The ways of the Council of Greeks Abroad, have in the past, proved as mysterious as they are inscrutable. Some years ago, when I had the dubious privilege of being one of its Oceania Youth Co-ordinators, we returned from a New Zealand conference flushed with excitement at the pending implementation of resolutions aimed at sending Greek media to isolated pockets of Hellenism, providing monetary incentives for the study of Modern Greek and greater communication between youth in various regions. We were soon disabused of our enthusiasm by the senior committee, which advised that Greece would not allow the youth a budget and that though monies were allocated to the senior body for the purposes of the youth, the senior body had sought fit to allocate that money, without any consultation with the youth, to the holding of the Pan-Hellenic Games - an event whose lasting effect on the welfare of Hellenism in Australia is questionable to say the least. The Youth of SAE Oceania, most of them full time students, took it upon themselves to bear the cost of sending educational material and newspapers to New Zealand.
Somehow, by 2005, enough money was found by the seniors to compel the Youth to hold an expenses-paid conference in Adelaide. At that conference, the same tried and true issues were discussed, the same resolutions were passed and the same level of enthusiasm reigned, only to fall once more into the heady morass of indifference and oblivion. In 2006, when informed that Greece had decided to disband the SAE Youth network altogether and allocate only 2 seats out of hundreds to Australian youth delegates, the youth committed perhaps the most noble and unprecedented act ever to prise a place in the annals of petty Greek community politics. They refused a junket that would see them clamour and squabble over a free ticket and announced their boycott of SAE, to the horror of all seniors present, who accused them of being ungrateful, troublemakers and general miscreants. The upshot was that many enlightened organizations, ashamed at the exclusion of the youth (“for after all, are not the youth OUR future?”) actually offered their own seats on SAE to them, again an unprecedented and historical act.
When I arrived at the 2006 SAE Conference in Thessaloniki, no agenda had been set for the discussion of Youth issues, as the Youth network had been dissolved. In order to save face, for nothing has been done since then, newly elect SAE World Planetarch Stephanos Tamvakis summoned whatever youth he could find and promised them that they would work together in order to re-constitute the dissolved Youth network. I was appointed as youth spokesperson and in addressing the olomelia (all 20 of them, given that it was the last day, voting for the next Co-ordinator had been concluded and people were toddling off to their villages for a holiday), I advised them that though the Youth network had been disbanded, Tamvakis had promised to reform it and we were all to work closely with him in order to achieve success.
Five minutes later, the diminutive Deputy Foreign Minister Kassimis swooped down upon me, his face twisted in rage, his mouth spitting saliva everywhere: “Paliopaido,” he screamed. “Who put you up to this. PASOK? How dare you say that the Youth are boycotting SAE? I’ll make sure you never come here again. Confess who put you up to this.” Despite my explaining to him that I had said nothing of the sort, the suave, debonair, simian-like Deputy Foreign Minister continued his rant: “We have you on tape. It’s all there. Don’t try to deny it.” When his aide gingerly stepped up to him and advised him that he had transcribed my speech from the tape and that indeed, I had not said anything untoward, he turned to me glaring: “Get back up there and deny what which you have not said.” Bemused, I mounted the podium once more and announced: “Mr Kassimis would like me to confirm that when I spoke previously, I only said that which I had said and not that which I had not said. He has asked me to confirm this with you, in order to save you from any confusion or misapprehension.”
That was the last we heard of the SAE Youth Network, until a few weeks ago, when at a recent meeting in Melbourne, it was announced that the Youth Network would be reconstituted. This would, as was announced, ensure that we have a ‘future.’ Being pressed for time, and knowing that the aged audience was not really interested, the agenda moved on to consider what seems to be the Greek Ministry’s only conception of youth activity: the obsession with holding athletic games. Those present did so, without being able to go into details as to what this Youth Network would do, how it would be more representative and indeed why it was dissolved only to be reconstituted in the first place.
Having dispensed with this topic, the members turned to consider a matter that has taxed the minds of several community leaders and intellectuals of late: the proposal to pool community resources (here read existing club and brotherhood buildings) into one super-edifice that shall be called a cultural centre. A new entity would be created to grant existing clubs a share of the proprietorship and control of this edifice. Two by two, existing organizations would enter this modern day Ark and take shelter within it, in the hope that in this way, they will be saved from the Deluge of Oblivion.
Casting aside for the moment the observation that it is interesting how the Greek-Australian parochial mind can only conceive of a Greek community as being comprised of small, self-interested ‘ethnotopic’ regional organizations (for presumably there shall be no room in the Ark for any other entity unrighteously constituted), what would this cultural super-Ark actually do to protect those that seek its sanctuary?
It would, it was stated as fact at the meeting by many enthusiastic attendees, through communal effort, unite the Greek community and help it to survive, for the ‘sake of our children.’ The irony of an organization created by Greece in order to unite Greeks, advocating the creation of another entity to unite Greeks was lost on most aged attendees of the meeting, who agreed wholeheartedly that the building of the Ark was the way of the future.
There is indeed some merit to the divine injunction to build an Ark, and had this been done in the seventies or eighties when we had a chance, it is quite possible that our community would be totally different today. However, communal effort and co-operation seems to have gone out of season at the same time as the fall of the Berlin Wall, and those nodding their heads at the President’s ecstatic vision of the future way of salvation were either dispossessed or would be community leaders with nothing to lose, or powerbrokers agreeing out of politeness, vowing under their breaths that their administration would not be the one that would denude its club of its assets and abolish its identity. Suich an attitude is perfectly Hellenic. The last time it was decided that the Greeks should pool their resources together and create a united front was in the days of the Delian League. The Athenians moved the treasury designed to provide a fighting fund to keep the Persians at bay to Athens, and used it in order to create an Athenian Empire and to build the Acropolis. This is all well and good if you are Athenian, but quite poor if you are from Naxos and find yourself paying tribute to the unscrupulous western Ionians.
As I watched the attendees lose themselves in their pipe-dreams for the good of the future generations, I marveled at just how patriarchal our community in its relationship to Greek culture actually is. The first generation not only assumes the right to be the sole arbiters of what is Greek culture in Australia, passing it down piecemeal to their offspring as a penguin regurgitates its innards for the sustenance of its newborns, it also abrogates for itself the right to define and determine the future of the Greek community and its relevance to later generations, WITHOUT EVEN CONSULTING THEM.
According to the first generation pipe-dream then, the Ark will save us, not because they have conducted a detailed survey of the latter generations and have concluded that this is the most effective and suitable structure to ensure community cohesion and survival, having regard to the complexities of having a composite Greek-Australian identity, diminished language skills and decreasing exposure to and interest in the mother culture but because they say so. As Australian-born Greeks, our task is to accept that dream as revealed truth, if and when it comes, for our progenitors are bearers of all good things and to this, as to everything else, we must look to them for guidance and obey.
What is fascinating for the purposes of Arcology, is that the second generation at least, accepts this passive, pathetic role for itself. With a few notable, short-lived or ineffectual exceptions, at no stage have the Australian-born generations banded together in order to create structures that would best serve their purposes as Greek-Australians. There may be several reasons for this: apathy, the conviction that in a post-modern world, organising oneself in accordance with one’s ethnicity is an irrelevancy, alienation from the Greek community and of course this: The increasing reliance on the first generation for all things that give us our identity and existence. Because the first generation knows or thinks it knows that the second generation is unwilling or incapable of looking after its ethnic identity, it purports to assume this role for them. The fact that an aging, pioneering generation feels compelled to rear its already mature young at the moment when its young should be looking after it and its legacy is a savage, paradoxical indictment on all generations.
For when and if the Deluge comes, how will an Ark or a SAE that has not been measured to our size, is of no practical use to us and which has been imposed upon us, be in a position to protect us? How indeed will we know that a Deluge is taking place when the Ark that purports to offer sanctuary to us is designed to protect an imaginary, illusory prototype of what might have been, a dream-Greek-Australian ideal that the first generation, with its delusions of immortality, refuses to relinquish?
It will not. For though the first generation concerned itself not only with establishing itself and rearing its children, but with re-creating a lost world, the latter generations have been reared to look after their own narrow individual needs and look to their parents for all else. This must be taken into account when our community leaders decide the form that our glossy new packaging for marketing and lip-service purposes will take. Let them take heed though and conceal that which is harboured therein. And let us take a more active and co-operative role in determining the course of our own future - for in this, the first generation is correct: Our cultural and ethnic identity, as well as the unique structure of our community is of vital relevance and must be preserved, with the requisite modifications. That is our responsibility and if we do not assume it, it will be to our own discredit. For when the dove is set forth from the Ark and circles our generations seeking respite, who knows what it carry in its beak upon its return? If current President Angelopoulos has his way, it may even provide good things, given that he recently secured funding for Greek-Australian Peter Stefanidis to travel to Cannes after his film ‘Pontus’ was accepted at the International Film Festival. Until next week, say yeah to SAE.