Monday, October 31, 2005


As countries become intricately more paranoid in the wake of the war on terror, they have turned to formulating restrictive policies on immigration and the dislocated victims of the terror, asylum-seekers. The Greek example is one such case. US based Assyrian human-rights activist Lidia Kiorkis has recently focused on the plight of the 2,000 Assyrian refugees and asylum seekers in Greece, who as she claims, are living under exceptionally difficult conditions. These conditions are exacerbated, by the depth of goodwill Assyrians historically harbour towards Greece and the disappointment they feel upon their arrival. Of all refugees, they seem to have the highest of expectations of Greece, based on a bond forged through the genocide suffered, along with the Pontians at the hands of the Ottomans and Kurds. One of the world's better known Assyro-Pontians, Thea Halo, author of the book "Not Even My Name" who visited Melbourne in 2003, emphasises the joint suffering as creating an unsunderable bond between our two peoples, while an Assyrian regiment of the British army fought in the defence of Crete in 1941. However, historical ties seem to count for nothing, as Greece struggles to integrate or deal with the mutlitiude of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers it currently plays host to.
Amnesty International has continually accused Greece of neglect towards genuine refugees and asylum seekers. In an annual report, Amnesty condemned the government for the improper manner of processing applications for political asylum and for the unjust deportation of asylum seekers in need of protection. Other international agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Minority Rights Group International have repeatedly expressed concern of Greece's treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees.
Under International Law, asylum seekers, many of which may be legitimate refugees or victims of persecution and human rights violations, should have every right of access to Greek land and the asylum procedure regardless of how they entered Greece. According to Athens News, however, Greece has the lowest recognition rate in the EU with a 0.3 percent in 2002 and less than 1% in 2003 while the EU average is 21 percent. It was also noted that Iraqis, many of which are Assyrians, make up the largest group of asylum-seekers in Greece and across Europe.
"When I first visited Greece in 2001," says Lidia Kiorkis, "I was shocked to find a reality completely converse to the idea I had about life in Greece. The idea I had was primarily based on nostalgic stories of Assyrians who had lived there in the early 1980s, filled with images of a youthful and vibrant beach life, beautiful and friendly people, and endless social activities. A lot has changed since then. Today, Assyrian Iraqis are far from the European standard of living. As one refugee put it, "we are living in paradise but as monkeys; what good is it to live in paradise as a monkey?"
Employment is hard to find even in the best of economic times, integration is nearly impossible, repatriation to Iraq is not a viable option, and inadequate counselling about future prospects and their rights as asylum seekers are just a few of the concerns of Assyrian exiles. The situation continues to deteriorate as many are awaiting the closure of the last refugee humanitarian resettlement programs out of Greece, even while 90% of Assyrians in Greece are allegedly without papers and legal protection.
"Those that can afford to study do so without receiving any study certificates upon completion of a course. Lacking ID cards makes them ineligible to receive certificates or degrees for study. I met many young disillusioned Assyrians who had hopes for studying, but whose dreams have been crushed, as they continue awaiting their fates to enter other destination countries year after year with no positive response.
In one incident, Greek police badly beat an Assyrian man, who happened to come upon a police station as his first point of contact, and sent him on a flimsy wooden boat across the Aegean back to his immediate point of origin, Turkey, where he was vulnerable to being deported back to Iraq. Greece and Turkey signed a treaty in 2001 allowing for this practice, a practice that violates international laws of non-refoulement (no forcible return). The ill-treatment by the Greek authorities has many Assyrians thinking of Greece as merely a stepping stone, with most wanting to come to North America or Australia. Many Assyrians view Greece as an interim phase and do not consider integration into Greek society as an option or possibility, due in part to the hostile government position towards Assyrians and refugees in general."
State sovereignty seems to be a challenging concept these days. As the Australian example shows, Immigration laws are subject to change at any time and new restrictions on travel and visa requirements are under the direct control of all states. Kiorkis is quick to acknowledge that the hard-line position she decries may be indicative of a global phenomenon: "Most of the world's democratic states are bound by the rule of international law, and in all fairness, it is not only Greece that is unjustly treating asylum seekers, even though their remarkably low asylum recognition rates speak for themselves. The fact of the issue is that the international human rights regime lacks the power of enforcement. Countries acting in contravention of these laws and norms do not fear reprisal or any repercussions for their actions." Another Assyrian refugee now resident in Melbourne, entered Greece via Turkey in 1994 and remained there for four months. Her story, which reads like a modern day-Odyssey and deserves further treatment, largely corroborates the above, though differing in its conclusions:
"The first time we entered Greece was through Turkish Thrace, in the company of Pakistani people-smugglers. We were caught by soldiers. When they found out we were Assyrian, they apologized and said that they would have to take us away but that next time, if we tried to cross over, they would not stop us. We were taken to a prison in Kavala. At first the police there were curt and terse with us. My father tried to explain to them that we were Christian refugees but one of the police yelled at him to shut up. After a while, one of the officials came and took down our story. He apologized and said that he did not know we were Assyrian refugees. He told us that we would be taken to Thessaloniki and set free. However that did not happen. Some other official came and told us that we would be sent back. They took us to the border and told us to cross over. We were very afraid because we did not know the way. Further, the Turkish police used to beat refugees, rob them of their money and deport them to a certain death in Iraq. We got lost on the border and only found our way to Constantinople with difficulty. We made another two attempts in this way, which failed.
We tried to get to Greece again. Because we have not ever had a country of our own and Greek culture is almost indistinguishable from ours, we always saw Greece as our country and we knew we would be safe there. We got into a boat at Smyrna, along with other refugees. We were supposed to land in Chios but there was a storm. The boat sank near Cos and we were rescued from drowning by the coast guard. The police were very friendly, though they took us in for questioning. After a while we were given accommodation. Everyone on the island was very friendly. Local people would bring us food and clothes and keep us company. They always had a smile for us. When we finally left for Athens, people were crying and showing us pictures of other Assyrian refugees that they had looked after. They took photos of us so that they could remember us.
Wherever we went, we were treated extremely well. The Greeks were very friendly towards us and willing to help. This is in contrast with the situation in Turkey, where everyone was unfriendly and you feared to go out of your house. In Greece, we felt like a weight had been lifted from our shoulders. Finally people were treating us like human beings. Some of the men were able to get odd jobs for cash, though it is true that it was difficult for us to get work. Still this did not bother us, as we wanted to go to America where our relatives were. Instead, we ended up in Australia.
Many members of the Assyrian community in Australia passed through Greece during the aftermath of the Gulf War. We often talk about what a great time we had in Greece. Even though times were tough, we always look upon that time with fondness, not only because we felt like we were in our own homeland but because the Greek people were so kind to us, made us feel welcome and restored our human dignity. We will always be grateful to Greece for that."


First published in NKEE on 31 October 2005

Monday, October 24, 2005


Well over a thousand years ago, a few emaciated monks, their minds fixed only upon the glories of the promise of the kingdom of Heaven fled the depredations of the Hagarenes and came to Mount Athos, a largely thickly forested and uninhabited corner of the Chalcidicidian Peninsula. There, free from the temptations and cares of the corporeal world of decay and delusion, they sought, through prayer and practice, that they be granted even the slightest of glimpses of the ineffable, uncreated light that is the energy of God.
Throughout the centuries, Mount Athos and the various monastic communities that have flourished there have been a respite for a weary travel and a place of solace for the world-weary. The monks were traditionally bound to offer the pilgrim hospitality, succour and spiritual advice. The «περιβόλι της Παναγίας» as Athos came to be known, may not even approach in the slightest its grand prototype of Paradise but being dedicated to the Theotokos, it can offer the pilgrim, just a slight foretaste, a fleeting if somewhat paltry image, of what is to come.
The Great Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church is filled with the lives of saints who as monks, strove in their miniscule cells to cast off the fetters of the world, their 'garments of skin,' in order to be granted through God's grace, the privilege of perceiving things through their noetic eye. Indeed, many were the saints who sought their release from the fetters of their earthly desires by binding their bodies in shackles or walling themselves up in their cells. Of those who struggled thus, St Gregory Palamas in the thirteenth century, was able to perceive the divine light, the uncreated energy of God and his method of spiritual contest, hesychasm, or rendered dimply 'quietitude,' has captured the imagination and had profound influence upon Greek as well as wider Orthodox culture, so much so in fact that an unbroken chain of hesychast fathers has existed since then, including among the more well known, Paisius the miracle-worker and prophet and Elder Joseph the Hesychast.
All these things had been far from my mind recently, as I crossed Elizabeth Street and walked up Bourke Street in the City during the course of my galactically inane and thoroughly soul-destroying employment. I was rushing frantically to meet a client, briefcase in one hand, mobile phone in the other, attempting to listen as the same client categorically set out the manner in which fire and brimstone would be hurled upon me from the heights of his own social standing if his matter was not resolved in the manner of his choosing and if I did not get to my appointment on time. I hurried along, bumping and jostling passersby with the expressionless countenances of Circassian eunuchs, narrowly missing being run over by a tram and cursing the ship that brought my progenitors here when I could be sitting in the ancestral village, drinking frappe, smoking and waiting for my uncle to die, so that I could inherit his property, sell it and do some more sitting, drinking and smoking…
Suddenly, my peripheral vision became less marginal as my ocular nerves honed into a sign on the side of the road: 'Café Athos.' Like an automaton, I turned, thinking: "Wow, a Three Musketeers trilogy. Café Athos, Café Porthos and Café Aramis. And of course the midguided and hapless fool who considers such motifs is as much a Dumas as the author." I looked up and saw two deep brown eyes stare at me from behind the counter and the fringe of beard that delimited a face. "You look stressed. Have a drink," the eyes intoned sonourously.
I nodded mindlessly, and it was only after gulping down a most excellent cup of coffee that I came to and started to explore the world, and the eyes around me. My eyes traveled from the deep brown eyes and the bristly beard to the white skull cap on the head and surprisingly, a photograph of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and a komposchoini surreptitiously tucked away behind the counter. "I take it you are not D' Artagnan," I commented.
Enter Chris Kontos, the proprietor of Café Athos and Athonite enthusiast. Inspired by a brief sojourn in Mount Athos last year, he was struck by its serenity in contrast with the mindlessly frenetic modern world. "What I wanted to do is to re-create that feeling I felt while reading the lives of the Holy Fathers and staying in the monasteries of Mt Athos," he says. "To be in the world but not of the world, just for a minutes at least."
Café Athos is certainly austere and monastic. In fact, the closest thing one can parallel it to is to an extremely austere monastic cell. It literally is, a hole in the wall with an opening into the street from which Kontos plies his customers with very decent coffee, serenity and often, in the best of monastic traditions, a small titbit, gratis. I ask him whether it was a conscious choice of his to emulate the lives of the saints who walled themselves up in their cells, by choosing to immure himself in such a straitened environment. "Not really," he smiles, "but it is fortuitous. You get a totally different perspective from in here. Come inside and see."
I leave the busy street with its jostling automatons and groanings of modernity. Entering Kontos' cell from a backdoor, I blink and gaze in wonderment. The noise of the city immediately ceases. I walk the four paces up to the counter - this being the extent of Chris' cell, finger the stainless steel of the refrigerator and sit down with him at the counter. Behind the counter, the photograph of Elder Joseph the Hesychast gazes austerely at the viewer and opposite him, on a shelf, sits a heavily leafed through tome of the Lives of the Saints. "There is plenty of reading to be done between making coffees," Chris advises. Viewed from this perspective, the world, literally at one's counterstep, feels so distant and remote. We view passersby with dispassion, though revel when a customer arrives at the counter, eyes the whole set up, up and down and then gingerly, almost shyly, asks for a short black. It feels strangely anachronistic and anatopistic for their to be such a beverage in this most serene of places and yet there Chris is, working his magic with the coffee machine as I fulfil the role of monastic oikodespotes and chat with the seeker of succour.
Even though the coffee is sold to go as are the most excellent muffins and of course kourabiedes, most customers linger at the counter on the street. They want to chat, to share a few of their own thoughts or problems or even to bask in the other-worldy aura that emanates from Cafe Athos. Chris talks to them simply and gently and they leave Athos' environs feeling a great deal more refreshed and calm than they were before they arrived. Chris waves to them as they leave with smiles on their faces. He knows that this time tomorrow, they will be back for yet another fix of inner grace and poise.
As the world passers us by indifferently and we indifferent to it focus in the silence and the confined space on our own shortcomings, the grinding of freshly roasting coffee beans accompanying one's heart beat to the rhythm of the prayer of the heart, I suddenly realize that I am late. Taking leave of Chris Kontos, who has taken off his skull cap (he has a white one, which makes him look like a muslim findamanetalist and a black one, which makes him look a zealot Orthodox monk from Esphygmenou monastery), wiped the sweat off his brow and is lovingly cleaning his counter, I plunge back into the heaving current of the river of Mammon. I have four unanswered call on my mobile phone and three messages. I am also embarrassingly, extravagantly late for some one of my miniscule extremity, yet I walk slowly, savouring every moment of my experience at Café Athos with longing, so much so in fact that I barge slap bang into the voluminous expanse of my client's chest. I look up at his raw red face, tense in rage. "Where the hell where you? Do you not know that this is crucial? I am going to…"
"Relax," I riposte. "I know how to resolve this. Listen. This is what we will do…" As I expound my newly arrived inspiration dispassionately and my client beams with joy, the verses of the communion hymn somehow lodge themselves into my conscience and repeat themselves over and over again. «Είδωμεν το φως το αληθινόν.» Maybe we will never be graced to catch a glimpse of the Uncreated Light. Yet serenity belongs to everyone, and Café Athos is just around the corner….
Café Athos is situated at 405 Bourke Street, Melbourne
First published in NKEE on 24 October 2005

Monday, October 17, 2005


One of the most dramatic scenes to endure in my mind of Herodotus' histories is where the leaders of the Ionian cities in Asia Minor met at Panionion in the wake of the Persian and Medic crushing of the Ionian revolt, frightened out of their wits. The Panionion, a village located near Priene in Asia Minor, near today's Guzelcami marks one of the most singular Greek achievements - that of federalism and its example has been so enduring, that it is reflected in various forms of Greek organization today.
Like us, the Ionians of Asia Minor were apodimoi who had left their homelands to set up colonies on the other side of the Aegean coast, known as Ionia. Faced with a hostile local population and battling the assimilative and imperialist sway of the renascent Persian empire, they were the first among our ancestors to form a federation, consisting of the twelve Ionian colonies, inclusive of the islands of Chios and Samos. It was envisaged that such a federation would preserve the individuality of each city so jealously guarded by its owners while also providing scope for such cities to assume collective action when required. The Federation would be based in and meet at Panionion at regular intervals. The parallels with our own community are striking.
The meeting in Panionion was usually after the harvest. The members shared their concerns about business, art, farming and sea trade and made suggestions for improving their own cities or finding reasonable solutions to their problems. Every year, at the same time as the meeting, a traditional festival was held to the honor the god Poseidon. During the festival, the young men of Panionion herded cattle into the temple to be sacrificed, by hanging them from their horns. During the Hellenistic era which ushered in the demise of democratic rule and the rise of imperialism, one day of the festival was devoted to the honor of King of Pergamos, Eumenes.
That the Panionian league could be effective is evidenced by the fact that its collective action almost overthrew the yoke of the vast Persian Empire and gave mainland Greece a valuable breathing space of time in order to prepare itself against the storm from the East, in arguably what may have been, her finest hour. Having been utilized and exploited for mainland Greece's defensive and other purposes rather unscrupulously, the Ionian cities were helpless against the Persian and Medic counterattack and meeting at Panionion, indulged in earnest debate as to their future. At that meeting, one man, Bias of Priene, "set forth," as Herodotus tells us, "a most profitable counsel, by following which they might have been the most prosperous of all the Hellenes. He urged that the Ionians should set forth in one common expedition and sail to Sardinia and after that found a single city for all the Ionians: and thus they would escape subjection and would be prosperous, inhabiting the largest of all islands and being rulers over others; whereas, if they remained in Ionia, he did not perceive, he said, that freedom would any longer exist for them."
Proving that even when Greeks agree on a form of political organisation, as inherent innovators they indulge in formulating radical proposals of restructuring, Thales of Miletos saw the solution in "the Ionians having one single seat of government, and that this should be at Teos (for Teos, he said, was in the centre of Ionia), and that the other cities should be inhabited as before, but accounted just as if they were demes."
In the end, the Ionians did not pack up and move to Sardinia though one cannot resist the temptation of considering how differently the history of Europe would have unfolded, had they done so. Nor did they adopt Thales' injunction. Instead, they stayed and capitulated first to the Persians and then to the neo-imperialist Athenian Empire, creating a vibrant culture and becoming the yeast for the rise of Hellenism in the East. Their sojourn in Ionia was a glorious one though it was abruptly terminated in 1922 by their brutal expulsion and related massacring by the Turks.
One could not help thinking at the SAE Oceania Youth Conference which took place in Adelaide a few weeks ago, how ever present and ever relevant the burden of our history is for us. For it cannot be disputed that the Council of Greeks Abroad (SAE) is naught but a direct descendant of the first Greek migrant council, the Panionion, with the same aspirations for collective action and unity between Greeks abroad as taxed the minds of our illustrious forebears in Ionia. As if this were not enough, SAE even has its own Panionion, the SAE headquarters in Thessaloniki, where SAE delegates gather every so often, ostensibly to discuss issues while rumours of shenanigans during the partying that goes on each night do approach nefarious dealings with horns, belonging to sheep, or otherwise. The parallels do not stop there though. Just as the Panionion was an entity founded by migrant Greeks and ultimately exploited and/or appropriated by mainland Greece, the same to can be said about SAE which though founded by an American Greek, owes its entire existence to an act of the Hellenic Parliament.
Again just as their Ionian counterparts before them, SAE youth delegates see their communities facing mortal peril. Today's Medes and Persians come in the form of assimilation, indifference, lack of communication and a host of other factors that ensure that the extremely loose warp and weft of our erstwhile tightly woven community fabric is slowly unraveling, leaving in its stead long clumps of loose, dissociated and thoroughly vexed strands of non descript yarn. The cultural and societal shift that has elevated the cult of the individual has cut vast swathes across the effectiveness and relevance of those community organizations around which the Greek community has chosen to identify itself with and its inability to seek other more contemporary modes of cultural expression signifies that it is presiding over a period where many of its younger members are 'medizing' to use the Herodotean term or to utilize the most favoured expression of the Oceanian President of our own Panionion, "becoming lost to Hellenism."
The Greek Government bears some responsibility for this. Currently, the SAE Youth is comprised of youthful members of Federations already acknowledged by the Greek government as belonging to SAE. Unfortunately, this means that the vast corpus of Greek-Australian youth, which does not belong to any form of organized body, is effectively disenfranchised. The Greek government's lack of perspicacity and adherence to 'quick fix solutions' for Greeks abroad thus results in a group of idealistic youthful members becoming relegated to SAE 'show-pieces' to their great indignation. Perhaps a way of assuaging the disenfranchised youths' indignation in that regard is to let them in on another big secret. Whether in, or out of SAE, successive Greek governments have merely paid lip-service to the youth in SAE and on occasion, have stymied or brutally humiliated delegates who had the courage and the gumption to attempt to be heard. Further, in years past, the youth Panionion has been successively undermined by attempts by its senior counterparts to broaden the field of their own political infighting by appointing and instructing their own protégés to continue such intrigue at the youth level. Thankfully, through indifference and a concerted effort by the youth delegates, this problem has been resolved. The problem of Athenian interference in the Panionion though, has not. The new Draft Law proposed by the Athenians to the Ionians does not define the Panionian youth and merely leaves their operation and definition to the mercies of the senior regional Councils.
Despite the basic difficulties in representation, operation and implementation of policy in the youthful Panionion, much potential exhists for it as an auxiliary to what remains of the organized Greek community. After all its primary purpose as dictated to it by Athens is to represent Federations and it is pleasing to note that the Panionionakia have attempted to make do with what they have with gusto. The conducting of Greek-Australian Book Exhibitions, Smith's Crisps Campaign, Panhellenic Games and other activities prove that effective action can be taken to hold off the Medes and persuade the medizers to remain.
At the Adelaide conference the general unspoken feeling was that Athenian dominance inhibits a Thalesian restructure of the organization. Also, while Bias of Priene's approach to the Panionion does have its merits, it does also imply that a surrender to the Medes should be effected and/or that a new Panionian could be re-established in a galaxy far far away. Yet was it not Cavafy, the supreme orientalist who upon mentioning that "we are Greeks of Eastern tastes and pleasures" also pointed out that wherever we go, will carry our cities and our problems around with us? Is the only solution then to travel to Poseidoneia, the Grecian colony in southern Italy where the Greeks over time forgot their Hellenism and barely could pronounce their own names? Possibly. Yet in spite of the relative ease of the Bias approach, the brave Panionian delegates took an oath in Adelaide, just as in Cavafy's poem Thermoplyae, to guard the passes against the enemy to the best of their ability and not resiling from that duty, remain at their posts, knowing full well that scores of Ephialtai will betray them and that ultimately, the Medes shall come.

First published in NKEE on 17 October 2005

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

Monday, October 03, 2005


When I was ushered into the Conference Room of Ivanhoe Grammar School, the staff member spoke to me in hushed and gushing tones about what a privilege it was for me to be able to meet and interview ‘His Majesty.’ She asked me how I felt and I replied that I had significant experience in waiting in school office corridors and that I felt like I was waiting outside the principal’s office to gain a detention. The small smirk that crossed her lips was instantaneously suppressed as her jaw dropped in awe. A giant of a man briskly walked up to me. I looked up and saw the familiar careworn but eminently genteel face that has been photographed so many times and has caused such controversy in Modern Greece. Behind him, his bearded son Nicholas smilingly thrust out his hand and shook mine. Both of them then sat down simultaneously with military precision. Constantine smiled at me broadly and the interview commenced:

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.
First published in NKEE on 3 October 2005


Όταν με δέχθηκαν στα γραφεία του Ivanhoe Grammar School το πρώτο πράγμα που με ρώτησαν στη ρεσεψιόν ήταν το αν αισθανόμουν προικισμένος διότι μου δίνονταν η ευκαιρία να γνωρίζω και να συζητήσω μαζί με τον 'βασιλιά.' Απήντησα σκοπτικώς ότι εκείνη τη στιγμή το μόνο πράγμα που αισθανόμουν ήταν μία απέραντη νοσταλγία για τα μαθητικά μου χρόνια, ένα μεγάλο κομμάτι των οποίων πέρασα έξω από το γραφείο του διευθυντή σε ακριβώς παρόμοιο σημείο, αναμένοντας την τιμωρία. Με οδήγησαν στο γραφείο του διευθυντή και ξαφνικά είδα να με πλησιάζουν δύο πανύψηλες μορφές. Σηκώνοντας το βλέμμα μου, ατένισα τα γνωστά χαρακτηριστικά ενός ατόμου ο οποίος σημάδεψε τόσο βαθιά την νεότερη πολιτική ιστορία της Ελλάδος. Από πίσω, ο γιος του ο Νικόλαος, χαμογελαστός. Μου πιάνει το χέρι ο Κωνσταντίνος και συγχρόνως με τον γιο του, κάθισε μηχανικά στην καρέκλα. Μου χαμογελάει και η συνέντευξη αρχίζει...

Καλώς ήλθατε στην Αυστραλία. Καθώς γνωρίζω, επισκέπτεστε την Αυστραλία ως αρωγός του Διεθνές Συνεδρίου Round Square. Μπορείτε να μας πείτε λίγο λόγια για αυτή την οργάνωση;

Χαίρομαι που βρίσκομαι εδώ. Σχετίζομαι με την οργάνωση Round Square από την ίδρυση της το 1966. Πρόκειται για ένα διεθνές δίκτυο σχολείων ανά των πέντε ηπείρων τα οποία ασπάζονται τα ιδεώδη και ιδανικά του διεθνισμού, δημοκρατίας, φυσικού περιβάλλοντος, περιπέτειας, ηγεσίας και υπηρεσίας. Το δίκτυο είναι σχετικά χαλαρά συνδεδεμένο. Προωθεί την διεξαγωγή εθελοντικής εργασίας σε διάφορα μέρη του αναπτυσσόμενου κόσμου όπως π.χ στο Λαντάχ της Ινδίας ή στην Κένυα. Ακόμη και το σχολείο στο οποίο φοιτούσα στην Ελλάδα αποτελεί ιδρυτικό μέλος του δικτύου. Κύριο έναυσμα αποτελεί η πεποίθηση ότι αν μπορούμε να σπείρουμε έστω και μηδαμινό σπόρο ανεκτικότητος και προωθήσουμε διεθνείς συναναστροφές μεταξύ μαθητών, θα εξασφαλίσουμε ένα πιο ασφαλές μέλλον.

Εφόσον η οργάνωση είναι διεθνής, πώς γεφυρώνει τυγχάνουσες πολιτισμικές, ιστορικές και πνευματικές διαφορές; Παραδείγματος χάρη, ένα από τα ιδανικά του Round Square είναι η δημοκρατία. Σίγουρα αυτή η λέξη δεν θα εννοεί διάφορα πράγματα σε άτομα ποικίλλων εμπειριών και καταγωγών;

Σίγουρα. Το Round Square προωθεί την ιδέα του διεθνούς πολίτη. Οι νέοι μπορούν να γεφυρώσουν τις διάφορες πολιτισμικές διαφορές που υπάρχουν και διαμέσου μιας ανταλλαγής ιδεών και εμπειριών, να προωθήσουν την αμοιβαία κατανόηση. Για αυτό το λόγο, δίνουμε ιδιαίτερη έμφαση στην διοργάνωση προγραμμάτων εθελοντισμού τα οποίά ωθούν τους νέους να γνωρίσουν άμεσα τις πολιτισμικές και πολιτικές συνθήκες διάφορων άλλων κρατών. Πρέπει να ενθυμούμαστε ότι πάντοτε μαθαίνουμε. Θυμάμαι ότι όταν ο γιος μου πήρε το απολυτήριο του από το Gordonstoun, ο κύριος ομιλητής σηκώθηκε και είπε: "Νομίζετε ότι μάθατε τίποτε κατά την διάρκεια της παραμονής σας εδώ; Δεν μάθατε τίποτε." Αυτό που έκανε μεγάλη εντύπωση και είναι απόλυτα σωστό. Μόνον διαμέσων κοινωνικών συναναστροφών ωριμάζουμε. Και πρέπει να ακούμε τους άλλους προσεκτικά. "Προσέχετε μήπως οι ψιθυριστές προσευχές του κόσμου μετατραπούν σε κραυγές οργής," αυτό ήταν ένα ακόμη μήνυμα που μας απηύθυνε ο κύριος ομιλητής στην τελετή αποφοίτησης.

Αναφερθήκατε εν συντομία στην έννοια του διεθνούς πολίτη. Η επίδραση της παγκοσμιοποιήσεως στην εκπαίδευση και στον πολιτισμό δημιουργεί περαιτέρω προοπτικές διακινήσεως ιδεών και ανθρώπων. Αυτό δεν οδηγεί στην ομοιομορφωποίηση του πολιτισμού και τον αφανισμό της διαφορετικότητος; Πώς διατηρείται η ισορροπία μεταξύ την προώθηση ενός παγκοσμίου πολιτισμού και την διαφύλαξη της ιδιαίτερης πολιτισμικής ταυτότητος;

Το Round Square αντιτάσσεται στην ομοιομορφωποίηση του πολιτισμού εκτός των ιδανικών για τα οποία έγινε λόγος πρωτύτερα, τα οποία θεωρούνται κοινώς ιερά από σχεδόν όλους τους πολιτισμούς της υφηλίου. Αν προσπαθείς να επιβάλλεις τα δικά σου ιδιαίτερα ιδανικά σε κάποιο άτομο, αυτό σημαίνει ότι δεν τον ακούς. Ο σεβασμός προς την διαφορετικότητα είναι ανεκτίμητο αγαθό. Οδηγεί στην ανεκτικότητα, η οποία με την σειρά της οδηγεί προς μία ασφαλέστερη και φιλικότερη οικουμένη.

Πώς αντιλαμβάνεστε εσείς τα "ιδανικά" της ηγεσίας και της υπηρεσίας;

Είναι συνυφασμένες οι έννοιες αυτές. Ορισμένοι θαυμάσιοι άνθρωποι οι οποίοι είναι αρωγοί του Round Square έχουν προσφέρει ανεκτίμητες υπηρεσίες στην χώρα τους, ο Νέλσον Μαντέλα φερ' ειπείν. Το να μπορεί κάποιος να υπηρετεί τον άλλον σημαίνει ότι βάζει τα συμφέροντα του άλλου πάνω από τα δικά του τα ατομικά. Πιο μεγαλειώδες ιδανικό δεν υπάρχει. Στην ηγεσία συνεπάγεται κάτι το παρόμοιο. Είναι διδακτική διότι εκπαιδεύεις τον άλλον με γνώμονα την δική σου την συμπεριφορά. Τελικά δεν έχει σημασία το τι κάνεις στη ζωή σου, φτάνει να το διαπράττεις όσο καλύτερα σου το επιτρέπουν οι δυνάμεις σου. Ασπαζόμαστε το ρητό "Αεί αριστεύειν," και θέλουμε να διαποτίσουμε τους νέους με αυτό το πνεύμα.

Ποια η διαφορά όταν άτομα υψηλής προσωπικότητος εκπροσωπούν μία οργάνωση; Είναι τα ιδανικά τα οποία οδηγούν μία οργάνωση μπροστά ή οι ευκαιρίες και οι προοπτικές που δημιουργούνται με την ανάμειξη των δημοσίων προσώπων; Αναφέρομαι συγκεκριμένα στο παράδειγμα της Πριγκίπισσας Διάνας η οποία έκανε τόσα πολλά για το θέμα του AIDS και των ναρκοπεδίων.

Αναμφισβήτητα η ανάμειξη ανθρώπων με ισχυρό δημόσιο πρόσωπο αλλάζει τα δεδομένα. Ορισμένα από τα στελέχη του Round Square είναι άτομα όπως ο Νέλσον Μαντέλα και η κυρία Γκάντι που έχουν κάνει πολλά καλά έργα για τις χώρες τους. Δεν μπορούμε παρά να παραδειγματιστούμε από αυτούς τους ανθρώπους οι οποίοι στο βιογραφικό τους έχουν τόσες αγαθοεργίες και να θέλουμε να τους μιμηθούμε. Ο ενστερνισμός κάποιου ιδανικού από αυτούς τους ανθρώπους προσδίδει ιδιαίτερη βαρύτητα σε αυτό λόγω του σεβασμού που χαίρουν τέτοια άτομα κατά την διάρκεια της ζωής τους. Οι αρωγοί του Round Square είναι άτομα η ζωή των οποίων υπογραμμίζει τα ιδανικά της οργανώσεως. Είναι σε ιδιάζουσα θέση να μπορούν να διδάσκουν και να προωθούν αυτά τα ιδανικά έχοντας ως παράδειγμα, την ίδια τη ζωή τους.

Είχατε την ευκαιρία να μιλήσετε στους μαθητές του Ivanhoe Grammar School? Πώς σας φέρθηκαν;

Οι μαθητές ήταν φιλικοί και ενθουσιώδεις. Εντυπωσιάστηκα από την ωριμότητα των σκέψεων και ερωτήσεων τους. Πιο σημαντικά, όπως συνηθίζω να κάνω σε κάθε συνέδριο, τους ρώτησα αν νόμιζαν ότι ο θεσμός του Round Square είναι ακόμη επίκαιρος και αν θα έπρεπε να διαλυθεί. Η απάντηση ήταν ένα κατηγορηματικό "όχι," και στις συζητήσεις που ακολούθησαν, ήταν φανερό ότι δεδομένου του γενικού κλίματος ανασφάλειας που διαπερνά την οικουμένη, τα ιδανικά του Round Square είναι αναγκαία τώρα όσο ποτέ, ώστε να προωθούν την ανεκτικότητα και την αδελφοσύνη.

Αν θα μπορούσα να μεταπηδήσω από θέματα διεθνούς εμβέλειας μια στιγμή σε αυτά του στενότερου κύκλου μας, βρίσκεστε στην Μελβούρνη, μία από τις πολυπληθέστερες ελληνικές πόλεις του κόσμου. Πώς βρίσκετε την Ελληνική παροικία μας; Διατηρείται καθόλου επαφές μαζί της;

Πιστεύω ότι τούτη είναι η τέταρτη φορά που επισκέπτομαι την Μελβούρνη. Μου αρέσει πάρα πολύ εδώ πέρα και βέβαια οι Έλληνες είναι πολυάριθμοι, τους βρίσκεις παντού. Θυμάμαι ότι στο προηγούμενο ταξίδι μου ότι προσγειώθηκα στο αεροδρόμιο του Σύδνεϋ. Ορισμένοι υπάλληλοι του αεροδρομίου ήταν Έλληνες και τους άκουγα να αναρωτιούνται: «Πού είναι; Πού είναι;» Τους γνώρισα και χαρήκανε και αυτοί για την γνωριμία. Αυτό που μου έκανε ιδιαίτερη εντύπωση είναι ότι μου είπαν "Καλώς ορίσατε στην χώρα ΜΑΣ." Αυτό αποτελεί ένα από τα αξιοσημείωτα φαινόμενα της Αυστραλίας, ότι κατέχει την ιδιότητα να κάνει όλων τον κόσμο να την αισθάνεται ως εστία τους. Αυτό που με εντυπωσιάζει από τους Έλληνες εδώ είναι ότι δεν ξεχνούν ποτέ την γλώσσα και την καταγωγή τους, τα ήθη και τα έθιμα τους. Παράλληλα, εντάσσονται με σχετική δεξιοτεχνία στην ευρύτερη Αυστραλιανή κοινωνία. Έχω τύχει να γνωρίσω πολλά μέλη της Ελληνικής παροικίας κατά την διάρκεια των επισκέψεών μου εδώ και έχω εντυπωσιαστεί από όλους. Οι περισσότεροι με αναγνωρίζουν, είναι εγκάρδιοι και χαίρονται όταν με βλέπουν.

Έχετε τύχει να γνωρίσετε Έλληνες εδώ οι οποίοι δεν χάρηκαν να σας δουν όσο τα άτομα στα οποία αναφερθήκατε προηγουμένως;

Θυμάμαι μία φορά ότι μπήκα σε ένα ταξί. Ο ταξιτζής ήταν Έλληνας αλλά δεν με αναγνώρισε αρχικά. Αρχίσαμε την κουβέντα και μετά από λίγο του είπα ποιος είμαι. Κατσούφιασε και δεν φαίνονταν καθόλου ευχαριστημένος από αυτή μου την ανακάλυψη. Μετά από λίγο γύρισε και μου είπε: "Ξέρεις τι με τρώει; όταν θα σε αφήσω, θα πάω στο καφενείο και μετά στο σπίτι. Και κανένας, ούτε οι φίλοι μου, ούτε η γυναίκα και τα παιδία μου δεν θα με πιστέψουν όταν θα τους πω ότι γύριζα τους δρόμους μ τον Βασιλιά στο πίσω κάθισμα του ταξί μου."

Ας μου επιτρέψετε να θίξω ένα θέμα το οποίο σχετίζεται άμεσα με αυτό το θέμα. Θα γνωρίζετε βέβαια ότι ορισμένα στελέχη της Ελληνικής παροικίας έχουν ενοχληθεί από την αναφορά στο πρόσωπό σας τόσο από τα ΜΜΕ όσο από την διεύθυνση του Ivanhoe Grammar School ως βασιλέα της Ελλάδος. Ο δε Γενικός Πρόξενος της Ελλάδος στην Μελβούρνη έχει συντάξει επιστολή διαμαρτυρίας προς το Ivanhoe Grammar School όπου διευκρινίζει το ότι δεν είστε πλέον ο βασιλέας της Ελλάδος. Πώς σχολιάζετε αυτό το θέμα;

Δεν το είχα υπόψιν μου ότι τέθηκε τέτοιο θέμα, ούτε γνώριζα τίποτε για την ενέργεια του Γενικού Προξένου. Κοιτάξτε, πάντοτε υποστηρίζω ότι σέβομαι το δημοψήφισμα του 1975 και την λαϊκή βούληση. Όπως γνωρίζετε, η Ελλάδα είναι δημοκρατία. Σέβομαι απόλυτα το Σύνταγμα της Ελληνικής Δημοκρατίας και πιστεύω ότι ο καθένας μπορεί να με αποκαλεί όπως θέλει. Αυτό δεν αποτελεί θέμα για εμένα. Το Ivanhoe Grammar School απλώς είχε την αβροφροσύνη η οποία επεκτείνεται σε όλα τα μέλη του Round Square να αποκαλεί τους αρωγούς του σύμφωνα με τους τίτλους τους.

Ο αιώνας που πέρασε έχει σημαδευτεί από την πτώση πολλών βασιλικών καθεστώτων ανά τον κόσμο. Επίσης έχει δει την πτώση του κομμουνισμού, την αυξανόμενη δυσπιστία του λαού σε όλες της μορφές πολιτικής ηγεσίας και όλως παράδοξα στην επικράτηση της δυτικής κοινοβουλευτικής δημοκρατίας και του απολυταρχισμού. Διαμέσου αυτού του πρίσματος, πώς θεωρείτε την διαχρονικότητα και σχετικότητα της βασιλείας στον εικοστό πρώτο αιώνα;

Πιστεύω ακράδαντα ότι ο λαός είναι αυτός που θα πρέπει να αποφασίσει ποια μορφή πολιτεύματος του ταιριάζει καλύτερα και ότι αυτός είναι στην καλύτερη θέση να αποφασίσει τι τον αφορά. Αν πάρεις για παράδειγμα τα μέχρι πρόσφατα δώδεκα μέλη κράτη της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης, έξι από αυτά ήταν βασιλευόμενες δημοκρατίες και τα άλλα έξη απλώς δημοκρατίες. Οι πολίτες των βασιλευόμενων δημοκρατιών δηλώνουν ευχαριστημένοι με το πολίτευμα τους όπως δε και οι πολίτες των δημοκρατιών. Επομένως ο λαός αποφασίζει. Είμαι πολύ ευχαριστημένος από την ιδιαίτερη αγάπη που δείχνει η Αυστραλία προς την πριγκίπισσα Μαρία της Δανίας. Είναι σπάνιο κορίτσι και εξαιρετική πρόσθεση στην οικογένειά μας. Επανερχόμενος στο θέμα, πιστεύω ότι μόνο ο λαός είναι σε θέση να αποφανθεί για το πολιτικό σύστημα που τον εκφράζει.

Από όλες τις απασχολήσεις του κόσμου, ελάχιστοι γίνονται "βασιλείς." Τι σημαίνει για σας το να είστε ή να είσαστε κάποτε βασιλιάς;

Δεν είμαι σίγουρος πώς ακριβώς να απαντήσω αυτή την ερώτηση. Δεν είναι εύκολη ερώτηση. Είναι σαν να σας ρωτήσω εσάς πώς νιώθεις ως δημοσιογράφος την στιγμή αυτή που καταγράφεις την συνέντευξη. Είμαι βασιλιάς. Γεννήθηκα βασιλιάς. Αποτελεί αναπόσπαστο κομμάτι της ταυτότητος μου και δεν μπορώ να φανταστώ τον εαυτό μου δίχως αυτή την ιδιότητα. Δεν ξέρω αν απάντησα την ερώτησή σας αλλά μάλλον σχετίζεται με την πεμπτουσία του είναι μου.

Όπως μαθαίνω, ψάχνετε για σπίτι στην Αθήνα. Αληθεύει αυτό και σκοπεύετε να εγκατασταθείτε μονίμως στην Ελλάδα;

Ναι όντως ψάχνουμε για σπίτι. Δεν έχουμε βρει το κατάλληλο ακόμη. Η Ελλάδα είναι η πατρίδα μου επομένως γιατί να μην θέλω να επιστρέψω σ' αυτήν; Πάντοτε υπήρξε πρόθεσις μου η επιστροφή και θα την πραγματοποιήσω.

Σας εύχομαι καλή διαμονή στην Αυστραλία. Έχετε κάποιο μήνυμα για τους Έλληνες της Αυστραλίας;

Ελπίζω ότι θα επισκέπτομαι την Αυστραλία πιο συχνά.. Την επόμενη φορά θα ήθελα να φέρω την σύζυγό μου την Άννα Μαρία και τα παιδιά μου. Είστε όλοι υπέροχοι. Συνεχίστε να κάνετε το παν να διατηρήσετε την ταυτότητά σας. Η Ελληνική γλώσσα είναι σπουδαία. Δεν ήταν ο George Bernard Shaw ο οποίος είπε ότι η μισή χάρη στην Γαλλική είναι η προφορά της, ενώ η Γερμανική και η Ελληνική έχουν πράγματι σημασία; Βέβαια τα δικά μου Γερμανικά είναι για κλάματα. Αν και η μητέρα μου ήταν Γερμανικής καταγωγής ποτέ δεν χρησιμοποιούσαμε αυτή τη γλώσσα. Όσον αφορά ένα μήνυμα; Συγχαρητήρια, συνεχίστε έτσι όπως ακριβώς είστε εδώ στην Αυστραλία.
First published in Neos Kosmos on 3 October 2005