Monday, June 20, 2005


One of the most frequently expressed sentiments at the recent community forum of the Pan-Macedonian Federation (Pan-Mac) and its related Australian Macedonian Advisory Council was that over the last ten or so years, the Greek government has totally 'lost the plot,' with regards to the proper handling of the 'Macedonian' Issue. If this is in fact correct, then our community in Melbourne are fellow travellers with that approach. So it would seem at least, from the proceedings and outcome of the forum in question.
That the creation of the Australian Macedonian Advisory Council in November of last year was timely is proved by the difficulties it had in registering its very name. Save for an enlightened few, the word Macedonian has Slavonic connotations in Australian society and the powers that be were hard pressed to understand how a 'Greek' organization could be 'Macedonian,' and were thus loathe to register a 'Greek' organization under a 'Macedonian' name. When the Council was created of young, active members of the Greek community, it was charged with the responsibility of exploring ways in which the Greek 'position,' on the Macedonian Issue can be promoted and in time to allay popular misconceptions such as the one mentioned above.
The early deliberations of the Council explored various ways in which this could be effected, including multimedia, educative functions, lobbying and most importantly, obtaining grass roots support from younger members of the community and harnessing their skills. Quite apart from this, it was suggested by Pan-Mac, that some type of demonstration be held in Melbourne in relation to the issue. After holding three public forums on the issue over a period of seven months, the Council finally called yet another forum. In its announcement a few weeks ago, it stated: "This forum aims to inform the entire Greek Community of Victoria of the latest developments on the Macedonian Issue, discuss all the possible scenarios and as well as make a decision as to the need to hold a public Rally in protest to any decision that may not be in favour of the Hellenic truth. The Council appeals to all the people of Hellenic Origin who believe in the Historical Truth and who feel passionately about the Macedonian issue and wish to contribute to attend the meeting. Everyone's attendance is of paramount importance."
Of interest here are the terms 'Hellenic truth', possibly suggesting in keeping with post-modernist tradition, that there can be various versions of the truth, depending on one's ethnic origin, juxtaposed with the absolutist, divine 'Historical Truth,' which may or may not have an ethnic origin, depending on one's point of view of the nature of the Divinity.
Disassembling the announcement into its constituent parts provides an adequate mechanism wherefrom one can gauge the success or otherwise, of the forum in question. "To inform the entire Greek Community of Victoria of the latest developments on the Macedonian Issue." Interestingly enough for a community so concerned at recent developments that it feels the need to call a forum to discuss them, the members present, as well as the forum's organizers experienced extreme difficulties in determining what these 'recent developments' actually were. While the president of 'Pan-Mac' maintained that Greece was prepared to accept the UN-brokered Nimitz plan to recognize FYROM as the 'Republic of Makedonija-Skopje,' other attendees referred to Prime Minister Karamanlis' assurance that while the Nimitz plan was acceptable as the basis for negotiations, it was not acceptable per se. Mysteriously, the fact that the foreign minister of FYROM has signalled his non-acceptance of the Nimitz plan, thus setting the likelihood of a quick settlement of the issue at nought, escaped the consciousness of most attendees.
Perhaps the issue could have been resolved by the presence of a representative of the Greek Consulate at the meeting. He could have informed the attendees of the current status of negotiations and also of Greece's strategic aims, thus permitting them to plan a course of action with greater ease and less hysteria. However, neither the Greek Consul nor a representative was present and it is rumoured that the Council is looked upon with disfavour by the Consulate, which refuses to meet with it. One would like to think that this is due to the pressures of work and not out of any disrespect towards it or the wider Greek-Melbournian community. Whether or not the Greek Consulate agrees with the convention of the meeting or its organizer's opinions, it should respect the existence of many Greek-Melburnians who are deeply disquieted about the issue and it owes to these people, who took to the streets in such numbers in 1992 and 1994 in support of Greece, the courtesy of an explanation, information and perhaps, some advice. By its absence and the fact that while it shies away from dealing with the Council it meets freely with members of the Vinozhito-Rainbow Party, the Consulate merely reinforces further the low standing it enjoys within our community. Of further interest is the fact that none of the members of the Council, whose appointed task was to concern itself with the Issue, actually attempted to inform the meeting of the current developments, no doubt because this had already been attempted by Pan-Mac, to their satisfaction.
"To discuss all the possible scenarios and as well as make a decision as to the need to hold a public Rally in protest to any decision that may not be in favour of the Hellenic truth." At the point that the above was broached, the attendees were unsure as to what the current developments were and therefore, how best to respond to them. The president of the Council, Mr Bill Giavris attempted to outline possible causes of action in brief, including holding a rally and appointing representatives to consult with the Greek foreign ministry among others. He validly suggested that any course adopted should be done so with the full support and enthusiasm of the Greek community for if it is not united behind a common course of action, any such action would be doomed to failure. The floor was then turned over to the attendees, to 'propose' various causes of action. Apart from the few firebrands who talked about not being afraid of going to war (try standing in the middle of Epping and saying that) and the very few who spoke pejoratively about people who have cultural affiliations with FYROM, it was pleasing to see the president of Pan-Mac, Mr Dimitris Minas take a firm stand against racism of any kind. "We have lived alongside this community for many years," he said. "Some of its members have married into our families, have become our friends and neighbours. We will not tolerate any racist slurs here." Well done, I say. What was particularly not well conducted though, was the discussion that circumambulated around the desirability of holding a rally. Surprisingly, very few of the attendees actually had the prescience to consider the consequences of their proposed actions. Their hearts inflamed with patriotic zeal, they waxed lyrical about the heroic Greek, about historic injustices and the need to 'prove that we can do something.' The how to do it, the why and the consequences thereof were consigned to oblivion. Those who urged caution and a consideration of the consequences and logistics of any proposal were insulted. Their 'Hellenic origins' and patriotism were called into question, if not impugned. One member, his Adam's apple trembling in righteous anger, called fire and brimstone upon the 'pen-pushers' of the Greek media, who according to him are no patriots and always serve to dampen the zealous patriot's enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, forums of this nature are dangerous as they prove that the Greek community is no more able to work collectively and maturely than it was twenty years ago. We love to hear ourselves speak, to brandish our patriotic sentiments in our fists in the hope of proving our loyalist credentials but when all is said and done, a hell of a lot more is actually said, than done.
Surely it is immature to equate prudence and caution, attributes we would expect from those who purport to deal with our community affairs, with vested interest and προδοσία. We still seem to be suffering from the civil war syndrome of 'anyone who disagrees with me is an enemy and a traitor' and this obstructs our ability to think clearly and work communally, let alone develop a long term-strategy for the promotion of certain important issues.
One would have further expected the Council, which has already staged another three community forums and which has been charged with the promotion of the Macedonian Issue by Pan-Mac to have by now gauged community consensus and instead of weakly requesting attendees to 'make proposals,' to have come up with a few detailed proposals of their own, fully explain them, submit them to the approval and debate of the community and move forward. They failed to do this and in so failing, allowed the forum to degenerate into a directionless and purposeless talkfest. One its members advised me that: "We aren't here to present proposals. We are here to listen."
With respect, this is incorrect. For if it was, then what is the purpose of the Council's existence? In actual fact, the members of the Council do have some novel and dynamic ideas with regard to promoting awareness of the Greek position on the Macedonian Issue. It is a pity that they shied away from boldly making these known. For in doing so, they have in effect unwittingly undermined confidence in themselves. Given that they were appointed by popular mandate, have garnered community consensus for seven months and developed some very good methods of approaching the issue, by deferring once more to directionless forum-talk, they belie hopes of the first generation's acceptance of the younger generation's leadership on this issue, which was a primary stated reason for the creation of the Council. Hence remarks of one old community stalwart: "Who cares about these kids. They are just a front. They are being used and they don't even realize it." It is this contemptible sentiment that can only be weeded out through strong youth leadership.
It is hoped or rather anticipated that the Council will find its voice after this shaky start and put its mark well and truly on the community map, for it is not lacking in talent. As long as we bicker, remain misinformed, blinded by emotion and do not defer and entrust those more capable than us with our affairs, we consign ourselves to stagnation and inactivity. When a Greek wants to pay a particular compliment to someone, he says that he is "όλο καρδιά." If our valiant nation is also όλο καρδιά, a bit of μυαλό also won't go astray. Let us maintain our rage and our sang froid simultaneously. But then again the concept of the everlasting balance between the yin and yang is one of the few things we did not invent, no?