STICKS AND STONES
Question: "Do you agree with me that if an article is written in Hobart which said something of American Indians that they were freaks of nature or evil alien abstractions would not those America Indians be entitled to say that they had been ridiculed?"
The above is a partial transcript of the cross-examination of Ljubcho Stankovski, editor of the "Australian Macedonian (sic) Weekly," who permitted the publication of an article in his rag entitled amusingly 'Who in this Celestial World gave the Greeks the right to take away the Macedonian language?' It is trite to point out that a 'celestial world' refers to the heavens, whereby the editor must have truly had his head in the clouds when he permitted such racist, intolerant and thoroughly disgusting references towards Greeks as being: a "thieving nation," "deranged bastardly monsters", "freaks of nature," referring to the Greek language, which in passing exists in countless inscriptions in FYROM churches as "their ugly language," as well as asking the Greeks rhetorically:
"What evil alien abstractions possessed your dark soul?", "what "barbaric wickedness obliterated your senses?" and "What evil spirits possessed your moronic conscience to be so cruel and predisposed to such ghastly monstrosity?"
It was while attempting to arrest the natural urge to regurgitate caused by the purulence of such parlous grammar, that the aggrieved members of the Australian Macedonian Advisory Council, having first attempted to point out to Stankovski and his rag that such articles are racist and inspire ethnic hatred and exhausted all efforts to conciliate the dispute in the face of Stankovski's rag's intransigence and refusal to accept responsibility for such a provocative, childish and thoroughly offensive act, that they sought recourse in Victorian. Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal, claiming that in publishing such twaddle, the rag contravened Section 7 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.
In the seminal work to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000," George Vassilacopoulos and Tina Nicolacopoulou analyse how the key forms in which migrant communities manifest our existence here are paradoxical. Though lip service is paid to communities forming their own organizations and sub-structures, the way in which this is done is heavily regulated and prescribed by the state, originally in order to keep sub-cultures away from the mainstream. As a result of such government-sanctioned behaviour, the sub-cultures remain isolated, suspect and constantly having to prove their loyalty credentials to their host country, that is perpetually unable to accept them as they are. Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou also note that such racially exclusion is symptomatic of the ontopathology of the predominant ruling group in this country, in seeking to legitimise its conquest and rule over Australia at the expense of its original inhabitants, by acting as arbiter over other nationalities it has chosen to include but not assimilate within its constructed society.
While many may balk at such analysis, it is certainly borne out by the adjudication of this dispute. In finding that Stankovski's rag did not breach the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, Senior Member of VCAT Noreen Megay made some concerning observations that do much to indicate how the legal institutions established by the predominant ruling group view ethnic minorities. Ms Megay pointed out that the article was printed in English in a publication that is primarily printed in Cyrillic. Thus, the 'English-language' would find it hard to find "amid the myriad pages of Macedonian (sic) text." So obviously, ethnic publications, do not share the same status as English ones, for the purposes of the public discourse.
Ms Megay further observed that "For the average Macedonian (sic) reader, this article is probably just "preaching to the converted" and is not likely to stir up such raw emotion as to breach the Act." This observation is shocking, as it asserts the horrifying stereotype that all Australians who have cultural affiliations with FYROM consider Greeks to be thieves, monsters and freaks. That a member of a judicial body can make such broad sweeping characterizations of this nature about an ethnic community is deeply disquieting and ostensibly, a slur on all Australian-FYROMIANs.
Even more frightening is the fact that Ms Megay appears to hold the view that because the perpetrator and the victim of the slur in question are two ethnic communities, which, by their very nature are on the margins of broader society, that the act of intolerance is of marginal interest to the mainstream: "I suspect that the average non-Macedonian reader who might stumble across the article..would just wonder what it was all about without being incited to any extreme emotion about Greeks." She goes on to observe: "It is true that in modern multicultural Australia people might wonder why it was necessary consistently to re-open old ethnic wounds and to do so in such forceful terms... In my view the words of the article do not have any tendency to incite hatred against Greeks or to incite serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of Greeks on the ground of their race."
The fact that the blatant dehumanization of a people in print, regardless of the language in which it is done can be deemed not to contravene Section 7 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, sets a dangerous precedent. Ms Megay considered that: "My instinct is that the section requires a consideration of whether the subject matter is in the interest of the public as a whole, as distinct from one that excites the interest of two ethnic groups of the public." Accordingly, are we to assume that as various members of our judiciary consider the history of conflict between ethnic groups to be of marginal interest to the broader (here read Anglo-Saxon) community and that ethnic publications, especially foreign language ones are obscure and also of limited importance to the mainstream, that ethnic communities in Victoria are now granted license by this novel interpretation of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, to denigrate and dehumanize each other without impunity? A brave new world indeed.
The Victorian Greek media and the community in general have maintained an inordinately high level of professionalism and courtesy when dealing with other ethnic communities over matters that concern our countries of origin. The fact that our community as a whole refuses to condone acts of racism and intolerance is testament to its community to multiculturalism and social integration. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about our FYROMIAN counterparts. Readers will recall the Victorian Multicultural Commission sponsoring the publication of "The Macedonians in Victoria," written by an amateur historian and a schoolboy, that contained a plethora of slurs against the Greek community. Even though these were pointed out to the VMC, no action was taken. Similarly, at their 2008 hate rally, members of the FYROMIAN community paraded through the streets of Melbourne where, 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 and also carried banners with slogans that vilified the Greek people, such as: "Fascist Greeks." This time, they found their apologist in Mr George Seitz MP, who quixotically attempted to apologize on their behalf and justify their behaviour. Again, no mechanism of state was activated in order to stop the public display of racist behaviour. Now members of that community are able to continue with their racist barrage of insults and victimize others, without hindrance.
The latest VCAT decision gives rise to the apprehension that while the State is happy to placate ethnic communities with a view to ensuring their subservience to the dominant culture and secure their votes, it is unwilling or unable to protect them in instances of racial victimization and abuse. Ms Megay may consider the fact that Australian-FYROMIANS are being incited to consider their fellow Australians of Greek background as deranged bastardly monsters as irrelevant to mainstream society. However, in doing so, the flood-gates are left open for further and even more heinous displays of racial intolerance, and thus playing into the hands of the detractors of multiculturalism.
It is ironic that we are reminded of the illusory nature of our so-called 'multi-cultural society,' at a time when the inclusion of a slogan of that nature is being contemplated for Victorian number plates. Our Multicultural minister is implored, prior to promoting such an endeavour, to revisit and review the legislation that in its current form, seems to undermine the very end that we hold dear.
"Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us," goes the old adage. Our community will go on as before, ensuring that it makes positive contributions to Victoria while ensuring the survival of Greek culture and language in this country, regardless of the immature and hate-driven displays of bile by the disaffected few and with great concern for smaller and more vulnerable ethnic communities who may be subject to similar treatment. Come election time however, if nothing is done to improve the existing legislative framework, we would do well to make our views known.