“So what is to be done? Shall we take to the streets and wave Greek flags? Shall we deftly, in the lead up to the election seek out photo opportunities with politicians to convince our peers that our word carries weight or influence? Shall we hope to delude parties into believing that if they do not promise to resolve the ontological issue in our favour, we will vote them out or not vote them into office, even though they know full well after the decades of our co-habitation that our political consciousness is seldom if ever swayed by our ethnic consciousness? Whatever we decide to do, one thing is certain: we would do well to view the resolution of our own ontological dispute from within the context of the wider ontological crisis that regulates the place of racial groups within society. At least that way, whatever the outcome, we will at least not suffer the come down of disabused delusion.”
On 18 November 2007, we did take to the streets, in droves. We did so with flags and placards proclaiming the Greekness of Macedonia and of ourselves, in traditional costume, in ancient costume, headed by a remarkably large banner that proclaimed: “Macedonia: Greek and Proud.” By the time the head of this motley procession of proud Greek arrived before the steps of Parliament House, its tail was still at the Exhibition Gardens; a long, pulsating and exuberant blue and white python of Hellenism, sliding along the silent and largely deserted expanse of Exhibition Street, sending the few solitary Chinese pedestrians scurrying into sidestreets. Easily, there more considerably more constituent parts to this python than the 15,000 quoted in the press. Drums were banged sonorously and the exhilarated crowd marched in step, intoning “Ellas, Ellas, Makedonia” while simultaneously attempting to squirm their way to the head of the procession. One disturbed woman, in her demented quest to make it to the front, actually attacked a girl wearing national costume with a placard. Yet despite this incident, which took place in the bowels of the python, the march was laid-back, joyous even and when you stepped back and looked at the faces of the marchers, fixed to the front, their eyes gleaming, proudly waving grandchildren and flags aloft, exhilarating.
The sun bore down upon us, making the blues of our flags even brighter, its white, blinding. I noticed a young man dressed as a Phrygian, complete with upturned Phrygian cap - the ancient symbol of emancipated slavery, adopted by the French Revolution and used today as a national symbol by France and various South American Bolivarian republics. I also noticed that the people leading the procession, dressed in their costumes, playing traditional songs on instruments aeons old were young. Indeed, there seemed to be two “types” of march-goers. There were the old folk, tired, their faces pitted with the creases and folds of decades of anguish and toil, their eyes aflame with desire. And then there were the youth, so many of them, more than can ever be seen at any Greek community event, not tagging along, not being coerced to attend by the parents (most of whom were conspicuously absent), but taking an active, role, a leading role in the proceedings. Prior to the rally, some 80,000 emails, sms and telephone calls were made, notably by the members of the Hellas Fan Club, who turned up in force. Thousands of Greek youth heeded their call. One of them, a young girl resplendent in a t-shirt bearing a Star of Vergina, that owing to her cleavage, was setting definitely low on the horizon, enthusiastically exclaimed that: “there has never been anything like this to get the youth together. I mean, as a community, we are pretty dead.” If the Hellas Fan Club and associated youth are anything to go by, our community python may be shedding its skin, but its life is definitely not over. A group of youths committed to their own conception of Hellenism, though derided at various times by sections of the mainstream and our community, proved on that day, that when push came to shove, they had the passion and the drive to assume a community project and bring about its success. The harmonious manner in which the Hellas Fan Club worked with the Rally Organising Committee in order to achieve this outcome harbours fortuitous haruspices for the future. The absence of the comfortable bourgeois 40-50 demographic was therefore lost in the youthful exuberance.
As the procession turned into Bourke Street and we arrived at the still relatively deserted steps of Parliament House, I turned back and looked at the surging mass of Hellenism before me. “So we can still pull it off,” I murmured to myself. For really, that was what this Rally was about, as much as it was about Macedonia. Apart from my concerns as to the effectiveness of a protest in a modern era of evolved political culture, shared in the large part by the sage advice of John Pandazopoulos in his article in NKEE last week, one of the major arguments against the Rally was that a small turn out would be unfavourably compared to the mass rallies of the nineties, which achieved a participation of hundreds of thousands. Last week’s rally was therefore a litmus test for the community, a gauge of its vitality. A community that had something to prove, not so much to others, but itself, turned out in force, in yet another attempt to convince itself that it was still alive. It definitely succeeded in doing so.
When I stood before the podium to address tens of thousands of Hellenes on behalf of the Organising Committee, I felt humbled and ashamed, simply because I had doubted their resolve, their commitment and their fervour, because I had arrogantly chosen to believe in their indifference. I was glad to have been proved wrong. Lowering the microphone towards me, I said:
“My fellow Macedonians. Here we are, at the steps of the bastion of democracy, before a very Hellenic in concept institution and in architecture building, as Macedonians.
Truly that is what we are. For in the ancient Greek dialect of Macedonia, the word Macedonian, Makednos, signified that person who stood lean and tall.
This is what we are doing here today as Macedonians, standing tall, standing firm, committing ourselves to the concepts of pluralism, tolerance and multiculturalism that make this country and this state, so great.
Let us not forget that the first institutor of multiculturalism was that great Hellene, the King of Macedonia and half the world, Alexander the Great. A man who spread Hellenism as far as India.
We stand here today, as descendants of Philip, the King of Macedonia, who united his Greek compatriots in a struggle against totalitarianism and for liberty and freedom.
And we also stand here today, as descendants of the great Macedonian philosopher Aristotle the author of the great work Politics, in which he describes all the political institutions of his time, which are the precursors of this Parliamentary institution. Aristotle taught us and the rest of the world to weigh our words carefully, to speak responsibly, with the force of truth and stand up for what is right.
We are here because every fibre of our being is as Macedonian as it is Australian, because as the great Macedonian Saint of the Orthodox Church, Gregory Palamas stated, it is only through contemplation that we are granted a glimpse of the eternal truth.
Our eternal truth is that of our existence. We are Greeks, the Greeks of Macedonia, THE Macedonians and have always been so, since the dawn of civilization itself.
Now there are those who in this tolerant country, this haven of peace and social cohesion, this harbour of humanity, who would deny us our right to call ourselves by our name, who would deprive us of our right to our own identity.
And they would do so based on incorrect, misguided or deliberately usurped so-called information and cultural capital.
To these people we say:
NO one can usurp our identity.
NO one can abrogate our right to call ourselves by our name.
No one can deny that we, the members of the united Greek-Australian community, are Macedonians.
Not many people know this but our Australian links with Macedonian Hellenism are venerable ones. Australian citizens fought in the Greek Army for the liberation of Macedonia from the Ottomans.
Australian soldiers also fought to protect the Greek province of Macedonia during the First World War. Tens of Australian nurses set up their makeshift clinics and hospitals in Macedonia, tending the Greek and Australian wounded.
Today, the monument honouring fallen Australian soldiers in the capital of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, is a place of pilgrimage and reverence for all Greek-Australians.
Given this special relationship between Australia and Greece, we applaud the respectful and considered stance of the Government and the Opposition as to the issue of the naming of the Former Yugoslav Republic.
We applaud the fact that our government encourages dialogue and supports a solution that both sides will find acceptable.
We thank our government and the opposition for their balanced stance, which promotes tolerance, cohesion and solidarity in a troubled world.
Yet today, as we stand here in front of this Hellenic façade, designed for a Hellenic purpose, that of free speech, liberty and democracy for all, we the Macedonian community of Australia, as one united Greek-Australian voice say:
That the only solution is one that recognises the unique Greek provenance of the term Macedonia.
That Macedonia, as a geographical entity, is not an acceptable name for a state that does not partake of the 4000 year old rich cultural history of Macedon and instead would usurp our own.
From the government and the opposition, we would seek more than just assurances about their stance as to the name. We seek understanding and knowledge of what it is that makes the word Macedonia so dear, so important to us, so intrinsic to our own Hellenic identity.
For to do so is to descend to the core of what it is to be a Greek and by us being here today, reveling and rejoicing in our Macedonian identity, we have never been more Australian than now. Our diggers have taught us that.
Finally, to those who would assume our identity, and you know who I am talking about - the people who use our Kings’ Names on their airports, who have attempted to use our landmarks on their currency and who publish maps in which they occupy half of Greece, to those who would make light of it or disregard it as unimportant, we say only that which we hold sacrosanct and holy, we say only this: That you will not take our name in vain. And you know why? Because we are Macedonian, we are Greek and we are goddamn proud.” Talk about slogan overkill.
As I listened to Member for Melbourne Lindsay Tanner reassure us of Labor’s policy, in excellent Greek, I was astounded at how the political culture of this country can Melbourne-weather-like, shift so as to have mainstream politicians address us in our own language, the climactic equivalent of a multicultural anti-cyclone. This in itself was a significant and historic event.
As the last of the marchers lung their flags over their shoulders and set off down Bourke Street into mundane reality, my euphoria vanished. Truly, as part of a balanced diet of activism, a rally has its place. But if it is the only diet on the menu, ones internal community organisms become clogged and vital organs atrophy. The sophisticated approach postulated by John Pandazopoulos seems to be the only way in which rallies such as the one that took place last week can have any lasting effect other than to assuage our own existentialistic angst. Still, there is something mighty grand about seeing so many flags, so many faces massed together and that is why we crave it, again and again and again….
In closing, a snippet of a review of the rally from a FYROMIAN, posted on the Maknews website: “Considering that there are apparently 150,000 people who identify as Greeks in Melbourne, I would say their shocking turnout at the rally serves to prove what we've been trying to tell Australian politicians for a while now - that even though the Greeks might outnumber us, the Macedonian name issue is much more important to mainstream Australian “Macedonians” (sic) than it is to mainstream Australian Greeks. Therefore, Australian “Macedonians” (sic) are much more likely to change their voting preferences in large numbers because of the Macedonian name issue than Australian Greeks are.”
Food for thought…..