Monday, February 28, 2005


“The typical Greek man is chauvinist, cocky, arrogant and self confidant in an obscene way. And he doesn’t know how to relate to women. He will talk at you, not with you..”
So spake ‘Joanne’ in a recent interview with Christina Stamenitis for Neos Kosmos English Edition. Ostensibly, the stated aim of the interview was to “speak to some Australian Greek women about their expectations of relationships and marriage.” What emerged however, was a diatribe against Greek males to put even the most vehement histrionics of this diatribist to shame, with ‘Joanne’ and two of her friends, all in their early to late thirties, expounding the disastrous manner in which these males fall short of their expectations.
Such public disapprobation of Greek males by Greek females is nothing new and has its roots deep in antiquity, where the dialectic between a patriarchal society and one dominated by women absorbed the early mythologists and writers. It is therefore no accident that Agave, queen of Thebes, also happened to be the bacchic god Dionysius’ aunt and that she led the bacchantes away from the rule of their menfolk into the woods, tearing to pieces any men that would chance upon their dionysiac frenzy. Euripides’ Media on the other hand is a supreme example of a woman obtaining her comeuppance against a cruel and heartless patriarchal society that condones adultery, through her killing her children. A more humorous and less shocking example of Greek female public disapprobation of Greek males comes from Aristophanes’ Lysistrati, where the women of Athens refused to sleep with their men until such time as they ended the Peloponnesian War. Talk about affirmative action.
Much of the context of this modern day triad of Lysistrates’ complaints against Greek men are also not new. According to the interviewees Greek men are irresponsible, lazy, attached to their mothers, incapable of doing any productive work or looking after themselves, chauvinistic, disrespectful, misogynistic, unable to relate to women and thoroughly imperfect. They expect their women to be sex objects and housemaids and certainly do not look upon their partners as equals. They are definitely not marriage material. The interviewees point to several factors that contribute to the parlous state of Greek masculinity, a mollycoddled and privileged upbringing being one of the major ones, and another being a Greek society that of its own accord relegates a lower, submissive role to women and has refused to move with the times.
The interviewees make some valid points. Anyone who has been to a traditional Greek party or barbeque (yes, these are now traditional) will have observed the older men standing outside and the older women invariably inside and anyone who has been to a traditional Greek kafeneio will note to their disgust the hideous things that the older generation as well as a few misfits in their thirties to forties have to say about women. There are definitely Greek men whose approach to women is predatory and others who are dismissive of them. Yet what is not made clear from the interviewees’ long list of complaints is the extent that ‘Greek culture,’ is at any way responsible for these attitudes or whether this can be attributed to a generation gap, individual character or other factors.
For the fact remains that while most of the interviewees’ observations struck a chord with me, especially the NUGAS throwing eggs at the lesbians incident and the instances of incapable Greek males being mollycoddled at home, much of what informed their opinion seemed old and well…. outdated. Most of the observations made could certainly be attributed to certain sections of the first generation. Back in the sixties and seventies, social life could certainly be tough for a Greek girl and it was her family and social surrounds that made it that way. Much of what the interviewees had to say reminded me of my aunts’ complaints about the difficulties they experienced in growing up in Australia. Yet today, thirty or so years on, surely the antifeminist and patriarchal outlook on life has been tempered in males of the first generation. I can name countless examples of couples living together in perfect harmony, the husband sharing in the cooking and the shopping, absolutely adoring his partner, permitting his daughters free reign to live their lives as they see fit and similarly countless examples where in fact the wife is the dominant partner in the relationship. Hang around Coburg Market for a while and watch henpecked Greek pensioners apprehensively choose fruit beneath the glaring eyes of their wives and you will see what I mean. This then is today’s reality and we would do well to consider this before we offer a stereotyped, time-warped picture of our society as this does not lead to a helpful debate on gender relations.
How much this chauvinistic perception of Greek males has become enshrined in stereotype can be evidenced by the fact that when I asked female friends aged between 18-30 whether the interviewees’ perceptions of Greek males were accurate, they all invariably laughed and replied in the affirmative. When closely questioned however, and requested to provide examples of how their husbands, boyfriends, fathers or brothers fit into the mould of the incompetent, chauvinistic Greek male, they found to their surprise that their initial impression was incorrect. The few examples that some of them were able to come up with were more relevant to the individual males’ character, rather than his ethnicity and they were different faults each time. Yet the endoracist conception of Greek males persists, at least on a superficial level.
Interestingly enough, most of the Greek females I spoke to found they had nothing in common with the interviewees. All were brought up by indulgent parents who certainly did not try to restrict them or demean them in any way because of their gender and all were outspoken, independent women enjoying a lifestyle of their own choosing. Even the girls who had enjoyed “bad relationships” with Greek males had the perspicacity to be able to distinguish between their individual experiences and the fallacy of drawing broad based assumptions, especially given that as opposed to thirty years ago, the Greek community is much more diverse and multi-faceted than it is today and therefore, the facility to make such assumptions, is significantly diminished.
It would be the height of folly then to have as a point of reference with regard to gender relationships within the community, a standard only partially set, thirty to forty years ago. While one of the interviewees, Evi states that her conception of marriage is one where “I can ring up and say ‘not coming home tonight – going out for a drink or a movie with friends” implying that this could never be the case with a Greek husband, it seems that what her statement is actually a reaction to, is a patriarchal society that has long passed us by. Today, in the aftermath of gender equality and the feminist movement in the western world, the vast majority of females and especially that of Greek females, either in Greece or Australia enjoys an unprecedented equality. Greek females in this country can with the full support of their family, friends and partners, pick their own careers, make their own life decisions and stand up and make themselves heard. Many of these have Greek partners who are extraordinarily capable of looking after themselves in the domestic household and enjoy sharing these tasks. Many have partners particularly attuned to their needs and sensitivities and they expressed wonderment as to why domesticity was such an issue with the ‘emancipated’ interviewees. This is especially true of the younger generations who enjoy largely the same lifestyle as all other Australian girls and whose mothers do not expect them to bear the burden of domestic chores in the household and it is a shame that the three interviewees, while they espouse feminism, are so ensconced in the shadows of a partially illusory past, that they cannot understand the reality of their younger sisters. That there will always be chauvinistic attitudes within the community cannot be disputed. However, to claim that today’s 18-30 year old shares his grandfather’s opinions on women, is to stretch the truth a tad.
Before one wonders why this diatribe is not entitled “In defence of Greek masculinity,” it should be noted that many young Greek males share equally stereotyped and illusory impressions of Greek women. While married Greek males or those with partners tend to consider generalisations impossible, disaffected Greek males, being those who are single and unable to get a girl or those who have had a bad experience generally have this to say: Greek women are spoilt by their mothers and constantly rely on the parents for money. They indulge in power play against their mother in law in order to break her hold on their husbands. They control their husbands totally. They are outspoken and have bad tempers. They think housework is demeaning and will not do it. They are suspicious and closed-minded. They are selfish and obsessed with their own self-image and weddings. They are materialistic and have to have the best clothes and furniture, leaching the pockets of Greek males…” Need I go on? Maybe the old adage that words spoken in bitterness should never be spoken at all is true. Especially given that bitterness tends to warp ones’ sense of reality.
At the end of the day, what seems to be behind the mutual stereotyped antipathy between young Greek females and males is the bitterness felt by many in not being able to conform to another stereotype, that of the necessity of a homogenous ‘pure’ Greek, marriage. It is this bitterness which precludes certain disaffected persons from viewing their community objectively and that is a great pity. In this respect, emphasis upon one finding a partner suited to one’s own individual needs rather than the need to fit a stereotype could remedy this situation, for it is a strange and unnatural thing to loathe one’s own people or to denigrate them. And in the end, if your partner, your stereotype or your bitterness still doesn’t suit you, do as Lysistrati did and amorously starve it into submission.

First published in NKEE on 28 February 2005

Monday, February 21, 2005


Recently, a Greek actress inadvertedly stumbled into a mosque in Western Thrace, almost sparking off a violent riot. While Athens went to great lengths to placate its Muslim minority fearing raised eyebrows in Europe in Turkey, the last unhappy remnants of the Greek community in Constantinople, Imvros and Tenedos are slowly being stripped of their community properties. Though this comes at a pertinent time within European history, given that Turkey has been given the green light to traverse the tortuous path to European unification, it appears that beyond bare lip service being paid to the necessity of Turkey affording its Christian minority civil rights, the blatant disrespect for proprietorial rights barely bats a European eyelid.

The gradual stripping away of communal property commenced with a judgment handed down by the Turkish Supreme Court in 1974. In accordance with that judgment (505/8-5-1974), still in force today, minority charitable institutions are not permitted to acquire property, unless this is specifically stated in their original constitution. The judgment’s closing stating that the ban against owning property is vital as these charitable institutions pose "a danger to the State." Predictably enough, successive Turkish governments have legislated to give this decision a retrospective application, so that 150 properties, donated by wealthy Constantinopolitans to these institutions have been confiscated by the State, including the great hospital at Valikli, and other top shelf properties in the suburbs of Pera and Fatih.

Recently, the Turkish Parliament legislated ostensibly to "protect" minority property holdings. However, all it managed to do was to ratify previous property confiscations, as well as permit the registration of a few titles whose owner’s entitlements were legally unassailable. It is interesting however that since that time, no proceeding issued by minority groups seeking a declaration that they are entitled to possess properties acquired or gifted to them have been accepted by the Turkish courts. Instead, the relevant government authorities are engaged in a process of obstructing recourse to the often contradictory new legislation, in an attempt to spark off a further round of confiscations.

The Vakouf General Office, which has jurisdiction over minority institutions' assets, continuous to ply its traditional but effective approach to the issue, realizing that the total confiscation of these institutions' property holdings is only a matter of time. When the committees of these institutions cannot be filled owing to death or emigration to Greece, a public administrator is appointed to administer their assets. This invariably results in the institution being wound up and its assets being nationalized. Soon after, these properties are sold at rock bottom prices to Turkish private citizens, ensuring that any recourse to the International Court by the aggrieved minorities, will not result in the return of those properties to them. A similar approach is adopted for Greek schools where enrolments are low.

Other, more ingenious tactics are also used to appropriate land from the hapless Greek minority. Recently, the property trust of the charitable institution "Κοιμήσεως της Θεοτόκου" on Tenedos, was also targeted. It should be noted here that Tenedos, under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty between Greece and Turkey was demarcated as an area where its native Greek population would enjoy autonomy and have its religious, cultural and property rights respected. Since that time, a campaign of intimidation and persecution has seen the Greek population of that island denuded to a few hundred elderly and very frightened people. The Board of Trustees of "Κοιμήσεως της Θεοτόκου" received an order from the Vakouf General Office to register its property holdings on the national property register. When the Board of Trustees attempted to comply with this order, they were told by the Courts that their entitlement to those properties was not recognized. Thus, a portfolio of over 100 properties was confiscated by the Turkish Treasury. The Greek communities of Tataula, St George, Antifonitou, Therapeia and Megalo Reuma are also currently facing similar confiscations, while the Vakouf General Office is also seeking to confiscate the churches of St George Antifonitis, St George of Edirnekapi, Taxiarkhon of Arnavutkoy, St Dimitrios of Kurtulus, the monastery of Christ on Proti island and the monastery of Christ on Antigoni island, citing as justification, the dearth of churchgoers, who have all been compelled to leave the area.

The Turkish government's insistence not to recognize the Oecumenical Patriarchate as a legal entity has also caused it to lose its only holding, the orphanage of Pringipo Island, and the other 20 or so properties that belong to it. These confiscations are so blatantly illegal that they have even begun to concern Turkish legal experts. Nevertheless, recourse to Turkish courts is practically impossible, considering that such confiscations are deemed by the Turkish government, to be of "national importance." This then is the way freedom of religion and culture is interpreted by this European Union candidate. While the U.S and Europe may have recognized the Oecumenical Patriarchate as the titular head of Orthodoxy, no pressure seems to have been exerted upon Turkey to do the same. Indeed, Turkey is quite adept at recognizing lip service for what it is, and carries on its sordid task of extirpating the last remnants of its Christian minorities, unhindered by the "bleeding hearts" of the West.

What taxes the mind more than Europe's inability or rather disinclination to provide stringent ground rules for Turkey's integration with Europe, is the Greek government's practice of placing the Greek minority's property rights rather low on the agenda of Graeco-Turkish relations. Indeed, this seems to be fatal, considering that recourse does exist for claims of compensation or restitution of wrongly appropriated land by minority groups, to the European Court of Human Rights. Given that legal experts generally rate the Constantinopolitans' chances of success at that forum at 90%, one is at a loss to consider why this avenue is not being vigorously pursued. Fear, and a repeat of the pogrom of 1955 may have a lot to do with this.

This notwithstanding, the precedent set by the Loizidou case in occupied Cyprus could be wielded with great effect both on worldwide public opinion and Turkish policy. Though it may prevaricate and attempt to avoid responsibilities, a Turkey that will enter the European Union will have to eventually accept the judgments of its courts or face exclusion and/or expulsion. In contrast to Greece, which is content to leave those who more than anyone else have remained true to her through over 600 years of asphyxiating pressure, Turkey has identified the risk of mass applications to the European Courts by Christian communities and it is for this reason that confiscated land is sold off to third parties so quickly. Presumably, if push comes to shove, Turkey will seek a "compensation deal," which will come too little to late for the terrorized last few remnants of Byzantium, unless legal assistance is given to them by their compatriots.

Similarly, there is absolutely no point in being in Europe, unless Greece utilizes the European judicial system to the full, in order to protect its cultural heritage and its people. There is no reason why this cannot be done for instance, not only in the case of minority charitable institutions, but in the matter of the re-opening of the Halki Theological College. Despite promises by Prime Minister Erdogan and the fact that a multitude of private educational institutions have now been opened in Turkey, the Turkish government denies its Christian minorities their religious freedom by keeping this important College closed. Furthermore, it has legislated so that the various Greek graveyards that dot Constantinople now belong to local councils, rather than the Church and the Greek community. These are issues in which Greece needs to actively assist the ailing Greek community of Constantinople, rather than merely pay lip service to it like the West does, as if it were an alien, unimportant flock of ghosts soon to be consigned only to an existence in the musty tomes of history.

While the Greek government prevaricates, the Turkish government has now extended its rapacious appetite to land to the savouring of private, individual Greek holdings, recently confiscating the vast property holdings of the Zarifis family on Antigoni. Perhaps, ensconced in the luxuries and privileges of our own western lifestyles, we forget what it is to be dispossessed, to lose all of one's belongings or what it is like to be a prisoner in one's own home, constantly in terror. It is to the Constantinopolitans' eternal praise that they, in true Cavafyesque fashion chose to guard the Thermopylae of Hellenism until the bitter end, while we, the medisers, see the ephialtic menace approach and do nothing to guard the rearguard paths. Finally, in the words of the Bishop of Sevasteia Dimitrios, let us never forget that while Athens may be the queen of our eyes, Constantinople is the queen of our souls, a mother who has given much and drunk much bitterness. It is incumbent upon all of us to demand justice and protection for our terrified compatriots, the last Romioi.


First published 21 February 2005

Monday, February 14, 2005


Dorian Gray, according to Oscar Wilde's famous novel, never grew old. He remained beautiful and indulged in all sort of vice, this being represented in a secret portrait that aged instead of him and became more and more hideous as the incredible Dorian became lapsed further into evil. Dorian's viewing of the portrait caused his demise, as he was not able to come terms with the hideousness of the evil he had become. One could have been forgiven for sharing the enthusiasm that accompanied President George W. Bush's portrayal of the world as her saw it, in his recent State of the Union speech. Amidst jubilation, he announced that as he took up his democratically elected position, he did so sharing the privilege with the leaders of Afghanistan and soon, Iraq. He also cautioned Syria and Iran for adopting a course of action against American interests, in the case of Syria, harbouring terrorism and in the case of Iran, of developing a nuclear weapons program, a privilege which presumably is only to be enjoyed by the 'civilised,' western world. The president's message was clear and unequivocal. Those who disagree with the premise that western democracy is not a beautiful thing, do so at their own peril.
It is a most interesting characteristic of democracy that since its inception by the Athenians, its proponents have tried to impose this 'egalitarian' system, predicated upon freedom of choice, upon others by force. The Athenians for example constructed a whole empire of client city-states after the Persian Wars by removing the age-old oligarchic system and imposing a democracy (subservient always to Athens) in its place. Athenian democracy voted for the extermination of the entire population of Lesbos for its disobedience, while a flotilla of the Athenian navy attacked and occupied Samos after it decided to abandon the democratic system, in favour of oligarchy. So much for freedom of choice and winning the hearts and minds of the demos.
In parallel paradox, the democratic elections imposed upon Iraq by a military invasion are touted by the Australian and U.S media as a success. The turn out was respectable if one takes account of the insurgents threatening people with reprisals if they should vote and in one case, celebrated by the media as an example of democracy permeating the echelons of Iraq's social fabric, Iraqi villages actually killed the insurgents who tried to punish them for voting. How happy we then are that we have taught our converts to kill in order to defend the system of values we have taught them.
Yet the elections in Iraq are not a success, nor do they represent a triumph of democracy. Unfortunately, either the West lacks the depth or willfully chooses to ignore the complex religious and ethnic mix that completely alters the way any political system can be implemented in Iraq. Almost immediately, 'democratic' Iraq has been fractured along racial or religious lies, with each group vying to dominate the other.
This can be evidenced more so than anywhere in the plight of the Assyrian population of Iraq, a plight that Western journalists have deliberately chosen not to focus on and which belies the official rhetoric that the elections were a success. In a brazen move, the Kurdistan Democratic Party headed by warlord Masoud Barzani, which practically controls the whole of the north of Iraq in autonomy from the Baghdad government, has prevented voting by the Assyrian Christians of the Nineveh Plain. According to a series of reports from inside Iraq, the KDP effectively blocked the delivery of ballot boxes to six major Assyrian towns and villages in the Plains around Mosul including Baghdeda, Bartilla, Karemlesh, Shekhan, Ain Sifne and Bahzan.
Thousands of would be voters were left stranded outside polling places awaiting an opportunity to cast their ballots. Inquiries to voting authorities brought frequent promises that the ballot boxes were en route only to result in a series of disappointments throughout the day. Infuriated Assyrians filled the streets of Baghdeda, the largest Assyrian town in the Nineveh Plain and demonstrated against the KDP's overt disenfranchisement of Assyrians.According to Iraqi sources, the ballot boxes had been stored in Arbil, the stronghold of the KDP. The resulting unavailability of ballot boxes denied the vote to 150,000 Assyrians and 250,000 Yezidi, Shabak, and Turkoman voters. This was the culmination of a long and organized period of intimidation, beatings, beheadings, burnings, and mutilations of Assyrian Christians in the Nineveh Plain. Just two weeks before the elections, Archbishop Basil George Casmusa of the Syriac Catholic church was kidnapped and Assyrian homes were occupied by Kurds in an attempt to drive out Assyrians from their homes and to intimidate potential remaining voters into staying home on election day. The KDP's specific targeting of the Nineveh Plain is no mere coincidence. The Nineveh Plain contains the last remaining stronghold of predominantly Assyrian towns and villages in the immediate environs of the ruins of Nineveh, the ancient Assyrian capital. Significantly, the Nineveh Plain has been touted by a wide spectrum of Assyrian political leaders, including foremost among them those of the Assyrian Democratic Movement as the centre of the Assyrian self-administered area provided for in Article 53(d) of the Transitional Administrative Law.
By their latest political maneuver, the KDP has effectively eliminated any possible Assyrian representation from the Nineveh Plain in the upcoming Iraqi National Assembly. Whereas the KDP had earlier paid lip service to representing the rights of all minorities in northern Iraq, it appears that this party, referred to as a terrorist party in the eighties by the U.S, when Saddam Hussein was the West's friend and Iran was the enemy and which has received millions in American aid as a 'reward' for is anti-Hussein stance, is determined, exactly as it did under the Ottoman Empire, to purge the area under its control of its ancient Christian and Muslim minorities, in favour of an ethnically homogenous Kurdistan.
The Kurdish scheme is an attack on the integrity of Iraq as a whole and belies the assertion that the recent elections will succeed in creating an integrated Iraq where all creeds and minorities will be respected. It cannot be seriously conceived that Barzani, who has enjoyed free reign over northern Iraq for the past twenty years, or his peshmerga army, will permit political expression or even effectively protect the rights of persons not enmeshed in the intricate nets of Kurdish tribal alliances. In effect, if under Saddam Hussein, Assyrian, Yezidi and Turkomans were denied the means of national self-expression and were pressured to call themselves Arabs, in today's northern Iraq, a Kurdification of these minorities is taking place along similar lines.
Predictably enough, the West is unwilling to truly police free and fair elections. The mere rumour that 350,000 or so members of minority groups, relevant for their symbolic import as examples of a free and tolerant Iraq should have rung alarm bells. Yet the West is beholden to the violent Barzani to ensure Kurdish lip service to the democratic process, as long as that means that his own hold on power in his self-appointed fiefdom is not disturbed.
Consequently, the West does not really care about democracy in Iraq. Had it truly had a vision for the country, it would have encouraged its people to decide on what type of country they would like, by holding a referendum on a Constitution that would provide such a framework and then electing a government to uphold it. By doing the opposite and doing nothing to ensure free access to the ballot box by large swathes of the population, or to intervene in order to prevent the West has ensured Iraq's further fragmentation and the total failure of the democratic process in that country. Barzani's conduct, in occupying the territory appointed by the Transitional Administrative Law earmarked for Assyrian self-administration proves that no Constitution will hinder those who bear arms to achieve their aims. Significantly, there has been absolutely no discussion as to the demilitarization of the KDP, a condition precedent for true peace and stability in an integrated Iraq.
Today in Iraq, a regime that supposedly invaded the country in order to free it, is presiding over the ethnic cleansing, subjugating and violent mistreatment of its minorities. Assyrians are already speaking of a second genocide. It says much for the concept of people power that though 80% of expatriate Iraqis in the US are actually Assyrian, that the US, blinded by its own messianic vision, does nothing to protect this and other minorities.
In his State of the Union speech, George W. Bush appealed to the Iranian people to "stand for liberty." However, concepts of "liberty" and "democracy" as these have been misapplied and mismanaged in Iraq provide a negative precedent to those who would "stick their necks out" and espouse Western political systems. In the case of Plato, frustration with the perverted Athenian democracy that would condemn the brilliant and saintly Socrates to death caused him to write the Republic, the earliest manual for fascism and repressive government ever to be written. Macchiavelli, railing at the abuses of the powerful in the Florentine Republic also produced similar reactionary material, in the form of The Prince. Let us therefore beware lest the mask should fall, lest we are compelled to view our own portrait of Dorian Gray, and see how ugly we have become.

First published in NKEE on 14 February 2005

Monday, February 07, 2005


Indiana Jones, Howard Carter and Manolis Andronikos step aside! Greater than the re-discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, the Holy Grail and the tombs at Vergina, more glorious, I would dare to say, than the re-discovery of the Tasmanian tiger, is the revelation that despite years of furtive hiding and rumours of extinction, most ancient cultural traditions are beginning to re-emerge, vibrant and vigorous as ever. In the Hollywood tradition of taking old movies, re-packaging and re-launching them as Blockbuster hits (Ocean's 11 for example), ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Proxy!
That the Proxy had almost vanished of the face of the Greek-Australian earth can be evidenced by the fact that in a recent survey of first generation Greek-Australians on what the word Proxy meant to them, 70% answered "that is when you give your vote at a συνέλευση of your local brotherhood, to one of your friends so you won't get bashed and you can remove the president, who is evil." Those surveyed then began to argue amongst themselves as to whether the proxies at the 1975 general meeting were in fact valid in accordance with the constitution and as the thermometer of conflict overflowed with mercurial pathos, our hapless Diatribe surveyors had to beat a hasty retreat.
Proxies have been around for ages and are deeply ingrained within the Greek soul. Indeed it was the ancient Greeks who invented the concept. A proxenos was a person who was a host in his own city, and served the interests of citizens in another city. Thus persons arriving at a foreign city could be met by the proxenos, who would look after them, vouch for them with the city's authorities and make sure that they were protected. In this respect, the proxenos was like a big brother, or at least, one of those bodgy business references you get from your mates when you are buying a business and have no prior business experience, in order to get the landlord's consent to the transfer of the lease. The name says it all, he was pro-xenos, the foreigner's advocate.
Somewhere along the line, the role of the proxenos diversified into two distinct institutions. The proxeneio became the Consulate, an office in a city that represents the interests of another country in that city. Its head is the proxenos. His job is to 'vouch' to the host government, for the acts and intentions of his home government and also look after his government's nationals resident in the city. In Melbourne, this would mean looking after Greek citizens, as opposed to those of Greek extraction. That the two limbs of the proxeneio's responsibilities are uneasily balanced can be evidenced by the fact that Greek nationals who require the proxeneio's assistance are being told to make an appointment in a month's time, presumably because it is too busy trying to raise the image of Greece in the eyes of the Australian government, as it did with great success, during the anti-Greek media blitz during the Olympic Games.
The proxenitis on the other hand, named thus so as to not offend the sensitivities of the proxenos, who believed that his job was infinitely more important, also was an advocate. His job was to find one a prospective partner and vouch for their good character and suitability, in the tradition for the old adage: "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't." Old-time proxenites, like modern day real-estate agents would wax lyrical to interested parties of their prospect's fine facilities and features, enquiring discretely as to the size of the purchaser's deposit, propensity for capital and stomachic growth and other necessities. Once the prospective acquisition was approved, all were happy and the proxenitis received his agent's commission.
In Australia, the proxenitis' role changed slightly. Hitherto, a champion of the xenos, now the proxenitis' main role was to ensure that Greek-Australians chose only their own imported product and had absolutely nothing to do with the 'foreign', domestic market. The system of tariffs, customs and duties in place, including for example the rule that girls and boys are not allowed to talk to each other or be with each other alone as this would diminish their market value, was so complicated as to ensure that no one could cross the picket line, and seek freer markets, elsewhere. Love and Darwinian concepts of natural selection be damned. Once the matriarchs agreed with the proxenitis that a match was made, the rest would be history. Talk about mergers and acquisitions….
It was when the "proxy," became a method of compelling people to marry that decline set in. After all, it is an insidious marketing ploy and the pressure is great. How can one say no, if both sets of parents want the match and the proxenitis has gone to so much time and effort? How can the proxenitis, who is the keeper of all virtues have any future incentive to extol these, if his efforts are going to be thwarted? By the late eighties, the much maligned proxy, indeed a word that would cause Greek-Australian youth to turn up their noses in disgust and exclaim “Oh my God”, sending shivers down the spines of their parents, many of whom would choose their children's partners on the basis of whether they enjoyed the company of their in-law's, was slowly entering the shadows of history.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new era was heralded in the sphere of what used to be rightly called, the νυφοπάζαρο, or bride market. The recession and de-regulation brought an end to this small, protected market as boys and girls, enjoying their new-found emancipation, were able to go out and mix freely, without the stigma of their virtue somehow being compromised through such interaction. Indeed, the virtue commodity crash of 1987 spelt the end of public demand for this hitherto prized article of sale. Instead, freedom of choice was championed, the bouffant coiffeured seeking equally permed ‘Mario” males without any parental or proxenitital intervention whatsoever. Thousands swarmed and spawned in countless nightclubs, parking lots and Gemini backseats, as the swirling disco-ball wiped away the iniquities of tradition, providing hedonistic absolution. Indeed, many of these riders on the free merry go-round of love felt such delight at their emancipation that they forgot to get off and are doing the rounds of the Greek community today, making and breaking relationships ad infinitum.
Proxenites joined the dole queue in their thousands, their livelihoods destroyed, along with, in many cases their reputations, given that some of the business references they had given to their clients were indeed dodgy, with some girls being less roomy, less airy, some guys brick veneer instead of the solid brick that was advertised and, with leaky drainpipes to boot. In this era of consumerism, where each party could go out and inspect, purchase or otherwise anything he wanted, without the need for a middle man with a vested interest, proxenites, representing the deluded old ideology of planned economy crushed under the foot of triumphant capitalism, were anathema.
By the turn of the millennium, I along with many others could thus have been forgiven for thinking that the proxenio was a thing of the past, along with innumerable other traditional customs. After all, two generations of Greek-Australians had grown up without direct experience of the proxenio, which to them was merely a bogeyman of the past. Not so however. For though the proxenio receded tactfully into the underground, it never really died out. As it happens, the display cabinets at most flesh markets these days are said to be too dark, too skewed to allow the purchaser a close and candid inspection. Recourse seems to be needed to someone with intimate product knowledge, and who has used this type of model before.
The other day, I visited a mate. Walking into his living room, I felt an atmosphere that I had not felt for 20 years, the time since I had experienced the same scene before, except without the mothballs. His comfortable and relaxed living room was stifled and stuffy. His parents, second generation Greek-Australians who married for love, thoroughly modern in outlook and almost totally assimilated, sat stiffly on one side of the room, facing an unknown couple also sitting stiffly. Next to them, was a girl, their daughter, looking blank and tired. And in the middle, out of hiding, with the fervour of new-found freedom, the proxenitis plied his trade. She is kind, funny, beautiful, patient. Unbeknownst to her husband to be, she is also one of those hapless riders of the merry go-round of love who having ‘done the rounds’ of the entire Greek community and more besides, has finally been jolted off the saddle of her last steed. As a result, she looks eternally nauseous. He is strong, hard-working, sensitive, and owing to his demanding job, also quite lonely. Both have punted on a free market that has failed them. Now the proxenitis, welcomes back all his prodigal sheep to the protective tariff fold and offers them, extreme absolution, though not a money back guarantee.

First published in NKEE on 7 February 2005