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Hellenic initiative helps students get their Greek on


George Raios (BSc, 1981), president of Hellenic Heritage Foundation, and Randall Hansen, director of the Centre for European, Russian & Eurasian Studies.

Thanks to the ambition of U of T’s Greek Students’ Association (GSA) and the generosity of the Hellenic Heritage Foundation (HHF), the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs is piloting Hellenic studies courses devoted to the history, politics, language and culture of Greece this year.

“This is more than just an achievement for the Greek community and Hellenism; it is a progressive feat for the University of Toronto,” says Kosta Katsanevas, President of the GSA and one of the driving forces behind the initiative. “The launching of these Greek studies courses is proof that U of T truly values the needs of its students.”

“To their ever-lasting credit, it was the students themselves who pushed to establish courses and inspired the Hellenic Heritage Foundation and other contributing Hellenic organizations to unite and provide the required funding for the first three years,” says Dean Antonakes, the fundraising chair for the HHF.

The HHF has donated $180,000 to get the loukoumades rolling, and through the launch of its Apollo Project fundraising campaign, its eventual goal is a $2 million endowment which will fund a program in perpetuity. The initial offering will include three courses — in language, politics, and issues in contemporary Greece — as well as travel and a lecture funds to give students essential firsthand exposure to their subject of study.

But expansion is certainly being planned for. “It is vital that university students — Greeks and non-Greeks alike — have the opportunity to gain an understanding one of the world’s oldest and most influential cultures,” says Antonakes. “It is our university students today who will someday become the business leaders, educators and parliamentarians of tomorrow.”

Knowledge of the history, institutions and politics of Greece is key to understanding contemporary Europe. “Understanding Greek history, politics and the Greek language is fundamental to our work and teaching on the European Union and Europe itself,” says Randall Hanson, director of CERES. “The Greek Civil war was a particular violent microcosm of the broader Cold War. The 1967 coup and the 1974 restoration of democracy were experiences shared across southern Europe, as was the consolidation of democracy through membership in the European Union. In overturning a dictatorship, in reestablishing democracy, and in entering the European Economic Community, Greece, not for the last time, led southern Europe.”

Hellenic studies will also be an essential component of CERES’ graduate student exchange and internship program. International experience — either an internship or an exchange — are required for the Master of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies degree. Currently, there only exists funding for countries covered by endowments or research grants, such as Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Bulgaria.

“Supporting Hellenic studies through funding means opening up our culture to the University of Toronto and the larger community,” says Katsanevas. “It is a means through which we, the Greek diaspora, can maintain Hellenism abroad.”