Monday, September 06, 2004


Recently CNN apologized for their negative coverage of the Greek Olympic effort. This was magnanimous of them. They admitted that they were wrong and in poor taste. Yet don’t hold your breath if you think perpetrators of anti-Hellenic comments in the media will follow suit here. One entity, when questioned about the likelihood of an apology stated: “The humour is not based on any cultural stereotypes. It is based on the situation, not the characters.” So there are no apologies. Indeed most of these entities seems not to understand why they should apologise and also seem genuinely bemused by our complaints, when they arise. In short, they could be likened to a child that claims does not know what it has done wrong and as a consequence, does not know how to make amends.
No one doubts that many remarks or advertisements screened recently did not deliberately set out to offend the Greek community. Herein lies the problem. In a society where it has become acceptable to demean all things Greek, it is no longer possible to know when one crosses the line. Unfortunately, this is reflected in the Greek community itself. A complainant, calling an entity to complain about their advertisement was told: “I don’t know why you found it offensive. We have a lot of Greeks working for us and they all found it funny.” There is a great danger here. When offensiveness becomes the norm in society and its target no longer realises that it is being demeaned, then that target is condemned to the purgatory of sub-status. It seems that a section of our community has already blindly made its way down this path.
The Press Attaché to the Greek Embassy, Efthymios Aravantinos made an interesting point when he commented to The Age that while he understood that one such commercial, dealing with the Olympics might offend some in the Greek community, he was not upset by it because the success of the Games made redundant any implied criticism of Greece. Unfortunately, this is missing the point entirely. In the aftermath of an anti-Hellenic climate that has reached hysterical proportions, where the Australian media only grudgingly accepts the success of the Athens Games while still trying to cast aspersions as to the achievements of Greek athletes like Fani Halkia, a climate which, it should be noted, the Greek Embassy has done nothing to address, surely any advertisement or comment should not be seen as an example of a concerted effort to denigrate the Games of Greece but a manifestation of a general negative societal attitude towards the Greek people which from something marginal, has become mainstream. This should be a matter of concern for a Press Attaché whose role is to monitor the press and promote a positive opinion of Greece, within this community.
It was Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister who once quipped that if one tells the people a lie often enough, they will believe it. Aravantinos is right. The Games are a success. But he is misguided if he believes that this success negates any implied criticism. For the media here have not portrayed the Games as a success. They have instead gleefully commented on the Greek drug scandals, the attachment of the Greek people to their erring athletes and the prevalence of empty seats at the Games. They have done all that they possibly can to lower people’s opinions of Greece. For the past two weeks, every singly Anglo-Australian that I have spoken to has begun their conversation stating: “Not many spectators at the Games are there?”
It is this negative attitude that recent commercials and remarks are an offspring of and it is rightful that Greek-Australian community leaders should protest vociferously and do all that they can to dispel the toxic cloud of racial stereotyping in our community. Yet one cannot but feel, from the Press Attaché’s non-confrontationalist position that as with other important issues, the Greek community on the whole has been left alone and unaided to ‘defend’ itself, as best it can, having to resume a struggle for legitimacy within the wider Australian sphere without the valuable guidance and co-ordination that an Embassy could provide. In this respect our Consular authorities could have become a rallying point for constructive and positive marketing for all things Hellenic.
How many posters, marketing material and positive expositions did we all see placed in the mainstream Australian publications promoting the Olympic Games and Greece in the lead up to and during the Games? Very little, especially here in Melbourne. In truth it is the Greek Embassy and the various consular authorities that are charged as part of their diplomatic duties to create such positive images of their employer within their host country and its press. One cannot shake off the impression that the Greek authorities here manifestly have failed to do so and in doing so, have failed the Greek-Australian community as well. In this respect, the negative Australian publicity does not constitute something to be merely dismissed of as untrue. It represents a logical consequence of a Greek Embassy marketing and public relations disaster that the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs should take serious notice of.
Again, the Greek community has been left alone, «να βγάλει το φιδι από την τρύπα». Most of our self-appointed community leaders, secure in their positions and their benign navel gazing in an ever diminishing and blinkered world are not probably even now aware of this issue. Yet the multitude of people calling various stations and other entities to complain is a promising sign. We need to be pro-active and responsive, ensuring that as potential patrons, purveyors of product know exactly how far they can go. Vociferous complaint equals people thinking twice before they denigrate Greeks ever again. In short, it’s time we ourselves, seized back our self-respect.


published in NKEE on 6 September 2004