Ambrose Bierce is at his devastating best when he defines the process of voting as “the instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.” Montesqieu on the other hand, is at his most dangerous when he postulates in his “Spirit of Laws” that in the case of elections in either a republic or a democracy, voters alternate between being the rulers of the country as well as being the subjects of the government, with the act of voting being the sovereign capacity, in which the people act as “masters” selecting their government “servants.”
This should be contrasted with the voting archetype, Ancient Athens, where voting was primarily an oligarchic institution and where most political offices were filled using sortition, where officeholders are chosen by lot, thus demonstrating the touching faith the Athenians of old had in Divine Providence, rather than in people, to set things aright, though there is a considerable corpus of scholarship that has recently emerged, wielding the theory that the lot system was purposely devised for the placement of bets as to the winner, concurrently giving rise to the development of statistics, probability (though not the Venn diagram) and a rudimentary form of Tattslotto. Though the theory is yet to be substantiated considerably, it does account for the remarkable propensity of Greek-Australian pensioners to play Bingo, and other like games of chance, at suburban Pokies outlets right across our antipodean metropolis.
That the vote is intrinsic to the concept of modern citizenship, is rightly pointed out by Theodore Hesburgh, who considers that: “Voting is a civil sacrament.” Sacraments of course, are not to be participated in lightly. Theological principles hold that they should only be partaken of after a good deal of self-examination, spiritual preparation and cleansing, which would explain why Greek women only received the right to vote in 1956 (there were earlier proposals stemming back to the thirties but if you believe the monarchists, they simply did not have the time to examine them and if you believe the republicans, the monarchists stymied the women’s suffrage movement because they feared that all Greek women were enamoured of Venizelos’ beard, which was carefully groomed and would vote accordingly,) and the Australian Aborigines, in 1962. It is an inordinately moving experience to consider that such a selfless inclusion of all elements of society into the franchise, which marks the apogee of western civilisation, reflects Alexander Shapiro’s deeply held religious conviction that “the vote demonstrates that we accept the notion that all human beings are created in the image of God,” and not that of the tax bracket. Consequently, the science of psephology, a real term believe it or not, that concerns itself with the study of results and other statistics relating to elections, especially with a view to predicting future results, is founded on sound theological principles, and is no longer the preserve of Old Testament prophets but rather, that of Anthony Green of the ABC National Tally Room.
If we juxtapose the above with the knowledge that the vast majority of cases adjudicated in Australian courts pertaining to Greek community organisations concern themselves with irregularities in voting procedures, we can see just how central the process of voting is to our Greek-Australian hypostasis. A Greek-Australian who does not permit himself to be courted by ambitious would-be officeholders who will: pay off the mortgage over the brotherhood building, refurbish it with new tables and chairs, employ a better cook and publish part of the newsletter in English in the hope that this will attract the youth, is effectively disenfranchised, devoid of status in society.
It is meet and fitting then, that the Greek state extends the vote to Greek-Australians, though we are still unsure as to exactly how this is to work, for voting has been in our blood ever since the ancient Athenians in 427 BC voted to kill every single citizen (here read male voters) and enslave all women and children on the island of Lesbos, only to reverse this decision through a further vote, the very next day.
The idea that Greek-Australians, living thousands of kilometres away from their place of origin can have a say in the running of that country’s political affairs is heartening for those whose emotional attachment to that country is so strong, that it must assume the form of a physical bond as well. To be given the right to vote is to be recognised by those with whom we still wish to be kin, as one of them and as such, it is a profound and symbolic re-affirmation and acceptance of our own assertions about our cultural and ethnic identity. Indeed, it is an eerie contemporary parallel to another historical arbiter of Hellenism: the Olympic Games, where competitors’ admission depended upon their recognition as Greeks by their peers. The kingdoms of Epirus and Macedonia were originally suspect owing to their cultural distinctiveness, until their increasing power made it politically expedient to admit their entry without question and to create a mythological lineage for them to boot. That identity is a fluid construct that can be stretched and constricted arbitrarily to fit all circumstances may evidenced by the fact that in time, the Romans were permitted to participate in the Games and the last winner of the Games before their abolition by Theodosius was an Armenian boxer, Barasdates.
Greek people in this country have been living away from their homelands for at least half a century. During that time, they have maintained their love for their motherland but they have also put down roots in Australia and sired a generation of Australian born children. Why is it that only now, decades after receiving their gratuities and in the twilight of their years that the Greek state has decided to grant their lost sheep, the tacit recognition of a shepherd who can only look on as they graze placidly in pastures not under his control and possibly promise to spare them a place in the sheepfold, should they return (provided that they bring their feed with them and not graze upon the sparse Grecian paddock)?
If the granting of the vote was all part of a co-ordinated effort to facilitate closer ties between diaspora Greeks and their motherland, then this belated gesture becomes comprehensible. However, this does not appear to be so. The process for a second generation halt-tongued Greek-Australian to obtain a Greek passport, the first step to obtaining voting rights, far from being a streamlined, facile experience that fills one with pride, is a slow, bewildering and often traumatic process that is grudgingly undergone, primarily in order to travel without restrictions around Europe, more than anything else. The bureaucratic labyrinths that young Greek-Australians must traverse in order to have their often superior qualifications recognised by Greece (and often they are not) and the exclusionist and often xenophobic social prejudices they have to face at the hands of beleagured ‘native’ Greeks all scrambling for a share of the national pie belie any belief that there is anything more than a haphazard lip-service being paid to facilitating their intergration into the Greek state. Rather, it is the first-generation property holders, who speak Greek and gaze upon her idol adoringly who are the main focus here. And their sun will soon set upon the horizon of Lethe.
Perhaps the answer can be found in the reputed machinations of local Greek political party organisations in Australia, who are said to be offering generous subsidies to those Greek-Australian voters who would trouble themselves to vote for the subsidizing party. Viewed from this perspective, it no longer seems strange that a state would allow persons who reside permanently in another country and whose, by consequence, interests lie in that country, to vote in elections that do not affect them in any way. Though it is evident that a Greek-Australian living in Australia would not have the level of understanding of Greek political or domestic issues as those residing in Greece would, what the Greek state is basically doing, is opening the floodgates for a class of persons, far removed from Greek everyday life, to influence and unfairly skew Greek politics, in ways that it hopes will benefit the major parties.
It is interesting to note whether the Greek government has thought of the Australian repercussions of such a decision. For given the level of xenophobia that exists in this country of late, the landmark Theophanous case wherein the legality of dual citizenship was arbitrated and mooted changes to electoral laws so as to not permit citizens to vote in two countries, it is questionable whether Australia would be prepared to accept its nationals actively participating in another country's interests to the level that Greece is encouraging them to do. No doubt the loyalty of many to this country will be openly questioned. We must come to terms with the fact that we are at least on a civic level, Australians and that our primarily duty of political participation rests here.
Having left Greece, we must resign ourselves to the fact that we are not entitled to play an effective role in Greek domestic affairs unless we return and they affect us in general. If the Greek state wants to ensure that the Greek diaspora retains its Greek identity, it can do so by liasing closely with it in order to develop a concrete and clear strategy to educate our youth within the Greek tradition, encourage the retention of close ties by upgrading the services of the Greek Consulates in the diaspora and developingg a program of intergration for diasporans choosing to re-settle in Greece. Nothing more is necessary and if these key concepts had been grasped twenty years earlier, perhaps our decline would not be so great. Nor would it be so great to allow the first generation, architects of the various 'schisms' that exist within our communities, the opportunity to create further mischief by dividing our already fragmented community along political lines. Their track record in this regard is not impressive and we should take active steps to prevent our fractures from turning into chasms. But try telling that to our amateur politicians in their mini-councils and pseudo-parliaments.
It would be poetic justice to see Greek-Australian voters taking the Greek state to court in order to dispute electoral procedure and vote-counting, or to have them in a position where they hold the balance of power in Greek Parliament and legislate for the compulsory addition of nature strips to all footpaths and the domestic use of recycling bins. In so saying, this Diatribist takes this opportunity to announce his candidacy for the seat of Imia. Considering that this also forms part of the Turkish electorate of Kardak, the electorate is not without its challenges, though one would postulate that these are easier to surmount that the integration of persons who do not reside in Greece, into the Greek electoral system. Our party, the Antipodes Party, stands for the provision of free broadband to all constituents, the occupation of neighbouring Kalolimnos in order to make it safe for democracy and the mandatory detention of all illegal sheep on the island of Pharmakonisi. Further more, our annual party congress, the Antipodes Festival, will be a free and all inclusive event, featuring the best acts from Folegandros and plenty of faskomilo for all supporters, whereas wailing and gnashing of teeth is the only thing that awaits opponents and dissenters. As for your Greek-Australian voters girding your loins and preparing to do ballot-battle, a word from Jean-Bernard Klus: “What is the [Greek] electoral system than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner…"
First published in NKEE on 10 September 2007