Saturday, March 26, 2011


"The decorations are like those of the embassy of a nation about to go into voluntary liquidation." Colin McInnes. Entering the diplomatic quarter of Tirana, the capital of Albania, is like stepping into an entirely different world. Gone is the grime and grittiness of the street; the bustle, noise and congestion banished beyond the checkpoint at the threshold of which one has to provide police with a legitimate reason for entry before going further. Yet in two steps, an eerie hush falls upon an empty and disconcertingly tidy street. Embassies and other official buildings face each other, assuming a polite and yet cool, give-away-no-secrets, do no favours demeanour. In the dark, Victorian-style restaurant on the corner, diplomatic staff revel in their privileged status by eating ham sandwiches and alluding to exclusive knowledge of secrets of whose import they know nothing. A street away, one navigates beyond the inordinately long line of Albanians patiently waiting entry for a visa and passes through the gate into the Greek embassy. At once, one enters an environment comfortable in its familiarity. Seated at his desk, poring over official documents while his cigarette lay forgotten, burning an arc of ash over an ashtray buried amidst newspapers, pens and a box of cakes, was my friend, an employee of the embassy. I sat with him, watching him work, discussing with him various aspects of the perspicacity, discretion and tactfulness that are prerequisites of his position, attributes the lack of which would ensure that I could never be suited to a career in diplomacy. I hesitantly ventured that my mental image of a fitting diplomat posted in Albania would be that of the world weary, ponderous countenance of poet laureate George Seferis, who was posted in the city of Korytsa during the period 1936-1938 and found the experience interminably boring. You really couldn't have it any other way. To do so, would be to invite chaos, schism and general disruption. "Do you want to meet the Ambassador?" my friend riposted. "He is the most amazing man. You should see what he has been able to do here." Indeed, unlike Seferis, the Greek Ambassador sported an amazing chestnut toupe of such implausibility that one could not do other than remain fixated upon it and truly it constitutes the yardstick by which I have measured the prowess of Greek diplomats ever since. However, in the brief time I spent with the Ambassador, I was greatly impressed by his exposition of the import of his duties to the maintenance of good relations between the two countries and his commitment to carrying these out. My friend no longer works at the Tirana Embassy owing to budget cuts as a consequence of Greece's burgeoning financial crisis. A member of the reek minority in Albania, he has been compelled to abandon his homeland and seek employment in Greece, which is a shame as he was masterfully adept at his role. Yet he is not a sole victim of the culling that is taking place in Greek embassies throughout the world. Cleaning staff and drivers at the Greek Embassy in Ankara are threatening to sue over unpaid wages, as the effects of the Greek financial crisis hit its Foreign Ministry hard. The economic crisis - the largest in the country's history - has the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs cutting back on expenses. This is leaving many embassies around the world without basic necessities such as heating and internet service.Ambassador to Turkey Xydas, who previously, served as Ambassador of Greece in Australia, while denying the non-payment of local staff, acknowledged that the situation was dire: "We, regular diplomats, don't have contracts. Salaries were cut, not only for Greek diplomats, but also for many Portuguese, Spanish and Irish colleagues. We understand this and don't complain," he added. Nonetheless, many Greek embassies throughout the world have also been late in paying their employees, angering their staff. At some embassies, Greek diplomats are paying the bills and doing the chores to keep the facilities up and running. The embassy in Russia is among those that have been unable to provide paychecks for their staff; without cleaning workers, the task has fallen to the diplomats themselves. The Greek Embassy in Ukraine is unprotected, as its police staff was not paid.Billing complications have left at least five embassies with no electricity, heating or internet service, and it is reported that many have received only 7 percent of the funds necessary to run an embassy. Recently, a frustrated ambassador in an African country wrote to the Foreign Ministry, outlining that its staff has not been paid and asking whether it was Greece's intention to present its worst face to the outside world. Budget cuts too are rumoured to have been felt keenly at the Greek Consulate in Melbourne, as a directive of etiquette, the locus of emanation from which is unknown, circulate among leaders of various Greek organisations, not to invite our new Consul-General to too many functions on weekends, as the traditional petrol allowance afforded to those in her position has been cut. Embassies truly are the face of a country within another. As such it is greatly distressing to perceive the difficulties facing the Greek Foreign Ministry in maintaining its embassies under the extremely difficult prevailing conditions and we can only sympathise with embassy and consular officials who have not been paid in months. Not only does this create a crisis of confidence in the Greek state but also retards the world mission of a country that has up until now, punched above its weight in the diplomatic stakes, with some success. It is for this reason that the presence of the three-man Greek parliamentary delegation, sent to attend our celebration of Greek Independence Day is uniquely mystifying. While consular staff go unpaid, are reduced to using power only for certain hours a day and have their freedom of movement severely circumscribed, somehow enough money can be conjured out of the black hole that is the Greek public purse to send some politicians and their entourage to Australia, simply to witness the flower of our youth march from the foot of the Shrine of Remembrance to the stairs of the Shrine of Remembrance and pronounce the tired and tawdry mantra, that we are more Greek than the Greeks. After all, this mantra assumes that we are not Greek and is thus, particularly hurtful. That is not to say that any guest from the homeland, especially one who represents the populace at large in its House of Babblement is not welcome within our communal bosom, especially during the time of our national festivities, which provide us with a unique opportunity to celebrate who we are and how far we have come. Nonetheless, one cannot but question the propriety of such a visit, the necessity and effect of which, not withstanding it imparting a token official Greek presence which translates into an official validation, conferring approbation upon our endeavours, is entirely questionable. Surely no further representation, especially during financial straitened times, is necessary than that of our Consul-General, Ms Lianidou, who though newly arrived upon our shores, has managed to win the hearts and admiration of the entire Greek community. She is after all, the representative of our motherland in Melbourne and is more than capable of conferring the necessary soothing words of praise, commendation and eulogy upon us that will make us feel less estranged from the Hellenic family, all at a tsarouhi-string budget. Personally, I would have ascribed kudos to the Greek Foreign Ministry, had it embarked upon the pursuit of procuring three relatively obscure members of the Greek community, obtaining for each of them a suit and then have them pose as visiting Greek politicians. This, gentle readers, is how the battle to get the budget back into the black is won. All Greek battles have been won against superhuman odds and only through the exercise of inordinate Hellenic ingenuity. Not to do so on this, our most auspicious and hallowed national celebration casts a pall upon what Modern Greece has become. If money can be found to send three most welcome and respected Greek members of Parliament to partake of our national celebrations, then surely money can be found to pay local staff and embassy employees, or what does this say about national priorities? Perhaps further money can be saved by replacing Consular staff with local impersonators and why stop there? Why not populate the Greek parliament with the local unemployed until the crisis is over. Who says they cannot lend to that august institution that has led Greece to the brink of fiscal disaster the requisite verisimilitude to maintain the illusion that they are still running the country? To our Parliamentary guests and our beleaguered friends in embassies all around the world, we place our hands tightly in our pockets and cry in unison: Ζήτω το Έθνος!


First published in NKEE on Saturday 26 March 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Never has such a Rabellaisian in style book been published in the Greek language in Australia as Stratis Vakras’ “Alisavo: Chasing a Dream,” whose Greek edition has achieved great popularity, weaves together a masterly tale of triumph through adversity, punctuated by high farce and whose English translation was launched at the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria last Sunday.
Unlike its counterparts, the master painter of “Alisavo” loads his brush lightly so as to provide a palatable impressionistic vision of the social conditions that helped his heroes to form a social conscience and a particular world view, one whose principles provided a yardstick and a source of strength throughout the process of their acculturation to their new country. In Vakras' case, these principles, of morality, independence, love of justice and self-reliance as well his skepticism with regard to things supernatural are typical of the myth of the ingenious, self-made man that comprises the archetype of the migrant in the popular conception of the migrant communities of this country. Belief in one's self is vital and the author views his characters’ own strength and capabilities as the deciding factors that helped them navigate their way through such difficulties as the War, poverty, settling down in a new country and even tolerance and reconciliation for those who flout social norms. They are also typical of the values prized by many first-generation Greek migrants in Australia.
If there is any justification for the rendering into English of further migrant literature, it is not because of its quaintness, but because this book being published as it is, half a century after the waves of mass migration that brought Greek people to Australian shores is not only truly representative of the lives and backgrounds of a multitude of Greek migrants coming to these shores but is also uniquely irreverent.
The canon of migrant literature tends to mythologise both the process of immigration and acculturation. Vakras’ candid account is valuable, because, being penned in the sixties, it provides us with a unique insight into this mythologisation process according to which the honourable but poor Greeks migrants were compelled to heart-wrenchingly abandon their beloved homeland and to re-settle in Australia, where, as honest and hard-working new citizens, they toiled to carve a niche for themselves in their new country. It is infinitely amusing to witness Vakras’ decidedly anti-heroic characters, possessed only of minute quantities of the above-mentioned qualities sub-consciously creating that myth before our very eyes, in order to provide meaning to their experience and a sense of purpose
As such, “Alisavo” introduces us to Gargantuan and Pantagruellian larger than life, implausible characters, whose adventures symbolize as well as summarize the lesser praised elements of the Greek migrant experience: deception, slyness, cunning and calculation. In adopting this approach, Vakras pays homage to the precedent set by the Byzantine Procopius, whose salacious ‘Secret History’ provides a valuable, ‘behind the scenes’ look at the reignof Justinian. However, unlike Procopius, we are caused to sympathise with our heroes’ prima facie negative traits as it is clear that these are a product of the heroes’ circumstances and are necessary for their survival.
Indeed in this world, where men can be tricked into marriage, donkeys can win horse-races and miraculous draughts of fish can be raised from the ocean, the true villains are not our self-interested heroes, who struggle to survive and to support each other but those who, like Memas, worship money for their own sake. There is something infinitely redemptive in the character of anti-hero Menilos, who, though he considers abandoning his wife many times, never does and is able to support and welcome his sister, after she has disastrously attempted to separate herself from the migrant patriarchal society that was transposed here.
Like Gorky, who split his autobiography into three parts, ("My Childhood," "My Apprenticeship" and "My Universities") Vakras also splits his book into three. The first section deals with his heroes’ in Greece and the privation they endured as a result of their family's social and economic class, coupled with the vicissitudes of war. This section is instructive as it explains why so many migrants of Greek extraction were forced to leave their countries and migrate to Australia. In Australia, the migrant narrative tends to be considered to begin upon their arrival on its shores and its causes are generally overlooked. Vakras masterfully restores the balance to this narrative by providing valuable insight into the deep
traumas that caused the migration and their experience proves that while old wounds may heal, they never stop itching. To read this first section is to gain a deep understanding of the underlying conflicts, traumas and negative experiences which provided much of the motivation for immigration and also provide a good explanation as to why migrants behaved a certain way when they reached Australia as well.
Section two is concerned mainly with the heroes' acculturation to their new environment in Australia. Of particular interest is Vakras’ narration of the bewilderment and absolute feeling of loss that migrants such as Menilos felt upon arriving in a total unknown country and how it was only through the support of other migrants, that they were able to establish roots and re-difine their lives. In Vakras’ mind, salvation lies within a cohesive Greek-Australian community that supports its members and fosters their development in all spheres of life. Indeed, it is upon this optimistic note that he returns to close the narrative, though decades later and with the benefit of hindsight, it is questionable whether that feeling of optimism has endured.
The final part of the book, a redemptive look at the fate of Menilos’ sister, who chose love over devotion to the family at a time when these concepts were irreconcilable, is generous and courageous. In the end, though Menilos is very much the ‘macho man’ of his generation, his devotion to this member of his family helps him to overcome what his peers would have seen as the shame against his name. Here we see values held for generations slowly eroding under the pressure of acculturation but in Vakras’ mind, this is only done out of love and the need to support a family member and the member of the Greek community, in its wider context.
It cannot be ignored that much of the work is taken up with polemics against Christianity. It is unclear whether this is merely a motif to reflect a deprived generation tired of absolutes and fettered by prejudice seeking intellectual and financial emancipation in a new country, or whether this serves deeper purposes. However, the vast majority of factual matters pertaining to the theology and liturgical practices of the Orthodox Christian that are mentioned in the text, are totally incorrect. This seems, more than anything else, to reflect popular misconceptions and the lesson to be drawn here, seems to be that migrants’ achievements, borne out of their own toil, are their own and cannot be ascribed to celestial beings. It is interesting then that in concluding the narrative, the author, having rejected religion as a defining cultural trait of the Greek people, looks forward to a time when a second generation may, upon the supports provided by the toil of the first generation of Greek migrants, excel in all spheres of the mainstream community but also, maintain its sense of community, language and traditions, according to his conception of what these actually are. It seems to be for this reason, that the narrative is ended while the major characters’ children are still in their infancy. Much can be inferred therefore, as to the place of the second generation in the first generation’s conception of their role in Australian and Greek-Australian society, by this yawning lacuna.
Quite apart from its historic value or that it is representative of an entire generation, “Alisavo” is an engrossing read. The language is simple and cascades onto the page with the freshness of a mountain waterfall and this is a chief characteristic of the author himself. The narrative maintains a steady pace and is kind to those who know little of the complexities of Greek village life or life in Australia. The work presupposes some knowledge of the workings and structure of the Greek Community but this is not an insurmountable obstacle to its appreciation by any means. One cannot escape the feeling that the entire book, in attempting to rationalise and make humourous the migrant experience, intended the first generation as its main audience. All the more reason to translate it I say.
For the youthful and inexperienced or unknowledgeable, “Alisavo” is instructive, for the experienced, reflective and conclusive, a repository of sage advice and passions that have not died down after so many years. Despite his passions, his pet-hates and his righteous anger, Vakras speaks to all of us with warmth and humour, offering his life experiences to us as a lesson and a resource upon which to draw, with the generosity and open-handedness that is so characteristic of him.


First published in NKEE on 19 March 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The first time I learned about Apokries was from a Greek school reader. Apparently, way back in the mystical motherland of ancient gods and foustanella-clad heroes with hooked noses and huge moustaches, just before Great Lent, various carnivals would take place. Looking at my grandmother’s collection of dusty, faded and creased black and white photographs, I would find pictures of youthful looking great aunts and uncles dressed in an array of fine costumes, for as my grandmother explained, this is what is done during this time.
Such an activity as a carnival in my mind, could only be equated with the annual Moomba celebration in Melbourne and getting around a proper Hellenic setting for a bird-man rally proved a Herculean task. (Though given that our very own Icarus invented the bird-man rally, perhaps we should look at reviving this as a sport. Contestants could be borne upon the hot air emanating from endless Greek community speech making and debating). Brotherhood masquerade dances held before Lent could not reproduce the street atmosphere of such carnivals as that of Patra, try as they might, that is until now.
Regardless of the splutterings of the militant grey wing of the Bring Back Stalin fan club, intent upon perpetuating a discord between the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and the Archdiocese which is no longer relevant and which does not exist, moving the Antipodes Festival this year to coincide with the Apokries was a masterstroke of ingenuity. Not only did this translate to greater publicity and less opposition from other festivals transpiring at the same time as the old date, but participants were provided with an opportunity to finally celebrate en masse, a venerable tradition that provides ample opportunities for fun.
Or so it would seem. Waking up at 6 in the morning to make one’s way down to Lonsdale Street, bleary eyed and semi conscious in order to set up the Panepirotic Federation’s Cultural stall may not appear fun at first. Indeed, arriving in the said street, only to find one’s president hard at work presdigitating drills, screws and other tools of trade in order to construct a frame from which to plausibly recreate a traditional Epirotic home, replete with such paraphernalia as the argalios, or wooden loom on which we had a traditionally clad exponent providing demonstrations of weaving, (- don’t try putting one together unless you are a) good at Lego, or b) excel in 900 piece puzzles – I fail dismally on both counts) and also the yataghan of the last Ottoman pasha of Ioannina, can also plausibly make one to appear less than mirthful. Nonetheless. We girded our loins and did battle, assisted by our veneral mascot, the foustanella wearing octogenarian Giorgos Konstantinidis, who is apt to break out into frenetic tsamiko moves without notice and who has a remarkable propensity for seducing (or rather coercing) Asian partakers of the festival into the intricacies of Epirotic dance.
Wearing a foustanella and acquiring the skills of basic carpentry is no mean feat, especially when mine, which hails from the mountainous region of Tzoumerka is made of wool and wears a tonne, as do the silver kiousteki across the chest and asimosougia which hangs from one’s belt (the nineteenth century Epirotic equivalent of bling). Nonetheless, assuming my alter ego as Supervlach over the two days of the festival, I was heartened by the appearance of other foustanella clad individuals who donned their distinct attire, having seen me in mine last year, and having found that they could improve upon my vision. One of these in particular was brave enough to enter into the Zorba till you drop competition and was able to hold his own, until his tsarouchia failed him. We are now in the process of forming a foustanella-wearers club, which will be out vehicle for lobbying for the free and fair wearing of the said garment for all. The working title of our group is “Men in Skirts,” reinforcing Aether-treader’s argument in Saturday’s Neos Kosmos that moving the festival to coincide with the carnival permits everyone, and not only the Diatribist, to wear a skirt in the heart of Melbourne and like it. This is multiculturalism at its very cross-dressing at its best and kudos must be ascribed to other members of the community who came dressed in diverse party costumes, lending a truly festive, carnival atmosphere to the weekend.
Cross-dressing was at the heart of the carnival atmosphere which was all pervading this year. The indefatigable youth of the Pan-Macedonian Association, the Cretan Federation, Pontiaki Estia, the GOCMV dance group, the Panepirotic Federation and many others did what must be done at carnival time – they turned the natural order of things upside down through the re-enactment of age old customs with a lewd theme, including staging mock-weddings where the brides are men and the grooms women, proudly carrying around batons in the shape of an elongated phallus, singing songs with bawdy lyrics, running through the crowd masked with bells on, coercing people into sticking feathers into potatoes- a Pontian Lenten custom, delighting everyone in the novelty of what we should have been celebrating all these years. All this took place at the Marble Centre Plateia, a dedicated area for cultural associations. The creation of such dedicated zones was inspirational as it permitted the performance of Apokriatika customs and live musical entertainment, unhindered by other pursuits. What it did result in was the co-operation of all the various Associations to the extent where dancers where assisting and performing in each other’s acts. The goodwill generated as a result of this merging and mingling is incalculable.
Children too, played a central role in this year’s festival. At their dedicated stage, community stalwarts such as Dina Gerolymou and Anthe Sidiropoulos told stories, sang songs and engaged kids in the more delightful and fun aspects of Greek culture. The multi-talented Joseph Tsombanopoulos, replete with his goat headed gaida and yours truly accompanying him on the violin, along with a papier-mache camel of dubious reputation and provenance led a procession of masked and face-painted children through the street and up to the central stage. When they entered the stage, they were deified by an adoring crowd, as they should be. Chances are, given a warm reception and plenty of activities centred around their interests, that they will want to come again and again.
A novel idea was the dedication of a separate area for the glorification of the Greek cuisine – not only through the successful Greek coffee-making competition but also through the presence of masterchefs, and exhibitions of traditional regional foods from Greece, such as Epirotic pita and Cretan kaltsounia. This is definitely an area that begs expanding, or perhaps, its own spin off festival, involving all regions of Greece.
A successful multicultural Greek-Australian carnival serves two main purposes: firstly to unite and entertain the Greek community – a task in which the Festival organisers acquitted themselves well given the mass participation of people, the diversity of entertainment, and the palpable sense of festivity and party in the air, but secondly to make all that is deemed ours, accessible to the wider community.
It is here that this Festival was particularly successful. Because the Apokries is a little known fixture on the Greek calendar, visitors were granted a deeper and alternative vision of a vibrant Greek culture without the stereotype of souvlaki and sterile Ancient Greek allusions. Furthermore, this year, as never before, they were able to fully participate in the activities, for fun speaks all languages. I was heartened by the throngs passing by the Epirotic stall and enthused by the many questions asked, mostly by students and visiting tourists – for this renders our Festival, a major tourist attraction. Being propositioned for photos in one’s skirt by sundry Saudian Arabian girls is not intrinsically a bad thing and I found that there was much common ground in the traditions of both our cultures.
Last weekend, we Zorba’d till we dropped, sang, ate, joked and revelled as never before. We did so in a good natured way, unblighted by any of infighting, politicking that has plagued our endeavours historically. This year’s festival is proof of what can be achieved when we work together as one and constitutes a roadmap for future, improved endeavours. We take leave of you now, gentle reader, showering glory and acclamation upon our carnival king and queen, Leonidas Vlahakis and Tammy Iliou, the festival directors, for their brilliant work and in the home of many more years of proud foustanella wearing. Party on!


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 12 March 2011

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Way back in 1960, just around the time when the leader of the USSR Nikita Khrushchev suggested to the paranoid leader of Stalinist Albania Enver Hoxha that autonomy be granted to Northern Epirus, as the majority population in this region along the border with Greece, was of ethnic Greek origin, George Papandreou, the grandfather of the current Greek Prime Minister, known also by the sobriquet: “Grandfather of the Republic,” said the following in Parliament:
“What all Greek Governments need to know is that the Northern Epirus issue continues to exist. And what should be forbidden down the ages, is the denial of our sacred claims. With regards to Northern Epirus, these claims are sacred and indelible.”
Fast forward some fifty years later to the government of George Papandreou’s grandson and his namesake, and a totally different state of affairs exists. Recently the Greek Consul in the southern city of Korytsa (Korçë), Theodoros Oikonomou-Kamarinos was recalled to Athens in disgrace after mentioning at a meeting celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the ethnic Greek political party OMONOIA in that city, that “this region is referred to as Northern Epirus,” and that “your grandfathers were Greek.” That the grandfathers of members of the Greek minority in Korytsa were Greek seems axiomatic. During 1914, bloody battles between Greeks and Albanians took place in order to secure the city for the autonomous Greek state of Northern Epirus and Korytsa’s inclusion within that state was agreed to by the Albanian government of the time. Further, between 1916-1918, the region of Korytsa was annexed by Greece and local representatives represented the region in the Greek parliament. As late as 1940, the Greek inhabitants of Korytsa jubilantly welcomed the Greek army into their city, fighting off the Italian invaders. The Greeks are therefore…Greek.
Enver Hoxha did not consider the Greeks of Korytsa to be Greek. When he created a small minority zone – the only region in which the Greek language could be taught or spoken – he made sure to include only one hundred villages along the valley of Dropoli and exclude most Greek inhabited territory from it. As a result, the Greeks of Cheimarra on the west coast, the Greeks of Premeti, Korytsa and Moschopoli were denied education in their language for fifty years. For some strange reason, these Greeks continued to remember that they were Greeks. Paradoxically, considering that they possessed the same culture and history as the Greeks south of the border, they, north of the border, considered themselves to be living in Northern Epirus. Funnily enough, there exist maps and treatises from Roman times that corroborate their claims. Epirus is a geographical and cultural entity that extends from the Ambracic gulf to the gulf of Avlona. It is not, unless defined as such by nation states, a political entity.
The Greek government would disagree. Ever since the PASOK government came to power, it has displayed a marked aversion to use of the term Northern Epirus, despite the fact that this is the term by which Greeks of the region identify themselves. In its inept attempts to pacify and conciliate Albanian governments who from time to time raise irredentist claims concerning western Epirus, the Greek government has taken upon itself the Orwellian task of making use of the term Northern Epirus a thoughtcrime –considering all those who employ it, rabid nationalists.
This could be excusable if successive Greek governments had a coherent policy concerning the Greeks of Northern Epirus and the rest of Albania, but they have, over the decades, proved they have not. Since the eighties, government representatives purported the fiction that Stalinist Albania was a worker’s paradise, that no Greeks lived there and that if they did, they were more privileged than the Greeks in Greece. Consequently in 1987, the official state of war existing between Albania and Greece since the forties was declared over, without the Greek government extracting any concessions as to the protection of human rights of the Greeks in Albania and ever since, Greek government policy in the region could be characterised as a mixture of inept meddling in and undermining the Greek minority’s attempts to organise themselves politically, while making no real attempt to safeguard their rights as a minority.
This deprecating attitude towards Northern Epirus and its people can also be evidenced by Greek consulate representatives here in Australia. In a manner eerily akin to the brave Consul Kamarinos, I was warned by a former Greek Consul-General that I had better: “stop talking about Northern Epirus, or there would be consequences.” Another, relatively benign and friendly Consul General once remarked to me: “So what do you want us to do? To invade Albania, kill the Albanians, and make room for the Northern Epirots?” Try as we might, we have never been able to convince Greek officials that the fact that hundreds of thousands of Greeks just across the border are subject to a corrupt regime that cannot protect and sometimes cynically abrogates basic rights such as the right to free elections, the right to Greek education and the right to non-discrimination is of grave concern. For them, the whole issue is a joke.
Why should Greece attempt to prohibit use of the term “Northern Epirus,” thus denying to its people, the right to self-identification? Why is this term considered offensive and having expansionist connotations when at the same time we freely use terms such as Constantinople (instead of Istanbul), Asia Minor, (instead of Turkiye), or Pontus (instead of Karadeniz Bölgesi), without consideration as to whether these carry similar connotations to a larger and eminently more important neighbour? Obviously this inconsistency can only be explained by cynical, arbitrary policy considerations, not reality.
What the pompous and short-sighted Greek officials who have recalled the feisty and unrepentant Consul Kamarinos to Athens for discipline fail to realise in their arrogance is the fact that for over half a decade, the Greeks of Northern Epirus have been isolated and have stoically retained their Hellenism under the most harrowing conditions – treated as class enemies owing to their bourgeois pursuits and as enemies of the state owing to their ethnic affiliation. These are the descendants of Zappas, Tositsas and so many other benefactors who donated their entire estates towards the construction of the public buildings of Athens and the founding of the modern Greek state. Today, their beneficiaries, the bureaucrats and the politicians show their gratitude by pouring scorn upon their people and abandoning them to their fate, despite their valiant efforts to cling to their identity. They, and those who are concerned for them are, for neo-Hellenes, nothing more than objects of derision.
The arrogance of Greek officials who persecute those of their brethren who seek to encourage and console their compatriots comes at a most crucial point in the history of Northern Epirus. Finally, after years of refusing to do so, the Albanian government is poised to conduct a census that will reveal much about the status of minorities within that country. All Consul Kamarinos wanted to do, was to remind his long suffering compatriots that he recognizes their heritage and encourage them not to be afraid to freely express this. His masters in Athens however, have other ideas, none of them coherent.
What the Greek foreign ministry implies, by its conduct, is that there is no point for Greeks living without the borders of Greece to cling to their traditions and their customs for these are considered quaint by the metropolis and our efforts of no value. If ever the time comes that we will need protection and a voice of support, it is questionable, in the light of the abandonment of the Northern Epirots – a group of people who have contributed to the welfare of Greece far more than us, whether we will find it in our country of origin.
It is sad that there is so much truth in the Cheimarriot folk song: «Τα Γιάννενα ονειρεύονται, η Κρήτη ξαποσταίνει, βουβή η Θεσσαλονίκη, η Αθήνα ξεφαντώνει... Ποιος βογγάει σα να πεθαίνη; -Χειμάρρα, όλορθη.» It is also sad that we, along with brave Consul Kamarinos were led to believe that our culture included values of solidarity, concern and mutual assistance. We have Greek officialdom to thank, for disabusing us of our illusions.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 5 March 2011