Monday, February 16, 2004


The Evil Troika: 'Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?"
The Evil Troika in Answer: "Fountas stole the cookie from the cookie jar."
Fountas: "Who me? It couldn't be."
The Evil Troika: "Then who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?"
Simitis: "What cookie?"
Karamanlis: "Typical "PASOK, handing out cookies and not accounting for them."
Papariga: "The workers should unite and seize the means of cookie production for themselves."

Greeks love a good financial scandal. Obsessed as they are with conspiracy theories and suspicions of others' nefarious purposes, they like nothing better than pointing the finger every time a public cent is unaccounted for. By necessity this diatribe along with the conversations of most Greeks in our community restricts itself solely to public monies because as is commonly known, the private financial and/or taxation dealings of our community, whence all suspicions derive are strictly taboo.Apologists for our particularly Balkan behaviour as is evidenced by our paranoia and delight in questioning the motives of others tend to point to the Ottoman Empire as a catalyst for such unhellenic behaviour. Before the Ottomans arrived on the scene, the land of fair Hellas flowed with milk and honey and everyone walked around discussing philosophy and being noble. Yet nothing is further from the truth. Coveting our neighbour's goods and thinking up of sneaky ways to attain them is well entrenched in the Greek blood. No wonder then that these self same Greeks are suspicious of all others.Arguably the greatest and most probably the earliest Greek epic poem, the Iliad by Homer has as its subject matter, two thefts, the first, of Queen Helen of Sparta by means of a cunning trick by the Trojan Paris and the second, of the pillaging of Troy by means of a cunning trick by the Ithacan Odysseus. Yet what can we expect from a people whose gods were thieves themselves? Did not Hermes accede to his deityship by being able at the tender age of two days old, to steal Apollo's sacred herd of cows? Did not Jason of Jason of the Argonauts fame travel to Colchis to steal the Golden Fleece from the poor Colchians who had never done anyone any harm? Did not Arion have to go to the extreme lengths of setting evolution into reverse and seek assistance from a dolphin to evade pirates?
Even the Classical Age, which is supposed to mark the apogee of Greek civilization is not free from scams. The best of these were perpetrated by none other than Pericles, the great leader and stalwart of democratic Athens. After the Persian Wars, it was deemed desirable by most Ionian Greeks to band together and establish a union for mutual support and defence. This union, known as the Delian League was to have its headquarters and treasury in Delos, with all members contributing funds to it. However, it was not long before Athens was able to have the headquarters transferred to its own environs. Pericles then systematically began to denude the League's treasury of funds and applied the same to the building of one of the most ambitious and lavish displays of Athenian might: the Acropolis. When Athenians demand the return of the Elgin Marbles, let them beware lest rankled Ionians, nursing their grievances for over two thousand years demand their just restitution in turn.Byzantium itself was not free from scams with such bureaucrats as John the Cappadocian almost sabotaging Belisarius' attempts to regain Carthage for the empire by provisioning him with stale food and pocketing the difference and Michael "the Scissors" who was engaged by the Paphlagonian dynasty, who was adept at clipping metal from coins and was able to debase an entire currency with the hapless Byzantines being none the wiser.
It is against this tradition then, that we are faced with the sorry situation here in Melbourne that a group of disgruntled community members, possessed of the suspicion that only comes with a deep knowledge of history is raising heaven and earth to discover "the truth" about the Greek governments gift of some two million dollars to the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria. So hell bent are they indeed that the issue has been taken up by opposition parties in the Greek Parliament, creating the impression that either a) we as a community are liars and cheats or that b) we are party to a Greek government scam. Oh well done guys.Perhaps it is time we all grew up a tad. While fiscal responsibility is totally unhellenic, there is much to be said for it. At any rate there are no indications to date that the GOCMV has in any way been fiscally irresponsible.
At any rate, it is the sad fact that in the money obsessed community of which we are part, a great deal more time and effort is spent by impotent and angry community members in trying to uncover 'scams' rather than to carve a future for the organizations they are supposed to care about. I have been to annual general meetings of Greek organizations where the issue of moneys paid for postage (some $100.00) formed an item of discussion that took two hours to exhaust and where the simple matter of the purchase of an air-conditioner nearly brought down a Committee.This petty nit picking is not only counter productive but also damaging. It forms a major reason for the non-involvement of youth in community affairs for two reasons. The first is that the discussion of such mundane topics as postage stamps and the price of potatoes is not conducive to the retention of Hellenism, nor is it remotely interesting. Secondly, such antics do not exactly inspire respect in the first generation who are supposed to be our "founding-fathers" but will possibly turn out to be our community's undertakers as well.
At the end of the day, the airing of the gift of monies to the GOCMV in the Greek Parliament succeeded not in its aim of discrediting an august and hallowed organization but in highlighting the pettiness of those protagonists behind its airing and others whose world view is in similar vein. It is a great shame that we still have not been able to surpass our petty jealousies and criminal that we mask them in the guise of "concerned members." Meanwhile, while senile old fools hunt for El Dorado at the end of some ledgers and accounting books, our very identity is slipping away. And because Zeus commissioned Pan to slay Argo, the guardian of the one hundred eyes and steal his beautiful prisoner, there is no one to watch over us any more. Bloody thieves.
first published in NKEE on 16 Fenruary 2004