It is rather common these days to label people as “great thinkers” or even “pioneers,” in fact these terms have almost become clichés. My friend and our publisher Basil Coronakis easily earned both accolades without a hint of the mediocrity these terms tend to attract today. Without a doubt his major accomplishment through New Europe and related publications was to focus Europeans’ attention on the dangers to democracy posed by the world’s most efficient bureaucratic mechanism, the ever-expanding European Commission, which for many was a revolutionary thesis. Europe and European “unification” was a good thing, wasn’t it?
Although it turns out we had deeper connections, I came to know Basil through his weekly regional newspaper, called “Balkan News” when founded in the early 1990s. I encountered it at a hotel bookshop while visiting Tirana on State Department business. I was impressed by the comprehensive nature of the publication, and immediately ordered a subscription for the State Department’s Balkan office back in the days of the war in Bosnia.
Few of us posted there in those years had the time to open a foreign publication during the workday but my colleagues who took a few minutes were as impressed as I was at the time with all the regional news we needed being available in one concise weekly publication, and often with perspectives not available through traditional US diplomatic reporting. I made a mental note to look up these amazing Balkan News writers if I ever went back to Greece.
As it happens a few years later I found myself posted to the US Embassy in Athens, and as fate would have it, was assigned to cover the Balkan region as seen from Greece. Naturally, I was able to find and visit the Coronakis publishing operation, by that time renamed New Europe and with a new and much wider perspective than just Balkan regional news.
It turns out the deeper connection that this not-so-young US diplomat had with Basil ran through the US Embassy in Athens, where it turns out Basil had served in the tense 1970-78 period as a senior locally hired staffer (called “Foreign Service National” employee in the Washington lingo of the day). This was a number of years before I set foot in Greece. In any case, we became good friends and enjoyed dozens of meals, receptions, and outings throughout the late 1990s. All this even though our views on Balkan developments were not always congruent, which made life interesting. Basil and son Alexandros were part of the airport sendoff committee when I left Greece in 1999 to take over the State Department’s Greece Desk. We remained in close touch as New Europe expanded its Brussels and EU-wide focus and I completed assignments in Kosovo, at the US Consulate General in Thessaloniki, at the Pentagon and at UN Headquarters in New York.
When I finally returned to Greece as a private citizen in 2008 Basil was relatively scarce since he was often in Brussels for long stints, but we stayed in active contact. I was impressed by how the New Europe team led by Basil had even at that time mastered the science of telecommuting so effectively that they could publish the weekly paper without being anywhere near the writers or printers. Sometime later Basil asked me to consider writing a weekly column focusing on US foreign policy impacting Europe, and “Ici Washington” was born. The rest is stored online. We even considered pulling together a Washington bureau for more coverage, but the resource requirements were somewhat daunting.
More recently, I was fortunate to have been asked by Basil to help edit his 2016 book “The Deep State of Europe,” after which I will never view the European Commission’s bureaucracy with much mystery or respect, and instead will focus on helping European citizens win back Europe, which was Basil’s fondest hope. While we will never be able to quantify it, Basil’s hard work on this book surely altered the opaque way the EU bureaucracy operates, something few EU citizens can claim to have accomplished.
Many of you will know Basil Coronakis as a determined go-getter, almost unstoppable. Until health concerns made travel unadvisable, Basil was truly almost everywhere, almost all the time. His energy and single-mindedness brought the New Europe team through election monitoring missions in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, as well as smaller business development projects in London, Bucharest and Belgrade. And those are just the ones we participated in together, a small fraction of the total.
New Europe will soldier on without that human dynamo that was Basil Coronakis at the helm. It may take the team some time to catch our pace, but Basil’s vision lives on.