The right to protest forms an integral part of the democratic system. It is also a very important tenet of Judaism. For example ,the Talmud prescribes that: “Who can protest an injustice but does not, is an accomplice to the act.” The recent rally by members of the FYROMian community was not a protest though. Instead, it was a manifestation of hatred Greek-towards Greece and Greek-Australians that was so blatant and unapologetic, as to have caused great disquiet. Never before has Melbourne’s civic life been disrupted by such instances of racial intolerance. The boorish and despicable displays of racism, which included implied threats of violence against Greeks, coupled with the presence of state politicians at this vicious proto-pogrom and some coverage as a novelty by the mainstream media, have caused Greek-Australians to scratch their heads and ask: “Why didn’t we get so much public attention?” and “Why didn’t politicians come to our rally.”
The first question can easily be answered. We were well behaved. The tens of thousands of Greeks who converged upon Parliament House last October to show support for the Australian government’s co-operative stance over the naming dispute between Greece and FYROM did so in an orderly and respectful fashion, abjuring any form of racial slurs at the expense of the FYROMian community and with a great respect for the principles of ethnic and cultural cohesion and diversity. As such, our rally was just another peaceful ‘ethnic event,’ of marginal importance to the mainstream. The FYROMian community’s rally was rowdy and hate-driven. Such things are newsworthy, as they serve to reinforce, sometimes deservedly, certain stereotypes about ‘ethnics’ and how they can’t leave their troubles ‘at home.’
The second question, as to why politicians attended the FYROMIAN proto-pogrom is characteristic of a community that, owing to the insularity that has ensued by its magnitude, displays only a slight comprehension of the context in which it exists. It also magnifies the way that our misconceptions have caused us to focus on aspects of the Macedonian issue that are, except to the parties concerned irrelevant. For example, we believe that history proves our contention and that we are ‘right.’ As such, our Zoroastrian consciousness cannot understand why, in the face of the ‘truth,’ politicians would deny that truth and by their presence at an opposing function, support a ‘lie.’ After all, are we not a bigger group.
George Seitz, the state member for Keilor, is a case in point. At a recent Cyprus youth forum, he took me aside and outlined a few ideas he had about strengthening the Greek position on Cyprus. As a result of that, and his presence at the forum, it was held by those attending that “he is a friend of the Greeks.” George Seitz also attended the recent protopogrom. As such, many members of the Greek-Australian community are currently confused by the “missed signals” he is purportedly sending. Is he friend or foe? The answer of course is, that like the vast majority of parliamentarians, he is neither. Conceivably, he couldn’t care less whether FYROM is named Macedonia, Narnia or Western Bulgaria. Instead, he is merely doing what any other astute politician would do: trying to keep his constituents happy.
Doing so however, comes at a cost, especially when one is invited to attend a rally that is ostensibly a protest over the Australian government’s policy with regard to the naming dispute, and which turns out to be a racist proto-pogrom. For starters, one runs the risk of being branded with the same brush. With that in mind, on behalf of the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia, I wrote a letter to Mr Seitz, endeavouring to point out some of the pitfalls of his misconceived presence at Hatefest 08. Omitting formal and irrelevant parts, it read as follows:
“On 24 May 2008, members of the so-called “Macedonian” community converged upon State Parliament House, ostensibly to protest against the Australian Government not recognising the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as “Republic of Macedonia.”
You attended this rally.
While we fully support the right of every citizen to protest over issues that concern them, we are incensed by the rally of 24 May 2008, which appeared more to be a racist and violent ‘hate rally’ against Greek-Australians and Greece.
Under the pretext of peaceful protest, attendees at the rally displayed racially intolerant behaviour that threatens to upset the ethnic cohesion of Victorian society. In a deliberate attempt to provoke the religious feelings of Greek-Australians, they defaced the Greek flag by replacing the cross with a red swastika. They also carried banners with slogans that vilified the Greek people, such as: “Fascist Greeks.”
We note that this seems to imitate recent manifestations of anti-Hellenism taking place within the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where a similar defacement of the Greek flag took place. The swastika itself, is a defacement of the Christian cross. In its name, countless atrocities were committed on millions of innocent and defenceless people. Thus, the conversion of a symbol of peace and love into a symbol of hatred and evil is a particularly offensive and insensitive one, considering that the area now comprised by FYROM was allied to the Nazis who perpetrated the greatest genocide ever in the history of humanity: the Holocaust.
Fittingly, the Jewish community of Greece has had this to say about the defancement of the Greek flag: “The defacing of the national symbol…constitute unacceptable actions and an insult to the Greek people as a whole including members of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki… These actions become more heinous because Greece was among the first countries in Europe to clash with the tide fascism and the first to defeat Axis Forces on the battlefield in WWII, [referring to the Albanian front (1940-1941], where Jewish and Christian Greeks fought side by side. Furthermore, the use - for the sake of creating impressions --of symbols that are directly linked with the period of the worst crimes committed against humanity is an insult to the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust and those who survived the horror of the Nazi concentration camps. Our Community welcomes the stance adopted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a descendant of the Mallah family from Thessaloniki, who backed Greece's positions on the self-evident Greekness of Macedonia.”
Your attendance at this rally has given rise to the belief with the Greek community that you support the defacement of greek national symbols with the swastika and endorse such anti-Greek racist behaviour. While we are sure that this is not the case, your confirmation of this, espcially for the purposes of the press, would be most reasurring.
Under the guise of ‘peaceful protest’ the attendees at the rally also made inappropriate irredentist claims against Greek territory. Protesters carried a banner proclaiming “Solun (a Slavonic term for Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece) will be the capital of Macedonia again,” while other banners proclaimed “We will never retreat from Macedonian lands.” Particularly concerning was the widespread display of maps portraying a vastly expanded Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, including lands that belong to the countries of Albania, Bulgaria and Greece.
Again, your attendance at the rally has given rise to the belief that you support the violation of the territorial integrity of Greece. Please reassure us that this is not so.
Surely in a mature multicultural society, diversity in all its forms must be respected. Sadly, it appears that notions of mutual respect and harmony were lost on the attendees of the rally, some of whom openly displayed guns and knives. Are we to assume that they were advertising that they have the means to further their irredentist and racist aims? Notably, few if any banners carried by the protesters made any reference to Australian Government policy. This rally appears to have been purely designed to incite ethnic conflict and to express hatred against Greek-Australians. Indeed, the display of weapons, manifestations of hate and making of threats against Albanian, Bulgarian and Greek territory have caused great fear and disquiet among these ethnic communities.
The Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia emphatically states that such violent, racist and irredentist behaviour as displayed by the attendees of the 24 May 2008 hate rally has no place in our society and is completely un-Australian. We voice our concern at the aggressive manner in which Australians whose origins derive from FYROM concern themselves with matters that have little to do with Australia but which threaten to provoke ethnic conflict and upset the equilibrium of our community. As such, we cannot but express our disappointment at your attendance at this contentious rally.
The Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia applauds the Australian government’s decision not to recognised FYROM as “the Republic of Macedonia,” mindful of the fact that the term Macedonia denotes a geographic area, not an ethnic term. It is the home and cultural metropolis of a multitude of peoples and it cannot be usurped by one nation and denied to others, on the basis of race. Please let us have your written commitment to the current policy of the Australian government.”
To date, no reply has been received to this letter. However we are quite certain that George Seitz does not endorse any manifestations of hatred towards Greeks, that he considers the defacement of the cross by a swastika as offensive as all other right-thinking people do, and considers territorial designs upon Greek territory and the display of weapons at “peaceful protests,” to be nothing more than the deluded bravado and rage of a frustrated, insecure and impotent minority. Given that his presence at the protopogrom could send the message to other minorities with an axe to grind that such heinous behaviour is acceptable in the public domain, we are sure that George Seitz profoundly regrets attending it. Perhaps his Greek-Australian constituents (of which there are not a few), may seek further clarifications from him in this regard, closer to the next state election.
The lesson to be drawn from all this is twofold. The first is that the token presence of a politician, at a rally especially at state level, does not equal a point scored for the opposition. It should merely be viewed as what it is: a member trying to placate his constituents. George Seitz’s presence at the proto-pogrom is embarrassing and problematic for him, rather than beneficial to his ‘hosts.’ Secondly, it is futile focusing all our energies upon trying to convince disinterested parliamentarians of the ‘truth.’ Instead, we should be speaking to them in a language that they will understand: conceiving ways to outline why it would be advantageous to uphold the already self-evident ‘truth.’ By no means must we be used as pawns in a wider political game as deluded masses to be cajoled and placated in order to serve a higher purpose. And what is of greatest pride, is that in accordance with out own humanitarian tradition, we do not, as our detractors do, vilify and abuse others on the basis of race. Instead, we restrict ourselves to the issue at hand, campaign for it passionately but respectfully, knowing full well the import of the words of Elie Weisel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Until next week, Што правиш овде?