Saturday, August 22, 2015

INVASION


“The situation is dire. Waves and waves of illegal immigrants are flooding our shores. We are dealing with an invasion. We are not safe anymore."

 This is the manner in which a cousin from Samos expressed his feelings about the flood of refugees reaching the shores of that island, along with many others, in their thousands recently. Those refugees are fleeing the continuing conflict in Syria and Iraq that has caused thousands of civilian deaths and displaced millions, in what is possibly the largest humanitarian catastrophe of our present age.

 In Kos, it is reported that refugees, may possibly outnumber residents. As the already beleaguered Greek state struggles and not particularly succeeds in accommodating floods of people fleeing war, this is leading to social disruption, racism and on the part of some desperate and hungry refugees, crime. One can see why the plight of 2000 refugees including women, babies and small children who were locked in a football stadium without access to food, water or bathroom facilities last week on Kos can exacerbate already present feelings of desperation and frustration on the part of refugees already brutalized by war, leading to the riots and acts of violence on that island. The Greek state and the largely sympathetic Greek people currently have neither the resources nor the capability to accommodate even for a short period, the sojourn of these refugees. The refugees (for they are not as is insensitively claimed, (“illegal immigrants”) in turn will do whatever they can to secure the resources they need to feed their families. If it was your infant child that was compelled to sleep on a piece of cardboard in the open air, as is depicted in the picture accompanying these words, most plausibly, you would be willing to act in a similar fashion.

 As refugees who have fled the region during past conflicts have told me, no one wishes to leave their countries unless they absolutely have to. The refugees who make their way to Greece, after first having lost their homes and having to pay people smugglers a small fortune in order to find a place on overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels, do so, not in the hope of staying in Greece or subjecting Greece to Islam (which is ridiculous since a large percentage of them are Christians fleeing religious persecution), but in search of temporary succour in their quest to reach the more developed, democratic and safe Western World they have heard so much about.

 The hysterical claims by many frustrated Greeks however, to the effect that Greece and more broadly Europe is facing a barbarian invasion that will have untold social and economic ramifications upon the continent require closer scrutiny, however.

 A millennium and a half ago, much of Europe was ruled by the Roman Empire, a state that had reached an unprecedented level of material wealth, bureaucratic and ideological conformity. Arguably, the longevity and internal cohesion of that empire rested upon a gradually realized consensus that Roman rule was justified. Such a consensus was product of a complex conversation between the central government and its far-flung peripheries. It follows logically that those immediately without that periphery, would if not adopt, at least become familiar with the Roman way of life and in times of crisis, when there own customs, institutions and resources failed them, to seek refuge and or to avail themselves of the benefits of Romanity.

 The Gothic refugee crisis further illuminates the point. In the summer and autumn of 376, tens of thousands of displaced Goths and other tribes arrived at the border of the Roman Empire on the Danube River, seeking asylum from the Huns who were attacking them. The Gothic leader, Fritigern appealed to the Roman emperor Valens for asylum across the Danube in Rman territory. Valens agreed, stipulating however that the weak, old, and sickly must be left on the far bank to fend for themselves against the Huns.

 Rome was unable to supply the Goths with either with the food they were promised or land. Instead, they were herded into a temporary holding area surrounded by an armed Roman garrison. There was only enough grain left for the Roman garrison, and so they simply let the Goths starve. When Fritigern appealed to Valens for help, he was told that his people would find food in the distant city of Marcianopolis. When they arrived there, they were denied entry and assassination attempts were made against their leaders. Consequently, the Goths embarked upon plundering expeditions that led to a war in which they were able to kill Valens, plunder most of the Balkans to an extent that they did not recover for centuries and extort protection money from the Romans.

 Similarly 100,000 of the beleaguered Slavic peoples, seeking refuge from the Turkic Avars, who in turn were being persecuted by other nomadic tribes, poured into Thrace in the late 6th century, taking over Roman cities and gradually making their way down to the Peloponnese, where they settled in large numbers.

 In the first instance, failure by the Romans to accommodate Gothic refugees adequately, address their needs or find a solution to their humanitarian catastrophe led to the wholesale sack of the Roman Empire and untold misery. A similar set of circumstances took place in the US in the aftermath of Cyclone Katrina, proving that this is not a phenomenon of civilisation but rather, one of the human condition. In the second instance, which was occasioned by Roman inability to police their borders owing to wars with the Persians, a campaign of gradual assimilation (punctuated of course by bouts of violence on both sides), seemed to pay dividends as these populations gradually assimilated within the Empire, not without strife or occasional disharmony.

 There are lessons that Greece and Europe can learn from the “barbarian invasions.” They can and will happen, regardless of how much we attempt to “turn back the boats” and the more inept or indeed callous the treatment of those on the periphery seeking to get in (recently a visiting Polish dignitary advised the Italian mayor of Lampedusa, where the refugee crisis from Libya has reached cataclysmic proportions, to merely let the refugees drown), the more violent in their desperation they will become, with unforeseen consequences for their host societies and for humanity in general as refugees become ‘barbarians’ and are thus dehumanised.

 When Rome was the world, the world was Rome and the rest of the globe was largely isolated from the effects of the refugee crises of late antiquity were limited. Now, when the “West” spans the globe, the after-shocks of the mass movement of population, caused partly by the mismanagement of world affairs by the West itself, is a global responsibility. The refugees need first and foremost, our sympathy, not expressions of fear, horror and indignation at their presence. They need to be humanely processed, housed, fed and accommodated fairly and it is in the interests of all developed countries to partake in this endeavour. It goes without saying that effective action to cease the multitude of wars blighting our planet is the one main preventative measure that would nip such crises in the bud.

 Finally, when talking of invasions, barbarians and refugees, let us consider who is the true barbarian: he who has everything and denies another who has lost everything his needs, or he who has nothing and must do whatever he can to survive. In this, the finally word goes to the Theanthropos Himself, by way of the Gospel of Matthew: “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.”

DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 August 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?


Crisis? What crisis? This is the caption posted by a facebook ‘friend,’ below a photograph of a stereotypical Aegean beach. All the accoutrements of a ‘perfect’ holiday are present: the impossibly blue waters, the sun-bleached pebbles, the pastel multi-coloured beach umbrellas, the oiled skin of the southerners in various gradations of burn, a half finished frappe fermenting within arm’s reach, all revealed within the context of an implacably omnipresent but unobtrusive light. Truly there is not a hint of dissonance to suggest anything but serenity. This to the western world and much of the Australia-Greek world that has adopted its orientalist perspective, this is what Greece must be, our crisis free, idyllic, reconstructed playground.

Yet on the island of Kos, where the photo was taken, not 100 metres away from the beach, thousands of refugees, fleeing the murderous Middle Eastern conflicts, are congregated. They are hungry, penniless and hopeless and their presence disturbs British holidaymakers who have been reported to have made comments such as: “Who in their right mind would now go to these beautiful islands where you now have to walk round amid these freeloaders.” Some also bemoan the presence of “penniless migrants [who] sit outside their restaurant and watch them eat”.

Sadly, such sentiments are also reflected by some Australian-Greeks. One recently returned from the motherland couple recently described to me the fury they felt when they sat down to enjoy their midday souvlaki at a restaurant. As they reached for their meal, it was snatched away from them by a young refugee, who appeared as if out of nowhere and promptly proceeded to stuff the souvlakia in his mouth. To their horror and eternal indignation, instead of chasing the presumptuous refugee away or taking punitive action, the waiter took the child by the hand and led him into the kitchen, promising him enough food to satisfy his hunger. “I felt violated,” the Australian-Greek woman told me, her clipped vowels, distorting in shrill arpeggios as she nervously clutched her ebay imitation Gucci handbag. “They are so unprofessional. We deliberately chose not to go to the ‘xorio,’ because we didn’t want to be pestered by ‘rellos’ asking for money and giving us sob stories…but we never expected to have issues like this on the beach. They took no action at all.”

“This would never have happened in Santorini,” her lisping, Ralph Lauren polo-topped, eyebrow-plucked mortgage-broking husband cut in. These people have lost the true essence of Greece. You watch. It just isn’t Greece anymore.”

Apparently, Greece, for a proportion of the bourgeoisiefied Australian Greeks of this ilk, consists of a tortuously twisting red line that includes the Cyclades and a few other popular Aegean Islands, Corfu and Chalkidki if they have heard of it, along with the coastline of the Peloponnese. The rest of the republic is a bleak no-mans land where lapsed, money-hungry, crafty and deceitful proto-Hellenes reside, with the Acropolis, Plaka, the Athens Archaeological Museum, Delphi and Olympia, forming Greek enclaves, suitable for visitation therein. When they do venture into the grey zone, it is for the purposes of free accommodation in the ancestral village, an experience which is never spoken of to anyone again. In this era, where one has not really corporeally manifested themselves in a particular place unless there is a facebook post to prove it, Helladic holidays become stage-managed affairs, their success to be judged by the amount of ‘likes’ to be gained via an appreciation of the stereotypical photograph of the holidayer in a bikini, undergoing a languid ritual Hellenic baptism in the waters of the Aegean. Such experiences are much diminished by the unprofessionals and the needy.

For as the indignant couple informed me, they are the hope and salvation of Greece. After all, they had the luxury of choosing between hundreds of potential destinations, some of which they had discovered on a Kon-Tiki Tour a decade ago, but had instead, deliberately chosen Greece, for in this way, they could save the Greek economy by “investing” in it. It was highly insulting and deeply distasteful to them that in so investing, they should be expected to be exposed to, the broader social and grittier financial problems of the country that exist beyond the acceptable face of Greece. Not that they don’t sympathise, and let’s not get them wrong, they are far from heartless, donating every year to the Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal and to collectors at traffic lights, but for the deity’s sake, do they really have to worry about the Greeks too, let alone donate? They are supposed to be on holidays and everyone knows that collections for Greek causes are always misappropriated.. And after all, they finally admit, having been psychologically prodded and poked for the better part of an hour, the Helladites deserve their problems, both the financial as they are profligate and lazy, as well as the social, for Greece never took border security as seriously as the Howard government and now Greece is no longer Greece, for it is infested with “xenoi,” the Greeks being too lazy to ‘turn back the boats.’ For them, Greece is the land of excellence, philosophy and logic and Modern Greece lacks all of these. In parting, the mortgage-broker suggests to me that I research “customer service” in ancient Greece and trace how standards have fallen, probably as a result of the Christian influence, which is not only unhellenic, but also, anti-capitalist. Look at what Jesus did to the money-lenders in the Temple.

In marked juxtaposition with these deck-chair ‘patriots,’ who in their concern for Greece’s greater good appear to have adopted the orientalist prejudices of their host-cultures wholesale come the large number of Australian-Greeks who thoroughly enjoy the physical beauty of their motherland but are able to place it in context, and not in isolation from, the people who reside in it, in all their fascinating, maddening, endearing and frustrating complexity. An aunt who assists in a parish soup kitchen in Piraeus reveals that a significant proportion of contributions donated for its upkeep originate from Australia. Similarly, a noteworthy proportion of second-generation Greek-Australians not only take the trouble between swims to walk the ground and understand the effects of the current crisis upon their compatriots, but are also providing financial assistance to family and friends. Perhaps their example can permit the more self-assured among us to gain a broader sense of perspective. The final word in this respect, can only be offered by my finance broking interlocutor, who is not only possessed of a social conscience, but also, a fine vocabulary to boot: “Greeks earn their living from rich tourists like us, not an endless stream of illegals asylum-seekers, or indeed, other broken down Greeks. Very few want to go on vacation and be confronted by with the detritus of broken societies. Our goodwill depends upon our insulation.” Steady on old boy.
DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 August 2015.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

THE GREEK CRISIS 173 YEARS BEFORE


It is a commonplace that the 1821 revolution secured Greece’s independence. What is generally not known however, is that the independent state of Greece, was set up for financial failure from its very outset. In 1824, a loan of £472,000 pounds was secured on the London Stock Exchange to finance the campaign for Independence. This offering was oversubscribed and buyers were required to put down only 10% of the purchase price with a promise to pay the balance over time. An additional loan of £1.1 million was floated in 1825. Sadly, speculators and middlemen in London skimmed off much of the proceeds before Greece received any funds. Further, the Greek War of Independence soon descended into civil war between rival factions, rendering it impossible to determine who should receive these funds. No interest payments were ever made to the bondholders on these two loans, and the value of the paper eventually plummeted to a fraction of the par value. It was not until 1878 that the Greek government was able to settle on the loans, which by then with accrued interest had increased to over £10 million.

 After the European powers recognized Greece’s independence, in 1832 and appointed Otto of Bavaria as its first king, another loan totaling 60 million drachmas was given to Greece. The loan was arranged by the French, Russian and British governments, and was ostensibly given to help Greece build its economy and manage the initial stages of governance. It was also intended to fund Otto’s Bavarian army, which would be brought with him to Greece. In Greece, Otto found himself mediating between factions that all believed they had a stake in government and the public purse and all of which served the interests of one or the other of the guarantor powers of Greece’s independence. Solvency became an issue almost immediately.

 As Lucien Frary relates in his recently published: “Russia and the Making of the Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844,” On 29 December 1842, Greek Foreign Minister Iakovos Rizos-Neroulos informed the ambassadors of Britain, France and Russia that even though the government and the royal household had decreased their expenditures significantly, Greece would be unable to pay the service charge on the 60 million franc loan it had contracted, due in March of that year. As a result, he petitioned the foreign powers for a bailout, in the form of a new loan to cover the interest repayments. The Russian ambassador, Konstantinos Katakazis, replied a week later that such a request was against the London convention of 1832. Writing to his counterpart in Constantinople, Katakazis commented: “This unpleasant phase of the Hellenic question will perhaps bring some sort of denouement to the interior affairs of the country and the course of its government. For it is impossible for me to suppose that the cabinets will decide to grant a loan again without asking King Otto and his councilors for an account of all the expenditures that they have made during the last ten years and the millions they have received.”

Russia was the first of the protecting powers to respond to the financial troubles by informing the Greek government that St Petersburg would bail it out by covering the interest charge due in March of that year. This news, according to Vice-Consul Kallogerakis in Patra, was met with jubilation by the inhabitants of Greece. He wrote: “The peasants repeatedly blessed the name of the August Sovereign of Russia.” Soon afterwards, Russian Foreign Minister Nesselrode wrote to the Greek government demanding payment of the service charges by June. Nesselrode insisted that the Greek government must try to achieve the payment by making huge cuts to public expenditure and introducing austerity measures. The problems of Greek finances, the Russian foreign minister observed, were due to bad government, inefficient administration and an unnecessarily large military.

 Measures were taken, but bad harvests and a downturn in the world economy exacerbated Greece’s woes.

 Since the Greek government was not able to pay the service charges on the loan, it faced the threat of the foreign powers intervening. The only way forward was to attempt to raise revenue while continuing to pare down the expenses of the state. Otto agreed with his ministers to increase taxes, impose a levy on public servants, eliminate selected diplomatic postings and lessen the pensions of priests. Fatally, the government also reduced the army by 1,200 men and agreed to remove the remaining Bavarians still embedded within the state apparatus. Greek Minister Rizos wrote to Nesselrode expressing regret that Russia doubted Greece’s efforts to develop the resources of the country and reduce public expenses. He illustrated all actions taken to improve the budget and pointed out that the cutbacks had serious repercussions on public morale, as a large sector of the population were dependent upon the state for their livelihood and increased austerity could destabilize the king. In particular, hoplarchs who had fought in the Revolution began to foment dissent, as their livelihoods were threatened owing to the cutbacks in the military.

 After browbeating the Greek government, the troika of Russia, Britain and France determined the solution to Greece’s financial woes at the Conference of London in July 1843. The Greek government was compelled to sign a protocol reducing its budget, even though the proposed economies were insufficient to meet the annual interest and amortization of the bailout package.

 Eventually, Greece not only defaulted on its loan but also had a constitutional revolution. The Greek cavalry, whose budget was cut in some cases by two thirds, while the Bavarian officers received no cut to their budget or salaries, staged a revolt let by Colonel Kallergis, in which they compelled Otto to grant the country a constitution. With the country in chaos, the economy also was unhinged.

 After this default, Greece was shut out of international capital markets for decades. During this interregnum, the government became dependent on the National Bank of Greece for borrowing. The government's needs were modest at first but soon escalated and the National Bank of Greece provided funds at interest rates that were twice the international lending rate.

 What emerges as a common theme between the 1843 crisis and the crisis of today is while reform is necessary and the viability of Greece as a state and economy is of paramount importance, in both situations, such reforms as were imposed by the great powers and their bankers upon Greece were not motivated by these considerations but rather simply, by securing the means by which Greece should discharge its indebtedness to those powers, regardless of the human or political cost, or the detrimental effect this would have on the development of Greece. In the case of 1843, this caused a violation of sovereignty and contributed to the contraction of impossible loan after impossible loan that led to Greece’s bankruptcy on a few occasions, political instability and chaos and a good deal of suffering. If the 1843 crisis and its resulting political revolt it caused is anything to go by, the worst, with regards to the political fallout of the current ‘bailout,’ is not yet behind the Greek people.

 DEAN KALIMNIOU
First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 August 2015
 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

THE GREEKLISH PROJECT


Χάλο ντάλι μου! It was with these words that the luminous and beatific Kyriakos Gold of SBS Radio Greek program greeted the participants of the Greeklish Project, last Saturday night. Said Greeklish Project as an event, held in the Greek Centre, is of historical importance, as it is arguably the first ever Greek-Australian live game show to have ever been convened within our community, consisting as it did partly of questions, partly of music, stories of Greeklish experiences, banter, innuendo and high farce, the complex balance of which was expertly modulated by the ineffably prepossessing Kyriakos Gold himself, which is fitting, given that Kyriakos' smile is possessed of sufficient lustre as to blind even the most ambitious of network game show hosts.

 As a phenomenon, Greeklish however, is nothing new. A hybrid of Greek and English, it has been with us almost from the very inception of our community - a corollary of our acculturation within the Australian zeitgeist.

 There are in fact two forms of Greeklish:

 The first, which is fading, was coined by the first generation, in order to introduce into their everyday Greek speech, concepts or vocabulary that they were unfamiliar with in their home country. This Greeklish consists mainly of nouns, some of which have amusing connotations in Greek such as ρουφιάνος for roof-repairer, and βίζιτα for visit (which in modern Greek refers to an out-call by an escort). Evidence of linguistic genius can be found in the manner in which adjectives are created, for example, εξπείριος for experienced, or indeed verbs, such as μπαμπακίζω, meaning I lay on a barbeque for someone, the smell of which can be described as μπαμπακίλα. So ingrained was Greeklish in my own vocabulary growing up that I found it difficult to believe my recently arrived Greek school teachers when they pointed out that ορράιτ, μαρκέτα, καρπέτο and κάρο were not Greek words. I still have reservations about the word κάρο. This word in modern Greek means cart, and if αμάξι, a word that is commonly used to denote a car also literally means cart, then κάρο should be perfectly acceptable. Similarly μαγαζί and χαλί are arabic and Persian loanwords respectively and one wonders why ours are not to be preferred. The fact that they are not shows how subjective criteria can often shape language policy, and ultimately, the idiolect itself.

 Nonetheless, Greeklish is so much a part of our psyche, that it is unavoidable and can often take subtle forms. Just the other day, reporting from the panigyri of St Panteleimon in Dandenong, Angelis Kalodoukas from 3XY exclaimed: Υπάρχει έναν εξάιτμεντ στον αέρα.... The Greeklish here is not in the word excitement as this has been adopted wholesale without adaptation, but rather in the calque "in the air," which is a purely English expression, literally translated.

 This first form of Greeklish still waxes strong and will do so until such time as the first generation eclipses. Despite the advent of Greek cable television, which seems to be perpetually playing in elderly Greek-Australian homes, this generation persists in utilising the words that it has coined in its daily speech. When I speak to my elderly Greek clients about a συμβόλαιο or a νοικιοστάσιο, they rarely know what I am referring to. Talk to them about a κοντράτο or a λήστ (instead of lease,) and immediately, one receives a nod of affirmation. One elderly lady who came to see me because her son was a ντράγκις, gave me a look of incomprehension when I explained that I did not primarily practice in the ποινικό δίκαιο. Furrowing her brow in thought, she resonded after a few minutes: 'Α, δεν είσαι κρίμινα λόγιας.'

The second form of Greeklish that exists, is that primarily used by the second generation. It consists of English, into which are interposed Greek expressions or Greek words or parts of words, usually to express concepts in English that can more easily be expressed in Greek. For example, a person who is fasting may say: "I'm nistepsying," a person who has been delayed may say colloquially, "I got argisied," a newly divorced couple has "horisied," which term can also be used to mean something was made to fit, while a person who is the victim of a misunderstanding may protest that he "has been parexigisied." If the misunderstanding is a particularly significant one, then he "has been parexigisied bad." Here, the Greek root verb is retained and an English suffix is attached. A certain amount of linguistic dexterity is evident in the Greeklish word for λογοδοσία, where one provides a promise to be married. The proper Greeklish term here of course, is 'to give logies.' Calques can also identify a person of Greek-Australian origin, regardless of how Aussie their accent is. A key indicator is the expression: "I opened [or] closed the light," which is a literal translation from the Greek. This second form of Greeklish reached its peak in the nineties and is now in decline, as the latter generations either wholly espouse English with few Greek interpolations, or dispense with English in their spoken Greek altogether. Nonetheless, a few weeks ago, I did overhear a Greek-Australian mother in the cosmetics section of Myer yell at her offspring: "If you peiraxei those again Tristan, I'm going to tsakisei you," proving the enduring quality of the idiolect.

 Kyriakos Gold's inspiration for celebrating the linguistic genius of the Greek-Australian community derives from his own personal experiences. Acting as an interpreter, he was greeted one day by a client with the expression: "Α, εσύ είσαι το εξπλάι,' εξπλάι, of course, being good Greeklish for interpreter. Thus commenced his fascination with the unique lilt of our own kultursprache, one that deserves celebration in its own lifetime, as its terminal decline begins.

 The Greeklish Project event was by all means a roaring success. In the packed mezzanine floor of the Greek Centre, contestants battled it out to prove their mastery of the Greeklish patois and win fabulous prizes, adjudicated by our own Victorian Multicultural Κομισιονέρισα, Helen Kapalos, the urbane and linguistically muscular George Donikian, and my own insufficiency. Assuming the role of a connoisseur of Greeklish, I determined to become a visual representation of same, donning a foustanella, girdled by an Essendon Football Club scarf, a football guernsey of same provenance and capped by a matching beanie. Now in multicultural Melbourne, one can walk down the streets wearing a foustanella in relative safety. The same cannot be said these days for those who have the effrontery to don Essendon garb in public.

 The level of levity, jocularity and general goodwill pervading the mezzanine was intense, contributed in no small part by the expert Greeklish musical stylings of the divine Anthea Sidiropoulos, Iakovos Papadopoulos, Con Kalamaras and Ilias Chatziemmanouil. Much of that goodwill was directed towards the lustrous Helen Kapalos, whose appointment to her important new role has delighted our community. Her adjudication of the event was perhaps fitting, as Kyriakos Gold's endeavour can be replicated throughout all of the multicultural communities of Melbourne, each of them celebrating in turn, they way they have acclimatized linguistically to their new environment. There is much food for thought in comparing, contrasting and studying such an intercultural experience.

 Despite the Greeklish Project's few detractors, who proffered the argument that such events serve to corrupt our tongue at a time when our children are in danger of losing it altogether, I would venture to suggest that to the contrary, the Greeklish Project serves to honour our first generation for their linguistic genius and express our admiration for their dexterity. After all, that generation has managed, in a perfectly natural way, to accommodate loan words into its own tongue, having regard for all grammatical rules and strictures, something that its modern Greek counterparts in Athens have been unable to do. Instead they adopt English terms wholesale, without declension and even without transliteration. Arguably, ours is a 'truer, bluer' form of Greek than theirs and for all the opportunity for jokes that it provides, it deserves to be celebrated and studied in depth, το μπλάρρυ θίν.

Without wishing to kourasei the reader further, we seek to sygxarisei Kyriakos Gold and his team for their sensitivity, perspicacity and above all humanity, in choosing, at this critical juncture in the history of our community, to focus on the idiolect that has bound us all together for decades, and invite us all to rejoice in it and see its potential in binding other migrant communities to us. Του γκούτ ρε μάιτ!

DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 1 August 2015.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

SUFFERING FOR CYPRUS


This photograph of a sorrowful young refugee holding his missing parents’ wedding photograph has haunted me ever since I first saw it, at the age of five. When in my youthful imagination I could barely just conceive of the idea of being abandoned or losing one’s parents, I would become overwhelmed with fear and cry. Furthermore, this photograph has been responsible for procuring recurring childhood nightmares, nightmares which have even persisted intermittently into adulthood,  wherein I am always a five year old boy, wandering aimlessly in a  black and white landscape peopled with faceless placard holders, searching in vain for my parents who have inexplicably vanished. I do not know if the young boy was lucky enough to find his parents in the aftermath of the terrible humanitarian tragedy that was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. If he is hale and hearty, he is probably approaching middle age and has a family of his own. I shudder to think what manner of mental traumas have been inflicted upon him as a result of having to face a calamity that no child should ever be exposed to. 

When one considers that forty one years have elapsed since the terrible crime of the Cyprus invasion took place and that since then the international community has not managed to resolve this issue, shifting from a blanket but puny condemnation of the invasion of a ‘sovereign’ state (which it wasn’t since it had guarantor powers looking over its shoulder), to a post-modern no-fault approach whereby there is no longer a sovereign state with 47% of its territory under foreign occupation, but rather two ‘communities,’ that need to engage with each other, it is easy to come to the conclusion that the world has failed the little boy and so many innocent victims of human brutality. Such children, growing up in the aftermath of the Second World War and taught to believe in the United Nations and mankind’s evolution towards a noble and peaceable utopia would have been completely shocked to discover that not only is mankind and its international institutions are largely unable to prevent violent conflicts, they are also generally unable to resolve them.

Exiled from their homes and unable to return to them, bearing the trauma of seeing their parents or loved ones killed, raped or tortured before their very eyes, these children would have shook their heads in disbelief had they been told that by 2015, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees would estimate the number of refugees and internally displaced people at approximately 60 million. Mercifully, they would and could not be told that in the western world at least, there would be a gradual hardening of governmental policy and citizen’s hearts with regard to the plight of refugees for if they had become privy to such knowledge, it is arguable that they would not have been able to find the strength to carry on.

It is for that lost little boy whose identity I have assumed in my nightmares and for the sake of every single other refugee, forcibly torn from everything that they have known and loved that I attend the Justice for Cyprus Rally at the steps of the Parliament of Victoria every year in July. As the number of attendees decreases year after year, I reflect on what a fitting and symbolic spot the Co-ordinating Committee for the Cyprus Campaign (SEKA) has chosen for its demonstration. On the appointed Sunday in freezing July, the streets before Parliament are silent and empty with not even a suspicion of a pedestrian, to be moved by the slogans or the placards. Parliament too is silent, its looming grey edifice with its closed doors bearing down upon the small crowd disconsolately as if to say: “You may cry as you will but there is no one to hear you here, and even if there was, there is no one here who could make the slightest difference to your plight.” Perhaps that is why most of the politicians have stopped coming, because they are ashamed of their own impotence. Or perhaps it is because they know that since 1974, a multitude of other conflicts and priorities have interposed themselves between trauma and memory and the time for lip service is past.

The dignitaries from Cyprus mouth the same platitudes as the crowd looks on mutely and then comes the turn of the representatives from local organisations, making a cameo show of support for the worthwhile endeavours of SEKA, which less and less people, especially those of Cypriot extraction, appreciate. The national anthems of Greece and Australia are sung and everyone scuttles off to seek refuge from the cold, muttering that they are tired of commemorating the invasion in the same way for so many decades and that something ‘new’ must be done to ‘attract’ a crowd. Yet few people have heard, amidst the words, the slogans and the anthems, the heart-rendering sobs of the black-clad ladies perennially at the front, bearing fading photographs of loved ones they have lost and olive branches, lamenting the loss of love, youth and a future. Every time I mount the steps to deliver a message of support from the Panepirotic Federation of Australia, I face them, my childhood nightmares and feel as a fraud and a hypocrite, for I have never suffered so much, or plumbed the depths of the abysmal numbness that comes afterwards, as to offer meaningful consolation or a message of hope. At times like this, dignity properly demands silence. For in such silence alone, does suffering speak.

Chances are, given the parlous state of the world, that the refugees, and all of those who seek justice for Cyprus will never bear witness to a just ‘solution’ to ‘problem’ that was once called a crime. There can be no adequate redress for anguish, fear and loss of life and love. Nor can we or anyone expect that a groundswell of public outrage, four decades on will spur the key power-brokers into just action. What there can be however, is understanding, compassion and a resolve to point out the incongruities and inconsistencies of our self-assured civilization. For after all, a crime ceases to become a crime only if it is forgotten. It is for this reason, that all of us should make the effort to attend the annual Justice for Cyprus demonstration on 26 July 2015 – to stand as mute witnesses to the injustice of a world that allows little boys to lose their parents and then nonchalantly washes its hands of their fate – pointing the finger directly, at those responsible.

DEAN KALIMNIOU
 
First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 July 2015

Saturday, July 18, 2015

GO BACK AND SEE YOUR VILLAGE

Growing up, members of my extended family would laugh when sports commentators would wax lyrical about recent migrant's sporting achievements as "Australian." "They are 'Australian,' until they do something wrong, or start losing," they would scoff, citing as an example that while Jelena Dokic was Australian, Damir Dokic definitely was not. Mark Philipoussis while he showed promise, was deemed an Australian and yet his off-court antics permitted the media and the mainstream to create scatological versions of his 'ethnic' name, something that would have been inconceivable had he an Anglo-Saxon surname. Furthermore, in snatches of conversation I chanced to overhear, I gained the impression that though members of my extended family have been settled here since the thirties, they believed that they were here only under sufferance and expected that at some stage in the thankfully distant future, there 'right' to be an 'Australian' could be called into question and that they could even be asked to leave. In response to my attempts to convince them otherwise, they would cite not only a multitude of examples of day to day racism they had endured in Australia, but also, an older memory, that of being forced to leave a homeland in Asia Minor they had inhabited for generations.

I am fond of quoting George Vassilacopoulos and Toula Nicolacopoulou's ground-breaking study: Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000."  In it, they analyse how the key forms in which migrant communities manifest our existence here are paradoxical. Though lip service is paid to communities forming their own organizations and sub-structures, the way in which this is done is heavily regulated and prescribed by the state, originally in order to keep sub-cultures away from the mainstream. As a result of such government-sanctioned behaviour, the sub-cultures remain isolated, suspect and constantly having to prove their loyalty credentials to their host country, that is perpetually unable to accept them as they are. Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou also note that such racially exclusion is symptomatic of the ontopathology of the predominant ruling group in this country, in seeking to legitimise its conquest and rule over Australia at the expense of its original inhabitants, by acting as arbiter over other nationalities it has chosen to include but not assimilate within its constructed society. Thus, despite the veneer of formal equality characterizing race relations in this country, there lurks within the substratum, a fundamental concept of the 'perpetual foreigner.' These foreigners are not automatically subsumed into the liberal democratic individualist paradigm. They remain a distinct 'group,' which is expected to provide appropriate declarations and exhibitions of loyalty to the ruling culture, or face the fear of being labelled suspect. As a result of this sociopathic world, generalisations and denigrations can still be made about ethnic groups, just as they were made in the early twentieth century, when ethnic minorities, the Greek one among them, were considered suspect and were subject to internment or at best, surveillance and censorship.

The latest racial attack visited by revered swimming legend Dawn Fraser upon Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic seems to prove Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou's contention. In claiming that the young tennis superbrats should:  "go back to where their fathers or their parents came from. We don't need them here in this country if they act like that," Dawn Fraser, a known supporter of Pauline Hanson, appears merely to be extending the paradigm of the 'perpetual foreigner,' further from that of the migrant, to the migrant's Australian-born progeny. Thus, a child born in Australia of migrant parents will, in Dawn Fraser's world, still be deemed to be a foreigner regardless of their level of assimilation into the mainstream (Mark Philipoussis' Greek was extremely poor and yet he was still considered to be a 'wog' and anyway, why should affiliation to another culture or language make you less Australian?), by virtue of its parent's birth. Applying the paradigm, given that such Australian-born foreigners are eternally subversive, they should be subject to deportation at the mainstream's discretion, any time that they display behaviour that to the arbiters of Australianism, appears to be unsuitable.

 Dawn Fraser's ravings could be dismissed as those of a bigot or a racist if it was not for the fact that a very large portion of the populace tacitly or subconsciously shares these views. Symptomatic of this is the fact that a large number of mainstream Australians rose to defend Kyrgios' character rather than condemn his disenfranchisement at the hands of his attacker, as an Australian. One could merely relegate Dawn Fraser's bile to the dustbin of intolerance was it not for the fact that even now, her vision of two classes of Australian citizens is being envisaged by parliament via laws to strip dual-citizenship holders of their Australian citizenship if they are found guilty of 'terrorism.' Admittedly these laws are designed to protect Australia from an extremely serious threat that has plagued the entire world and caused untold suffering, yet their effect is to encourage the sentiment that there truly are two types of Australians: the dinky-di, true blue, and the ersatz, subversive ones with a dual citizenship that most of them have taken no steps to gain and is merely afforded to them as a birthright. What we are learning is that the citizenship of the country of their birth is negotiable, not a birthright and subject to revocation, albeit for more cogent and grave reasons than those that have so incensed Dawn Fraser.

 Multi-culturalism, the way most of us were brought up to understand the term was supposed to be about embracing diversity. All cultures and languages were considered equal and valued as Australian cultures that enhanced and contributed to Australian society and its progress. We were led especially to believe so about Greek culture, whose values and institutions form the foundation of western civilization and thus of Australian Anglo-Celtic culture as well. Now Dawn Fraser, among others, confirms our sneaking suspicion that by extending the arguments of Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou, the doctrine, heavily regulated and prescribed by the state, was created, maintained or at least developed, in order to keep sub-cultures away from the mainstream. She makes this confirmation based solely on the looks and parentage of an Australian sporting identity.

 It would be trite to tell Dawn Fraser, who is pictured herein bearing the Olympic torch, a symbol of the ingenuity of the country to which she would like Nick Kyrgios to 'return,' that save for the Aborigines, we are all migrants in this country. It would be futile to attempt to describe the feelings of hurt and alienation her comments have caused hundreds of thousands of migrants who have embraced this country, worked hard to improve it, fallen in love in it and can envisage no other live away from it. Had she the capacity to understand the depth of the love migrants and their descendants have for their country, she would not have launched upon such a lamentably heinous tirade. Yet it is incumbent upon all of us who love the ideal of multi-cultural Australia to protest vociferously at each and every snide exposition of intolerance, racism and bigotry until it is understood within the psyche of even the most unrepentant xenophobe, that we are not xenoi, but are here to stay. And if Nick Kyrgios is going to be shunted off to a country of which he has scant knowledge, we can exhort Dawn Fraser who will remain behind, να κάτσει να δει το χωριό της.


DEAN KALIMNIOU
 
First published in NKEE on Saturday 18 July 2015.
 
 

 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

STANDING SOMEWHERE WITH GREECE

From Melbourne to Greece, for justice, for peace," came the faint, puerile, unenthusiastic cry of the small gathering. "Let Greece breathe," "Ellas, Ellas, Eleutheria," and even, bizarrely enough, "Ellas, Ellas, Makedonia," were some of the chants with which the barely audible organisers of the "Melbourne Stands with Greece" Rally, on the steps of State Parliament last Saturday, tried vainly for the most part, to inspire the miniscule crowd, whose paucity of numbers made the annual Justice for Cyprus march appear like a veritable "λαοθάλασσα."
            Despite having been assured on social media that the demonstration had an apolitical character and was designed merely to express Melbournians' support for the Greek people during this most difficult of times, many in the crowd were surprised and disturbed to perceive placards, one of them in particular inscribed in ungrammatical Greek, bearing the word OXI, (one proclaimed self-indulgently "Death Not Austerity), looming behind the organisers, making it clear that this was indeed a partisan demonstration. There were no placards bearing the word NAI and the only apolitical placard seemed to be one that was borne by a bored young lady, reading: "Greek beauty, not in crisis." This inspired me no end and I wanted to ask her how she defined beauty and in particular in which way she identified with the placard she bore with so much dedication. In my opinion this was an elegant statement about the eternal nature of the Greek aesthetic. After all there is much bittersweet beauty to be found within tragedy.
            There were a number of things that I found fascinating while perambulating the demonstration. The first was how unlike any other demonstration of a Greek nature I have ever attended in Australia, this was. For the attendees truly formed a microcosmic cross-section of a newly emerging Greek-Australian society. Mingling among the few first generation Greek-Australians who braved the cold in order, as they said, to perform their patriotic duty in support of Greece, there were, in the large part second generation, English-speaking Greek -Australians of all political persuasions, some of whom were there also, like their fore-fathers, merely to support the motherland while the radicalised majority wished to make a political point and of course a goodly proportion of new arrivals from Greece, the female of their species in particular bearing instead of placards, cigarettes, thus giving the rally the feel of an Athenian student protest, but without the violence. Interspersed among them were non-Greek members of the Socialist Left, handing out pamphlets, purveying badges and attempting to engage the Greeks in political debate.
            As the organisers interminable speeches were barely audible, the attendees had ample time to discuss the situation in Greece amongst themselves. They did so in an emphatic, though peaceful fashion, probably because most held similar convictions and it struck me as odd that a good many of them did not exactly comprehend the nature of the imminent referendum and its consequences for the Greek people.  Specifically, not a few vociferous supporters of an OXI vote, firmly believed that a NO vote to the referendum on accepting the conditions for Greece's bailout, would result in Greece's automatic exclusion from the Eurozone and indeed from the European Union altogether. They naively seemed to believe that the Greek people were being called upon to decide whether to remain "in Europe" or not and to their view, a Greece extricated from the clutches of the Europeans was the first step on the road to greatness.  
            Glancing past the mournful lady holding a small icon of Jesus, who as she explained, was the only true means of bailout from all the trials and tribulations of the world, and the gentleman with the intense round eyes who confided in me that Greece's financial catastrophe had all been prophesied by the Athonite monks and this is the reason why Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens was murdered by the European-financed freemasons, I chanced upon an incensed, cigarette wielding lady arguing vociferously with a bearded gentleman with a Dutch accent. He was attempting to advance the opinion that despite his rhetoric, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was far from being a radical and was definitely not a socialist. In his view, Tsipras', engagement with the capitalists was tantamount to acceptance of and adherence to the capitalist system and he was merely deluding all true socialists with his antics. This the angry lady could not abide. "Tsipras is goooooooood!" she shrilled, taking deep puffs of her cigarette. "He is making a difference. He is standing up to the Europeans." When the Dutch socialist ventured to suggest that Tsipras, who has never held a job outside of politics and has led a life of privilege, seems to have not made much headway with the Europeans but instead is using the Greek people as a shield against his own failures, the enraged lady resorted to the tried and true argument-clinching tactics of the neo-hellene: "What would you know? Are you Greek? Have you lived there? I have. If you haven't lived there, you have no right to an opinion."
            One non-Greek lady who attended in order to express solidarity with those affected in Greece by the humanitarian crisis that has been brought about by Greece's financial woes asked me why it took an Englishman to organize the crowd-funding endeavour in order to raise money for the beleaguered Greeks and why the diasporan Greeks were not following suit. According to her, if the five hundred or so attendees, at the rally, instead of making speeches and waving flags, each donated one hundred dollars, the resulting $50,000 could feed several indigent families for a considerable period of time.  Multiply that by the number of Greek-Australians in Melbourne and a considerable amount could be raised by way of charity relief. Before I had a chance to respond diplomatically, a member of the first generation interjected: "This is because every time we send money to Greece it goes missing. You can't trust them."  Responding to her quizzical gaze, I advised her that the culture of impersonal funding is largely alien to Greek-Australians, who prefer to assist on a person-to person basis, yet I cannot help feeling that I was being less than forthright and that our community efforts should centre upon humanitarian relief (which requires effort), rather than politics, the prerequisite for which is hot air. Her observation, that the gathering appeared to be more of an outlet for the release of national pride than an effective protest tool, cut close to the bone.
            "Do we really belong to Europe? They hate us and denigrate us every opportunity they get!" a new arrival from Greece exclaimed to me. My reflection upon this is that assuredly the Greeks are not entirely European as western Europeans understand the term.  And the fact Greeks call Europeans as such, to emphasise a point of difference between them speaks volumes. Proof of this is that time and time throughout the Greek people's history as an independent people (before 1453) they refused to slavishly follow the West but rather engaged in a dialogue with it, borrowed, compared and gave to its civilization in return. The Greek people are also not Eastern, as is evidenced by its historical fascination with the East but also the feeling since the time of the Persians, that the Greeks are somehow distinct from those forms of civilization. To my mind, the Greeks are something else, a third way, neither western or eastern, the point from which east and west depart and at which east and west meet. At the end of the day, the Greek referendum was not about identity, an issue which is yet to be resolved since the time of Herodotus, it was not about whether Greece should turn its back on the European Union but rather, simply, whether a particular measure should be employed to drag Greece back from the brink of social and economic catastrophe. This is what the term crisis means - a crossroads at which a sound judgment must be made.
            Given that our presence here in Australia is owed largely to our ancestors or ourselves performing a physical bailout from any one of Greece's prior crises, I would argue that any abrogation to ourselves of the role of arbiter of Greece's historical or political direction is misconceived. Our role, must and should be restricted to assuring the Greek people that whatever the consequences of their momentous decision at the recent referendum, we stand by them, afford them dignity  and respect while demanding that the world does the same and affirming that we are willing to dig deep, in order to allay their suffering.
 
DEAN KALIMNIOU
 
First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 July 2015