Monday, October 10, 2005


«Της αμύνης τα παιδία, διώξανε το βασιλιά» sang the guys from Anadromiki at the Retreat Hotel. One of the patrons, a young man of twenty-something became so incensed at this that he angrily approached the band, reached into his pocket and pulled out… his membership card to the "Greek Royalist League King Constantine II."
Though many have expressed surprise that the issue of the monarchy should still inflame members of the Greek community and in fact harbour the potential to whip up the most democratic of these into fits of hysteria and fury, such surprise is surely misguided for the monarchy/republic dialectic has been with us since the days of the tyrranicides Harmodios and Aristogeiton, lovers who decided to rid themselves of the Peisistratid tyrants of Ancient Athens and were subsequently revered as the darlings of democracy everywhere, and as the fathers of political terrorism. Indeed the history of monarchy throughout the ancient and Hellenistic periods reads very much like the political history of our community brotherhood organizations: one man trying to fight his way up to the top and lord it over all others, only to be deposed by another man who has similar ambitions. Greek civilization is very egalitarian and self-improving. We are all equally entitled to reign supreme. The question is how we go about doing this…. In Sparta for example, it was decided that there would be a dual kingship so as to hinder families who were born to rule from fighting each other whereas in Epirus and Macedonia it is safer to speak rather of a ruling class than an absolute monarch as the monarch's etairoi were considered of equal status and there was always some disgruntled cousin or general waiting in the lists to do away with the king and assume the throne himself. And that dear readers, is just about as good a summary of the Hellenistic period where Alexander's generals fought each other and exhausted their Empire in pursuit of supreme rule as you will ever get in one sentence. Indeed, Greek monarchs were so subject to checks and balances that they could have hardly have been called absolute and it comes as no surprise that the only truly absolute Greek monarch, Alexander the Great, probably met his death by the will of the Gods, for being so presumptuous as to expect that he could rule the highly individualistic Greek people on his own.
On the other hand, for this is a dialectic we are dealing with here, many Greeks have also felt a great fascination for the monarchy. St John Chrysostom spoke of the need to honour monarchy and the whole thousand year history of Byzantium marks the greatest period of absolutism Greeks have ever known, though it did include a good admixture of particularly Hellenic dethronements and elevations of emperors. There is something unmistakingly Greek about having a foukara emperor pawning his crown jewels to the Venetians in order to pay of the Empire's debts. Some of the deeds of the Emperors even have eerie echoes in our present era. For example, it was Alexius III who requested the foreign Frankish intervention that caused the sack of Constantinople in 1204 while it was Constantine I Glücksberg who tried to curry favour with the Central Powers by surrendering the fort Ruppel to the Bulgarians in a heinous act of treachery.
The romantic fall of the last Emperor and the prophecies of Agathangelos that one day Byzantium shall rise again captured the minds of the Greeks and sustained them during the long night of Ottoman occupation. After liberation and the three civil wars that followed it to determine which powerful faction would rule Greece, it was decided that a foreign monarchy would be imposed upon Greece, no local candidate being acceptable and indeed for most of free Greece's existence she has been ruled firstly by the Wittelsbachs and secondly by the Glücksbergs. Both have enjoyed remarkable insecurity of tenure. Of the seven kings of Greece, only one, Paul was able to ascend the throne and die after an uninterrupted reign. Otto was deposed, George I assassinated in Thessaloniki, Constantine I was deposed a good three or four times, Alexander assassinated by his pet monkey with communist leanings, George II was removed for a period and Constantine II or Konge as I like to call him, being the Danish word for King was officially deposed in 1974 during the Junta, this being ratified soon afterwards by Karamanlis' (no friend of monarchy himself) referendum that turned Greece into a republic.
That was in 1975 and since that time, Konge has largely lost any relevancy he may ever have had to Greek political life, except for his use as a bogeyman to young PASOK apparatchiks: "Now you be a good socialist or Konge will return and eat you up" or to scare the Greek people: "if you do not vote for PASOK, the rightists-fascists will bring back Konge and they will eat us all up." As a bogeyman, Konge seems to have enjoyed the remarkeable success that eluded him as King of Greece. After all, PASOK's tenure in government has been of the most lengthy in Greek parliamentary history.
Sure from time to time Konge has requested the return of a few tit-bits he forgot to pick up while fleeing Athens after his ill-prepared coup against the Junta such as his 'ancestral' home at Tatoi and a few other properties here and there but the PASOK government had made definitely sure that we won't get his blue-bloody hands on them, thus saving them for the common benefit of the Greek people.. at least some day, I'm sure. The new ruling party, New Democracy on the other hand is particularly silent about Konge. This is because some of its members secretly like Konge and furtively schmooze with him on occasions. He is after all, infinitely more attractive than Miltiades Evert, more metrosexual than Dora Bakoyianni and infinitely more spry that the rotund Kostas Karamanlis. Indeed seeing video footage of him at the Olympic Games looking dapper, dynamic and most regal, I could not help but think that if anything, the only reason we should bring back Konge is because he is so glamorous and zhouzhy. It would certainly assist the sale of New Idea in Greece and support the vast heaving mass of unemployed journalists in Greece who could now assume the reigns of tabloid power utilizing such headlines as "King Konge Returns" "Prince Paul shock admission: My wife is an alien," "Family heartbreak: Queen Anna Maria admits she does not like Danish pastry," or "King Konge lashes out at German mother: Griechenland uber alles."
Fat chance. Greeks are notoriously unzhouzhy. Instead of maintaining or reinstating a sybaritic Konge who travels the world selling his own brand of zhouzhy monarcho-Hellenism while advocating the adoption of the Conga as our national anthem, we have reverted back to our Hellenistic roots. The zhouzh vacuum created by the fall of Konge has given rise to other dynasties, just as powerful, just as defensive of their God-given right to rule Greece as Konge's fam, but without the glam. The Papandreou family is a prime example, closely followed by the Karamanlis family. Minor sub-dynasties include the Mitsotakis family which has sported three MP's recently, the Pangalos family, the Papaligourai and the list goes on and on.
Despite this, Konge-bashing sessions are the order of the day, especially by those who feel that they need to 'prove' their democratic credentials. Sure Konge has not ruled out assuming the throne if the people of Greece wish him to do so and he still styles himself King of Greece though he is not, but how different is that to the scores of self-styled presidents of brotherhood organizations who have over the years battled out the legitimacy of their own self-assumed titles in Australian courts? Further, as patron of various organizations Konge provides an extra glam on the world stage that Greece desperately requires. It is said for example that he collaborated closely with Daskalaki in order to market and sell the Athens Olympics to the IOC, being though few know it, one of our early Greek Olympic Gold Medallists. He should at least be entitled to endorse consumer products on Greek TV and be the center of a drug scandal a la Kenteris or to retire to Melbourne and sell soft-drinks.
In all seriousness, the hysteria over Konge's impending visit to Ivanhoe Grammar School and Ivanhoe Grammar's insistence that it calls Konge "King of Greece" (a title that by the way is wrong as even back in the evil royalist times Konge was referred to as King of the Hellenes rather than of Greece) is slightly misguided and it is sad that the Consul-General unmoved and inactive in the face of last year's anti-Greek propaganda should now feel sufficiently moved by this trivial incident to expound the true title of Konge at length in a letter to Ivanhoe Grammar. We do not see the Greek Consul-General write to the Australian government to advise what title those who call themselves 'Macedonians' should assume. Maybe we should label all of our problems 'Konge' as a way of revitalizing and energizing the Greek Consulate. If anything, it provides unwarranted publicity to an issue which is a dead letter and which has absolutely no relevance to our lives here as Greek-Australians. If only we had the political maturity of the Bulgarians, who let their ex-King, Symeon Saxe-Coburg-Goth-ovski (incidently the same surname as the Windsor family before they changed it to make it sound more British) participate in that country's democratic process, even becoming PM. Let Konge reign in his own virtual world I say, and we shall reign in ours for everyone knows that Greece has eyes only for one King, Sakis Rouvas. We leave you now with hitherto unnoticed royalist demotic song: «Βασιλικός θα γίνω στο παραθύρι σου, κι ανύπαντρος θα μείνω για το χατίρι σου.»

First published in NKEE on 10 October 2005