Monday, June 07, 2004


One of the elements that link ancient Greeks with modern Greeks is a love of voting. The Athenians loved to vote about everything, whether that be as to whether to convict Socrates for blaspheming against the Gods or which undesirables would be exiled from the city. Modern Greeks vote for their governments and as to whether Savvina or Kalomoira should be evicted from Fame Story. Love of voting in Greece has reached epidemic proportions, with Greek schoolchildren voting for PASOK, New Democracy of KKE class presidents. It is truly admirable that we follow in our illustrious forefather's footsteps, especially since the democratic tradition, is proportionally slighter than that of oligarchy, in years.
Only this historical background can place the Greek Government's decision to allow Greek nationals in Australia to vote in Greek elections in context. For it appears to be a most paradoxical decision. It seems strange that a government would allow persons who reside permanently in another country and whose, by consequence, interests lie in that country, to vote on elections that do not affect them in any way. It is evident that a Greek-Australian living in Australia would not have the level of understanding of Greek political or domestic issues as those residing in Greece would. What the Greek government is basically doing, is opening the floodgates for a class of persons, far removed from Greek everyday life, to influence and unfairly skew Greek politics. If I were a Greek resident, I would be concerned at the potentiality of an unknown quantity to vote based on its own minority agenda.
It is interesting to note whether the Greek government has thought of the Australian repercussions of such a decision. For given the level of xenophobia that exists in this country of late, coupled with the virulent attacks upon Greece by the Australian media and the unparalleled in sincerity travel warnings issued by the Australian government, it is questionable whether Australia would be prepared to accept its nationals actively participating in another country's interests to the level that Greece is encouraging them to do. No doubt the loyalty of many to this country will be openly questioned. We must come to terms with the fact that we are Australians and that our primarily duty of political participation rests here.
Why then, at this late stage, when the vast majority of Greek-Australians eligible to vote are either dead or disinterested, does the Greek government chance upon the novel idea of providing voting rights? Granted, Greek-Australians love voting as much as their Greek cousins. So much so that various Greek brotherhoods have held elections twice or thrice to determine outcomes and in fact, brotherhood buildings tend only to fill up when it is time to cast a ballot, or in true Survivor tradition, when it is time to throw someone off the island.
The granting of Greek voting rights is guaranteed to re-polarise our already fragmented and decaying community. Most of our regional organisations have over time splintered off into rival groups, through a mixture of personality clash and clash of political beliefs. While in Greece, the Civil War is well and truly relegated to the past, in this country, many of the first generation still judge others by their ideological affiliations and this is the source of much tension and hostility. A glance at the Greek section of this paper, where apologists for Stalinism or its fascist counterpart express views that were relevant forty years ago is indicative of how the running sore of political polarisation still runs deep. I remember asking the president of one community organisation what was the difference between his organisation and its rival, identical in aims. "Well," he said, "we are democrats and they are all fascists, German collaborators." The rival members of course, were babies during the War.
While it would be horrid to expect that a cynical Greek government could ever deliberately exploit or create divisions within their newly created Australian electorate, the potentiality is there. We are a highly polarised community and it will not take much for political finger-pointing and skulduggery to take a more virulent form. Anecdotal evidence from those involved seems to suggest that on many occasions, Greek governments through their representatives here have deliberately caused the splitting of 'ideologically incorrect' community organisations or otherwise trampled upon Greek-Australian's rights. The most blatant example of this was during the Junta, when Consular authorities spied and engaged members of the Greek community to report on their fellows' activities. We definitely do not want a repeat of these events here. Nor do we want to have our community serving the interests of Greek politics. Already, the existence here of local branches of Greek political parties is an aberration. Our task is to lobby the Greek government effectively on issue that concern us directly. Costas Karamanlis is at least right when he identifies education as our primary concern, though at a recent meeting with the deputy mayor of an island, certain Greek-Australian members of the older generation advised him "the only thing that the Greek-Australian cares about is his κληρονιμικά."
Having left Greece, we must resign ourselves to the fact that we are not entitled to play an effective role in Greek domestic affairs unless we return and they affect us in general. If the Greek government wants to ensure that the Greek diaspora retains its Greek identity, it can do so by liasing closely with it in order to develop a concrete and clear strategy to educate our youth within the Greek tradition and encourage the retention of close ties by upgrading the services of the Greek Consulates in the diaspora. Nothing more is necessary and if these two key concepts had been grasped twenty years earlier, perhaps our decline would not be so great.
Nor would it be so great to allow the first generation, architects of the various 'schisms' that exist within our communities with the opportunity to create further mischief. Their track record in this regard is not impressive and we should take active steps to prevent our fractures from turning into chasms. But try telling that to our amateur politicians in their mini-parliaments and councils.

First published in NKEE on 7 June 2004