this “forever” in human terms? Being the realist he is, Elias recaps the lid on the bottle of such senseless talk with his clear statement: “All these years we fought a good fight in the Community keeping him at the gates. Time will tell if that holds true for long.” But we all know that in the grand scheme of things, what matters is not who you think you are, but how people will remember you after you are gone. And this holds true for all of us, mortals or not…
Read the interview that follows:
T. Theodoridis: Mr Koutinas. Please describe briefly your education and professional background.
E. Koutinas: I am a graduate of York University with a BA in English Literature. Over 30 years worked as producer and host of Greek Paradise TV show, and Greek Canadian Melodies Radio Show on CHIN
T. Theodoridis: Your extensive background in the Media has afforded you a unique perspective of the Community Media in Toronto. Do you believe there is future in the so called “Ethnic Media” in Canada, and especially the Greek Ethnic Media?
E. Koutinas: There will always be a future for Ethnic Media in Canada for as long as there will be Ethnic Communities. Having said that, we need to clarify that the future is not common for all the Communities. The strength of its Ethnic Media outlet is directly related to some very crucial factors such as: size of the Community, influx of new comers, and degree of integration to the main Canadian Society.
In other words the future looks promising for the Media in such Communities as Chinese, Persian, East Asian, and Russian, and less promising for Communities such as ours, Italian, Portuguese, German, etc.
If we turn our attention to our Community we can say with certainty that the importance and the presence of the Greek Canadian Media in the Community is diminishing as the level of the integration of the 2nd and 3rd generations is increasing.
Integration has helped our kids become active members in the large Canadian society and succeed in every aspect of it, but at the same time has diminished the Greek market which is vital to any Media. In other words our kids don’t buy Greek anymore the same way we did.
Where before Greek Canadian businesses were relying heavily on Ethnic Media to promote their product and services to the Greeks, now we are the ones relying on their financial support to keep our mouth above the water.
Add to the equation the «bulldozing» effect of the Internet in the past 10 years and then you get the clear picture of the status of the Ethnic Media. Anyone with Internet connection can stay tuned how things develop back home 24 hours a day.
T. Theodoridis: Through your past involvement in community organizations and especially the Greek Community, what are the persistent and crucial reasons for the low interest and involvement of youth in community affairs? What could be done at the level of Organization Leadership to reverse this?
E. Koutinas: It is not a secret that the new generation of Greek Canadians show very little interest not only into Greek Community as a mother Organization but also in any other Organization for that matter, be it an Association, Federation or a Congress. Frankly speaking it is not their fault, they are not to blame. It is simply the evolution of things. This is not a uniquely Greek experience. The same phenomenon is happening also in other European Ethnic groups. It is called integration to the main Canadian society. Don’t take me wrong, though. 2nd and 3rd generation Greek Canadians do not feel less Greek than us. On the contrary, they are extremely proud to call themselves Greeks and they promote it even when they are amongst their Canadian friends. It is just that they don’t feel the need to maintain it and promote it through organized entities such as the Community or the Associations. Long gone are the days when General Assemblies, and elections attracted hundreds if not thousands of Greeks. No need for that now. What you need is a few dedicated individuals to get involved and lead by example and the rest will show up when the call comes to participate
Years ago the backbone of the Greek Community were the “Εθνοτοπικοί Σύλλογοι” – Greek Regional Associations. Not anymore. Now that role goes, and rightfully so, to the Department of Education, Greek Schools with their Greek language programs which are the future of the Community. At this point I would like to congratulate the current governing Council of the Greek Community from the President to the last member for an amazing job carrying out a Herculean task. Kudos to them.
T. Theodoridis: Do you believe that the Greeks of Toronto lack a common vision? How would you advise young Greeks immigrating from the poverty-crisis stricken Greece of today? What are the basic steps one should take to find success for themselves, their family and the community in general?
E. Koutinas: When I first came to Canada right out of High School and military service, I realized that if I wanted to survive here I needed to create a little Greece around me. Imagine my thrill when I found out that I didn’t have to do that because there was already a thriving one already in existence ready to embrace me and I to embrace her. So my advice to newcomers is find your place in this beautiful Greek Community of ours. Get involved, make a difference. Collective support guarantees cultural and financial survival. Nobody said it would be easy but they have to keep in mind that those who came here before them, came with absolute nothing but with hard work and they made it. The majority of the newcomers are educated and that gives them a serious advantage.
T. Theodoridis: What do you think is the role of a contemporary print / electronic weekly review of community events and news in the Greek – Canadian community of today –“The Greek Press” being an example – and how can it become even more representative of all Greek Canadians in Toronto?
E. Koutinas: It is really hard to predict what the future holds for Greek Media in Toronto. The thirst for information is a basic instinct in every human being, and more so in us Greeks. They don’t call us for nothing «Political animals». We love to get together in cafes and discuss the news of the day, especially the ones related to our beloved Homeland. For as long as this thirst exists we will satisfy it with publishing the “Greek Press” on a weekly basis. We are dealing with one paradox, though. On one hand our readership has not declined one iota. We keep up publishing thousands of copies of our newspaper and a day later it has already vanished from the newsstands. People anxiously want to grab it the moment it comes out. One would expect that with such large readership the advertising market would like to jump onboard. Unfortunately this not the case, and hence the financial struggle.
But we love what we are doing and we will continue to do it for a long time. We will find a way to survive.
T. Theodoridis: What do you believe should be the role of organized church in Canada? How would you respond to the common saying that “The Metropolitan has wedged a “war” against the Greek Community of Toronto, until the latter is completely absorbed within the Metropolis assets”?
E. Koutinas: I still remember something Archbishop Sotirios told me many years ago. «I have the luxury to wait» he said, «time is on my side». Needless to say that he was referring to the Church as an Organization to outlast the Community. I agreed with him although I doubt it will happen in his life time.
Clearly the problem with the conflict between the two Organizations is the one we brought with us from back home. The everlasting matter of the separation between State and Church. We live in a country, Canada, where such distinction is fundamental. Sotirios, although he lives in Canada somehow carries this Byzantine Medieval notion in his mind that he is «primus solus» and that everyone should recognize him as their leader. Being spiritual leader is not good enough for him. He wants to play a political role also.
All these years we fought a good fight in the Community keeping him at the gates. Time will tell if that holds true for long.