The word πρεσβευτής does not exactly imply its English counterpart 'ambassador." For the Greek version derives its root from the verb πρεσβεύω, to give precedence and honour, a role usually afforded to 'elders,' it being presumably held that a person who is charged with the responsibility of representing his countries interests, has to be eminent, distinguished and 'first' among his fellow citizens. He should also be the 'first' port of call for anyone who should wish to have dealings with that country and in a sense, he 'comes before' his country as through his presence, demeanour and conduct, he is the 'face' of his country to the outside world. Interestingly enough, and though it is not this diatribist's intention to traverse into the consequent oft-trodden thematic cul-de-sac, the term πρεσβύτερος, commonly employed to denote a priest, comes from the same root as the word πρεσβευτής and carries with it, exactly the same connotations of precedence and pre-eminence.
However if the conduct of outgoing Ambassador of Greece Mr Xydas is anything to go by, the similarities end there. For in his various farewell speeches delivered around Australia he has done both his country and those Australian citizens whose origins lie within it, a great disservice and further than that, proven for the umpteenth time that the calibre of foreign affairs ministry personnel sent to this country from Greece, is of a standard that appears not to inspire confidence in that country, its embassy or its government.
Admittedly, I had never come face to face with Xydas until last Friday, when I attended a gathering of largely irrelevant presidents of defunct or dying community organizations, hastily summoned together in order to provide the requisite Potemkin façade of our community having the slightest interest in his passing. Indeed, speaking to them, most could not tell me who Xydas was or what his function was in Australia. Many of them were not even aware of his name until they were invited to form the claque appointed to cheer and applaud his illustrious term in this country.
In a sense, it was comforting that Xydas' farewell speech was in Greek, given the presence of Victorian parliamentary representatives, for it far surpassed in crassness, tokenism and buffoonery even the most inane speech of a brotherhood president at an annual dinner dance. According to Xydas, not only is Australia "one of the most important diplomatic postings" (compare that with the private admissions of previous consul-generals and ambassadors to the effect that Australia is commonly held to be a place of exile and inanity), but that he enjoyed his time "getting to know us, the vibrant Greek community," (which is why most of his seers off had no idea who he was.) After attempting, in his bleating, sheep-like voice, an extraordinarily lame joke to the effect that while during his tenure, his Mytilenian compatriots were pre-eminent and ear-marked for preferential treatment at the consulates, it remains to be seen who will now be the recipient of favouritism, he then applauded the Macedonian community, stating that "if it wasn't for them, things would be difficult for us with regard to the well-known 'Issue." What utter rot. How dare does a 'pre-eminent' diplomat allude to favouritism, even as a joke? How does he have the gall to stand up in front of the public and cynically flatter the Macedonians when the Greek consular authorities here in Melbourne have this year, refused to provide direction to the Pan-Macedonian Federation, attend their meetings when invited or meet with the newly created Australian Macedonian Advisory Council?
Again, we praise the heavens that Xydas spoke in Greek for he then proceeded to declaim that at the commencement of his tenure, persons attending the Consulates would be met with apathetic personnel, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes and that slowly over time, this has improved. He then ventured so far as to say that if the Greek community finds that Greek consular personnel are not doing their jobs properly, they should 'get out the strap.' How sophisticated. While it cannot be disputed that service in Consulates has improved somewhat over the past three years, its standard still falls far below that offered by other countries. Further, the Greek Embassy needs to realize that while the first generation can still acquiesce to ill or rude treatment by representatives of the country they had to emigrate from, the second and third generation Greek community will increasingly come to view Greece as a foreign country and not stand for such treatment. On the same token, it needs to remember that it is not only persons of Greek extraction that avail themselves of the services of the Greek Embassy/Consulate. Of the non-Greeks I have spoken too, all have found their attendance at a Greek Embassy/Consulate to be a negative experience, including one Iraqi refugee who was told in no uncertain terms by smoking Consulate personnel that the declaration of good conduct he sought from the Greek government, pertaining to his stay in that country and required by the Australian government for the purposes of his application for citizenship would not be forwarded to Greece as: "who are the Australians to tell us what to do?" Xydas' subsequent admission, that: "we can't do much because there aren't enough of us here," is ludicrous. He is the chief representative of Greece in this country. There can be no excuses for incompetence.
Further, and most frightening is the Greek Embassy's conception of itself as a pole in the various magnetic storms of Greek community politics and power-mongering. In this, Xydas' bitter comments about the role of the Archdiocese, its primate and various community organizations are cowardly, reprehensible and out of place. Firstly, if Xydas was so concerned about the position of 'schismatic communities' why did he wait until the end of his term in order to voice these concerns? Is that not insulting to the deluded 'communities' he purports to champion? Secondly and most importantly, the Greek Embassy and its officials have no business meddling in our affairs. Our community institutions and churches were created in accordance with the laws of Australia, by the sheer hard work and vision of ordinary Greek migrants, who were determined to perpetuate their cultural presence in this country. Xydas should know his place, respect this and not cynically attempt to create dissent and discord, as most of his predecessors have done, to devastating effect. He should keep his opinions to himself. His lame attack on the primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia is nothing more than a spineless, inarticulate, amateurish vinegar disguised as vitriol and further serves to reinforce an emerging impression we have of Greece's officials in this country as petty, irrelevant and bankrupt in the respect stakes.
Ultimately, the reason why in my mind Xydas and others like him will leave and be forgotten, having not even effected a scratch on the quartz rock of diplomatic accomplishment is because he did not do enough to promote Greece to mainstream Australia. During the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the Embassy did little to promote Greece's profile and encourage the creation of a positive image for that country. Instead, it adopted a defensive position, awkwardly and unconvincingly parrying some of the most vitriolic blows in the barrage of the anti-Greek media hysteria we experienced last year. The demise of the Greek Tourist Board in Sydney and its paltry re-constitution under a different name is another case in point. Whereas the Turkish Embassy has established the Australian friends of Turkey and constantly strives to promote a positive profile in the media and the Australian community, the Greek Embassy is content to shut itself off from the world and meddle with the community and religious affairs of Australian citizens, while its petty officials such as the Consul-General of Melbourne discriminate between such community organizations and refuse to greet or speak to members of the Greek community whose views are unacceptable to them.
Xydas ended his diatribe by apologizing to the State member of Parliament for speaking in Greek, stating that one of his duties is to promote the Greek language, causing one of the community claque to stifle a laugh and admittedly, so did I, recalling that at the fifth annual exhibition of Greek Australian writers this year, the head of the Education and Press Office of the Melbourne Consulate, at the organisers' request for that office to advise all schools of the Exhibition's existence, had the temerity to ask for money to cover the cost of postage stamps.
At the end of the day, we only have ourselves to blame. While our community is rife with complaints against the Greek Embassy and its consulates, our obsession with hobnobbing with the great, shaking their hands, taking photographs with them and pandering to them in order to boost our own insecure egos renders us a mere caricature of a claque and only increases their contempt for us and expands their own comfort zone. As they sink further in their own self-satisfied complacency, their irrelevancy is increased and the interests of the country they purport to represent are not served. Xydas has been right about anything during his stay here it is this: we should take a switch to all of them, starting with him.