Conversely, by all accounts, the General Meeting, rather than being a quiet and somber affair where the proposal and its implications were studied at length and suggestions or amendments made, was rather a cacophony of strife, bile and discord, punctuated by incidences of violence that are deeply disquieting for the health of our community, which after all, is supposed to be an all inclusive environment where people of a common background may associate freely.
It would be difficult to ascribe such surprisingly vehement ventings of spleen to the strength of feeling of members as to whether their financially ailing Community should divest itself of or reinvest its assets. Rather, one can trace, within the literature published in the local media over the course of Harry Tsindos’ assumption of the presidency of the Cyprus community, a smouldering resentment that quite possibly has its genesis in the generation gap.
Our Community organizations were constructed by the first generation so as to provide a social outlet in a foreign country, with persons sharing the same place of origin. It was expected that at some dimly conceived stage in the future, successive generations of migrant progeny would fill the ranks of those organizations and follow in the footsteps of their forebears, participating in the same events, sharing the same forms of entertainment forever. What was not envisaged was the rapidity of the social assimilation of the second generation within the mainstream and its mass desertion and rejection of our existing community organizations. As a result, persons of the second generation who take an active role in Greek community organizations are an exception rather than a rule and it is for this reason that we periodically come across advertisements in Greek publications stating: “It would be a great pleasure for us to welcome members of the second generation, who are the future of our community.”
The sight of members of the second generation participating in community organization events is a source of great solace for the first generation. It pours balm upon their fears that their works and labours do not have a use by date and that such activities will be replicated far into the distant future. Ensconce those same second generation members in positions of authority, nay, elevate them to the committee board or the presidency, and the well worn for constant repeating mantra: “The second generation must take on the reins of our organization,” becomes increasingly threadbare. This is because Greek community politics can be characterized as a bloodsport, where committee members and local powerbrokers scheme, plot, conspire and intrigue in order to elevate each other and then undermine each other. In this game of thrones, as history has proven, nothing is sacred, not one’s reputation, sense of decorum, one’s family or even, in some extreme cases, one’s personal safety. The architects of our community ‘politicised’ culture were seasoned in the fractious and paranoid days of the Greek Civil War and its aftermath. Their legacy to the political culture of our organisations over the decades, has been strife, division and discord, to the extent where it often seems incredible that the remarkable edifices that dot our local landscape where ever purchased or erected at all.
Idealistic second generation Greek Australians who have been suborned, coerced or seduced into entering the fray of community politics in order to “make a difference,” tend to ignore the abovementioned prehistory at their peril. More dangerously, they seem to believe that because they belong to another generation, they will be respected, assisted and spared the brutal onslaught of politicking that comes part and parcel of their role. Certainly they will be assisted, at least by those who convinced them to enter the heady stream of bile, for they will use them to serve their own deeper and obscure purposes. Sadly, they will not be respected. The second generation of Greek-Australians has not been able to emancipate itself from the first to the extent where they can engage in social endeavours on the community playing field in their own right. As such, in what limited play exists, they are considered mere pawns of other, first generation guiding hands, and discounted. In one case, rival regional groups will refuse to deal with the second-generation secretary unless the first generation president is present, citing as an excuse that they have no way of verifying whether what the secretary says has the approval of the board. Further, because as the Greek saying goes: “Who ever enters the circle of the dance, must dance,” they will not be spared abuse, as the hapless youthful members of the Pontiaki Estia committee have found out over years of being screamed at by ageing members of their organization, being accused of being front-men for a particular clique and in particular, at the horrible Annual General Meeting a few years ago, where an elderly gentleman publicly threatened to remove a young committee member from her seat and forcibly have sex with her in front of a howling, seething group of aggrieved members. This then, is what awaits idealistic second generation Greek-Australians who dare to presume they may ascend to the same level as that of their parents’ generation in Greek community affairs.
In the case of Pontiaki Estia, just as in the case of the Cyprus community, the bone of contention was property. Any suggestion by the second generation that community property bought and paid off by the endeavours of the first generation is bound to provoke hostility and bitterness and this is because:
As a result of the ensuing paranoia, distrust and hostility against the second generation would-be Titans, who bearing sickles are intent upon emasculating their own Uranuses in order to seize heavens, these same second-generation committee members also run the risk of becoming hostile and inimical to the vast majority of members that they purport to serve. So intent are they upon preserving their own position and protecting themselves from attack, that they invariably grow bitter and alienate themselves from the needs and requirements of a generation that they increasingly identify as being an enemy. Instead, they re-forge themselves as trailblazers, willing to go to extraordinary and often rude and insensitive efforts to disestablish the first generation and run roughshod over their concerns, in the name of furthering the interests of the marginally existent second generation, within their organization.
It is only in minutely few instances, where savvy individuals who are able, through their language skills and involvement within organizations, to shift seamlessly between the two generations and are pugilistic enough to enter the bloody fray and hold their own that a happy medium between the two generations can be reached where a composite committee can seek to pursue the interests of both generations. For everyone else, as Harry Tsindos’ experience has shown, a bitter aftertaste is left in the mouth, which serves as a cautionary tale both to the second generation as to their chances of an effective and enjoyable involvement within the organized Greek community, and to the first generation as to the viability of encouraging or permitting (and how much this word speaks volumes as to the inclusiveness of our community organizations) the involvement of those few of the second generation left with a communal conscience.
Had our community organizations truly been havens of cohesive social networking, with an emphasis on mutual assistance and fostering close ties between their members, instead of mini-parliaments where otherwise normal citizens could indulge their penchant for megalomania, this sorry state of affairs most probably not exist and our community would be more structured and closely-knit than it actually is. The crossroads then are these: either we allow each generation to look after its own needs separately (and the absence of second generation organizations proves that this generation has no desire to organize itself with its place of origin as a common denominator), or we go back to the grass roots and seek out structures that have the family, children and individual relationships as their basis. That requires time, kindness and humility but surely if there is a future, it lies in this, and not the bile and useless bickering over money and power, that has blighted our development in the past.