LOPPING OFF BRANCHES
In a way, we all expected that sooner or later, a ‘Macedonian’ branch would be formed in the Labor Party. This is because Slavonic people who for whatever reason call themselves “Macedonians” are also Australian citizens and voters and they know how to use the system to their advantage as much as anyone else. When considered logically, it is remarkable that we would expect, given the plethora of Greek-speaking ALP branches, to validly protest against the formation of another ethnic branch. While the argument that the existence of ethnic branches is in fact racist and serves to exploit the ethnic vote while at the same time, effectively isolating most rank and file ethnic party members from positions of mainstream power is plausible, to pursue it to its logical conclusion is to call for the dissolution of all ethnic branches, including our own, something which we can be sure that Greek members of the Labor Party would not dare do, given that their relegation to marginal branches gives them a sense of importance that would otherwise be lost.
Why then would we feel outraged that a Party that purports to govern or speak for hundreds of ethnicities has determined to accommodate the aspirations of one of those ethnicities? Simply because for one reason or another, we have developed a myth that we are, if not ‘the’ then at least one of the most progressive, successful and important ethnic communities in Australia. Consequently, all governments and parties must listen to us and heed our every demand at the expense of others, especially if there are more of us than there is of those others. When this does not occur, we feel bewildered and lost, though we never detach ourselves from our golden boy illusion.
Indeed what will the consequences of the Victorian Labor Party’s actions be? Short-sighted jubilation among the movers of the motion and their compatriots who do not realize that their victory is not an endorsement of their outlandish conception of their identity but rather a cynical attempt to obtain their docile vote, along with most other ethnic communities who despise our self-assumed air of superiority. And how will we, the most powerful and successful community ever to set foot in Australia respond? Will we wield our considerable political and financial clout to scare the Labor Party into thinking that they have lost the ‘Greek’ vote in this most crucial election year? Will we approach other parties in order to give the issue prominence and put the Labor Party under pressure? The short answer is that we will do only as the Diatribe does: have a whinge, if that. Several weeks have passed since the news broke about the successful vote and our own Macedonian organizations, who are extremely adept at playing community politics, have responded to it with an inept silence, punctuated by the convening of yet another public forum, where Greek members of the left and right factions of the Labor Party squabbled and pointed the finger at each other, while unloading years of dirt on each other to the amusement of the attendees. At the same time, a Ms Yiannoulatos from Theo Theophanous’ office encouraged us to ‘join the Labor Party’ in the hope that even though this is the Party responsible for the current situation, our presence within it will magically set things aright. Finally it was resolved to send a letter of protest to the Labor Party and to request Greek branches to work internally to solve the problem. The forum was noted by the marked absence of Greek community leaders. Either they do not care, despite their effusive protestations of patriotism, or and one hopes it is the latter, they find themselves way out of their league. In the recent pages of the Greek section of this publication, for the past few weeks, readers concerns have variously centered upon who should have organized the Return to Anatolia Conference, Old age, Religion and poetry. This speaks volumes as to how important the success of the motion to create the ‘Macedonian Branch’ really is to our community.
Similarly, our close affiliation with the Labor Party almost to the exclusion of other avenues of power, though not without manifold benefits for which we will be eternally grateful, has had one detrimental effect. Everyone is privy to the fragmented and diverse nature of our paroikia. It is therefore incorrect to speak of ‘the Greek community.’ Instead, we should refer to the “Greek communities” all of which have different interests, political beliefs and concerns and NONE of which are able to act in concert with their counterparts in order to represent a united Greek force, simply because those terms are mutually exclusive. Thus all parties and governments know that the various Greek lobbyists that knock on their doors from time to time though possibly influential, do not really represent our community as a whole and so, they can be placated and ignored. In parallel, the Labor Party knows that despite any perceived anti-Hellenic connotations stemming from the vote, such outrage will dissolve by election time simply because they have most of the Greeks ‘in the bag’ and no astute politician of the calibre of Jeff Kennett exists to woo the Greeks away from them in the only way possible: by massaging their egoes and making them feel special. In other words, they are on to us. They know we are powerless, they know that we will vote for them no matter what and they know that our anger can easily dispelled by a smile from a politician and an opportunity to take a photograph with him.
Christos Tsirkas is of the opinion that a greater participation by members of the Greek communities in the Labor Party, especially younger ones, is vital and that it could have successfully defeated the motion. This is a sentiment echoed by Jenny Mikakos in an interview she gave last year to NKEE: “The idealism that young people bring to politics is a good thing. I'd like to see more young Greeks involved in my party and in shaping the party in the future. That is not happening. The average age of the majority of Australian Greeks that are members of the Labor Party is sixty-five.” There is much to be said about this view. Participation by younger, assertive and articulate members who have been born in Australia and thus do not feel that they are obliged or owe a debt of gratitude to the Party for giving them their original voice could challenge provoke and improve the status quo both for the Party and our community PROVIDED that such younger members act in our interests and are not used as pawns in the process of branch stacking and pre-selections. As few youth have been brought up to have a conception of a Greek community other than the often blinkered view of their parents or to espouse community service as an ideal, it is questionable whether this proposition would have widespread appeal. It is worthwhile noting that Greek student organizations and other youth bodies have shared their progenitor’s silence on the ‘Macedonian’ branch.
The vocal presence of Greeks in the Labor Party has long provoked and annoyed many of its members. Despite the fact that Greeks tend to sacrifice the interests of their own community in order to curry favour with the Party, their loyalty to Australia is constantly called into question. For example, in Andrew Landeryou’s blog: “The Other Cheek,” in an article entitled ‘My Big Fat Ego,’ he re-casts the comments made above by Jenny Mikakos in a more sinister light: “Brach-stacking State MP Jenny Mikakos has told a Greek community newspaper Neos Kosmos of her plans to stack members of the Greek community in the Labor Party.”
Our task then, seems to be twofold: Firstly we have to find ways of deflecting the criticism leveled at us, that we are self-interested and that in concerning ourselves with the permutations of Balkan politics, we do not have the interests of Australia at heart. This is no mean feat and may prove to be an impossible task given that we have been called upon to justify our loyalty time and time again for the past hundred years. Then, or simultaneously, we need to recast ourselves as a unique niche within Australian society that has its own interests and concerns much like any other section of the community. Only then can our involvement in the political process be seen as constructive and again it is questionable whether we will ever be viewed as anything else except strangers, prior to our holistic assimilation.
Overall, the inept silence that accompanied the recent manifestation of an issue that saw us take to the streets in 1992 and 1994 seems to suggest that we are more comfortable with myth than reality and that having established ourselves in this country and acquired a large land tax bill, our work is done. It exceeds even the farthest corners of the already stretched imagination of the most ardent Australian-Ellinaras to seriously postulate that as a community, we could look at establishing a consensus of core issues we are in agreement upon and work methodically and in concert to ensure that our stance in respect of those issues is adopted by as many facets of society as possible, simply because our past history proves that we lack the maturity and good-will to work together.
If consolation can be found it is in this: That as time progresses and the dividing line between our acculturation and assimilation blurs into obscurity, so too shall the ‘national issues’ which are peculiar to us an ethnic minority. And on that happy day, when our sickly tributary breaks the bank of the mainstream and flows into its delta, we can truly say that we have won. Until next time, go with the flow.