Saturday, February 11, 2017

BULLEEN- YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN


The above, positioned above a photograph of John Laws holding a bottle of Valvoline motor oil is the caption from one of the countless memes with which I inundated social media in the lead up to the extra-ordinary general meeting of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria in order to obtain member approval for the sale of part of its holdings in Bulleen. My favourite meme however, is one I posted of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, grinning devilishly while saying: “A referendum for Bulleen? Even if you vote No, the result will still be Yes.”

The aforementioned meme proved to be not far off the mark. Despite strident opposition, primarily expressed via some sections of community radio, a whopping 92% of members present and entitled to vote, voted in favour of the GOCMV board’s proposal for the sale. As I stood in the immensely Andrianakos Centre, itself a product of the Board’s strategic engagement with previously unharnessed sections of the community, watching the crowds mill and discuss the proposal enthusiastically, I was taken aback by the frisson of excitement that pervaded the space. Here there was none of the fractious, acrimonious and combative atmosphere that generally characterizes the gatherings and deliberations of organized Greek communities in Melbourne. There was no breaking off into smaller groups, the famous «πηγαδάκια,» there to indulge in skullduggery and number crunching. No recalling of past favours, or marshalling of apparatchiks seemed to be conducted. Where there were once scowls, smiles abounded and an almost palpable buzz of optimism and goodwill was omnipresent.

Everyone I spoke with had a different interpretation of what they were voting for. Some thought they were voting for the construction of a tower, others, for the construction of an old people’s home with adjoining shops and one particular elderly gentleman labored under the opinion that he was voting for the construction of a more genteel counterpart to Oakleigh’s Eaton Mall. We are, after all, talking about Bulleen. When it was explained to them that the resolution they were called upon to vote for was for the subdivision and sale of part of the Bulleen property, this did not perturb them in the slightest, where only a few years ago, questions of: “And what will they do with the money? Why should we sell now?”would have left the proposal dead in its tracks. Indeed, so firm in their convictions were the attendees of the meeting, that they kept coming in droves, long after the meeting had started. Most were not interested in hearing the arguments for and against. Instead, they were there, as most of them put it, to vote for progress and change. As one voter put it: «Να κάνουμε κάτι επιτέλους.» For them, the GOCMV’s vision for Bulleen represents that change.

The fact that the Greek community can go from nitpicking profit and loss statements in order to trip up Boards about the unaccounted five dollars spent on postage stamps to placing their trust in a Board’s vision for a multi-million dollar development represents an important cultural and sociological shift in the way our community conducts is affairs, and I would venture to say, is of historical importance. Furthermore, the presence of leaders of diverse smaller community groups in the Andrianakos Centre last Sunday, all of whom felt that they had a vital stake in the deliberations of the GOCMV and were more than ready and willing to assist, where only a few years ago, they were excluded and had no hope of even getting close to the GOCMV, also represents a historic shift in the dynamics of our community: From a fragmented, dysfunctional mosaic, we can see disparate forces, while retaining still their own sense of identity, gradually coalescing around the central pole of the GOCMV. What is more, rather than being dragged, kicking and screaming, jealously guarding illusory privileges to the tombstone, they seem to be wishing to offer themselves to the GOCMV voluntarily and, with rapture.

The sale of the Orestias brotherhood’s club building and its subsequent donation of one million dollars of the proceeds to the GOCMV must be viewed in this light. Such a donation would have been inconceivable a decade ago and yet there they were, the committee members of the Orestias brotherhood, standing before the members at the extra-ordinary general meeting, received the acclamation that is their due. Soon after, the members, some of whom I know to be the most querulous, minutiae-delighting, community leaders ever to disrupt an election or undermine a committee, streamed to the ballot boxes also to give of themselves willingly to the GOCMV, in a docile and friendly fashion. I found myself scratching my head in incredulity. Looking up at the Board, seated at the stage above, I found myself asking: “Who are these people and what have you done with the real Greeks of Melbourne?”

The answer is simple. The GOCMV Board has presided over one of the most progressive, dynamic and productive eras in that institution’s history. By embarking on necessary infrastructure projects and successfully completing them, they have managed to galvanise a hitherto apathetic and disengaged community. By boldly and actively engaging with Greeks of all regions, political persuasions and religious affiliations, the GOCMV has transformed itself, in the space of a few years, from an insular, exclusive, ideological ghetto, into that which its founding fathers dreamed it should be: the all-embracing, inclusive, peak representative body of Greeks in Victoria. Any chance visit to the Greek Centre on any given day, but especially on Saturday, when its floors are bursting with children learning the Greek language in brilliantly appointed classrooms, or on a Thursday night, when all and sundry can attend lectures on Greek culture and history, speaks volumes about the historical revitalization of our community under the current Board of the GOCMV.

The Bulleen vote was thus more than just about Bulleen and its future. It was a ringing endorsement of the direction the GOCMV has taken under this Board and most importantly, given that the plan to redevelop Bulleen is subject to numerous conditions and circumstances falling into place, that rare thing for a Melburnian-Greek: a declaration of trust, that this Board, which has taken upon itself the task of re-imagining our future as Greek Australians and is proceeding to lay the necessary foundation to secure that future, will deliver on its promises and most importantly, has the capacity, to make a collective dream, a functional reality. The magnitude of that trust (92% of the vote), marks a historical turning point in the affairs of our community.

As does the way its leadership is perceived. The almost rapturous manner in which GOCMV president Bill Papastergiadis was received by the majority of members at the general meeting, the way in which large numbers confided in me on the day that they were “voting for Bill,” or that they “came here for Bill,” or that «οΜπίλληςξέρειτικάνει,» suggests that we may be witnessing the emergence of a charismatic leader in Hellenic Melbourne, a historic aberration for a people that both laments the absence of ηγέτεςand proceeds to defenestrate anyone displaying leadership pretensions, refusing to acknowledge their legitimacy. In the case of president Bill Papastergiadis, there appears to be a tacit, taken for granted acceptance among members that he is their leader, that his words carry weight, that his vision is true and that he is the appropriate person to represent us within the broader Australian social fabric and beyond. That, in and of itself, is truly remarkable.

From a sociological, cultural and even psychological point of view, the Bulleen vote, which by means of future hindsight will most probably be viewed as Chapter 2 in the process of our community’s redevelopment and reorganization, is thus of immense historical importance. Just how far that vision can be carried forward, depends, largely, upon our ability to maintain the unprecedented level of communal cohesion the GOCMV has been able to achieve, and ultimately, upon all of us.

DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 February 2017

Saturday, February 04, 2017

BOUGIAS OF BOURKE STREET


I want to introduce you to my friend Liako, a member of our community who is proudly of Maniot descent, and with whom all of Melbourne is currently well pleased. Twenty years ago, when I first met him at his parents’ house, I was immediately struck by his penetrating eyes, the simplicity of his demeanour and his acerbic sense of humour, which divest you of any pretentions to egotism you may harbor, even unwittingly. Over the years, we have argued passionately about almost everything, especially Greek politics and history, for in Liako’s world view, everything that needs to be done is settled and crystal clear, whereas for me, everything is nebulous, uncertain and untested. He exudes confidence where I exude doubt, conviction, in the face of my indecision. Liako articulates his views with firmness, unyielding, but always listening, appreciating, but never retreating from his deeply held convictions. Fiercely independent, devoted to his ideals and his family, it is his solidity and stoicism that mark him as true friend, one who with whom you can have an intellectually brutal argument over abstruse points of Byzantine history one minute in the small hours of the morning, and the next rely on him for absolutely anything, brushing previously spoken angry words aside, for this a person both of thought and action, a true elemental in the Olympian sense, who can melt the sum of human expression in the crucible of experience, reducing his relationship with people to their fundamentals.

I am unsurprised therefore that Liako, (known to the populace at large and lionised in the media as Lou Bougias), acted the way he did during the horrifying Bourke Street massacre, stopping his taxi and calmly and confidently attending to victims and those traumatised by what they had seen. For those that know him this is no aberration in behaviour: he acts in this way every single day of his life, for he is deeply imbued with a sense of decency and love of humanity that is expressed subtly and with deep humility. Consequently, to have had Liako not assist victims in the kind, and sensitive way he did, would have been perverse. When I spoke to him in the aftermath of the massacre, he was unchanged, curt and considered, though somewhat perturbed by all the publicity he has received and puzzled at the way people have made so much of what he deems to be a simple, logical and natural reaction to the circumstances he found himself with any in which he acquitted himself with such nobility . In an age of disquiet, when there are fears that community aggression and dysfunction are increasingly eroding our social fabric, unassuming but extra-ordinary Liako truly is an urban hero, a righteous role model and I am both proud and glad to call him a friend.

DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 February 2017

DOUBLE HEADED BOGEY MEN


Talented photographer Ari Hatzis once related how, on a trip to Antarctica, he took with him a Greek flag. His plan was to unfurl the flag once on the icy continent’s surface and take a photograph of it, in order to immortalise the incongruity of that flag used to flying over a sunny land, now being located in the world’s most extreme icy wastes. No doubt he also wanted to send the message that Greeks crop up in the most unlikely of places. Sadly, in his excitement to follow in the path of the Hypernoteians, he left his flag on the ship and the coveted photograph was never taken.
It is in this vein that I view the latest controversial photograph that has so vexed Greek public opinion within that country, both in Greece and abroad. A group of Greek soldiers, of Albanian ethnicity, allowed themselves to be photographed in their military uniform. All of them have linked their outstretched hands in such a way, that when first viewing the photograph, I thought that the defenders of the fatherland were either very bad at affecting raper attitudes or performing the children’s song: ῾Μια ωραία πεταλούδα.᾽ However, I am reliably informed that they were in fact, forming a representation of the Albanian national symbol, the double headed eagle and it is this that has incensed and outraged the Hellenes.
Demands for the Albanian-Greeks court-martial and deportation abound. Apparently, forming the symbol of the double headed eagle is an act of treason, because it indicates that the soldiers’ loyalty is not to the country in whose army they serve. Pundits lamenting the state of Greece go further and opine that this type of heinous behaviour proves that multiculturalism in Greece does not work – that Greece must belong to the Greeks and that one cannot become a Greek, they must be born a Greek, simply because these so-called “Greeks” of diverse descent, cannot be trusted to have the best interests of Greece at heart, especially when they try to make images of avian endothermic vertebrates with their hands.
It is worthwhile wondering if the level of outrage and bile would have been any different, had the soldiers in question been of Serbian, Montenegrin, Russian or Karnatakan (in India) descent, for all those cultures use the double headed eagle as a national symbol. I would venture to say that it would not be. The real problem here, lies not, as the infuriated would have us believe, with soldiers of any race displaying an inability to cleanse themselves, by means of psychosocial colonic irrigation or otherwise, of their ethnic affiliations, this compromising their ability to serve the Greek state, but specifically with cultures or ethnicities that are perceived to be ‘enemies’ of Greece and thus, their presence within the Greek army is deemed to be a security risk and they themselves, as potential fifth columns. As such, despite the fact that they may be Greek citizens, their position in the Greek armed forces is considered untenable.
There is ample historical precedent to support such a view. The modern Albanian state was created, out of a form of Albanian nationalism that aped and was largely a reaction to Greek nationalism. Its creation compromised the right to self-determination of a large population of native Greeks in the south of that country, sparking the Northern Epirus issue, which is yet to be resolved, as successive Albanian governments pursue largely hostile policies towards the Greek minority. Further adding fuel to the conviction that Greek trained Albanians represent a fifth column, is the knowledge that most of the leaders of the Albanian independence movement were educated in Greece, specifically in Ioannina, and it was these leaders who went on to curtail the ethnic expression of the Greeks of Northern Epirus. Add to that the persistent irredentist policies of Albanian governments who have claimed as their own, territories comprising the entirety of Greek Epirus, the appalling manner in which the collaborationist Albanian government and the Cham Albanians, who were Greek citizens, firstly annexed Greek territory in Thesprotia and then proceeded to commit genocidal acts against its Greek citizens, the appropriation of Greek history in that, according to Albanian historiography, the ancient (and modern) Epirots are ethnic Albanians, and the fact that the Albanian government actively assisted Serbian Albanians to commit treason against their country of citizenship, violently rebelling against their government and creating the state of Kosovo in the process and one can begin to appreciate the roots of Greek paranoia.
Of course against these incontrovertible facts, one must balance many others: That Albanian speakers have existed within the bounds of the Greek state for at least a millennium, that Albanian speaking revolutionaries all over Greece fought as hard as any other fighter for the liberation and continued freedom of Greece, and that at least until the middle of the nineteenth century, serious consideration was given by all interested parties in the creation of a federal Greek-Albanian state. These examples however, serve only to illumine the sources of fear and suspicion where they exist. They do nothing to allay them.
It is quite plausible that many Albanians living in Greece harbour prejudices against Greeks commensurate to those harboured by Greeks against Albanians, created either by ‘history’ or by their experiences living within Greece. Some of those prejudices, related to me by them, appear eerily similar to those harboured by first generation Greek migrants against Australians. What the Australian experience should teach us however, is that petty prejudices of this nature seldom, if ever, translate to anything more serious. But then again, the Australian multi-cultural paradigm is built on a myth of its own, that of terra nullius, whereby all nations have the right to co-exist here, (as long as they acknowledge the ascendancy of the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture) because there were no competing nationalisms to contend with the ruling culture in the first place, Aboriginal cultures being conveniently effaced from the discourse. The success of the Australian multi-cultural model thus stems from the ability of the dominant culture to control and define the cultural narratives of the minorities it has permitted to settle within its sovereignty. This is markedly different from the experience of Albania, Greece and other Balkan states where nationalisms compete, collide, contend and overlap, continuously. It is of no benefit to gloss over the fact of this acrimony.
I don’t think we will ever know the motivation of the young men who assumed the butterfly position in the now infamous photograph. Were they, as I suspect merely highlighting the incongruity of men of Albanian background serving in the Greek army, given the known historical background of Greco-Albanian relations? Were they parodying competing nationalisms, or merely expressing sub-cultural solidarity with each other? Were they indeed, as many contend, setting out to insult the Greek state? It is impossible to fathom the inscrutable workings of their young minds. What is certain however, is that the ensuing hysteria, clearly is a product of a deeply felt insecurity about the changing face of Greece, where recourse to threadbare tropes of collective national self-indulgence no longer assist in any meaningful way to interpret the world around us.
No amount of wishful thinking will bring Greece to the almost ethnically homogenous state it believed itself to be, between the end of the Second World War and the downfall of the Communist bloc – itself a temporary aberration in two millennia of continuous population movement. Many of those population movements, such as those of the Avars, Slavs and Goths caused upheavals that directly threatened the security and existence of the Greek-speaking people. Yet despite the immense human cost of those almost continuous upheavals, eventually, over a long period of time, Greece was able to absorb those populations and make them their own, despite the state of insecurity it found itself in. Such a long view of history makes the hand gestures of little boys, pale into insignificance.
Ultimately, we cannot hope to know now, whether it will be government policy, or social attrition that will determine how ethnic non-Greek peoples will be accommodated as Greek citizens and what form any type of multi-culturalism, if any, will take. The social and ethnic realities of Greece do not bear any resemblance to those of western multicultural countries, created largely as a result of colonialism or de-colonisation and thus any comparison or translation of their ideologies is unhelpful. The pre-existing, though not-consistent practice, of not permitting “risky” groups such as Thracian Muslim citizens to bear arms with ammunition while serving in the Greek army suggests that the creation of distinct “classes” of citizens is a possibility, with all the implications for the bilateral relations between Greece and the target’s country of origin that these entail. This is especially so considering that over the border in Albania, the Greek minority and its politicians’ commitment to the Albanian state is called into question on a daily basis by the media and Albanian politicians, often, most crudely.
Of paramount importance therefore, is to keep ethnic and social tension from bubbling over, as the unique processes of dealing with the new social realities, resolve themselves over time. The best we can do to assist such a process is to exhort all concerned, little Albanian soldiers and Greeks alike, to keep their hands firmly in their pockets, where we can see them.

DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 February 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

ΨΩΜΙ ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑ



“One of the worst things about being a young refugee in Greece, is the knowledge that your life has suddenly been paused, as if God is holding an immense remote control,” Nineveh, who in her early teens was a refugee in Greece in the mid-nineties, confides. “I went from being the top student in my class in Iraq, to just sitting around, waiting for nothing to happen. My parents could not work and I could not go to school. Every morning, I would watch the children in Peristeri, where we lived, go to school and I was insanely jealous of them. I spoke little English and very poor Greek and could find nothing to read in my own language.
To tell you the truth, Ι was bored out of my mind and completely demoralized. All of a sudden, my life no longer had any purpose or any structure. When you are at school, your whole mindset concerns the future: learning new things, progressing to new tasks, adding to what you already know. As far as I knew, not being able to go to school, I had no future. Not only that, not having anything to do makes you focus almost obsessively on things you would rather forget: the frightening experiences we had in Iraq, the traumatic way we left and of course, the terrifying passage to Greece in which we almost lost our lives. I had nightmares continuously.
Nonetheless, it was only when we arrived in Australia and I finally returned to school that I realized the full extent of the damage caused by two years of scholarly inactivity in Greece. I was extremely behind in all my subjects, had forgotten a large portion of what I knew and was no longer used to the discipline of study. Not a few of my friends, in the same situation gave upon on study altogether and went looking for menial jobs. Therefore, to deny someone schooling for even a short period of time is, quite plausibly, to compromise their future altogether.”



Despite these negative memories of scholastic deprivation, Nineveh, who has gone on to enjoy a successful career in the sciences, waxes lyrical about the Greek people per se. “They were all so friendly and so sympathetic. We established lasting friendship and felt completely at ease with our neighbours, all of whom took a genuine interest in us.” A lasting legacy of the compassionate treatment meted out to her and her family by the Greeks of Peristeri, is Nineveh’s innate Philhellenism. In Australia, she deliberately sought out Greek friends so that she could preserve her rudimentary knowledge of the Greek language acquired during her sojourn and regularly attends Greek events of interest to her. She maintains a love of Greek popular music, or at least she thinks she does, for she deifies Notis Sfakianakis and fervently believes that his name is not semantically, the antithesis of what we understand to be music, altogether. In short, though not all of her experiences in Greece were positive, their sum total, where the compassion and basic humanity shown her outweighs the lack of opportunities afforded to her, has shaped Nineveh into a lifelong friend, both of Greece and the Greek community of Melbourne, as is evidenced by the fact that, by her own admission, she recently berated an Italian grocer for recommending Turkish dried figs over Greek ones. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I prefer the Persian ones. Incidentally, she also has the unfortunate habit of berating those of her Greek friends who choose not to send their children to Greek school.


The demented Golden Dawners who recently stormed into a school in Perama, Piraeus to disrupt a meeting being held by teachers and parents regarding the education of refugee children in that facility, would do well to cast aside their troglodytic primal urges and take heed of the stories of people like Nineveh. Though said Golden Dawners are fond of proclaiming their adherence to what they consider to be “pure” Hellenic values, it would be of benefit to point out to them, that one of the basic values that underpin Greek civilisation since the time of Homer, is that of Xenia, better known to the modern Greek as φιλοξενία, one of those terms for which, as the Ellinarades rejoice in telling us, like φιλότιμο, no exact equivalent exists in any other language.
Xenia, as ritualised guest friendship, thus embodies the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, providing a structure for the generosity and courtesy to be shown to those who are far from home. Accordingly, guests are to be provided with succour and protection, and even provided with a present when they leave. By reciprocation, a guest had to be courteous and also offer his host something by way of a gift. (Of course it was understood that the guest relationship was of temproary duration). That Xenia was central to Greek society can be evidenced that one of the greatest ancient epics, the Iliad, revolved around a violation of guest-friendship, when Paris abducted his host, Menelaus' wife, Helen. The Greeks therefore were required by duty to Zeus to avenge this transgression, which, as a violation of xenia, was an insult to Zeus' authority. Memories of Xenia could even create precedents that were a pretext for peace in such a world and transcend the generations. In the Iliad, Diomedes and Glaucus meet in No Man's Land. However, Diomedes does not want to fight another man descendant from the Gods, so he asks Glaucus about his lineage. Upon revealing his lineage, Diomedes realises they are guest-friends, as their fathers had practiced xenia with each other. They decide not to fight, but to instead trade armour to continue the ties of their guest-friendship. Similarly in the Odyssey, the Phaeacians, and in particular their princess Nausicaa stand out for their immaculate application of xenia, as Nausicaa and her maidens offered to bathe Odysseus and then led him to the palace to be fed and entertained. After sharing his story with his hosts, they even agreed to take Odysseus to his home land.


The latest Golden Dawn antics thus seem to underlie the ambiguity of the word ξένος, which, having been in use at least since times Homeric, can be interpreted to mean different things based upon context, signifying such divergent concepts as "enemy" or "stranger", a particular hostile interpretation, to host, and all the way to the hallowed "guest friend." For Golden Dawners, it seems, not only refugees but the vast majority of the population of Greece who do not support their world view seem to be classified as "ξένοι." All the more reason to afford them the courtesy prescribed by the ancients say I.

Ιn their plurality, the Golden Dawners have up until now, lived a comfortable life, in peace and relative affluence. They are in no position to appreciate, let alone comprehend the terrible psychological and physical toll of being uprooted from one's country, witnessing slaughters and losing loved ones, nor the travails of braving rapacious people-smugglers and attempting life-threatening journeys across perilous borders. They have not been sexually harassed or robbed in refugee camps, nor have they, like Nineveh, had to face the prospect of a completely pointless, paused life, owing to an inability to go to school. Instead, by begrudging young, traumatised refugees the opportunity to regain hope and meaning through some type of schooling as they wait to rebuild their shattered lives and by seeking to intimidate those who would proffer them such an opportunity, the Golden Dawners display the worst facets of Modern Greek society: exclusion, suspicion, racism and bigotry. In doing so, they directly contravene the hallowed ancestors who they supposedly hold up as their example.



The flip-side to xenia is that it is reciprocal. It creates strong emotional ties that endure. In the case of Nineveh, it created a passionate advocate for all things Greek and there are many others like her in Melbourne alone. For Nineveh, and thousands like her, her sojourn in Greece was a temporary aberration, and her family had no intention to remain in Greece. This is important to note, because Germany jhas ust announced it will be returning thousands of immigrants and refugees to their point of entry (thins being Greece) starting March this year, and Greece is already hard pressed to deal with its own social and economic issues. However, providing young refugees with dignity and compassion, in the form of the chance to learn and dream where it is possible to do so before they move on, given the limited means Greece has at its disposal, not only transforms their lives, providing them with an outlet from their daily uncertainty that could be channelled otherwise towards anti-social behaviour; it creates a relationship of friendship and gratitude that has the capacity to transform each and every refugee student into a potential ambassador for Hellenism. If this is not possible, then at least let us not intimidate them. Brutish discourtesy, as practised Golden Dawn in their 'raid', reinforces prejudices about the West within the already laboured minds of war-stricken refugees and creates lasting bitterness and enmity that benefits Greece not at all.


Ultimately, Xenia had at the heart of its philosophy, the idea that the gods walk among men and then to refuse hospitality to a god, would be the height of blasphemy. It is high time that we embraced such a humanistic and benevolent conception of mankind, affording each other the respect and mutual regard we all deserve, consigning the thuggery of the simian Graeculi who ape Hellenic attitudes without having the foggiest idea what they entail, where it belongs: The dustbin of history.


DEAN KALIMNIOU

kalymnios@hotmail.com

 
First published in NKEE on Saturday 28 January 2017

Saturday, January 21, 2017

THE QUICK GUIDE TO HELLENISM

When I was a lad, the way we distinguished the inner circle from the outer, was by discerning people’s ability to speak in the Greek tongue. Once in a while, we would come across a strange phenomenon, especially at school: Peers whose parents were Greek and yet they had no facility in their mother tongue. In our binary way of looking at the world such ersatz “Greeks” were a conundrum, for they defied classification. Our identity was therefore enclosed within the syllables of an arcane tongue, enunciated mostly within earshot of English speakers (otherwise we generally spoke to each other in English, which would invariably elicit, from our elders at Greek functions, the following command: ῾Μιλήστε ελληνικά,῾ sometimes suffixed with the appellation κοπρόσκυλα), thereby proclaiming to all and sundry, our perceived ties of kinship and cultural affiliation.

Several decades on, it cannot be disputed that the primary language of discourse among second generation and increasingly, many first generation Greek-Australians, is English. Similarly, increasing numbers of second and third generation Greek-Australians have little or no fluency in Greek. Despite earlier generations considering the maintenance of the Greek language to be one of the key pre-requisites to perpetuating a “Greek” identity, it appears that quietly and over a long period of time, subsequent generations have managed to develop their own ideology of identity, to which lack of knowledge of the language of the mother culture is not inimical.

Thus, in Melbourne it is de rigueur to consider oneself a passionate Greek, even when one does not use or is not fluent in the Greek language. According to this view, what takes precedence over prescribed cultural, religious and linguistic criteria as determining Hellenism, (which give rise to innumerable questions as to: 1. Who determines these? 2. Can they be changed to reflect changing values or experiences? 3. Why are these the criteria of Hellenism and no other?) is how one personally feels about their own individual ethno-cultural identity. Proving that the task of defining Hellenism has been a work in progress since times ancient, without any clear resolution, are the endeavours to establish the Hellenism of the Macedonian Kings in order for them to take part in the Olympic Games. In those times, religion and language, were the key determinates. Cavafy’s Poseidonians, on the other hand, occupy a middle position between the archetypal two approaches. Having lost their language, and not comprehending the significance or meaning of the traditions they had preserved, they still clung to these, regardless of the fact that their ostensible irrelevance caused them angst, because they still felt that they comprised part of their identity. Here, it is not language but consciousness, coupled with the perpetuation of practices, that formed the Poseidonian conception of being Greek.

For me, there is something counterintuitive in the widely and deeply held “Hellenism without Greek” approach to identity emerging within Greek communities of the Anglosphere. After all, language encodes unique cultural practices and perspectives in a singular way. In the case of the Greek language, it provides an unbroken continuum wherein three millennia of shared thought and experience that be expressed in a manner that can only be approximated by translation in other tongues. While it cannot be denied that non-Greek speakers can identify as Greek, it follows logically that such an affinity hangs of the tail end of the Greek speakers they have come in contact with or grown up around and is not plausible beyond a generation, simply because the lack of the ability to receive and communicate information in the language of the ethnic group to which identity is claimed, eventually inhibits participation and an understand of that group. The lesson we learn from Cavafy’s Poseidonians therefore, is that while they “felt” Greek, however burdensome that “feeling” was, that feeling did not endure and they were eventually completely Romanised.

It is in this context that Greek deputy foreign minister Terence Quick's recent controversial comments to Greek Americans in Tarpon Springs should be understood. At a recent gathering, he expressed his disappointment at the fact that all of his hosts were using English instead of Greek, despite the fact that the aim of the gathering was to seek the Greek government’s aid for Greek to be taught in schools in the region: “The Greek language should be a powerful reference point for the Greek Diaspora, as is Orthodoxy. Here in the US we have now reached the fourth and fifth generation, and Greek is fading. If you, the parents, and grandparents do not support the Greek language in your own gatherings, then Greek will be extinguished…. So, despite all the previous Greeks who spoke in English, I will speak in Greek, which is the mother of all languages. "

There is a certain irony in a person by the name of Quick chiding expatriates for not speaking Greek and exhorting them to do so. It goes without saying that Quick's own ethnic background would challenge many Greek-Australians’ conception of what it is to be Greek.

Quick’s contention, that it is ridiculous to seek assistance from a beleaguered Greek state for Greek language education while at the same time displaying a non-commitment to the perpetuation of that language and its relevance within a multi-cultural society by not using it in diasporan social contexts, seems logical and could equally be applied in Australia as well, where though much lip service is paid to the importance of maintaining the language, as an ideology, daily practice indicates other priorities. Quite possibly, the mere act of seeking Greek language education when one is not prepared to use the language, should be seen as yet another Poseidonian ritual. However, as a representative of the Metropolis, Terence Quick’s placement of the Greek language at the centre of his conception of the Greek identity, seems to suggest that what is Greek is truly in the eye or the consciousness of the beholder, or stakeholder for that matter. His revealing comments seem to suggest that we are entering a Meta-Greek era, an era where, given the increased distance and time spent away from the motherland, our experiences, priorities and attitudes towards our mother culture have diverged to such an extent that old constituent elements are being discarded and new identities formed that bear marked differences to the culture that spawned our original cringe. For example, among various Greek-Australian sub-cultures, such as the Pontian or Cretan, it is arguable that dancing has taken centre stage as the key component of ancestral identity.

In inclusive multi-cultural societies where a multiplicity of social realties exist concurrently but in reality the Anglo-Saxon one predominates, ethnic languages have proven to be the casualties of such identity reformation, coming as this does, off the back of postmodern cultural relativism. It will be interesting to see to what extent the anglophone Greek identity which has already emerged, will be considered as "Greek" by the denizens of the motherland, not known for their inclusive outlook, for a number of factors, language and geography chiefly among them, already preclude such an acceptance. It will be fascinating, to gauge as to whether or not such an identity assumes the form of a watered down, de-hellenised Greekness that is the penultimate state to total assimilation or can actually articulate the Greek-Australian experience plausibly down the generations and be the jumping off point for an entirely unique identity in its own right.

Rather than pontificating to the Poseidonians about their parlance, thus cutting them to he Quick, Terence Quick would do well to study the social and psychological conditions in which language loss came about in the first place. Further, if Global Hellenism, a concept that the Greek State has propagated, is to be plausible, it has to be sufficiently broad and sophisticated as to encapsulate the multi-faceted fabric of the societies in which it has arisen and respectful of the people whose daily lives are its constituent elements. It is a coalescing of historical processes that cannot be driven by the Greek state alone. Such a task requires a little less grandstanding and a good deal more introspection and collaboration, for in this game, that of maintain and developing unique Greek identities, there are no quick fixes.

DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on 21 January 2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

THE APOTHEOSIS OF EPIRUS

The diminutive old man with the care-worn, drawn cheeks and the aquiline nose kneels rhythmically as he lovingly lowers his ear over the mouth of the clarinet. Then, slowly, his eyes half closed in ecstasy, he takes an inordinately deep puff of his cigarette, the type that only the Greeks can describe as σέρτικο, sensuously drawing the smoke deep into his lungs at the same time that he draws the sonorous notes of the clarinet from its mouth, deep into his soul. With a flourish, this sprightly octogenarian allows a great sigh to escape from the abyss within him, and immediately leaps up, beating the dust from his τσαρούχι, as if banishing his cares and woes forever, twirls around and, without losing time to the inexorable beat emanating from his chest, loses himself in the epic masculine majesty of a tsamiko that is as much from the heart as from the clarinet itself. Indeed, it is impossible to distinguish one from the other. 
If a single man could personify the region of Epirus, then undoubtedly that man is the late Giorgos Konstantinidis, whose loss, just before Christmas left the Greek community of Melbourne so much the poorer. Small and lean, with a physique toughened and forged in the bleak, minimalist mountain landscapes of Konitsa in Epirus, there was no pleonasm of flesh or feature about him, save for his luxurious, upturned moustache, the likes of which would turn Stalin green with envy. Here indeed was a man, who, though cast in the mould of privation, was possessed of an inexorable zest for life.
A founding member of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia, I knew him from my childhood days, marching with him at the annual Independence Day march to the Shrine. Back then, he would march proudly at the helm of a group of youths that included his daughter, nieces and nephews. He continued to do so throughout his life, showing no sign of slacking, as he marched proudly in step, turning his head sharply to the right, in order to greet the officials, one year resplendent in his foustanella, the next, in the μπουραζάνες that comprise the daily traditional costume of the Epirotes, the one constant in an ever-changing world. When we wanted to obtain an impression of what a traditional Epirot looked like or gain a few tips as to how the traditional Epirot comported himself, Giorgos Konstantinidis was our constant point of reference. After the death of my great-grandmother, when the pain of loss became too great to bear, I would seek refuge in his conversation, for he, like her was one of the last authentic repositories of the riches of the Epirotic dialect, the words falling of his tongue as mellifluously as the notes of the clarinet which he so adored. Giorgos Konstantinidis’ speech was chthonic. Having its origin in the land that according to legend was held to lead to the underworld, his speech emerged from the infinite chasm of the primieval Epirotic tradition, careful, considered and unconsciously idiomatic. It was the kind of speech that compelled silence and introspection, tying our generation, imperceptibly but inexorably, to the generation that came before. As such he was and even beyond the grave, still remains, a stalwart of the past, persisting in the present, in order to propel us forward to the future.

Ensconced every year since 2004 within the cultural tent of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia at the Antipodes Festival, surrounded by the various accoutrements comprising the re-enactment of a traditional Epirotic home, Giorgos Konstantinidis looked and felt at home, every part the image of an Epirot shepherd. Cheerfully treating passersby to some home made tsipouro, every so often he would grabs his klitsa and ring the cattle bells hanging from the tent emitting shepherd’s whistles and cries as he did so. Those who passed by, especially tourists, would view this wonderful phenomenon in natural habitat, that was, by virtue of his capacity to transcend time, in no way anachronistic, with awe and delight. Most were sufficiently moved so as to request to be photographed with him, or to drag their most often reluctant progeny, kicking and screaming, also to be immortalised with him in digital clarity. Within a few seconds of having his arms around them, they became calm and happy for this doting grandfather had a remarkable way with children.
A few minutes later, the indefatigable Giorgos Konstantinidis would once more be on the move. The traditional Epirot musicians would arrive and he, naturally, would be called upon to lead the dance, doing so with remarkable gracefulness of poise and noteworthy agility. Artfully placing a cigarette in him mouth, he would throw his skoufo down onto the ground disdainfully, as if expressing his complete and utter unattachment to the accoutrements of this world and dance around it, a titanic, elemental Kazantzakian figure, if there ever was one. Moments later, he would cast a side glance at me, a bespectacled ersatz anachronism masquerading as an Epirot, that glance conveying a mute command for me to follow his lead. 
Satisfied that everything was then in order, his roving eye would scan the enthralled crowd of onlookers. Ultimately, he would zoom in on one Asian lady with a bemused and nervous expression on her face. Before she had time to realise the fact, the tsamiko predator had already pounced and instantaneously lured her into the labyrinthine circle of the dance, a potent symbol of life itself, there to be instructed by a true master of the art.
As a beloved and instantly recognisable figure at the Antipodes Festival, the unassuming and completely unselfconscious Giorgos Konstantinidis well deserved the appellation of Festival Mascot. If one was to put words in his mouth, then it is quite possible that he would rationalise his motivation for spending forty-eight hours straight in a plastic tent on Lonsdale Street every year, as a desire to exemplify and thus pass on tradition. Yet this would only be partially correct. He is did not set out to re-enacting a dead tradition. Instead he constantly endeavoured to find a way to articulate harmoniously, a way of life that he believed, forms the basis of our identity, which lived within him. As one of the few living links with that authenticity, he was a Festival highlight and was cherished as such, especially by those who half in horror, half in glee, sought to evade his roving klitsa, as well as his bespectacled sidekick.
This year, the spirit of the indefatigable Giorgos Konstantinidis, who was accompanied to his grave by the laments of the Epirotic clarinet he so loved, will imbue everything that will transpire at the Epirus Cultural Tent at the Festival and in all endeavours of the Epirot community in Melbourne, for we cannot understand our communal life without him. Though without his corporeal presence we are much diminished, it is in the keeping of his values, his love of tradition and family which he understood to embrace the entire community, that we must seek to ensure his, along with so many irreplaceable others like him, place in posterity and so retain our sense of self, generations into the future.
DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 14 January 2017

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A PENTELIC CHRISTMAS DIALECTIC

«Καλά δε νιώθς; Μη μ’ βανς ομελέττα, αφού δεν αρταίνουμι».
My grandmother placed the pan on the table and stared at me in horror. If looks were capable of parakinesis, then that stare would have had me lifted from the kitchen table, packed, despatched to the airport and bundled onto the next available flight back to Melbourne. This was due to the fact that since my arrival in the motherland, there to spend my Christmas on Mount Penteli with my maternal grandmother, she had been continuously lecturing me about my hideous (according to her) Samian accent.
“You are supposed to have been educated,” she would ponder. “How is it possible that you are still speaking in that horribly perverted way? How did they let you graduate high school?”
According to my grandmother, given the right factors, accents were transmutable. Thus, once one had completed high school, any rural accent they may have had the misfortune to have inherited by birth and geography would immediately and seamlessly transform into Athenian. My defence, which was that we all spoke Samian at home and didn’t know any Athenians was thus deemed invalid, since there was no doubt that I had finished high school, the fact that I had done so in Melbourne, rather than Athens, apparently having no appreciable effect upon the expected dialectic transformation.
“We have a certain standing in this neighbourhood,” my grandmother informed me, almost immediately after I had settled in. “You will NOT walk these streets speaking that vulgar tongue. I will not have our named shamed. If you must indulge your perversions, at least do so discreetly only within these four walls.”
Speaking Athenian was tough. Samian is economical, methodically removing all unnecessary and probably most necessary vowels. The cluster of ensuing consonants that the tongue must hurdle gives one time to pause and consider exactly what it is they are communicating. Not so with Athenian, which spurts from the mouths of its native speakers with the exuberance of a water fountain, spraying all those in the vicinity with an unrelenting lexical word jet.
Then there was the matter of vocabulary. Try as I might, I could not get the local fruiterer to understand what I meant when I spoke learnedly and enthusiastically about the cultivation of μπουρνέλλες back home, because δαμάσκηνα, the word Athenians employ to denote the plum, was unknown to me at the time. By that stage, I had lost any credibility I may have had with the fruiterer anyway, as, in fulfilment of my grandmother’s wishes that I complete her Christmas shopping, I made my debut in the shop by dutifully asking for κρεμμυδάκια, expressing incredulity when the fruiterer produced what I knew back home to be σπρινγκάνια. In my mind, and to this day I maintain that it makes logical sense, κρεμμυδάκια should be that which they proclaim: small onions.
The look of horror my grandmother gave me that fateful Christmas Eve was thus motivated by sheer exasperation. Not only was her antipodean grandson a Samian-speaking yokel, untouched by the benefits of education and western civilisation as a whole, now he was proving that there truly are no limits to the depths of his depravity, by uttering aphorisms in the manner and style of her own native and long-suppressed patois: the dialect of Ioannina.
“How quaint, he’s trying to speak Greek” my grandmother’s neighbour remarked, as she angled her aquiline nose into her coffee cup. “What is he saying?”
At that time, the film “Basic Instinct” had just been released in Greece. I had not seen it, but had been told that it involved a particularly murderous icepick. As I observed the camber of the neighbour’s nose, it assumed the sheen of steel in the gloom of the Pentelic kitchen. I had visions of detaching it from her face and using it to crush some ice of my own.
I despised her for two reasons, for the first of which she bore no blame. For in a manner deeply disquieting, she looked exactly like Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, with the same furrowed brow and cheeks, even down to the stiff wiry hairstyle and the slightly slanted, yellow flecked, Stalinesque eyes.
Indeed it was those eyes that caught my eye and my ire earlier that day. After spending days ensconced in my grandmother’s kitchen mulling over times past, receiving sage advice and preparing for Christmas, I was bored. So bored in fact, that I offered to weed, prune and cultivate my grandmother’s garden, which was displaying signs of advanced rebellion from her authoritarian rule, this having been a particularly mild winter on the mountain. My grandmother too, Ι supposed, must have been bored, for she consented, even though this meant that I would be exposed to the linguistic scrutiny of the entire neighbourhood. Not having anticipated that a spot of gardening would be on my itinerary, I had neglected to pack suitable clothing, which is how I found myself in my grandmother’s front garden dressed in my grandmother’s lilac tracksuit, with matching lilac and white tiger print fleecy top and a pair of her wooden τσόκαρα, wielding a hoe with the determination of a boy who knows that he is so extremely comfortable with his sexuality, that he hath no need to protest too much. I proceeded to pull, heave, hoe and plough with gusto.
When Jeff Kennett spoke, she did so in the same rasping, reedy tones of her Melburnian doppelganger: «Μέσα είναι η κυρά σου;» I realised at once that I had been weighed and found to have been the help. Furthermore, from her superior tone, I deduced that I was considered to be the help of Albanian extraction and resolved to play the part, if anything, to enhance the standing of my maternal progenitor’s progenitor among her peers, as a lady who could and would, command help, when the need for such help arose.
“Është brenda,” I gestured towards the front door, adding in lisping broken Greek to add verisimilitude: «Κυρά μέσα είναι.»
As I completed my pruning, I wondered whether a Greek Jeff Kennett would nationalise Albanian domestic servants, just so that he could have the pleasure of privatising them. With that, having showered and adorned myself in garments of a less offensive hue, I hastened to the kitchen for the selamlik.
“This is my grandson, Kostas,” my grandmother announced with the poise of a dowager Sultan.
“But isn’t that the Αλβανάκι you’ve got digging for you outside?” Jeff Kennett asked.
“Please say that the Αλβανάκι is a different person, so I can go out and pretend to be him and thus confuse and confound Jeff Kennett,” I prayed, looking at my grandmother pleadingly.
My grandmother caught my eye and I saw the corner of her spirit levelled mouth fight to suppress a smile. Yet such indulgences as those I craved were not to be entertained.
“No, this is my grandson. He is over from Australia, to spend Christmas with me.”
“Oh, maybe that’s why I couldn’t understand what he said. I could have sworn he was Albanian. Mind you, these Albanians….Oh get off me Kari, stop being a Christmas pest,” Jeff Kennett shouted angrily as she attempted to shoo my eponymously named grandmother’s dog who was snuffling her feet.
I burst out laughing.
“What’s funny,” Jeff Kennett snarled.
“Well," I said, "It’s just that Kar is Albanian for penis,” I informed her.
“I don’t get it,” she frowned. “Are you an Αλβανάκι, or are you the grandson from Australia?”
It was at this point, that my grandmother attempted to interpose an omelette between myself and my interlocutor, eliciting the blast of Ioannite phraseology that so incensed her.
«Δεν αρταίνομαι,» means that I’m fasting,” I explained to Jeff Kennett. “It means the same thing as «νηστεύω.» I’m fasting for Christmas.”
“Really?” Jeff Kennett marvelled. “In Albanian? Do you Albanians fast too? But of course, it makes sense. Only Albanians go to church nowadays anyway.” My grandmother rolled her eyes, albeit with grace and dignity.
When Jeff Kennett finally withdrew her presence, my grandmother treated me to the longest and most impassioned stream of Epirotic pejoratives, uttered in the heaviest of accents I had ever heard. “Stupid old toad,” she finally concluded. “With her superior airs. Do you know her son has been supposedly studying dentistry in London for the past ten years?”
“Well, I came all the way to Athens to escape Jeff Kennett,” I replied. “A ten year sojourn in London to escape the same Jeff Kennett seems perfectly reasonable to me.”
That Pentelic Christmas formed a watershed in our relationship. Notably because it was the first of many Christmases spent with one of the most linguistically complex, fascinating and loving people I have ever known. But even more so because from that time, until the day she died, some two decades later, every single one of our Christmas greetings was prefaced by the following: «Φύγε από πάνω μου Κάρυ, μη μ’ενοχλείς Χριστουγεννιάτικα.» And it is in that expansive spirit that I extend to all, the greetings of the Season.
DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com
Saturday 24 December 2016

Saturday, December 17, 2016

AUSTRALIAN HELLENISM REBOOTED

I
 drive past the Nisyrian Society club building on Sydney Road, Brunswick at least once a week. On its be-curtained door, a sign proclaims forbiddingly, “Members Only.” This, I find interesting, because in the two decades that I have been driving past this imposing edifice, not once have I seen droves of aroused non-members lining up before this mysterious portal, in an attempt to penetrate the Nisyrians’ inner sanctum. Indeed, come to think of it, I have never actually seen the door actually open.

Nonetheless, it is interesting how we Greek-Australians identify or self-identify our own sub-cultural groups with reference to their buildings. Quite simply, in the common consciousness, if one does not have a building, one does not manifest themselves in any meaningful way within the broader Greek community, hence the resistance, especially of the older generations to any change in the real asset base of any given organization. Thus, much more focus is expended in maintaining or paying off unproductive assets, than in actually doing that which our regional brotherhoods were founded to achieve in the first place, which is to link people of the same background together and create cohesive micro-communities.

My own club, the Pansamian Brotherhood of Melbourne, has recently found this out of itself. Despite the Iphigenias of doom and destruction prophesying oblivion ensuing the sale of our clubhouse in Brunswick, we still meet and hold the same functions as we did before, as the exploration of the connections between people, is the main aim, realizing that a clubhouse, though admirable in many respects, is not the organization itself. When it becomes a carapace, excluding others and ossifying practices that are no longer relevant to the change face of the community, the clubhouse can actually become, an agent of a club’s destruction.

In the municipalities of Darebin and Moreland alone, there exist over twenty Greek regional clubs, most of whom own a clubhouse but none of whom until now have ever co-ordinated their efforts. Yet when one drives past or enters these structures, one thing becomes striking: Though these clubhouses and the clubs themselves are in their municipalities, they are not of their municipalities. That is, though rate-paying, that have little if no involvement in their broader communities, contributing nothing substantial to them. Rather than being an expression or reflection of the Greeks residing in those municipalities, their doors serve as portals to an isolation chamber, whose sole purpose is to hermetically seal its members from anything taking place “outside,” even when they are operating as social centres for the local elderly, as many of these clubs now are.

The reason for this is simple. When we Greek-Australians refer to our “regional” clubs, the word here does not denote the regions of the city in which we live, but rather, the regions in Greece from which we derive our ancestry. Consequently, “local” or “regional” clubs are anything but what they imply, purporting to serve instead, the needs of a geographically widespread population of Greeks with the same region, many of whom have little or no emotional, economical or social concerns or attachment to the area in which their club building is situated.

This is of concern because it is the area in which we live, the people who we see in our everyday social interactions that play a large part in the formulation of our personal identity. Where there exists no structure or forum within which a native Australian Greek local community can arise, one in which the Greek identity of emerging generations can be explored with the context of their everyday life, their relationship to their local environment and most importantly their relationship to other Greek-Australians in the course of their daily life, then such paltry networks as the topicistic brotherhoods provide become stale, rarefied and irrelevant to the point where the descendants of their members no longer identify with them and cease to attend them.

A corollary to this, is the fact that our community is primarily organized around such insular brotherhoods and not having as a criterion, the local areas in which Greek-Australians reside, contributes to language and identity loss. For if we live in our local communities disparate and unable to co-ordinate social activities with the Greeks of our own area, then our involvement in our brotherhood has and will continue to take on a tokenistic flavor, where the Greek language and the Greek identity, rather than being integrated into the warp and weft of mainstream society as a community language and a constituent identity of the broader Australian social fabric, is relegated to the margins as an isolated and irrelevant ancestral idiom, that has nothing to contribute to our daily endeavours as Australians and is thus taken out for a time and aired sparingly, after which time, it is generally discarded.

What is astounding is the fact that after a sojourn of a little more than a century in Victoria, we are yet to articulate a viable Australian Greek identity, one that is pertinent and germane to our experience in this country and which could provide a unique perspective and point of reference, in a truly multicultural society. By enclosing ourselves almost exclusively within the carapace of our brotherhoods, we have not only lost an opportunity to engage and add value to the mainstream: we have, by refusing to integrate our identity within the broader discourse, ensured the irrelevancy and ultimate failure of Hellenism as a discourse within Australia, altogether.

It is for this reason, that Hellenism Victoria, an initiative primarily of brotherhoods and clubs of the Darebin and Moreland municipalities must succeed. Its proponents simply cannot fathom how such a large agglomeration of with a few notable exceptions, stagnating and insular, Greek organizations has had little or no impact not only on the local municipality but also upon the Greeks living within it. They point to second generation, generally time-poor parents who cannot make the trip to Oakleigh on a regular basis “to get their [ersatz] Greek on” and lament the fact that their children are growing up disconnected to the Greek families in the neighbourhoods and streets around them, without access to Greek language childcare or even local non-Greek-place of-origin activities, which could instill a sense an intrinsic sense of belonging to something other than a mere institution – a community and a way of life. They comment that the existing clubs are cold, forbidding and irrelevant to those who do not derive from the area in Greece they represent, or whose parents are not on the committee of management and their sphere of action is, at any rate, quite limited. They also point out that the centralization of Greek endeavor within the CBD, while valuable, is not a panacea and can in no way replace pursuing organized Hellenism on the suburban, daily level.

Hellenism Victoria is therefore an endeavor to transmute the raw elements of Hellenism into something relevant to the place in which we all live. It is an attempt to provide some sort of cohesion in the face of the alarming unravelling of the structures of mutual obligation and recognition that have hitherto characterized our community, dispensing with a tribal framework which is fast becoming obsolete.

The manner in which Hellenism Victoria seeks to achieve the localization and revitalization of the Greek identity in the municipalities in which its constituents exist, is by co-ordinating a joint approach to issues of integration, socialization and manifestation of one’s identity via interested pre-existing clubs, in a spirit of mutual co-operation. Rather than being a “club for clubs” as some have commented, it represents the commencement of a concerted effort to rethink the parameters and structures of Australian Hellenism, without discarding, excluding or disparaging existing community stakeholders, but rather by including them in and making them responsible  a bold and exciting new initiative where their own histories and tribal affiliations are left intact, but liberating them sufficiently to allow them to cater to the needs of the broader, local and tribally unaffiliated Greek community, through competitions, joint events and most importantly, festivals that will see local Greeks who live close to each other being able to relate to each other as Australian Greeks, and not as members of an obscure tribe whose arcane rites have been discarded even in its place of origin.

This remarkable attempt at rebooting our community by Hellenism Victoria deserves our support and is historically significant as it represents the first time in our age that hitherto hidebound structures are attempting in concert, to radically reposition themselves in order to address the huge demographic and sociological issues that will challenge the existence of a coherent Greek community in Melbourne in the future. Whether or not, as an experiment, Hellenism Victoria will succeed depends, largely on the breadth and clarity of its proponents’ vision, the ability of existing community groups to work together but ultimately, on us.

DEAN KALIMNIOU
 
First published in NKEE on Saturday, 17 December 2016