CONVERSATIONS WITH CONSTANTINE: FORMER KING OF GREECE
Welcome to Australia. I understand you are visiting as patron of the Round Square International Conference. Can you tell us some more about this organisation?
It’s a pleasure to be here. I have been involved in Round Square since its inception in 1966. It is an international network of schools spreading over five continents, who share a set of ideals namely internationalism, democracy, environment, adventure, leadership and service. The network is relatively loose. It promotes voluntary work in areas of the developing world such as Ladakh in India and Kenya. In fact the school I used to attend in Greece is a founding member. The idea is that if a small seed of tolerance is planted and international relations between the youth promoted, we can ensure that our future will be much more secure.
Since the organisation is international, how does it bridge cultural, historical and spiritual differences? For instance one of the ideals of Round Square is democracy. Surely this could have a different meaning to individuals of different backgrounds and experiences?
For sure. The idea of Round Square is the promotion of the global citizen. Young people can act as a bridge over cultural differences and through an exchange of ideas and experiences, promote understanding. This is why there is an emphasis on voluntary programs that can assist youth to directly experience the cultural and political conditions of other societies. Remember we are always learning. I remember that when my son graduated from Gordonstoun, the keynote speaker actually stood up and said: “Do you think you have actually learnt something during your time here? You have learnt nothing.” This made a great impression on me and it is absolutely true of course. It is only through social interaction that we are able to grow. And we need to be able to listen to each other. “Be careful that the whispering prayers of the people do not become shouts of anger,” that was some thing else that we were told at the graduation.
You touched briefly on the concept of the global citizen. Globalisation in education and culture provides for increased opportunities and movement of ideals and people. Does that lead to the homogenization of culture and the obliteration of difference and diversity? Where is the balance between enhancing global culture while maintaining cultural identity?
Round Square is against homogenization of culture except for the promotion of the ideals we touched on earlier which are common to most if not all cultures. If you are trying to foist your own values on to some one, it means you are not listening to them. Respect for diversity is invaluable. It leads to tolerance, which in turn leads to a more secure and friendlier world.
What is your interpretation of the ideals of service and leadership?
They are intertwined. There are outstanding individuals who are patrons of Round Square who have made significant contributions to their country such as Nelson Mandela. To be able to serve someone is to put their interests before your own, no higher ideal can be found. Leadership is similar. It is didactic in that you teach through your own example. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what you do though, as long as you do it to the best of your own ability. We all aim for excellence and that is a quality that must be instilled in all youth.
What difference does it make when high profile people drive an organisation? Is it the principles that drive an organisation and/or the opportunities generated by the publicity that follows famous people? I particularly have in mind the difference the late Lady Diana made to the AIDS and Landmines causes.
Surely the patronage of high profile people makes a difference. Some of Round Square’s patrons include Nelson Mandela and Mrs Gandhi, people who have done an immense amount of good for their own countries. The example of people with such a benevolent persona and a history of actively serving their communities can only inspire others to emulate them. Their espousal of a cause gives that cause added weight because of the respect these people have earned throughout their lives. The patrons of Round Square are persons whose lives affirm the key ideals of the organisation. They are in the unique position of being able to teach and promote these ideals by example.
Did you have an opportunity to speak to the pupils of Ivanhoe Grammar School? How did they react towards you?
The pupils were all quite friendly and enthusiastic. I was impressed by the maturity of their bearing and the questions they asked. Most importantly, as I have done every conference, I asked them whether they felt that Round Square is still relevant and whether or not it should be disbanded. The answer was a resounding no and in the ensuing discussions we had, it was evident that especially given the current insecurity gripping the world that the ideals of Round Square are more necessary than ever in promoting tolerance and fellowship.
If I could switch the focus from the international to the parochial for a moment, you are visiting Melbourne, one of the largest Greek cities in the world. How do you find the Greek community here? Are you in contact with members of the community?
I think this would be my fourth visit here. I love it here and of course the Greeks are so numerous, you run into them everywhere. I remember on my last trip landing at Sydney airport. The airport personnel were Greek and I could hear them in the background saying to each other: «Πού είναι; Πού είναι;» We met them and they were pleased to meet us. What struck me was that they said to me: “Welcome to OUR country.” I think that is the remarkable thing about Australia, that it can make people of all nationalities feel at home. What has always impressed me about the Greeks here is that they never forget their homeland and they always strive to retain their identity, traditions and language, which is most important. As well, they assimilate within Australian society with much skill. I have met many members of the Greek community during my visits here and I am greatly impressed by all of them. Most of them recognize me and they are extremely friendly and glad to see me.
Have you ever had any encounters with Greeks here who were not as pleased to see you as those you have just mentioned?
Well I do remember that one time I was here I got into a taxi. The taxi driver was Greek though he did not recognize me. We started talking and after a while I told him who I was. He started frowning and did not look at all pleased with what I had just discovered to him. After a while he turned to me and said: “You know what gets me? After I drop you off I am going to go to the kafeneio and after that I will go home. And no one, not my friends, or my wife or my children will believe me when I tell them that I have just been driving around with the King in the backseat of my taxi.”
If I could broach a subject that has direct bearing on what you just said, you would obviously be aware that sections of the Greek community have not been at all pleased at the local media and Ivanhoe Grammar School referring to you as King of Greece. The Greek Consul-General in particular has written to Ivanhoe Grammar School pointing out that you are no longer the King of Greece. How do you comment on the issue of your title?
I was not aware that my title had become an issue here. I did not know that the Consul-General had protested in the manner in which you have described. Look, I have always said that I fully respect the referendum of 1975 and the people’s will. As you know, Greece is a republic. I totally respect the Constitution of the Republic of Greece and I feel that people can call me by whatever name they wish. This is a non-issue for me. Ivanhoe Grammar School has adhered to the courtesy extended by Round Square to all of its patrons by referring to them by their titles.
The past century in particular has seen the downfall of many monarchies throughout the world. It has also seen the fall of communism, increasing distrust of all forms of political leadership and paradoxically enough, the twin rise of western parliamentary democracies and totalitarianism. Viewed through this prism, do you perceive a continued role and relevance of the monarchy to the twenty-first century?
I wholeheartedly believe that it is to the people to decide which form of government is best for them and that they are the best judge of what is relevant to them. If you look at the twelve states that formerly made up the European Union, six of these were republics and the other six constitutional monarchies. The citizens of the six republics were extremely happy with their form of government and so were the citizens of the six constitutional monarchies. So it up to the people to decide. I was very pleased to note the great love that Australia for example has for Princess Mary of Denmark. She is a delightful young woman and a great addition to our family. But as I said, only the people are best placed to decide what political system is best for them.
Of all the ‘occupations’ of the world, few people ever attain to that of ‘King.’ What does it mean to you to be or to have been a ‘King?’
I’m not sure how to answer that question. I mean it is not an easy one. It is like me asking you how you feel being a journalist and writing away as I speak to you. I am a King. I have been a King since birth. It is an inseparable part of my identity and I cannot imagine having been anything else. I’m not sure I have answered your question but I think that it strikes at the core and essence of my being.
I understand that you are looking for a house in Athens. Is this true and do you intend to return to Greece to live there permanently?
Yes we are looking for a house. I haven’t found one suitable yet but I do want to find a house and settle in Greece. Greece is my homeland so why wouldn’t I wish to return there? That has always been my intention and I will return.
Σας εύχομαι καλή διαμονή στην Αυστραλία. Do you have a final message for the Greek –Australian youth?
I hope to be visiting more often. Next time I hope to bring my wife Anna Maria and all my other children as well. You are all great. Really, είστε υπέροχοι. Do your utmost to retain your language. Greek is such a beautiful language. Was it George Bernard Shaw who said that the main purpose of French is pronouncing it well but in Greek and German there is real meaning? Of course my German is hopeless. I never had much experience in speaking it. Though my mother was German we never spoke it to each other. Greek on the other hand is so beautiful. So in terms of a message? Well done, keep up your good work and continue your pursuit of excellence here in Australia.