Saturday, July 04, 2015
“No language is rude that can boast polite writers.”
To no small degree, I owe my existence to my late grandmother’s knowledge of the Vlach tongue and in particular, its southern, Pindean dialect. Once she acquired this facility, it exposed her to a concatenation of circumstances that led ultimately, I would argue, to my corporeal manifestation upon this earth.
As was the custom in large families prior to the Second World War, my grandmother was apprenticed as a young girl to a Vlach woman, whose name is unknown but who has always been referred to in family lore ominously as “η Βλάχα.” Passing by my grandmother’s village by the lake at Ioannina, the said Vlach woman happened to notice my grandmother, a young child, sweeping the yard and singing as she did so. She took a liking to her and offered to cover her board and expenses, if she could assist her on her transhumant wanderings, high in the Pindus mountains, for six months. My great-grandfather, without consulting his wife of course, was convinced that such an arrangement would be beneficial for all concerned and agreed. The deal was struck and my grandmother was led away to the Samarina valley, still a heartland of Vlach speech and culture today.
At the conclusion of the six-month period agreed upon, my grandmother was still accompanying the Vlach woman on the wanderings of her flock all over Epirus and as far as Grevena. It transpired that the Vlach woman had no intentions of ever returning my grandmother to her family. Considering that she was hers for eternity and coming to care for her greatly, she invested in her education, sending her to the various Vlach language schools that were in operation for the Vlach minority throughout Epirus during the period between the World Wars. Consequently, my grandmother not only became fluent in Vlach, but also proficient in writing and reading the Roman alphabet in which the Vlach language is written. Alone of all her siblings, she retained this facility, astounding me in her seventies by her capacity to read and pronounce English and French shop signs, on the streets of Athens, all the while experiencing great difficulties in reading Greek.
After the transpiration of two years, the Vlach woman was sufficiently self-confident as to hazard a trip down to Ioannina, expecting that my grandmother’s family had, by then, come to terms with her loss. Sadly for her, my grandmother was spotted by chance sitting in the window of a guest-house, by her uncle. Returning to the village with all haste and urgency, he informed my great-grandmother of her daughter’s whereabouts, whereupon she, with the assistance of her brothers in law, hatched a daring and intricate plan for my grandmother’s rescue, including subterfuge, disguises and the blocking off of possible escape routes. The operation to snatch my grandmother from inside the window was successful and she was soon reunited with her family, my formidable great-grandmother ably being able to fend off the protestations of the Vlach woman, who had the temerity to turn up at her doorstep, demanding that HER daughter be returned to her.
Save that my grandmother now displayed the propensity to sing in an unknown language, family life returned to normal. Just as she was enrolled in the village school and began to engage herself in the difficult task of deciphering the Greek alphabet, Greece was invaded and school was suspended. Then, tragically, my great-grandfather was killed, leaving my grandmother and her five other siblings orphaned. Only three of those other siblings would survive the war.
When the guerillas of the Democratic Army came to the village, after the war, the first thing they did was to billet soldiers in my grandmother’s house. Soon after, they rounded up all of the village children. These were to be relocated north, to some countries with unfamiliar names, where apparently, they would be educated, fed and returned to Greece after the ‘final victory.’ My grandmother had advance knowledge of this, as the soldiers billeted in her home were Vlachs from Grevena and she overheard them discuss their orders in their language, thinking that they would not be understood. Though my great-grandmother attempted to hide her, my grandmother was found and made to join the ranks of her peers, embarked upon a perilous road towards an uncertain destination.
It was my grandmother’s sunny disposition, her propensity to endear herself to everyone who met her, along with her facility in the Vlach tongue that occasioned her escape. She would sing Vlach songs to the guerillas, chat to them in their own language, and it was one of those guerillas who approached her one night and said in Vlach: “Child, you are too young to be separated from you loved ones. Tomorrow, we are going to cross a ravine. When I give the signal, pretend to faint. I’ll do the rest.” The very next day, at a particularly step bend in the road, the signal was given. My grandmother collapsed on the side of the road, and the guerilla rolled her gently into the ravine below, stating: “This one is dead. It must have been exhaustion.” Many days later, my grandmother, emaciated and starving, returned to her village and knocked on the door of her house. When my great-grandmother opened it and saw her daughter standing there, both of them fainted simultaneously.
The billeting policy of the army of the Kingdom of Greece seems to have been consistent with that of the Democratic Army, for at the conclusion of the Civil War, soldiers completing their military service were billeted in the homes of my grandmother’s village. As chance would have it, the two soldiers billeted in my grandmother’s home were Vlachs and as my grandmother moved about the house, intent upon completing her household chores, one of them would appraise her with the eye of a connoisseur. Were he of a Shakespearean mould, he would have been inclined to declaim: “There’s language in her eye, her cheek, her lip, Nay, her foot speaks..” Instead, being of an unsentimental and un-poetic disposition, he resigned himself to making approving remarks about her dimensions to his colleague in their own tongue, believing that they would not be understood and thus not transgress the unspoken laws of hospitality.
My grandmother, who had, unbeknownst to him, taken a shine to her Vlach fan, soon disabused him of his misapprehension. Thus, when one day, he deigned to wax lyrically to his friend about the curve of my grandmother’s nose in her presence, she turned around abruptly and stated in Vlach: “I hope you know that I understand every single word you are saying. How rude. I’m going to tell my mother.” What ensued from my grandfather’s spluttering attempts at excusing himself, was a marriage proposal, the only honourable thing a Greek chap could do after spending months ogling the daughter of the house. It was her knowledge of the Vlach tongue that ensured my grandmother was not only in the village at this time and not somewhere behind the Iron Curtain but also, that she was able to break the ice and obtain the object of her affection.
After moving to Athens in the fifties, my grandmother never spoke Vlach ever again. At a time when village yokels and their obscure accents were openly sneered at in the capital, my grandmother quickly assimilated the airs and patois of the true Athenian and the whole story was forgotten and never related to her children. It was only when my great-grandmother returned with me to Greece for a grand-daughter’s wedding decades later and she apprehended my grandmother seated in a corner, conversing in Vlach to the prospective gambro, that my great-grandmother sighed: “Oh God, not another one. What are we, a hostel for Vlachs?” and the entire story of my grandmother’s relationship with the Vlach tongue was finally related in full. Though the meaning of its strange cadences continue to elude me, an object of great regret, as I, after Bertrand Russell deeply believe that the obstinate addiction to ordinary language in our private thoughts, is one of the main obstacles of progress, I am grateful to the limba armãneascã, for without it, and its labyrinthine manipulations of providence, most likely, I would not exist today.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 July 2015
Saturday, June 27, 2015
THE RETREAT HOTEL, REBETIKA AND THE PERPETUAL FOREIGNER
In “From Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000” one of the most important critiques of Australian multiculturalism I have ever read, LaTrobe University Philosophy Lecturer George Vassilacopoulos and Toula Nikolakopoulou postulate that despite the veneer of formal equality characterizing race relations in this country, there lurks within the substratum, a fundamental concept of the ‘perpetual foreigner.’ Whereas Australian law is founded upon respect for proprietary rights and the individual, when it comes to ‘foreigners’ these tend to be lumped together as a ‘group’ by those who obtain legitimisation of their rule and presence in this country by conferring upon such foreigners, citizenship and residency rights. Nonetheless, these foreigners are not automatically subsumed into the liberal democratic individualist paradigm. They remain a distinct ‘group,’ which is expected to provide appropriate declarations and exhibitions of loyalty to the ruling culture, or face the fear of being labelled suspect. In short, while tolerated, they have not, at least up until now, really become accepted as part of the mainstream.
Such an analysis is contrary to the way we as a community generally see ourselves. After a hundred years in this country and with Greek-Australians making valuable contributions to Australian society in a diverse range of fields, we would be justified in thinking that we would have by now, woven ourselves within the warp and the weft of the rich tapestry of cultures that comprises multicultural Australia.
A recent article published online by a leading Melbourne newspaper on 19 June 2015 has recently raised concerns that we may still have some way to go before the desired interweaving is achieved. The piece, entitled innocuously enough: “Hipsters join seniors on the dancefloor at Brunswick’s Greek blues night at Retreat Hotel,” seeks to describe how Rebetika are being enjoyed at the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick both by Greek Australians and other Australians as well, to their mutual surprise. As such, the author begins her article thus: “BEMUSED Brunswick locals are jostling with elderly Greek Australians for space at their local pub, where a Rebetiko revival is striking a chord.”
Immediately, a pause becomes necessary, for since the article’s publication, a large section of the internet-literate Greek-Australian community, especially its second generation has become deeply disturbed and offended by this seemingly inoffensive opening sentence. These readers pose the question: What exactly is being implied here? Are Brunswick locals, who in response to being exposed to a different culture, are described as being bemused, and elderly Greek-Australians mutually exclusive? Is the author telling us that Greek Australians are not to be considered locals? Furthermore, are we then to assume that elderly Greek-Australians, who mostly arrived here in the sixties, and large numbers of who settled in Brunswick are not considered or are not entitled to be considered as locals, despite living in the suburb for approximately half a century? What do these subtle indications of an Anglo-Australian journalist’s attitude suggest to us about our perceived place within the fabric of broader Australian society?
The author’s next statement, provides us with clues as to her ultimate intention: “Since launching a traditional Greek blues night last month, the Retreat Hotel is seeing hundreds of unlikely punters, including some in their 70s and 80s, flock through its doors eager for sounds from their birthplace.” From this, we can glean that the author is not referring to ‘locals’ as people living in the locality of Brunswick but rather as regular patrons of their ‘local’ pub. As such, any accusations against the author for non-acceptance of resident members of the Greek-Australian community within that suburb as legitimate ‘locals,’ cannot be reasonably sustained. However, her statement gives rise to other questions. In particular, Greek-Australian readers ask: Why are elderly Greeks considered by the author to be ‘unlikely punters?’ This is especially so, given that it was that generation of Greek-Australians who arrived in this country when pubs were the primary form of public meeting place, that made the most use of these, and is probably most familiar with these, than other generations? Moreover, since the elderly Greeks in their 70s and 80s are only part of the group collectively described as ‘unlikely patrons,’ who else is she implying, belongs to this group? Greek-Australians not in their 70s and 80s? In making such an observation, is the author in fact inadvertently betraying her own assumption that cultural background acts as a bar to enjoyment of particularly ‘Aussie’ forms of entertainment?
Most likely not. For any such inferences could arguably have said to have be created by the following comment to the author by musician and rebetika night organizer Con Kalamaras: “We are playing and looking out at the audience of Greeks all having fun, and these hipsters with Ned Kelly beards wondering what is going on,”….. “But they all end up on the dancefloor ... it’s awesome.” This unfortunate utterance, despite its final attempt at a cultural resolution, could, if taken out of context, reinforce an artificial dichotomy between Greek and other Australians, making such cultural exchanges as the rebetika at the Retreat Hotel seem uncanny, exotic and out of place.
Nonetheless, rather than cry ‘racism,’ Greek-Australian readers would do well to focus on a glaring omission in the article, which compromises its focus. In particular, either through error, choice or innocence, the author has neglected to mention that rather than being a novel phenomenon that surprises ‘locals,’ rebetika have had a long and important history at the Retreat Hotel, and most importantly, that the Retreat Hotel has played an intrinsic role in the revival and widespread popularity of the rebetika genre not only among Greek-Australians of Melbourne but in the mainstream as well. For it was there that the unforgettable Apodimi Kompania and then the 'Anadromiki Kompania' found a home many years ago, and the phenomenon of Greek-Australians, the author’s ‘unlikely patrons’, flocking to the Retreat Hotel predates her article by several decades. While she was at it, she could have mentioned the fact that the Retreat Hotel was, in the past owned by Greeks and thus the connection of rebetika and Greeks to Brunswick and the Hotel itself is a venerable one.
Had the author been properly informed about the phenomenon of ‘Greek Blues’ at the Retreat Hotel, she could have provided balance to her article by mentioning that some two decades ago, the rebetika played at the Retreat Hotel inspired Apodimi Kompamia to record a song in their ‘Melisma’ CD that cements the central importance of the Retreat Hotel and the suburb of Brunswick in their efforts to revive this musical genre: “Old Brunswick Town.” Her interlocutors could have also mentioned to her that since that time, rebetika have become a university-studied stalwart of the Melbournian music scene. Instead, again via comments by contemporary rebetika virtuosos, we are led to believe that the phenomenon of rebetika at the Retreat Hotel is largely occasioned by the influx of “tens of thousands” of Greek migrants fleeing that country’s financial crisis. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The whole genre of Rebetika throughout the world has been profoundly influenced by what transpired at the Retreat those decades ago and this is something that multi-cultural Australia and our community should be proud of.
On the night of the 5th of June, I was one of 300-strong crowd that attended the Retreat Hotel, as the article describes. Yet rather than being an ‘unlikely patron,’ I considered myself, and was considered by others who attended as a ‘more than likely’ patron, given my extreme devotion to this type of music. While I was there, I ran into Paddy Montgomery, a talented non-Greek-Australian musician who has been a constant and invaluable presence on the rebetika scene for many years. He greeted me in Greek. Returning to the place where I spent many hours admiring the virtuosity of the late lamented Hector Cosmas and the mysterious and subversive musical stylings of Argyris Argyropoulos, I, like all the other patrons most of whom were between 25-60 in age, were profoundly moved, not only by the brilliance of the musicians themselves, but also, at witnessing, not a novelty but rather, the return of Melburnian rebetika to their spiritual home. The fact that this eluded the author of the article possibly acts as a poetic metaphor of the way in which Greek-Australian musical and cultural memory has retreated from the Retreat Hotel in recent years. This is why, the resuscitation of this most venerable tradition by Con Kalamaras, Achilles Yiangoulli, Nick Koutsaliotis and Ilias Chatziemmanouil at the Retreat Hotel is so timely.
First published in NKEE on Saturday, 27 June 2015
Saturday, June 20, 2015
In his Honour, Justice Emilios Kyrou's recently published autobiography: "Call me Emilios," his Honour describes how ongoing racism at school caused him to try to conceal his ethnic identity by means of adopting a more 'Anglo' sounding name, in his case, 'John.' The moment of supreme emancipation for him, came on the day he was confident enough to rise above the racism of his peers, and not only re-assume his original name, but further, insist that everyone call him by it, regardless of how unfamiliar it was to them. He was right to do so. Emilio is a distinctive cool name. I once had a Spanish hairdresser who was called Emilio. Sadly, he was dour, uncommunicative, constantly unwashed and plied his trade at the back of a Tattersalls outlet, though he is the exception that proves the rule. I also once had a friend whose name was Aristogeiton, a name given to him by his proud parents in order to make him equally proud of being Greek. Unfortunately, he never learnt Greek and being teased by his Aussie classmates for having an unpronounceable name and by his Greek acquaintances for having an unpronounceable name AND being unable to pronounce it, upon attaining the age of majority, he changed it to Trevor.
Generally speaking however, we here in the Antipodes, have been laboring under various soubriquets for years. These soubriquets were originally invented for the purposes described in "Call me Emilios," that is, to permit migrants with names unfamiliar to the host culture, to acquire an 'acceptable' form of address. Some of the names provided were quite arbitrary and the connection between the original name and the adopted name almost non-existent, thus: Jim or James for Dimitrios, even though the equivalent in Greek is Iakovos (and in fact this is a name that has become quite generic. I know of a multitude of Greek Tzimides but have only ever met one 'Aussie' Jim), Bill for Basil, even though Bill is in English, a contraction of William, Penny for Pinelopi or Kalliopi and Nola for Fotini. There is also Newy for Onofrouios, even though the correct English equivalent is Winifred. Perhaps that is for the best.
Over the years fashions change with regard to such soubriquets, with new ones being coined and others discarded. Thus, we have Mark Mitchell's Con the Fruiterer to thank for reducing the market share of the Roulas, Toulas, Voulas and Soulas of our community for a generation. While most of my synonomatoi are known as Con, I and many others like me were provided with the English name of Dean, on the basis that my progenitors felt that the name Con had negative connotations of dishonesty in English and at that time, to expect to be called Konstantinos by the English speaking populace was unthinkable. My Greek-American friends on the other hand, call me Gus because, via similar processes that has been is the American equivalent of Kostas, which makes sense when one tries to pronounce that name with an American accent. These days, here in Australia, a new form of Con is emerging, that of Connor.
In similar fashion, Haralambides who could have been born with the expectation that they would be called Harry and now being called Harrison, the Nolas have been replaced by the Tiffanies, (both for Theofani and Fotini), the Arthurs by the Aathans, the Steves by the Trents and the Tristans (both for Stavros and Stamatis), the Kalliopis by the Kaylas and the Irenes by the Renees, even though this name is derived from the Latin Renatus, which means re-born. I am also in receipt of information that suggests that there exists here in Melbourne a Daenerys, this being adopted from the Game of Thrones franchise and used as a form of Dimitra. There also exists a Tonja, for Antonia, born in the nineties, who is probably as these lines are being read, making her Fresh Prince of Bel Air-watching parents regret their fortuitous decision.
On the one level, this is merely symptomatic of the ever evolving fashion of names. On the other, it raises important questions about the way in which we perceive our identity. One would have thought that since the time of Justice Kyrou until now, both our community and society in general would have felt comfortable enough with our emerging diversity, to accommodate our names in their original form. While this may in part be true of the broader Australia community, which is now able to adapt to names deriving from hundreds of cultures throughout the world with reasonable success, the same cannot be said of the emerging generations. For reasons that deserve to be studied at length, a large number of Greek-Australian parents are continuing to provide to their children, Australianised or stylized versions of their Geek names, even as the actual pressures that occasioned this phenomenon in the first place, have disappeared.
Furthermore, the way in which names are used has also changed. Given that a name defines one's identity, among previous Australian-born generations, there was a diglossia with regard to names. That is, while the Australianised names existed, they generally were for external use, with children calling themselves and their peers by their Greek names. It was the esoteric Greek name, for use in intimate family and social circles that was considered to be the child's 'real' name, this having the effect of embedding within the child's psyche, the understanding that they belonged to a particular cultural group over and above that of broader society. In this manner, it did not matter what you were called in English, for it was your Greek name that determined your identity, and in the case of Georges, their character, that is, if the song «Γιώργοςείναι πονηρός» is to be believed.
Contrariwise, in current times, we are witnessing, save on the day of the child's baptism, a phenomenon where the child's English name is used exclusively by its intimate familial ad social circle, its Greek name being relegated to the margins of linguistic history. The insistence of some parents upon the usage of the English name and pronunciation often reaches the level of hysteria and causes family rifts. For example, a non-English speaking friend recently complained to me that his daughter was constantly berating him for calling his grandson Gavriil. Apparently, the child's name was to be pronounced Gay-bri-oul, as it is in Australian English. The psychology behind such a seemingly farcical request would most likely lead to fascinating insights as to the manner in which the 'naming' generation sees itself within the context of an ever-evolving Greek-Australian identity.
While it would be generous to generalize, given the immense demographic and social complexity of the Greek-Australian communities, once could possibly point out a few reasons as to why this phenomenon exists. Firstly, in a number of cases, people still feel that their original names are an impediment to their successful integration and mobility within English-speaking Australian society and thus provide their children with names which they feel would facilitate this process. Again it would be interesting to learn just how much of this is based on assumptions gleaned from the past and how much is experiential. Secondly, there are those who are enamoured of or aspire to adopt the culture of English-speaking Australia, especially the freedom to provide their offspring with exotic sounding-names that are not those of their in-laws; thus the names they provide their children are symptomatic of this fact and thirdly, by corollary, there are those who are ambivalently attached to the Greek aspect of their identity or wish to divest themselves from it. Fourthly, there are people like me, who make use of English to make a point. I named my daughter Helene, though I call her Eleni, for two reasons: the first aesthetic, because I do not like the way Eleni is pronounced in English with the thick Anglo-Saxon 'L,' but most importantly, because Helene is one 'L' short of Hellene and is pronounced the same way, hopefully providing her with a not so subtle hint as to her identity in the future, in a manner similar to the phenomenon of Cypriot girls being named Ellada during the campaign for Cyprus' union with Greece, or of girls being named Laokratia, during the Greek Civil War.
Ultimately, the old question "what's in a name," can be answered succinctly: a good deal. The way in which our naming customs will continue to develop will say much not only about our place within society, but also how we see ourselves, as this extract from Neil Gaiman's "Coraline," so eloquently proves: " What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?' 'Cats don't have names,' it said. 'No?' said Coraline. 'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names."
First published in NKEE on Saturday 20 June 2015
Saturday, June 13, 2015
“If we allow non-Samians to join our committee, we open up the flood-gates. Next thing you know, you will be receiving letters from the Brotherhood signed “Yours Sincerely, Mehmed Mahmoud, President.”
This was the concluding speech of the President of the Pan-Samian Brotherhood “Pythagoras,” at a general meeting in the early nineties, to discuss whether non-Samians should be permitted to participate in the running of the club. It was met with rapturous applause, my father’s question: “Why on earth would Mehmed Mahmoud want to run our club?” being met with self-confident silence. After all, we were at the apex of our organized existence. Our club-house was well on the way to being paid off, we had just become affiliated with the Italian ‘Samo,’ club, whose members derived their origins from Samian colonists in southern Italy, and our functions, which took place every week for the purpose of raising the requisite funds to pay off the club premises were extremely well attended.
Unlike the case in many other clubs, Greek political ideologies seemed to be of little importance to the members. Nor was the attainment of the presidency an object of universal lust, despite the existence of several power-brokers to whom the executive positions seemed naturally to devolve. Instead, the pleasure of other Samians’ company and above all, the sampling decent food seemed to the key aims of its members, resulting in the creation of a convivial atmosphere, far removed from the skullduggery, and polarisation that blighted other Greek organisations during their 'Golden Age.'
It was through the Pan-Samian Brotherhood that I learned that my family was connected to other families, through bonds that pre-dated our arrival in Australia. Seated at a table during a function, old men would approach and kiss my head. Enquiring as to their identity as well as the source of their sentiment, my father would offer glimpses into an unknown past: “That one there was your grandfather’s shepherd. When pappou left for Australia, he gave him his entire flock. This one was a good friend of your grandfather’s back in the village. He stayed in our home for a few years when he arrived in Australia.” According to my way of thinking, such knowledge of prior relationships and obligations served to create binding ties down the generations and I found it surprising that my contemporaries seemed to be totally uninterested in exploring these.
Devouring the books of the meagre Pan-Samian library, I was astounded to learn how rich and diverse the history of my island of origin actually was. A world naval power in the time of Polycrates, it was the home of a plethora of great ancient poets, architects and mathematicians. Eupalinos, in particular, was the engineer of a marvel described in the histories of Herodotus: the second known tunnel in history, which was excavated from both ends and the first with a methodical approach in doing so. One of Samos’ sons, Ioannis Heraclides, became the first Protestant King of Eastern Europe. Furthermore, it was a bastion of fierce resistance during the Greek revolution, and the scene of the miracle of the Battle of Geronta, where doughty Samian fighters prevented the landing of Ottoman troops on the island, and in the process, also prevented a genocide such as that which took place in Chios. This miracle was reinforced in the psyche of our members, by the positioning of a large, cartoon-like mural on our club-house wall, with the faces of the Ottomans being depicted with the twisted gruesomeness of a German mediaeval painting. I also found my family surname among the roll call of those who attended the Samian meeting that determined that the island would join the Greek Revolution. This conflicted with family lore, for my grandfather’s family had its roots in Aydin of Asia Minor and my grandfather was in Aydin during the Catastrophe, and this fascinating inconsistency has never been satisfactorily resolved, for all of my grandparents’ contemporaries are now long gone. As if all this was not enough, prior to uniting with Greece in 1913, Samos was an independent principality for almost a century, whose official language at one time was Esperanto and a leading world exporter of tobacco.
At Christmas time, I would take my violin and with my cousins, we would travel to the homes of members all around Melbourne in order to sing them the Greek Christmas carols and raise money for the club. This involved, a) acquiring a sufficient repertoire of carols so as to not render ourselves senseless through repetition and b) getting to know a vast number of people who spoke with the same drawl and clipped constants as my grandparents did and who displayed the same open-hearted hospitality. All Greeks were our people, but these were especially so, and even today, I have run into not a few persons who I had hitherto forgotten, who still remember our Christmas carol visits.
The Samian drawl, which is still the primary means of communication in my house, is barely spoken in the Pan-Samian club-house nowadays. Along with the Ithacans, the Samians are among the most ancient of Greek communities in Melbourne and my parents’ generation, who arrived in Australia in the fifties and sixties have grown up and were educated here. They find it easier to express themselves in English, although in Cavafian style, they feel guilty for doing so. When they get together in ever dwindling numbers for the same type of dinner dances that the club has held of the past seventy years, or write letters in what amounts to pidgin-Greek, one gets the feeling that this is an ersatz form of Hellenism, a Poseidonian cultural calque full of ennui before an imminent fall. It was thus fitting that the most recent extra-ordinary general meeting of the club, where it was determined to sell the club-house, was convened in English.
The sale of the club-house, owing to increasing overheads and a lack of income as a result of a dwindling membership has been cited as proof of the irrelevancy of Greek organisations that have as their basis, a regional identity. This regional identity is widely held to be inimical to the construction of a viable Greek-Australian identity that will see us through the future and indeed, as a cause of disunity. I beg to differ. There is richness and uniqueness in our regional cultures and their diversity gives depth and lustre to the shared culture of all of us. There is significance in the shared and remembered experiences of our ancestors and how they related to each other in our homelands. There is also magic in being able to maintain and create relationships of mutual assistance and obligation based on those past experiences that root us firmly not only within our ancestral culture but our birth-culture as well. These are not things that should be dismissed lightly, if anything they are the foundations of our identity and the glue that holds us together. After all, the proposition that Greek culture is unified is fallacious and dangerous, leading as it does to an artificial and embarrassing construction, devoid of life.
Sadly, we have all squandered the opportunities given to us to make the most of our regional organisations, usually because of a particularly vicious form of infighting occasioned by certain power-brokers utilising such clubs as a vehicle for the promotion of their own egos, or as a form of wish fulfillment, given that many such clubs were run as mini-parliaments for would-be politicians. This is does not apply in the cases of the Samians however. Instead, it is age, complacency, insularity (in that the older generation could not see how they could interweave the activities of the club within the fabric of the broader Greek community), a lack of celebrating their diversity and an inability to foresee the way latter generations would adopt a superficial, disparaging view of their mother-culture before rejecting it almost wholesale, that has brought them to the brink. And yet it is not too late, for there are many such as I, who remember growing up within the love and security of the Samian community, with extreme fondness and nostalgia. It is time to resurrect that sense of community.
I drive past the premises of the Nisyrian Brotherhood on Sydney Road, Brunswick at least thrice a week. Never have I seen the premises open and yet the sign on the door proclaims forbiddingly: “Nisyrian Brotherhood: Panayia Thermiani: MEMBERS ONLY.” While a rationalization of community assets may be beneficial and indeed inevitable, we, just like our ancestors since times ancient, are a conglomeration of regional, some time conflicting but always fascinating, identities. We would disregard these and their legacy at our peril. Our challenge lies in sharing rather than isolating these identities and celebrating their eccentricities. Their discovery, in all their multifarious Samian forms, ultimately form the reason why I chose to be Greek.
First published in NKEE on 13 June 2015
Saturday, June 06, 2015
ADELPHOPOIISIS: SAME SEX PARTNERSHIPS IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, Archbishop Stylianos has recently made some important observations in relation to the debate about the extension of the marriage power in the Australian Consititution to include same-sex couples. Such observations display the nuanced and complex position of the Church upon an issue that has assumed world-wide importance of late.
While not resiling from the Church's position that marriage, in the Christian context, is defined as an act between a man and a woman, Archbishop Stylianos has commented that a) the Orthodox Church seeks not to impose its views upon others, especially within a multi-cultural society and that b) it only seeks consideration of the unique Christian context within which the word 'marriage' has evolved. He thus leaves it to be understood that the recognition by the state of 'same sex civil unions,' would preserve the traditional understanding of the word marriage, while also catering for the needs of those who seek legal recognition of their partnership, thus separating the religious element from the legal component of the debate.
What is largely unknown, is that as late as the eighteenth century, the typikon of the Orthodox Church contained a service known as that of adelphopoiisis, whose purpose was to unite together two people of the same sex but usually men, in a church-sanctioned partnership. Surviving Byzantine, Georgian and Old Church Slavonic manuscripts from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, show that the prayers of the ceremony established participants as "'spiritual brothers (πνευματικούς αδελφούς) and contained references to sainted pairs, including most notably Saints Sergius and Bacchus, who were famous for their friendship and are usually depicted with a torque, reminiscent of a wedding crown, around their necks.
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, the rite of αδελφοποίησις, has been cited as a practical, subtle Church-sanctioned recognition of a same-sex romantic union. Proponents of this argument point to the use of the word αδελφή in the vernacular to denote a male homosexual, linking this to the adelphopoiisis ceremony. Academics such as John Boswell in his book "Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, has argued that the practice was used to unite two persons in a marriage-like union, in continuation of ancient custom.
Boswell examines the evidence for same-sex "paired saints" in early Christianity, such as Saints Nearchos and Polyeuchtos, Ruth and Naomi, and Sergios and Bacchus, arguing that these couples were perhaps romantically involved. In his discussion of Barberini 336, a Greek liturgical manuscript of the eighth century containing four ceremonies for sacramental union, one of which is between two men, Boswell questions what they represent, if they reflect homosexuality, and ponders if these are "marriage" ceremonies, in doing so rejecting the idea that they represent ceremonies of adoption or "spiritual fraternity". In particular, he looks at the text of the ceremony from the Paris Biblioteque which states: "Lord and lover of good, these thy servants who love each other with a love of the spirit and have come into thy holy church to be blessed and consecrated by Thee. Grant them unashamed faithfulness, true love .."
Departing from the text of the union ceremonies themselves, Boswell looks at further evidence for such ceremonies in the Byzantine Empire, including stories such as those of Nicholas and the homosexual Emperor Basil I, (he refers to the emperor as a 'hunk') and then examines the Christian prohibitions that were later introduced to put a stop to them. His seminal study, according to University of Indiana sociologist Lutz Kaelber shows how "social arrangements and processes can shape and sometimes bend normative perceptions of the boundaries between friendship, affection, and love."
Despite Boswell's fascinating musings, nothing in the text of the liturgical ceremonies or the ancillary literature suggests that the adelphopoiisis ceremony was developed in order to sanction same-sex unions of a romantic or sexual nature, but rather, it is most probable that these referred to a platonic union through faith, though he correctly points out the way saints are paired in the ceremony, refers to a deep union: "That thy holy apostles Philip and Bartholomew should be united, not bound together by law of nature but in the manner of a holy spirit and faith, as Thou didst bless the joining of thy Holy Martys Sergios and Bacchus in union of spirit. Send down most kind Lord the grace of thy Holy Spirit upon these thy servants whom thou hast found worthy to be united not by nature but by faith and holy spirit."
Commentators have argued that this rite was used in many ways, such as the formation of permanent pacts between leaders of nations or between religious brothers, as a replacement for "blood-brotherhood" which was forbidden by the Church at the time. Historians have traced the prevalence of such unions among Byzantine soldiers. Going in to battle and knowing that they had to rely on each other for their very lives, Byzantine soldiers underwent the ritual for the purposes of added security.
Russian theologian Pavel Florensky, in his description of adelphopoiisis in his 1914 book The Pillar and the Ground of The Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters, described traditional Christian friendship, expressed in adelphopoiisis, as "a community molecule, a pair of friends, which is the principle of actions here, just as the family was this kind of molecule for the pagan community," reflecting Christ's words that "wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of thee." In his theological exegesis of the rite, he noted that its ceremonies consisted of prayer, scriptural reading, and ritual that involved partaking in presanctified eucharistic gifts. It was, according to him, merely a formalization of a deep and enduring friendship, something that would have been better understood during the time of Byzantium where the social context saw friendship to be much deeper, more formal and viewed in more theological terms than the present.
Florovsky's analysis is supported by contemporary experience. Though the adelphopoiisis ceremony is defunct in Greek Orthodox modern usage, historian Robin Young describes how she underwent a sisterhood ceremony in 1985 within the Syriac Orthodox Church, a church that while monophysite, preserves many of the usages, liturgical texts and practices of the early Greek Orthodox Church, including the adelphopoiisis ceremony. According to Young, upon a visit to St Mark's monastery in Jerusalem with a friend, "our host, Archbishop Dionysius... remarked that since we had survived the rigours of Syria and Eastern Turkey in amicable good humor, we two women must be good friends indeed. Would we like to be joined as sisters the next morning after the bishop's Sunday liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?...
After the liturgy, the bishop had us join our right hands together and he wrapped them in a portion of his garment. He pronounced a series of prayers over us, told us that we were united as sisters, and admonished us not to quarrel. Ours was a sisterhood stronger than blood, confirmed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he said, and since it was a spiritual union, it would last beyond the grave. Our friendship has indeed endured and flourished beyond the accidental association of two scholars sharing an interest in the Syriac-speaking Christianity of late antiquity. The blessing of the Church was a precious instance of our participation in the life of an ancient and noble Christian tradition. Although neither of us took the trouble to investigate the subject, each privately assumed that the ritual of that summer was some Christian descendant of an adoption ceremony used by the early church to solemnify a state -that of friendship- which comes highly recommended in the Christian tradition ("Henceforth I call you not servants .but I have called you friends." [John15:15])."
The poetry and beauty of the blessings of the adelphopoiisis rite are strirring, especially in such invocations as: "That their love abide without offense and scandal all the days of their lives, we beseech thee O Lord. " Yet Miodrag Kovadinovic offers a unique insight into a further abridged version of the ceremony, known as pobratimstvo in the Slavonic tradition. Apparently, it was felt that brotherhood could be achieved through simple invocation: 'My-Brother-Through-God!' in case of peril, whereby a foe suddenly becomes an ally, underlying the military uses of the rite.
There is something noble and profoundly moving in the seeking of a divine sanction for a platonic relationship and its gradual disuse says possibly says much for the way friendships have developed since that time. Nonetheless, while the adelphopoiisis ceremony contains many elements of the Orthodox marriage rite and Boswell's conclusions are tantalizing, ultimately, the argument that Orthodox ritual condoned same-sex romantic unions cannot be sustained and, as Archbishop Stylianos maintains, the issue of solemnising same-sex unions, as far as the Church is concerned, is a civil one.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 6 June 2015
Saturday, May 30, 2015
Der türkische Führer
Adolf Hitler, when planning the Holocaust, is said to have rationalized his acts by stating: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” While evidence for this quote is scant, it cannot be doubted that the Nazi’s fascination with cleansing ethnic or religious minorities was stimulated in part by the example of Kemal Ataturk with the early Nazi’s and other right wing ideologues paralleling The fate of Turkey with that of Germany.
In a chilling study entitled “Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination”, Stefan Ihrig presents two decades of research into mainstream, right-wing and Nazi publications in Germany following World War I. He goes on to demonstrate how the founder of the modern state of Turkey served as a model of emulation for the Nazis and Hitler.
Considering that Hitler himself called Ataturk a “a star in the darkness,” it is not diffiuclt case to prove As Ihrig states, “For the Nazis,” in the aftermath of the World War, “Turkey was not the old East, but standard bearer for the modern nationalist and totalitarian politics that they wished to bring to Germany.” In particular, the Nazis were interested in two aspects of Kemalist Turkey which they considered were worthy of emulation: its active resistance against the Entente countries including its ability to resist the dismemberment of the heartland of the Ottoman Empire, its ability to secure a homeland, and to revise a post-war peace treaty imposed on them by the victors as well as its elimination of the opposition and minorities.
This makes sense. A number of early members of the Nazi movement such as Han Trobst had previously served in the Turkish military in an advisory capacity. Some of these had even witnessed the Genocide of the native Christian minorities by the Ottomans and noted their approval of such a policy in writing. A Nazi analysis of the Kemalist movement replete with the racial politics that characterized the movement is evident in Froembgen’s, popular book Kemal Atatürk: Soldier and Führer, which was published in 1935. He wrote: “Turkendom was dying slowly but surely of the poison that pours out of the racial mishmash of the subdued peoples, this famous sputum of peoples of the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, of the Levantines, the Greeks, the Armenians, the Arabs, and the Jews, who like the resistant weed cover the ground [everywhere].” According to him “sneaky, parasitic and unworthy” Armenians were seen as the “Jews of the Orient” who had “stabbed the Turks in the back” during the war. Even as early as 1924, , it was suggested by the abovementioned Trobst on the front page of the Völkischer Kurier that “what had happened to the Armenians might very well happen to the Jews in a future Germany.” Going back to the source, Hitler himself paralleled the Christian minorities of Turkey with his own pet hatred of the Jews, stating at a party meeting in 1927, that Greeks and Jews “have these specific, disgraceful characteristics we condemn in the Jews.” Thus the genocide of these populations was considered by the Nazis to be admirable because, as Ihrig states, it provided the harmonization and standardization of their populations. “Only through the annihilation of the Greek and the Armenian tribes in Anatolia were the creation of a Turkish national state and the formation of an unflawed Turkish body of society within one state possible.”
Such was the Nazi admiration of Turkey that Nazi racial theory, incomprehensible and inconsistent as the best of times that the Turks themselves were included as part of the racial fold. In 1936 the Nazi office for Racial Policy announced that “The Turks are Aryans!” As seen earlier, the minorities that were cleansed, had their “Aryaness” stripped from them.
Kemal Ataturk’s rise to power also seems to have been closely studied by the Nazis and Ihrig mounts an effective argument that his rise formed the inspiration for the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Just as Ataturk abandoned corrupt and subjugated Constantinople for Samsounta, where he formulated the national movement that took over the country and cleansed it of its minorities so too, did Hitler seek from provincial Munich, to form a movement that would march on Berlin. As such, Kemal was the perfect Führer. According to Hitler, no salvation could come from Constantinople because “the city was, just as in our case, contaminated by democratic-pacifistic, internationalized people, who were no longer able to do what is necessary. It could only come from the farmer’s country.” As Goebbels teacher, F. Hussong wrote, Kemal was “the man who transformed a helpless and unstable, disoriented and faltering mass into a unified nation; a will rises and creates ascent from doom; a Führer rises and shows the way… where once one saw only abyss and doom.” The modelling of the Nazi movement upon Kemal becomes even more evident during Hitler’s own speeches when on trial of mounting the Munich Putsch. He argued that the German recovery “could only come from a relatively healthy part of Germany, and that was Bavaria” just as Ankara ‘saved’ the Turkish nation. He went on to state: “If we ask ourselves: What has legalized Kemal Pasha’s deed in the end? The gaining liberty for his nation.”
Hitler’s ascent to power did not diminish his use of the Kemalist movement as a guide. In 1928, addressing a gathering in Nuremberg, on the topic of the German defeat in World War I, he had this to say about Ataturk: “The inner strength [of the Turkish State] had remained and the man came who managed to remind his people of its great tradition and who led them forward. That is what was different with us Germans.” By 1933, Nazi publications constantly equate Kemalism with Nazism. Kemalism was described as “Turkish National Socialism” in Hamburger Nachrichten while the Völkischer Beobachter attributed the ascent of the Turkish nation to the “deed of this one single man, who with iron will and undiminished determination leads his nation to independence.” In the Kreuzzeitung, it was stated that “the German National Socialism of Adolf Hitler and Turkish Kemalism are closely related.”
It is important to note that Kemalist Turkey, while it enjoyed amicable ties with Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II, was not influenced by the Nazi regime. Instead, the infatuated Nazis considered Kemalism to have reached the endpoint of the journey that they had embarked upon that is, a situation where, the country, having been cleansed of its minorities, and the people having already given their blind obedience to their leader, had no more need for fanfare, parades and fancy speeches. For them, Kemal, moreso than Mussolini or Franco was what a leader should be.
It is this rationale that justified, in the minds of the Nazis at least, the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia and the Jewish Holocaust, at least ideologically, should be seen as a logical progression of this nuanced yet essentially ‘copy-cat’ aspirational parallelization of Nazism with Kemalism. In this sense, Ihrig’s research is of paramount importance as it establishes a continuum of genocidal ideology that the world would do well to study.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 June 2015