Saturday, July 19, 2014

3ZZZ Forty Years On

My first introduction to Radio 3ZZZ took place in 1990, as an emendation to my morning pre-school ritual. Since I can remember, while eating breakfast, I would listen to the news and the sparsely interpolated songs on the SBS Greek program. One day, while driving my cousins and I to school, my father casually switched the radio onto the Greek program at Radio 3ZZZ, thus beginning a tradition that, some twenty four years later, still endures.
Unlike the SBS Greek program, which over the years lost much of its fresh character and increasingly became a translation of conventional English language news, 3ZZZ appeared to be a breath of fresh air. Instead of finely tuned and micro-produced segments, here there was lively, often unscripted debate, commentary on what was transpiring in the Greek community, rather than mere news reportage and an introduction to a completely novel way of looking at the world, divorced from the often blinkered and stereotypical world view presented by mainstream media.
I began to listen to the Greek program religiously, intently concentrating upon each spoken word and protesting vociferously when my father, who is possessed of talkback propensities, attempted to switch to 3AW. As a result, not a few Greek words entered my vocabulary. In particular I still remember how far away from school I was when Greek community poet Dina Amanatidou was interviewed in relation to the launch of her poetry collection «Δροσοσταλίδες και Διάττοντες.» These were mysterious, moist sounding words and I resolved to use them in almost every sentence, to the chagrin of my Greek school teacher, who curtly informed me that «διάττοντες» was not a Greek word at all and that I should stop using it in my essay «Πώςπέρασα το Σαββατοκύριακο
3ZZZ Greek programs are also responsible for opening up a world of Greek music, of whose existence I was hitherto blissfully unaware. To that point, my understanding of Greek music was limited to traditional demotic songs and some snippets of 60s-70s popular music performed at Greek dances or played on old LP's by my aged progenitors' progenitors. All of a sudden I was introduced to something «έντεχνο,» meaning replete with 'techne' or art, and I would be moved by the music, simultaneously pondering the often profound meaning of the verses. Even today, whether there is a plurality of other Greek radio programs on various stations, 3ZZZ maintains its commitment to the alternative. Particularly heartwarming, are the musical selections of Zisis Pouros, who is, as far as I know, the only Greek broadcaster in Melbourne who realizes that Greek-Australian children also listen to the radio and accordingly, plays Greek childrens' songs, mostly of "Zouzoumia" provenance. Last week, he inadvertedly played a Zouzounia that had the half the words removed, so that children could, presumably read the rest of the lyrics from a television screen.
The prevalence of on-air gaffes such as Zisis' is another factor that makes 3ZZZ so endearing. The presenters are all volunteers and one gets to know their foibles or stock phrases over the years, whether these be 3ZZZ stalwart and historian George Zangalis running out of breath after delivering a particularly lengthy exposition (Zangalis by the way is known for being able to attract the most illustrious guests from the political sphere on his show and subject them to uncompromising cross-examination), Anthe Sidiropoulos' off the cuff remarks or the genial Christos Fifis forgetting to switch off the microphone and talking to his guests over the music, during the musical interlude. There is no stuffiness or pretention about the program. We accept and love the presenters, warts and all, especially the volunteers recently arrived from Greece, whose employment of the language and knowledge of the diversity and complexity of Modern Greek culture is marvelous. Dimitra Lagoudaki's program on culture and current affairs in particular, must remain as a yardstick by which all other Greek language programs in Australia must be measured. For this is the 3ZZZ Greek programs main appeal: its capacity to teach and inspire.
Despite the lack of technical support, 3ZZZ Greek programs are in no way amateurish. Quite the contrary, they are 'jam-packed,' (to use an expression from the old youth Tria Harakiri program) with news and analysis. They are also decidedly partisan, presenting a certain outlook both on the world and the Greek community at large. The Greek programs thus a decidedly left-wing slant and inhabit a world, where the 'progressive forces' of the community, which include the Workers Association Democritus, the Friends of KKE and the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, act or should act in concert with the Labor Party in particular in order to bring about social justice. 3ZZZ Greek presenters have not shied away from attacking members of the Greek Orthodox Community where they believe that they have departed from this ideal, though criticism of such nature has died down recently, with the successful construction of the Cultural Centre. Greek-Australian politicians and even the Diatribist have received tongue-lashings by acerbic presenters and this is how it should be in a complex, multi-faceted Greek community where a plurality of voices and opinions must be heard and questions. This is why, even on the occasions when the usually astute political analysis becomes puerile and simplistic, leading one to believe that they are listening to Radio Bulgaria during the Cold War, ie the Liberals are the personification of evil, lack of criticism of the Labor party's departure from its own ideals and espousal of neo-conservative economics, exposition of antiquated theories of class struggle and a polarized view of the community between the progressive 'us' and the reactionary 'them,' even when the views expressed are historically revisionist, ie. Stalin (who can do no wrong) and Churchill never did divide the Balkans between them and Mao never caused the huge famine in China during the Cultural Revolution, it is instructive and important that these views be aired and considered. After all, they form part of the backdrop upon which the story of our community's development was played out. It is also worth considering how valuable it is to have a government funded radio station that is able, without fear of reprisal, to criticize that government.
As George Zangalis points out in his history of 3ZZZ, its existence was not secured without a struggle. Facing closure during the Fraser era, passionate activists such as Zangalis engaging in people power tactics that while today, in a decidedly less free world, would have been ineffective and resulted in criminal prosecutions, at the time forced the government's hand and kept 3ZZZ alive. It is for this reason alone, for their active stand for freedom of expression and cultural diversity that we should value the work of its presenters and take an active role in supporting, promoting and enhancing its programs.
On the odd occasion, while driving around town, my radio dial will inevitably travel to 3ZZZ at times ungreek. In particular, I will look out for the Albanian and Assyrian programs, which are extremely well presented, the Coptic youth program and the program that purports to broadcast in a language which its presenters claim is 'Macedonian,' simply because I enjoy its music. On other occasions, when stuck in traffic and bored to tears by the conventionality of mainstream radio, I will turn to 3ZZZ at random, trying to guess the identity of the language I am listening to and gain a sense of its musical tradition, or lack thereof. And it is here that 3ZZZ excels in a way that other ethnic broadcasters do not. Rather than encouraging the ghettoization and isolation of ethnic cultures in Australia, it actively promotes the sharing of cultural traditions in all of their facets, whether these be musical, literary, sporting, religious or political arriving, at that point at which the ideologues of the original multiculturalism aspired to. The extent and perpetuation of that achievement, in the light of 3ZZZ's forty year anniversary, depends on all us.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 19 July 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014


«Τα διαφόροις των παλαιών περί τε γεωργίας και επιμέλειας φυτών και σπορίμων και ετέρων πολλών χρήσιμων ειρημένα συλλέξας εις εν, τουτί το βιβλίον συντέθεικα.» Γεωπονικά.
On the extraordinary rare occasions where my grandparents would be ready to admit that a particular piece of agricultural lore was beyond them, they would seek answers in the "Kazamia," an almanac that provided handy tips on a range of subjects. Puzzling over the dense type, they would scratch their heads as they tried to invert the information so as to apply it to the contrary Australian seasons. Inevitably, they would give up, and ask someone else. On a shelf in my study, there exists a well thumbed 'Yates Garden Guide' published in 1981 which was consulted by my parents for much the same reason.
Had my progenitors been transported in time to Byzantium, they may have been surprised to ascertain that books on gardening were common and widely consulted. So prevalent where these, that there were even books masquerading as gardening manuals that in fact, were intended as a form of political satire, as is the case with the Porikologos or "Fruit Book", where many fruits are presented as taking part in legal procedures satirizing court ceremonial.
For the diehard green thumbs who had too much pruning to concern themselves with politics, there was always the Geoponika, to consult: an agricultural and horticultural encyclopaedia aiming to present in digest an accumulated practical lore of the ancients. We know that his book, or rather compendium, was important to the Byzantines and widespread, for it survives today, in fifty five different manuscripts. It is the sole survivor in Greek of a long and rich tradition of agricultural literature, stretching back at least to Hesiod and especially flourishing in the Hellenistic era.
The text of Geoponika in its present form, dates from the mid-tenth century. It opens with an elaborate prologue addressed to Emperor Constantine VII where he is referred to as a "sweet scion of the purple." The praise continues with reference to military victories and
the restoration of philosophy, rhetoric, and the entire range of science and art. According to the Geoponika, the state consists of three parts: the army, clergy, and agriculture, giving a Byzantine twist to the ancient literary convention of the king as warrior-farmer in his own right, as evidenced in Xenophon's Oeconomicus where he reports how Cyrus excitedly told Lysander that his remarkable garden at Sardis was a personal labour: "I measured and arranged the whole, and some of the plantings I did myself."
The works of various older authors can be located within the Geoponika. The most important of these is Anatolius of Beirut, a friend of the ortator Libanios, teacher of St John Chrysostom's collection: "Synagoge of Agricultural Practices." This in turn was incorporated as the primary source of "Selections on Agriculture" compiled by Cassianus Bassus Scholasticus, in the sixth century, which in turn forms a large portion of the Geoponika.
The encyclopaedic absorption of the works of other authors probably accounts for the fact that in the Geoponika, there is much repetition from chapter to chapter, for each of the disjunctive units focuses upon an individual plant, many of which have a very similar or virtually identical culture. However, the discussion ranges widely: appropriate soil type, planting season, grafting techniques, methods of preservation, therapeutic applications, medicinal recipes. For the modern Greek, the list of plants is fascinating. For example, rocket, a plant for which I did not know the Greek word, is referred to as εύζωμον, while we learn that basil, the 'king's plant,' was known during Byzantium as μισόδουλον or ώκιμον. Jujube by the way, is known as ζίζυφον. Soft fruits are referred to as οπώρα, and hard fruits as ακρόδρυα. The vocabulary for various gardening techniques is also revealing. Distinctions are made between twig grafts (εμπηυλλισμός), boring grafts (εγκεντρισμός) and bud grafts (ενοφθαλισμός), while the techniques for cultivating trees from seed, buds, cuttings and slips (από σπέρματος, παρασπάδος, πασσάλου), are also discussed at length.
There are numerous references to sympathetic plantings and plant combinations to be avoided. Further the Geoponika pays great attention to τέχνη, or the skill of gardening.
Grafting, for instance, is extensively treated, and procedures are repeated from long centuries of literature even though some combinations were quite impossible. Tips exist for altering the quality and appearance of fruit, often to change the colour or shape and there is even, under the heading "Harm to the Garden," a recipe for a form of weed killer: «Χηνών αφόδευμα άλμη λύσας ραίνε τα λάχανα (Dissolve goose dung in brine and sprinkle the plants with it.) Some of the advice is downright bizarre. In Book 1, chapter 14, an entry "On hail," suggests that one can avert hail by stringing keys and hanging them about the property, or to set up wooden bulls. In another entry, attributed to the lore of the Persian prophet Zoroaster, a good way to encourage a tree to produce fruit is to approach it with an axe and threaten to cut it down.
Nonetheless, most of the advice still rings true today: "This appears in keeping with Byzantine planning laws regulating the proximity of buildings to farmland and among other things, the right of a property owner to cut or use fruit from overhanging branches of trees on other properties.
Perhaps the most endearing component of the Geoponika, has to do with its dedication not only to the practical aspects of plants but also, the lore and history surrounding them, belying the commonly held belief that Byzantine culture was religiously bigoted and cut off from its ancient past.. Thus, we learn that Ivy, (Kittos) the plant, "once was a young man, a dancer of Dionysos. Dancing for the god he fell dead upon the ground, and in honour of Dionysos, Earth brought forth a shoot with the same name, thereby preserving the stock of the young man. The plant as it springs from the earth is accustomed to embrace the vine just as the young man once danced embracing the god."
Geoponika has much to say about garden design and its aesthetic impact. The prologue, speaks of the collection as one where the reader will find matters of pleasure as well as usefulness ("not only necessities but even those exceptional things that contribute solely to the delight of sights and smells") Recognition of sight and smell (alongside usefulness and profit) recur in the somewhat skimpy instructions for garden design found in two specific chapters: 10.1 "The Garden" (παράδεισος) and 12.2 "Garden making" (κηποποιΐα).
During the centuries to come, the Byzantines lost much of the countryside that had supplied their with fruit and vegetables. Many peasants were forced to abandon their farmlands and take refuge in the walled towns as Turkish tribes advanced quickly through Byzantine territory. This development turned the neglected areas into uncultivated regions of wild nature, while many deserted settlements soon fell into ruins. Despite this, many gardening techniques as described in the Geoponika survived into the Ottoman period and are with us to the present day, as is attested, by this final snippet:
" The plantings ought to be planted neither irregularly nor intermingled, so to say, although the variety of plants introduces attractiveness. But each of the plants ought to be set out by type, so that the weaker ones not be overcome by the stronger or be deprived of nourishment. The entire space between the trees ought to be filled with roses and lilies and violets and crocus, which are most pleasing to sight and smell and usefulness as well as profitable and beneficial to bees. Cuttings are to be taken from thriving and undamaged trees. One ought to know that plants from seed for the most part are inferior to all others. Better in the case of every plant are natural shoots. Of these the stronger are those produced by grafting, not only for beauty of fruit but also for its abundance and swift production of the fruits."
First published in NKEE on Saturday 12 July 2014

Saturday, July 05, 2014


A cursory glance of the surnames of august Greeks whose posteriors have perched upon the benches of the Parliament throughout the ages is instructive. It presents as a vast family tree of interlocking and conjoined tribes. There is a smattering of Kanellopoloulos,’ two Varvitsiotis,’ two Pangalos,’ one of whom was briefly a dictator and of course a sprinkling of Karamanlides, two named Kostas, both of whom were Prime Ministers and one named Achilleas, the older Kostas’ brother. There is also a Marietta Karamanli who is a member of the National Assembly of France and we can therefore exclude her from our count, which renders the Karamanlis clan as a bunch of political parvenus. They are especially trumped by the Rallis,’ who are surreptitiously woven into the fabric of Greek political history. The first of his name, Dimitrios Rallis, was PM no less than five times between 1897 and 1921. His son Ioannis was the Prime Minister of the Greek collaborationist government during the Second World War, while the bushy browed Georgios Rallis was Prime Minister between 1980-1981.
The Rallis clan’s achievement is rivalled by the Papandreou clan, who also have elevated three of its members to the political helm of the country. Georgios Papandreou, known as the ‘old man of democracy,’ served as Prime Minister of Greece three times, in 1944-45, 1963, then again in 1964-65. His son Andreas, who in a poll by the newspaper Kathimerini in 2007 was voted ‘the most important Greek Prime Minister in history,’ served two terms as Prime Minister, firstly for eight years between 1981 and 1989 and then again between 1993 and 1996. Andreas’ son Georgakis, also has served as Greece’s Prime Minister, between 2009-2011.
On occasion, the lineal descent of Greek politicians is obscured by changes in name. Thus seven times prime minister of Greece, Charilaos Trikoupis, and politician and general Nikolaos Trikoupis are all descended from Charilaos father’ Spyridon Trikoupis, also a prime minister, and Ekaterini Mavrokordatos, the sister of Alexander Mavrokordatos, also an early prime minister of Greece.
Similarly, while the Venizelos clan produced two prime ministers, the brilliant but flawed Eleftherios Venizelos and his not so brilliant Sofoklis Venizelos, it is rumoured that the Mitsotakis family is an offshoot. The father and grandfather of Konstantinos Mitsotakis, leader of New Democracy and former prime minister, were also parliamentarians, as is his daughter Dora, and his son Kyriakos.
Antonios Samaras on the other hand, the current Prime Minister, is descended from the Benakis clan, which basically bankrolled the functions of the Modern Greek state for a time and exercised enormous influence upon the exercise of its politics. Other Greek prime ministers achieving the pinnacle of their political career as a result of the influence of their family are Gennaios Kolokotronis, son of the great Theodoros, Kitsos Tzavellas, scion of the great Souliote clan, Athanasios Miaoulis, son of the great admiral Andreas Miaoulis, Alexandros Koumoundouros, son of the last Ottoman bey of Mani, Thrasyvoulos Zaimis and Alexandros Zaimis, son and grandson of revolutionary leader Andreas Zaimis, Zinovios Valvis and his brother Dimitrios Valvis, connected to the Trikoupis clan and Kyriakoulos Mavromihalis, scion of the prominent Maniot Mavromihalis clan. Thisenumeration must conclude with Augoustinos Kapodistrias, elevated to the position of Prime Minister owing to him being the brother of assassinated Prime Minister Ioannis Kapodistrias. Ioannis was of course killed by the Mavromihalis clan, as he opposed their nepotism…
One would, given the above, be forgiven for thinking that the government of Greece is a family concern, with each branch possessing defined spheres of influence within a granted territory. Apologists for the idea that Greece is both the birthplace and bastion of democracy, as well as that of representative government ascribe blame to the nepotistic and corruptive practices of Ottoman rule, for what they perceive to be the inception rather than the evolution of Greek political clientilism. If Antonia Kiousopoulou is to be believed however, the roots of our system are to be found further back in time. After all, Greece has been ruled by hereditary rulers, whether elected or not since times ancient and what we now know is that Greece has also been administrated according to hereditary principles at east since Byzantium.
In her seminal work “Emperor or Manager: Power and Political Ideology in Byzantium before 1453,” Antonia Kiousopoulou has painstakingly collected a list of eighty court officials and forty four ambassadors for Constantinople in the late Byzantine period. Seventeen percent of these have the name either of Palaiologos or Kantakuzenos or of both, these being families that eventually ascended the imperial throne and twenty eight percent bear other imperial names. Sixteen percent of such administrators, come from families whose names appear on a list of Peloponnesians making their obeisance and pledging loyalty to the Mehmed the Conqueror. Some of the names on Kiousopoulou's lists repeat themselves, reinforcing her contention that the Byzantine Empire was governed by relatively few born-to rule families, referred to as the “dynatoi.”
Among the main earlier examples of such families are the Phokades and the Maleinoi, who almost monopolized the senior administrative and military posts in Asia Minor in the early and middle tenth century. These dynatoi were able to use their political and financial strength to enrich themselves at the expense of the penetes, or small-holders, who had hitherto formed the main pillar of Byzantine society and economy. Despite the efforts of several emperors from Romanos I Lekapenos to Basil II to prevent the land acquisition and amassing of huge foturnes and power by the dynatoi, these efforts failed, and by the Palaiologan period (1261–1453), there was a vast decline in the authority of the central state government, which hastened the fall of the Empire.
In the 15th-century province of Morea alone, Diana Gilliland Wright has made a list of 172 dynatoi. Of these, 35 bear the imperial name Palaiologos, and 20 bear other imperial names such as Angelos, Soukas, Kantakouzenos and Laskaris. One of the extraordinary names of these dynatoi comprises of five imperial and four archon (noble) components: Ioannis Doukas Angelos Palaiologos Rallis Laskaris Tornikes Philanthropenos Asan, who was commemorated in a burial icon at Megaspilion, now destroyed. The largest non-imperial name featured, occurring as it does ten times, is that of Rallis, first cousins of the Palaiologoi emperors and, distant ancestor of the modern political Rallis clan.
Writer after writer in the last eighty years of the Morea mentioned the rapaciousness and brutality of the dynatoi. The Philosopher Gemistos Plethon ascribed to them responsibility for the pathetic condition of the area. Cardinal Bessarion wrote that there were a few good men among the dynatoi, but that their efforts were far outweighed by what the rest had done.
Only instance of a single effort toward change has been found. When Constantine Palaiologos made Giorgos Sphrantzes governor of Mistra in 1446, he exhorted him:
“You are to stay here and govern your command well. You are to put an end to the many instances of injustice and reduce the power of the numerous local lords. Make it clear to everybody here that you are in charge and that I am sole lord (ὡς ἐμὲ μόνον αὐθέντην).”
We know almost nothing about how Sphrantzes fared. Given that soon after he was sent on an embassy to Georgia and the Empire of Trebizond in search of a third wife for Emperor Constantine and that during these duties he married Helena, the daughter of the imperial secretary Alexios Palaiologos Tzamplakon, with the Emperor Constantine was his best man, one thing is certain, which has continued to resonate down the centuries within Greek political life to the present day: Whatever you do, do not ever go against the family.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 5 July 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014


One of the most outstanding evidences of comic genius humanity has ever produced would undoubtedly have to be Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch. In the sketch, a Mr Praline enters a pet shop to register a complaint about a dead Norwegian Blue parrot he has recently purchased, just as the shopkeeper is preparing to close the establishment for lunch. Despite being told that the bird is deceased and that it had been nailed to its perch, the proprietor insists that it is "pining for the fjords" or simply "stunned". What is little known, is that this joke is a direct descendant of one told in ancient Greece approximately 1,600 years previously. It goes like something like this: A man buys a slave who is highly praised by its owner. Soon after, the slave dies. Enraged, the purchaser goes to the seller to complain. “By the gods,” answers the slave’s seller, when confronted, “when he was with me, he never did any such thing!” Queue drum and cymbals here.
We know of this joke because it exists in what would most likely have to be the oldest surviving joke-book ever to have been written, the Philogelos, or “laugh addict.” Attributed to the Laurel and Hardie of the times, Hierokles and Philagrios, of whom we know almost nothing about, it comprises some two hundred and sixty five jokes. As one of the jokes refers to the celebrations for the thousand year anniversary of the founding of Rome, scholars are able to date the book to the third or fourth century AD, that is, at the crucial period in world history where the pagan world was giving way to the Christian one. While it is the oldest surviving compendium of mirth and frivolity, Athenaeus attests to the otherwise dour Phillip II of Macedon paying for a social club in Athens to write down its members' jokes, and at the beginning of the second century BC, Plautus, a re-fashioner of Greek literature into Latin, twice has a character mentioning books of jokes, suggesting that such collections formed an important part of ancient culture.
One of the disturbing elements of Philogelos’s jokes is how many of them survive, almost unaltered to the present day, suggesting that comedians truly have evolved little from their ancient counterparts. Take for example this joke which I first heard in Greece in 1994, as a part of the Greek “Totos” genre of anecdotes, and which forms joke 45 of the Philogelos collection: “An intellectual during the night ravished his grandmother and for this got a beating from his father. He complained: "You've been mounting my mother for a long time, without suffering any consequences from me. And now you're mad that you found me screwing your mother for the first time ever!" Appallingly yuk…and yet…
Philogelos is divided up into categories. There are the intellectual jokes ie. Jokes about smart-asses, and of course the precursor of Pontian jokes – these being jokes about Abderites or Cymaeans, who receive particularly bad-press, hence: “A Cymaean is out swimming when it starts to rain. Not wanting to get wet, he dives down as deep as he can…” One can imagine Hierokles and Philagrios lying on a couch at a symposium, kylix in hand, delivering the lines in complete dead-pan fashion, as is fitting to the concise and succinct tomes of ancient Greek: «Κυμαῖος ἐν τῶι κολυμβᾶν βροχῆς γενομένης δία τὸ μὴ βραχῆναι εἰς τὸ βάθος κατέδυ.» The said gentleman goes on to blunder his way through the joke-book thus: “A Cymaean was purchasing a window and asked whether it was south-facing.”(Κυμαῖος θυρίδας ἀγοράζων ἠρώτα͵ εἰ δύνανται πρὸς μεσημβρίαν βλέπειν.)
Another anecdote which survives in Greece to the present day as a Pontian joke, is as follows: There was a scholar, a bald man and a barber who were travelling together. Forced to spend the night in a desert place, they agreed to take turns to keep watch over their possessions. The barbers was to take the first watch, then the scholar, then the bald man. Just prior to ending his watch, the barber, by way of a prank, shaved the head of the scholar and woke him up. The scholar, touching his head and finding he was bald, cried out: “What an idiot the barber is. He was awoken the bald one instead of me.” The expletive applied to the barber in the original is «μέγα κάθαρμα͵» which is still commonly used today.
On occasion, the social or cultural context of the joke is obscure and we struggle to be amused. Thus, “A ship’s helmsman was asked which [wind] was blowing. He answered: “Fava and Onions.” («Εὐτράπελος κυβερνήτης ἐρωτηθείς͵ τί φυσᾷ͵ εἶπε· Φάβα καὶ κρόμυα.») This is obviously a flatulence-themed joke, where the question “what blows,” also can mean: “which foods produce flatulence.”By the time the explanation is over, not even a smirk is produced, though this joke is significant in that it attests a very ancient provenance to the staple Greek foodstuff, fava.
Proving that humanity has been inspired by the same themes and motifs for millennia, one of Philogelos jokes appears to be an eerie precursor of Hitchcock’s thriller: “Strangers on a Train,” where two strangers meet on a train. One suggests that because they each want to "get rid" of someone, they should "exchange" murders, and that way neither will get caught. In the Philogelos version, there are two men who hate their fathers. One suggests to the other: “Let’s choke them.” “Are you kidding,” the other one responds. “They will call us patricides.” “In that case, you kill mine, and I’ll kill yours,” the first one ripostes. («Σχολαστικοὶ δύο πατραλοῖαι ἐδυσφόρουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἐπὶ τῷ τοὺς πατέρας αὐτῶν ζῆν. τοῦ δὲ ἑνὸς εἰπόντος· Θέλεις οὖν ἀποπνίξει ἕκαστος ἡμῶν τὸν ἴδιον; Μὴ γένοιτο͵ εἶπεν ἄλλος͵ ἵνα μὴ πατραλοῖαι ἀκούσωμεν. ἀλλ΄ εἰ βούλει͵ σὺ τὸν ἐμὸν σφάξον͵ κἀγὼ τὸν σόν.»)
An entire section of Philogelos is comprised of jokes about misogynists. One of these was burying his wife when he was asked: “who is resting in peace,” “I am,” he replied. («Μισογυναίκου τὴν γυναῖκα κηδεύοντος ἠρώτησέ τις· Τίς ἀνεπαύσατο; ὁ δὲ ἔφη· Ἐγὼ ὁ ταύτης στερηθείς.») There is even, as in modern joke-books a section devoted to doctor jokes, some of which are cringingly verging upon the unfunny, thus: “A student goes to the doctor, saying, “Doctor! When I wake up, I’m all dizzy. Then after half an hour I feel fine.” “Well wait half an hour before waking up,” advises the doctor. («Σχολαστικῷ τις ἰατρῷ προσελθὼν εἶπεν· Ἰατρέ͵ ὅταν ἀναστῶ ἐκ τοῦ ὕπνου͵ ἡμιώριον ἐσκότωμαι καὶ εἶθ΄ οὕτως ἀποκαθίσταμαι. καὶ ὁ ἰατρός· Μετὰ τὸ ἡμιώριον ἐγείρου.»)
If anything, Philogelos proves that we denizens of the modern era are touchingly close to our ancient counterparts when it comes to our sense of humour. It is somehow comforting to know that after two thousand years of technological development, we still find flatulence and fornication amusing. In this, as in many other things, Philogelos has the final word: A young man says to his concupiscent wife: “What shall we do? Eat or go to bed?” “Whatever you wish,” she replies, “but there is no bread in the house.” («Νεανίσκος πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα οὖσαν ἀσελγῆ εἶπε· Κυρία͵ τί ποιοῦμεν; ἀριστοῦμεν ἢ ἀφροδισιάζομεν; κἀκείνη πρὸς αὐτὸν ἔφη· Ὡς θέλεις· ψωμὶν οὐκ ἔστιν.») Until next time, happy ‘aphrodising.’
First published in NKEE on Saturday 28 June 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Recently, a friend from Northern Epirus remarked to me that in the recent European elections, he intended to vote for a Golden Dawn candidate. He also observed that not a few Greeks from Northern Epirus had begun to support that party and, had sought nomination as its candidates. This is gravely disquieting. The issue of Northern Epirus, a region in southern Albania that has historically been heavily populated by Greeks, has seen itself transform in the twentieth century, from its original nationalistic context, whereby the dominant Greek population was considered unredeemed, its territory fuelling aspirations for annexation or union, depending on one's perspective, to a humanitarian context, whereby efforts are made to ensure that all inhabitants of Albania, regardless of race or religion are permitted to fully partake in the life of that country, without restriction or persecution. Albania still has some way to go in affording minorities full human rights. The government's unwillingness to acknowledge the Greek identity espoused by the resident of Himara, the confiscation of land from Himariotes and is subsequent sale to European consortiums, coupled with vehement and paranoid attacks on the Greek indigenous minority by the press are some of the challenges facing the region.
This notwithstanding, though political parties have been formed in the past by the Greek minority, notably "Omonoia," whose leadership was imprisoned after a show trial in the nineties, most Northern Epirote politicians have chosen to represent their compatriots through the mainstream Albanian political parties. Even the last of the minority parties, the Union for Human Rights, represents the interests of a range of ethnic minorities, not specifically the Greek one and has formed coalitions with both the left and right of the Albanian political spectrum. Further, though the relationship between the Albanian government and the Orthodox church in Albania has been characterized by friction, as the Pan-Orthodox delegation to the opening of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Albania's capital Tirana, attended by the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Georgia, Serbia and a host of other European hierarchs indicates, the Northern Epirotes, their political and religious leaders, all believe that their best interests lie in integration within an eventually tolerant and ethnically diverse Albania.
Across the border, in Greece, things are somewhat different. Since their arrival en masse in Greece in 1991, after the demise of the communist regime in Albania, Northern Epirots have been denigrated and considered as second class citizens by a significant section of the mainstream. Oppressed by the communist regime because of their ethnic and religious affiliations and careful to preserve their language and customs at great personal peril to themselves, the Greeks of Northern Epirus expected, upon their arrival in Greece, to be treated as long-suffering brethren. After all, it was the Greeks of Northern Epirus that gifted to the renascent Greek state, most if its infrastructure, including hospitals, the Panathenaic stadium, the Zappeion building, the University and Polytechnic, the Academy, the National Bank of Greece and countless other institutions. Again, it was the Greeks of Northern Epirus that guided, supplied, and fought with the Greek army over the mountains in 1940, in its quest to combat Italian fascism and again it was the Greeks of Northern Epirus who buried the dead Greek soldiers in secret graves, safeguarding their location for decades, from the Albanian state. In post-Cold-War Greece, none of this seemed to matter and instead, to their horror, Northern Epirotes were generally lumped into the same category as their erstwhile oppressors, the Albanians and referred to dismissively as «αλλοδαποί.»Decades later, this insensitive conflation of the two identities still grates with many Northern Epirotes, even those now resident in Australia. For example, in a play currently being performed in Australia entitled "In-Laws from Tirana," a girl informs her father that she is marrying an Albanian. "So he is a Northern Epirote," the father responds. This type of endo-ethnic racism has caused untold pain among a people who believe that Greece has never truly accepted them and has in fact, abandoned them.
The symptoms of such a belief are omnipresent throughout Greece, within the Northern Epirote community. Many young Northern Epirotes are ashamed of their origins and try to hide them. Instead they focus on assimilating within mainstream Greek culture, abandoning their own distinctive accent and traditions. Others, in increasing numbers, are drawn to extreme political viewpoints such as those held by Golden Dawn.
"Look at it this way," my friend responded when I ventured to suggest that by Northern Epirotes supporting the extremist ravings of Golden Dawn, they are doing more harm to their cause than good, in that they are fuelling Albanian nationalist paranoia and thus making the lives of their compatriots resident in Albanian difficult: "In Greece, no political party ever speaks about Northern Epirus. Instead, over the years they have tried to fragment the political movements of the Northern Epirotes and turn them into their own puppets. At least Golden Dawn is on our side."
Golden Dawn's leader has repeatedly called for the liberation of Northern Epirus. Last year, led by the party's member of parliament Christos Pappas and together with MPs Christos Rigas and Konstantinos Barbarousis, Golden Dawn supporters from Epirus blocked the border crossing at Kakavia. At that time, Chistos Pappas stated: "We came to these artificial borders in order to demonstrate our struggle for the liberation of Northern Epirus. Albania is scared of Golden Dawn because it is the only party that includes in its program the struggle for the Greeks of Northern Epirus."
There seems to be a tacit belief in Greece, since the time of Andreas Papandreou, in the power of the spoken word. That is, if a political party promises something, it is bound to happen and therefore that party should be supported. Public policy analysis appears to be a completely alien concept. When I asked my friend how he believed that Golden Dawn could fulfill its promise of liberating Northern Epirus, he shrugged his shoulders: "I have no idea. But at least they are talking about it." Try as I might, I could not make him see that by supporting a party on the basis of a policy that could not in any way be effected, he was in fact, being duped. In this, he, like his peers are a far cry from the brave Northern Epirotes in Albania who rather than trust the spoken word of Enver Hoxha, with its protestations of friendship and united class struggle, opposed his nationalistic style of communism and paid a high price for retaining their ethnic integrity. Instead, they seem to have assimilated modern Greek political immaturity, that views politics extremely superficially and thus refuses to take politicians to account. Until such time as the political culture on Greece is reformed, it is axiomatic that disingenuous parties will exist to feed off the resentment and isolation of the disaffected. In the context of the campaign for human rights in Northern Epirus and dispelling suspicions between peoples, this could have disastrous consequences indeed.
On the domestic front, the final word goes to Northern Epirote Olympian and Member of Parliament Pyrrhos Dimas who recently intervened to prevent Golden Dawn MP Nikos Mikhos from threatening independent MP, Petros Tatsopoulos, in the chamber: "I entered Parliament so that no Greek can be afraid. I grew up under a regime where fear was cultivated systematically. I learnt to confront this and not hide from it. Democracy is not subjective and Patriotism is not something that can be quantified." Dimas' deluded Golden Dawn-fawning compatriots would do well to listen.
First published in NKEE on 21 June 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Advancing further and further away from the coastline, the Greek army, which was drawn inland into Asia Minor in order to fight the nationalist Turks who did not accept Greece’s occupation of the zone of Smyrna, found itself having to occupy an extensive and largely Muslim area, in which groups of nationalist Turks engaged in espionage along with the Turkish guerilla bands operating against the Greek lines of communication. As the Greek advance stalled and was finally broken, Greek troops took vengeance on Turkish villages which they suspected of harbouring anti-Greek activity and in search of hidden weapons. The local Turkish villages were disarmed and so became easy prey to the local Greek and Armenian gangs who often plundered them.

 Significant massacres of civilians took place in the Yalova peninsula region. On 16 October 1920 for example, the Greek army captured Orhangazi after resistance by Turkish militias. The next day there was a massacre in the nearby Turkish village of Çakırlı. According to accounts, the males of the village were locked in the local mosque by the Greek army, where they were burned alive and/or shot. Two days later on 18 October 1920 the nearby Turkish village of Üreğil was burnt. On 16 April, the some 1,000 Turkish inhabitants of Orhangazi were deported to Gemlik by the Greek army while the town was burned down. The next day, there was a massacre in the village of Gedelek, because the population could not pay the amount of 4,000 Lira as protection money.
 Just as the incidences that comprise the Genocide were widely reported by the western press, so too were the Greek massacres of Muslim civilians. In May 1921, a Inter-Allied commission, consisting of British, French, and Italian officers, and the representative of the International Red Cross, Maurice Gehri, was set up to investigate claims of massacres. In 13 May 1921 the commission started its proceedings by visiting the burned villages of Çertekici, Çengiler and Gedik. There they listened to accounts of massacre, robbery and rape and reported that the Turkish refugees from the destroyed villages lived in very crowded conditions, most of them sleeping in the courtyards of mosques and graveyards. In the following days, the commission would investigate the destruction of numerous other villages, accompanied with stories of arbitrary executions, rape and robbery, mostly by members of the Greek army, but also by local Greeks and Armenians.
 The Inter-Allied commission prepared two separate collaborative reports on their investigations in the Yalova Peninsula. These reports found that Greek forces committed systematic atrocities against the Turkish inhabitants, including the "burning and looting of Turkish villages", the "explosion of violence of Greeks and Armenians against the Turks", and "a systematic plan of destruction and extinction of the Moslem population". A section of the report read as follows:
 “A distinct and regular method appears to have been followed in the destruction of villages, group by group, for the last two months... there is a systematic plan of destruction of Turkish villages and extinction of the Muslim population. This plan is being carried out by Greek and Armenian bands, which appear to operate under Greek instructions and sometimes even with the assistance of detachments of regular troops.”
 The Inter-Allied commission also stated that the destruction of villages and the disappearance of the Muslim population might have as its objective to create in this region a political situation favourable to the Greek Government.
Other eyewitnesses corroborate the findings of the Commision. James Harbord, describing the first months of the occupation to the American Senate, wrote that: "The Greek troops and the local Greeks who had joined them in arms started a general massacre of the Mussulmen population in which the officials and Ottoman officers and soldiers as well as the peaceful inhabitants were indiscriminately put to death." Harold Armstrong, a British officer who was a member of the Inter-Allied Commission, reported that as the Greeks pushed out from Smynra, they massacred and raped civilians, and burned and pillaged as they went. Marjorie Housepian wrote that 4000 Smyrna Muslims were killed by Greek forces.
James Loder Park, the U.S. Vice-Consul in Constantinople at the time, who toured much of the devastated area immediately after the Greek evacuation, described the situation in the surrounding cities and towns of İzmir he has seen, as follows:
“Manisa ... almost completely wiped out by fire ... In Cassaba of 37,000 Turks only 6,000 could be accounted for… Ample testimony was available to the effect that the city was systematically destroyed by Greek soldiers, assisted by a number of Greek and Armenian civilians.”
 When confronted by this information, most Greeks become indignant. Being a noble and high people, it appears impossible that such crimes could have been committed. After all, we are the victims are we not? They either deny its authenticity or seek to excuse massacres by stating that they took place in the context of a bloody war, by an army and a people seeking revenge for centuries of ill-treatment and Genocide and that any rate, any atrocities that were committed by the Greeks pale in comparison to the organized genocide of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks of Asia Minor, which largely took place prior to the Greek Army’s occupation of Smyrna after 1919 and which, certainly in the case of the Armenians and the Assyrians, had nothing to do with any conflict with Greece.
Notwithstanding this valid point, the largely unacknowledged massacres of Muslim civilians by the Greek army inform Turkish responses to accusations of genocide by making them to try to equate the Greek massacres with the crime of Genocide, resulting in an impasse.
Genocide recognition should not be about one-upmanship, politics or endeavouring to prove the inherently superior characteristics of the victim race. Rather than engaging in polemics, a more mature and respectful to the victims approach could be simple: identifying brutality in all of its forms and condemning it without excuse or justification. If, for example, the massacres perpetrated by the Greek army, were to form the subject of public debate and analysis and were subsequently, condemned by the Greek people, then the Turkish side would have removed, the last major impediment to their self-examination and condemnation of the Genocide perpetrated a century ago, for they could not then accuse us of willfully glossing over our own shortcomings. At that stage, if the Turkish state was still unwilling to recognize that the Genocide took place, the world would know that continued genocide denial is untenable and ridiculous.
 Taner Akcam is right in stating that Genocide should be differentiated from war casualties and that Turkey cannot shrink from its liability with regard to the Genocide by citing other massacres by way of excuse. However, the urge to commit harm is not restricted to one race alone. It lurks within all people and can be manipulated with disastrous results, as was proved in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia and the Ottoman Empire. The campaign for recognition of the Genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia is but one of many righteous steps that need to be undertaken so that brutality, in all its forms can be condemned and arrested. It is in this context that we need to take the first step, mindful always that we need to be true to the memories of the innocent victims who lost their lives at the hands of the intolerant. Once we hold out our hand, recognizing our own imperfections but resolving never to repeat them, we can only hope that it will be clasped by those who finally understand that there is nothing to be lost but everything to be gained in repentance.
First published in NKEE on 14 June 2014 

Saturday, June 07, 2014


“ It is believed that in Turkey between 1913 and 1922, under the successive regimes of the Young Turks and of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), more than 3.5 million Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians were massacred in a state-organized and state-sponsored campaign of destruction and genocide, aiming at wiping out from the emerging Turkish Republic its native Christian populations. This Christian Holocaust is viewed as the precursor to the Jewish Holocaust in WWII. To this day, the Turkish government ostensibly denies having committed this genocide. “
Dr Israel Charney
At the close of the First World War, Greece was a nation being torn apart at the seams. Sundered politically and socially through the “National Schism,” between the Royalists, who wanted to stay out of the war and were only forced to enter the war after the Allies blockaded Piraeus, and the Venizelists, who, with a view to territorial expansion, set up their own rival government in Thessaloniki, from there to prosecute the war, across the Aegean, terrible stories were being told of a mass genocide of Greeks in the Ottoman Empire. Unlike the West, which was largely innocent of the Holocaust while it was being carried out, Greece was well aware of the crime being perpetrated against her own people. King Constantine himself accused the German Kaiser, his brother-in-law of Germany’s complicity in the Genocide, a claim the Kaiser denied, though enough evidence now exists to suggest that the organised removal of Greeks from coastal regions such as Gallipoli and the forced death marches of the population were suggested to the Ottomans by German military advisers. Nonetheless, as Manus Midlarsky states in his book: “The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century,” the Greek Genocide was nuanced and calculated to take place without attracting too much western opprobrium: “Given these political and cultural ties, wholesale attacks on the Ottoman Greeks would have profoundly angered not only the Entente Powers, but Germany and Austria-Hungary as well, the allies upon whom the Ottomans were deeply dependent. Under these conditions, genocide of the Ottoman Greeks simply was not a viable option. (...) Massacres most likely did take place at Amisos and other villages in the Pontus. Yet given the large numbers of surviving Greeks, especially relative to the small number of Armenian survivors, the massacres were apparently restricted to the Pontus, Smyrna, and selected other "sensitive" regions.”
Thus, in 1919, a politically fragmented Greece that was fraught with domestic strife, exhausted by continuous war since 1912 and almost bankrupt, had lost an extremely large portion of its eastern population to genocide, was granted occupation of most of Eastern Thrace, to a point forty kilometres from Constantinople. Prime Minister Venizelos, in the face of serious Allied (and Greek military) misgivings, asserted Greece’s capacity to occupy and police a zone around the city of Smyrna. Owing to the support of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Greek troops finally landed in Smyrna in 1919, to the consternation of the Turks.
The occupation and administration of Smyrna, which was supposed to be of five years’ duration, after which time, its inhabitants would hold a plebiscite to determine which country they would like to belong to, marks the departure point between the constituents of the Christian Genocides. Unlike the Armenians and the Assyrians, who did not have a state at the time the Christian Genocide was committed, the Greeks not only had such a state but also found themselves embroiled in a war against forces the like of which they had never before encountered.
While the vanquished Sultan in Entente-occupied Constantinople was cajoled into accepting the Greek occupation and the cession of Eastern Thrace, culminating in the Treaty of Sevres that formalised Greece’s gains at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, the occupation of parts of Turkey by erstwhile Ottoman subjects was something that could not be countenanced by nationalist Turkish forces. Coalescing around Kemal Ataturk, the hero of the defence of Gallipoli, they landed in Samsounta on 19 May 1919 and commenced a campaign to remove the last vestiges of the Greek presence in Anatolia.
According to Igor Diakonov in ‘The Paths of History,’ in the context of the nationalist campaign, which was considered a battle for the survival of Turkey, “Kemal attempted to continue the genocide of Armenians in Transcaucasia, and of Greeks on the coast of the Aegean. Especially heartrending and horribly bloody was the genocide of the Greeks in Smyrna (Turkish Izmir) where they had lived since the tenth century BC.”
As a result of the Kemalist campaign, the Treaty of Sevres was never ratified, As Kay Holloway wrote, the failure of the signatories to bring the treaty into force ‘resulted in the abandonment of thousands of defenceless peoples Armenians and Greeks — to the fury of their persecutors, by engendering subsequent holocausts in which the few survivors of the 1915 Armenian massacres perished.”
Given the refusal of Turkish Nationalists to abide by the Treaty, and the constant harassing of the Greek forces by Turkish guerrillas, irregulars and nationalist forces, the already beleaguered Greek army had no choice but to cross over from the Smyrna zone into Turkey proper, in order to neutralise the aggression. While this is widely considered, especially by Turkish forces, to have been tantamount to an invasion, the strategic objective of these operations was to defeat the Turkish Nationalists and force Kemal Ataturk into peace negotiations. The advancing Greeks, still holding superiority in numbers and modern equipment at this point, had hoped for an early battle in which they were confident of breaking up ill-equipped Turkish forces. Yet they met with little resistance, as the Turks managed to retreat in an orderly fashion and avoid encirclement. Winston Churchill, who was sympathetic to Greek aspirations but was sceptical about their ability to fulfil these, said: "The Greek columns trailed along the country roads passing safely through many ugly defiles, and at their approach the Turks, under strong and sagacious leadership, vanished into the recesses of Anatolia."
As the war continued, Turkish forces lured the Greek army further and further way from its supply lines, the Greek army advanced as far as the Sangarios River, near Ankara. Along the way, and during its retreat, the Greek army committed several instances of brutalities against the civilian Muslim population. These incidents are often referred to by Turks when the issue of recognizing the Genocide of the Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians in Anatolia is broached with them, and in fact there exist in Turkey, various museums dedicated to exposing Greek army atrocities. As these atrocities are raised as a counterpoint to the Genocide, or by way of excusing Turkey’s liability for it, they are certainly are worth examining, no less because they feature hardly in the Greek discourse about the period. Not only do they provide a context for Turkey’s continued genocide denial, but also, suggest that frameworks other than the political and the historical could be employed, in order to render the process by which Turkey and Turkish society can accept the historicity of the Genocide, with the minimum of trauma and difficulty. Next week those facts will be examined in detail.
First published in NKEE on 7 June 2014