Saturday, July 28, 2012


And the Orwell prize for euphemistic newspeak goes to Cuba, for coining the term "Special Period in time of Peace," to describe the period at the end of the Cold War in which subsidies from the Eastern bloc ceased. This caused severe shortages in fuel, which in turn compelled the radical transformation of Cuban society and the economy, necessitating as it did, the introduction of sustainable agriculture, decreased use of automobiles and overhauled industry, health and diet. Most Cubans would readily admit that this period stretched the limits of their endurance as well as enhancing a renewed sense of ingenuity.

To suggest that many Cubans were close to starvation during this period, would not be an understatement. One of the key reasons for their survival was the shift in their thinking from machine to co-operative manual labour. Abandoning their previous industrialized agricultural methods, farming machinery was replaced with human and animal labour. Older farmers familiar with raising and training oxen assisted training others in order to drive a community increase in the amount of people involved in food production. Chemical fertilizers were replaced with organic farming techniques which require more labour but less fossil fuels. Initially, this was a very difficult situation for Cubans to accept; many came home from studying abroad to find that there were no jobs in their fields. It was pure survival that motivated them to continue and contribute to survive through this crisis. Interestingly enough today, farmers make more money than most other occupations in Cuba.

In Havana, there were many crumbling buildings that could not be repaired, owing to the paucity of funds. These were torn down and the empty lots lay idle for years until the food shortages forced Cuban citizens to make use of every piece of land. Initially, this was an ad-hoc process where ordinary Cubans took the initiative to grow their own food in whatever piece of land was available. The government encouraged this practice and later assisted in promoting it. Urban gardens sprung up throughout the capital of Havana and other urban centers on roof-tops, patios, and unused parking lots in raised beds as well as "squatting" on empty lots. These efforts were furthered by Australian imput: agriculturalists that came to the island in 1993 taught the inhabitants the tenets of the sustainable agricultural system of permaculture. In order to take full advantage of the new community ethos, farmers markets were set up in all communities to provide easy access to locally grown, city produce; less travel time required less energy use. These local markets are said to provide 80-100% of the produce needed for Havana's suburban communities. More importantly, through devolving responsibility for their own welfare to the local community, the state has fostered a sense of cohesion and identity that would never had existed had they sought to impose it by force.

It is trite that cooperation fosters community, a sense of belonging that can only come from the interaction of humans collaborating for the common interest. It is an ethos that characterised the structures of the most progressive era of the first generation of Greek migrants to this country and which, in the current epoch of assimilation and post-modern particularism, is slowly eroding away. This erosion becomes even more stark when it is juxtaposed against the vast combined capital and real assets of the Greek community. We truly are at a stage where even the rationalisation of these assets, an option particularly debated during the nineties, is deemed problematic, not, as in the past, because of priority disputes as to how shall have access to or the benefit of these, but rather, as it is widely held that given the mass grass roots desertion of the organised communities, such assets will not serve the interests of those who have absconded.

The aforementioned notwithstanding, the momentum of construction has not entirely died out. Members of the community in particular, look to resources that have not yet been developed and lament this fact, even in absence of a plan or resources for such a development. The much-talked about Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria property in Bulleen is a case in point. There it lies, a vast expanse of prime real estate, that could, depending on who within the community one talks to, be converted into an immense social club, complete with theatres, tennis courts and soccer ground, a Greek trading hub, or even a Hellenic theme park.

All these suggestions, especially the last one, have much to recommend themselves unto the gentle senses of GOCMV members, especially if in order to enter the theme park, one has to dress in a chlamys and himation or a foustanella. There is no doubt that in the fullness of time, some use shall be found for the Bulleen property and with any luck it shall address the needs of the local community effectively.

In the meantime however, what better way to make use of an empty and undeveloped space than to employ the Cuban example and establish a local Greek community garden? The vast majority of the Greek community is possessed of rural roots and gardening is, for the first generation and also for a noticeable proportion of the second generation, not just a pastime, but a way of life. A Greek community garden would provide an opportunity for members of all generations to mingle freely, divorced from the fractious politics and byzantine machinations that have hitherto blighted the existence of community organisations, united in pursuit of a 'neutral' physical activity. The cross-generational exchange would be to everyone's benefit, not only through increased social contact between older and more isolated members of the first generation but also as first generation gardeners would be able to pass down techniques and knowledge that itself has in turn been garnered for centuries, to latter generations, as well as relating to them on an interpersonal level. In this way, not only would the 'generation gap' be bridged, but all sorts of other skills would also be passed down, including enhanced linguistic skills and a sense that everyone, not just the first generation, has a stake in the broader Greek community. That can only come about, if ways can be found in which people can pursue activities together and relate to each other, without feeling dominated, smothered, or marginalised.

It is this grass-roots fraternisation, the engaging of people to work and enjoy themselves together that constitutes an organic, thriving community. The fruit of such activity, in the form of produce, could be marketed weekly during harvest times in impromptu community farmers' markets and the profits applied to various worthy causes. Greek schools in the vicinity could maintain plots, teaching children the names of fruit and vegetables in Greek as well as encouraging healthy eating habits. For the more botanically minded, flower gardens could also be established, rendering the once vacant lot into a verdant oasis that everyone would seek to visit. In this way, members of our community can once more learn what it is to work together, rejoicing in each other's company and hopefully, seek to preserve such cohesion. This cost-effective, interim solution could therefore assist in revitalising and re-connecting an increasingly fragmented community and all this through a simple and age-old pursuit -whether at Bulleen or elsewhere.

Before the gentle reader snorts at the effrontery of such a suggestion and exclaims the names of such Greek vegetables as «κολοκύθια,» let it be known that the pleasure of coaxing such delicious comestibles from the ground is immense and that whether they end up on the plate or «στην ουρά σας» is entirely up to the horticulturalists discretion.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 28 July 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Perusing a recent well meaning article in the Greek media exhorting members of the community to attend the annual Justice for Cyprus march, I was astounded to encounter the following phrase: “We call upon the Cypriot and Greek people...” So disconcerted was I that I compelled myself to re-read the offending phrase another two times, by which time the question had to inevitably be asked: Are not Cypriots in fact Greeks? Since when are Cypriots and Greeks two separate people?

In order to solve the quandary, I sought the sage advice of some Turkish friends who were born in Cyprus. To the question, “to which people do you belong?” they invariably answered: “We are Turks,” scoffing at the suggestion that the appellation of “Cypriot” could ever signify a people and affirming that the Greeks and Turks of Cyprus are two distinct and separate people.

If one was to be charitable, the reason for the propagation of a supposed “Cypriot” ethnic or social identity could be justified by the fact that a) Cyprus, by accident of history and against the will of the majority of its inhabitants is an independent sovereign state, at least de jure, and b) that ethnic fractures on the island could be papered over by the propagation of a neutral ‘Cypriot’ identity that all ethnic groups find acceptable. The problem however, rests in the fact that the only people who appear to adhere to this view happen to be Greeks. Quite often, their well meaning but ill conceived attempt to construct a non-existent identity leads them towards bizarre acts, such as claiming that they speak “Cypriot,” in the last census here in Australia and diminishing the Greek component of their identity in favour of an identity that is, well Greek, but divested of this appellation.

Only time will tell whether a “Cypriot” ethnic identity will ever plausibly remain. Yet the propagation of such a fantasy is of great interest, as Cyprus has historically not been the only part of the Greek –speaking world to have enjoyed independence, whether de facto, de jure or otherwise. The inhabitants of those regions displayed a conception of their identity markedly different to that of their modern ‘Cypriot’ counterparts. As far back as Ottoman times, in 1537, the seven villages of Cheimarra, Northern Epirus were granted autonomy, a Christian flag, exemption from tribute and interference in the day to day running of their affairs. From 1537 to the present day, the Cheimarriotes, have, in the face of extreme pressure by successive Ottoman and Albanian regimes, steadfastly maintained their Greek identity and their desire to be part of the Greek state. The United States of the Ionian Islands, formed in 1815 under British auspices functioned as a sovereign entity under the British crown. Its inhabitants steadfastly maintained their Greek identity until the islands were ceded to Greece in 1864.

Various regions of Greece present further instructive parallels with the case of Cyprus. Regions whose inhabitants fought particularly stubbornly for the overthrow of Ottoman rule and their unification with Greece, in popular uprisings were generally denied the object of their desire. As a stopgap measure, they were generally granted autonomous statehood as principalities, connected to but not ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Crete formed such a principality under Prince George, between 1898 to 1913. As Nikos Kazantzakis’ fictional account of the Cretan uprisings “Kapetan Mihalis” attests, at no stage did the hardy Cretans pursue a separate ‘Cretan’ identity but instead pursued their dream of union with Greece with fanaticism. Luckily for them, they had not long to wait.

Other regions enjoyed autonomy for generations. The principality of Samos was in existence from 1835 to 1912, a much longer period than Cypriot statehood. During that time, it became a trading entrepot and centre of the tobacco industry. It also conducted interesting social experiments such as the institution of Esperanto as its official language but during their long independence, at no stage did its doughty inhabitants ever abjure, or seek to diminish their Greek identity, and pursued union with Greece with single-minded fervour. Much like in the instance of Crete, the architect of enosis (Venizelos for Crete, Sofoulis for Samos), eventually became the Prime Minister of Greece.

The island of Ikaria also enjoyed autonomy, for four months in 1912 before joining Greece. Nonetheless, at least if the Austrian newspaper “Heute” is to be granted credibility, it appears that the Free State of Ikaria is about to make a comeback, though not necessarily peddling a fantasy “Icarian” identity. According to this august publication, the island of Ikaria is joined to Greece by a century old treaty that has expired. It now wishes to secede from Greece and become the tenth member of the Austrian Federation. Several Austrian publications add further that the proposed method of secession will be via a referendum in which the eight thousand inhabitants of the island, headed by their mayor, Christodoulos Stafrinadis, will be asked to turn their backs on Athens, whose mismanagement of Greece is held to be the reason for this unprecedented political redefinition, in order to embrace Vienna.

For reasons that cannot be understood, the reporting of this spectacular event has enraged the Greek Embassy in Vienna, which has caused to be posted on its website, the following caveat: “Icaria is an inseparable part of the Greek state and there exists no expired treaty between that island and the government of Greece. On 17 July 2012, the one hundredth anniversary of the revolution was celebrated, via which Icaria, an eastern Aegean island, gained its independence from the Ottoman state. Pursuant to Article 12 of the Treaty of Lausanne, it is confirmed that the islands of the eastern Aegean, including Icaria, belong to Greece.”

One can only guess at the reason for such a knee jerk reaction. After all, Greece and the people of Icaria would have everything to gain from the proposed union with Austria. For Icaria is considered one of the world’s “Blue Zones,” enjoying the highest percentage of 90 year-olds on the planet, where nearly one out of every three people make it to their ninth decade. Furthermore, Icarians have about 20 percent lower rates of cancer, 50 percent lower rates of heart disease than average and almost no dementia. Given such a surprising propensity towards longevity, the hearty but hale Icarians can, as full Austrian citizens, prevail upon their generous social security system to bear the full cost of their lengthy retirement. Add to that a cultural infusion of Viennese opera, Viennese coffee, sliced Vienna bread and Wiener schnitzel and one veritably has, heaven on earth – a jewel of an Aegean isle, financed and run with Teutonic thoroughness and Mozartian grace. If this was not enough, it has been calculated by a professor of the University of Linz that corollary to the Anschluss of Icaria with Austria, the new Austrian Federation would be compelled to assume liability for the Icarian component of the Greek national debt, which comes to two hundred and fifty million euro. The Teutonification of Icaria therefore, truly is in the national interest, that is, as long as its neo-Austrian citizens remember not to fly to close to the sun.

The above notwithstanding, a system whereby regions of Greece decide to construct, much like some Cypriots, a bogus national identity and declare their own independence would be much more advantageous than having those apostatizing regions arbitrarily deciding to attach themselves to the bosoms of foreign motherlands. The more independent Greek speaking nations we have, the more seats we will obtain in the United Nations Assembly and the more votes we shall be able to trade with each other in the Eurovision Song Contest, except that is for the unspeakable Icarians who will grant douze points to Austria and the detestable denizens of Frangonisi, who will invariably favour the French, not to mention the voters of Tourkolimano who could swing either way….

From the autonomous Greek-speaking despotate of Brunswick, not to be confused with the serene Hellenic-speaking Republic of Northcote, or the Cypriot-speaking sultanate of Sunshine, or the Pontian speaking Principality of Parkville, disunion or death!


First published in NKEE on Saturday 21 July 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Imagine gentle reader if you would, that our winter of discontent is turned glorious summer and that you are sunning yourself on a typical Melbournian beach - say Brighton, accompanied by your two sisters. (If you don't already have two sisters, here are two that our imagination prepared for you earlier.) As you lazily turn over to permit the Australian sun to fry an egg on your back, you turn to your sister and ask in Greek: "Pass me the sunscreen, will you."

Almost immediately, two burly brutes who have beached themselves on towels next to you and who have hitherto remained unnoticed stand up and towering over you, demand: "What did you say? How dare you speak Greek. If you want to speak Greek, go to Greece and sun yourself on the beaches here. This is Australia. NEVER speak Greek here ever again."

In a fit of pique, you exclaim as indignantly and ungrammatically as possible: "Get stuffed. I'll speak whatever language I want." Whereupon your two burly interlocutors, joined imperceptibly by another two, apprehend you by the armpits and unceremoniously drag you towards the sea. Upon reaching the briny, they hold your head under the water with the full intent of drowning you. You throat fills with water, your heart begins to pound at the sides of your rib-cage and seconds before you lose consciousness, you are dragged from the water and your imminent faith by some concerned passers-by who cannot believe the crime that is unfolding before their eyes.

Truly this is a scenario that could plausibly only erupt from the impassioned union of a surfy Australian soap opera and Greek-Australian pretensions to television drama. For in this country, such overt displays of racism are, thankfully, few and far between. In Albania, and in particular along the coastline of Cheimarra to Agioi Saranta, where the above drama unfolded, such occurrences are commonplace.

Cheimarra in Greek mythology, a collection of seven villages straddling the space between the Acroceraunian mountains and the pristine, jewel-like Ionian coast, was said to be one of the entrances to the underworld. The Cheimarriotes, a hardy, war-like people, were granted autonomy throughout Turkish rule and fought for the union of Northern Epirus with Greece during the Balkan Wars, only to see their homeland incorporated within the Albanian state. Because of this, and because unlike other Greek regions of Northern Epirus, they refused to collaborate with the communists during the Second World War, the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha refused to include the region within the arbitrarily appointed 'minority zone' where Greek could freely be spoken. According to the Albanians, no Greeks lived in Cheimarra and therefore speaking Greek or reading Greek was outlawed.

Appreciate then the surprise of Albanian citizens, imbued with decades of nationalist propaganda, learning after the fall of communism that not only does this "Albanian" region consistently return Greeks to parliament and councils in state and local elections, but that 85% of the local population identifies itself as Greek.

While some try to explain away this disturbing phenomenon by positing that the Cheimarriotes are deluded Albanians who have fallen victim to Greek propaganda (if so, they are the only ones in history to do so,) others resort to more insidious means. I remember stopping in the village square of dusty Shen Vasil (Άγιος Βασίλειος), a once Greek village that is now purely Albanian, to buy some water. On the wall of the square in large Greek handwriting, a sign proclaimed: «ΘΑΝΑΤΟΣ ΣΤΟΥΣ ΕΛΛΝΗΕΣ.» It is only when one reaches the outskirts of Cheimarra and sees such graffiti as: «Θέλωμε Ελληνικά Σχολεία,» that one begins to shake off the uneasy feeling that comes with traversing ethnic faultlines.

Some Albanians from Kosovo, who come down to the coast from their landlocked region and unexpectedly come across such manifestations of Greek identity as the displaying of Greek flags or use of the Greek language by locals feel particularly aggrieved and on occasion, moved to violence to re-establish Albanian hegemony over the region as they see it. In 2010, ethnomartyr Aristotelis Goumas was dragged out of his shop in Cheimarra by Albanians who took him to task for speaking Greek in his premises. They ran over him repeatedly with their motor vehicle and killed him. Though arrests were made, no conviction was recorded against the perpetrators. This event was largely ignored by the Greeks of Greece and by the Greeks of the Antipodes. And rightly so. After all, since we have all embraced monolingualism with such fervour, why should we care if certain people, who have been denied the use of their mother tongue for forty years, are now prepared to die for the privilege of speaking it? If anything, their insistence on preserving their language in the face of torture, exile and prison shows up our paltry efforts, wherein most of the latter generations cannot manage even the most basic of conversations in Greek, as all the more ineffectual.

Aristotelis Goumas endured a horrific death for his language and ethnicity, and no one outside of Northern Epirus cared. Nikos, the young boy from Mesopotamos, who happened to be on a private beach at Agioi Saranta with his two sisters, and is the main protagonist of our not so made up scenario, was almost drowned for speaking Greek and was saved in the nick of time. It is just as well that he was delivered from his fate, as that too would have been ignored by the comfortable and self-satisfied torpor of his worldwide compatriots. It is no longer trite to ask how many more Greeks have to die in Northern Epirus before it is understood that the state has failed to create for them, a sense of security and a structure wherein their basic rights to freedom of religious and ethnic affiliation are respected and protected. For the answer, in the face of Greek and world-wide indifference is now chillingly obvious: As many as it takes until the Greeks of Northern Epirus either abandon their ancestral homelands, or abandon a stubborn commitment to an idea of being Greek that has brought them only hardship, pain and persecution, for absolutely no gain whatsoever.

If you ever find yourself in Northern Epirus, see if you can make your way to the leafy village of Lambovo. Once there, seek out the home of Evangelos Zappas. As you come to the crumbling ruin, overgrown with the weeds and climbing vines of time, consider that you are visiting the home of a Northern Epirot who: built the Zappeion building in Athens, built the Kallimarmaro marble stadium in Athens, revived the Olympic Games and built schools throughout the length and breadth of the Greek world. When you have done musing over the vanity of vanities, go to Moscopole and see if you can locate the home of George Sinas, diplomat and founder of the Arsakeio college in Athens and Athens University. You could, if you were so minded, visit countless such villages and desolate places and locate a discernible pattern - that the vast majority of the benefactors of Modern Greece, who granted her the institutions that gave her at least the chance of viability came from Northern Epirus and gave their all to modern Greece, at the expense of their homelands, which have benefitted not one jot from their most famous son's love of their country.

Our scenario could end with young Niko's traumatised sisters refusing to speak Greek. Yet one thing is disconcertingly certain. Despite the indifference of their compatriots, and in the face of disapprobation and danger, the Northern Epirots will continue stolidly to espouse their Greekness for they can do nothing else, until the bitter end.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 14 July 2012


Φαντάσου ευγενή αναγνώστη , αν μπορείς, ότι ο δικός μας δυσάρεστος χειμώνας μεταμορφώθηκε σε ένα λαμπερό καλοκαίρι και ότι λιάζεσαι με μια χαρακτηριστική παραλία της Μελβούρνης, π.χ. στο Brighton, παρέα με τις δυο αδερφές σου.

Καθώς αλλάζεις πλευρά βαριεστημένα και επιτρέπεις στον αυστραλιανό ήλιο να τηγανίσει ακόμα και αυγό στην πλάτη σου, γυρνάς στις αδερφές σου και τις ρωτάς στα ελληνικά : «Μου δίνεις λιγάκι το αντηλιακό ;».

Σχεδόν αμέσως δύο εύσωμα θηρία που κάθονται δίπλα σου και που μέχρι τώρα έμεναν απαρατήρητοι, σηκώνονται, υψώνονται από πάνω σου και απαιτούν: « Τι είπες; Πως τολμάς να μιλάς ελληνικά; Εάν θες να μιλάς ελληνικά πήγαινε στην Ελλάδα και κάνε ηλιοθεραπεία στις παραλίες εκεί. Εδώ είναι Αυστραλία. Μην μιλήσεις ποτέ ξανά ελληνικά εδώ».

Προσπαθείς να εξηγήσεις και με συντακτικά λάθη: «Άντε και **** Θα μιλάω ότι γλώσσα θέλω.» Και τότε στους δύο εύσωμους συνομιλητές σας προστίθενται ανεπαίσθητα και άλλοι δύο, σε αρπάζουν από τις μασχάλες και σε σέρνουν προς τη θάλασσα. Μόλις φτάνεις την αλμύρα σου κρατάνε το κεφάλι κάτω από το νερό με ξεκάθαρο σκοπό να σε πνίξουν. Ο λαιμός σου γεμίζει με νερό, η καρδιά σου αρχίζει να σφυροκοπάτε πάνω στα πλευρά σου και δευτερόλεπτα πριν χάσεις τις αισθήσεις σου σε τραβάνε από το νερό και επίκειται η πίστη σου από κάποιους ενδιαφερόμενους περαστικούς που αδυνατούν να πιστέψουν το έγκλημα που ξετυλίγεται μπροστά στα μάτια τους.

Πραγματικά αυτό είναι ένα σενάριο που θα μπορούσε να λάβει χώρα μόνο σε μια παθιασμένη ένωση μιας κυματώδους αυστραλιανής σαπουνόπερας και σε Ελληνο- Αυστραλιανές αξιώσεις ενός τηλεοπτικού δράματος. Γιατί σε αυτή τη χώρα, τόσο εμφανείς εκδηλώσεις ρατσισμού είναι, ευτυχώς, πολύ λίγες. Στην Αλβανία, και συγκεκριμένα κατά μήκος της ακτογραμμής Χιμάρας- Αγίων Σαράντα, οπού το παραπάνω δράμα ξετυλίχθηκε, τέτοια συμβάντα είναι πολύ συχνά.

Η Χιμάρα στην ελληνική μυθολογία, μια συλλογή επτά χωριών που καλύπτουν το χώρο ανάμεσα στα Ακροκεραύνια όροι και την παρθένα, σαν κόσμημα, Ιόνια ακτή, λεγόταν ότι ήταν μια από τις εισόδους του Κάτω Κόσμου. Οι Χιμαριώτες, σκληραγωγημένοι και πολεμιστές, είχαν αυτονομία σε όλη τη διάρκεια της τουρκικής επιβολής και πολέμησαν για την ένωση της Βορείου Ηπείρου με την Ελλάδα κατά τη διάρκεια των βαλκανικών πολέμων, κατέληξαν να δουν τη πατρίδα τους να ενσωματώνεται στο αλβανικό κράτος. Εξαιτίας αυτού και επειδή σε αντίθεση με άλλες ελληνικές περιοχές της Βορείου Ηπείρου, αρνήθηκαν να συνεργαστούν με τους κομμουνιστές στο Δεύτερο Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο, το σταλινικό καθεστώς του Ενβέρ Χότζα αρνήθηκε να συμπεριλάβει την περιοχή στην αυθαίρετα καθορισμένη «μειονοτική ζώνη» οπού τα ελληνικά μπορούσαν να μιλιούνται ελεύθερα. Σύμφωνα με τους αλβανούς δεν έζησαν Έλληνες στην Χιμάρα επομένως το να μιλάς ή να διαβάζεις στα ελληνικά ήταν εκτός νόμου.

Αντιληφθείτε, επομένως, την έκπληξη των Αλβανών πολιτών, εμποτισμένων με δεκαετίες εθνικιστικής προπαγάνδας, όταν μαθαίνουν μετά την πτώση του κομμουνισμού ότι αυτή η «αλβανική» περιοχή όχι μόνο εκλέγει συστηματικά Έλληνες στο κοινοβούλιο, σε πολιτειακά συμβούλια και σε τοπικές εκλογές αλλά και το 85% του τοπικού πληθυσμού προσδιορίζει τον εαυτό του ως Έλληνα.

Ενώ, κάποιοι προσπαθούν να εξηγήσουν αυτό το ανησυχητικό φαινόμενο, υποστηρίζοντας ότι οι Χιμαριώτες είναι εξαπατημένοι Αλβανοί που έχουν πέσει θύματα της ελληνικής προπαγάνδας, άλλοι καταφεύγουν σε πιο ύπουλα μέσα. Θυμάμαι να σταματάω στην πλατεία του σκονισμένου Αγίου Βασιλείου, ένα κάποτε ελληνικό χωριό που τώρα είναι καθαρά αλβανικό, για να αγοράσω λίγο νερό. Στον τοίχο την πλατείας , με μεγάλα ελληνικά γράμματα μια επιγραφή προκήρυττε : «ΘΑΝΑΤΟΣ ΣΤΟΥΣ ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ.» . Μόνο όταν φτάνει κανείς στα περίχωρα της Χιμάρας και βλέπει τέτοια γκράφιτι όπως: «Θέλωμε Ελληνικά Σχολεία,» ξεκινά να ξεφεύγει από το δυσάρεστο συναίσθημα που απορρέει από την διάσχιση των εθνοτικών ρηγμάτων.

Κάποιοι Αλβανοί από το Κόσσοβο που κατέβηκαν στην ακτή από τη μεσόγεια περιοχή τους και απρόσμενα συνάντησαν τέτοιου είδους εκδηλώσεις Ελληνικής ταυτότητας, όπως την επίδειξη της ελληνικής σημαίας και τη χρήση της ελληνικής γλώσσας από τους ντόπιους ,νοιώθουν εξαιρετικά θυμωμένοι και σε κάποιες περιπτώσεις οδηγούμενοι στη βία για να αποκαταστήσουν την αλβανική ηγεμονία όπως αυτοί την αντιλαμβάνονται ,στην περιοχή. Το 2010, ο εθνομάρτυρας Αριστοτέλης Γκούμας, σύρθηκε έξω από το μαγαζί του στην Χιμάρα από Αλβανούς που που τον κατεδίωκαν επειδή μίλαγε ελληνικά στις εγκαταστάσεις του. Πέρασαν από πάνω του επανειλημμένα με το μηχανοκίνητο όχημά τους και τον σκότωσαν. Αν και έγιναν συλλήψεις, δεν καταγράφηκε καμία καταδίκη εναντίων των δραστών. Το γεγονός αυτό αγνοήθηκε εκτεταμένα από τους Έλληνες της Ελλάδας και δίκαια. Εξάλλου, αφού έχουμε αγκαλιάσει όλοι την μονογλωσσία με τόση θέρμη, γιατί να ενδιαφερόμαστε εάν κάποιοι άνθρωποι που έχουν στερηθεί την χρήση της μητρικής τους γλώσσα για σαράντα χρόνια είναι τώρα έτοιμοι να πεθάνουν για το προνόμιο της ομιλίας της; Αν μη τι άλλο, η επιμονή τους στη διατήρηση της γλώσσας τους, στο ενδεχόμενο των βασανιστηρίων, της εξορίας και της φυλακής παρουσιάζει τις πενιχρές μας προσπάθειες, οπού οι περισσότεροι από τις μετέπειτα γενιές δεν μπορούν να διαχειριστούν ακόμα και την πιο βασική συζήτηση στα ελληνικά, όπως όλα τα αναποτελεσματικά.

Ο Αριστοτέλης Γκούμας υπέμεινε έναν τρομερό θάνατο για την γλώσσα του και την εθνικότητά του και κανείς εκτός Βορείου Ηπείρου δεν ενδιαφέρθηκε. Ο Νίκος, ένα νεαρό αγόρι από τον Μεσαπόταμο, που έτυχε να βρίσκεται σε μια ιδιωτική παραλία στους Αγίους Σαράντα με τις δύο αδερφές του, και είναι ο πρωταγωνιστής του όχι και τόσο φανταστικού σεναρίου μας, παραλίγο να πνιγεί επειδή μιλούσε ελληνικά και σώθηκε την τελευταία στιγμή. Είναι ευτυχές το ότι σώθηκε από τη μοίρα του αλλιώς και αυτός θα είχε αγνοηθεί από τους άνετους και αυτάρεσκα ναρκωμένους, σε όλο τον κόσμο ,συμπατριώτες του. Δεν είναι πλέον κοινότυπο να ρωτήσει κανείς πόσοι ακόμα Έλληνες πρέπει να πεθάνουν στη Βόρειο Ήπειρο μέχρι να καταλάβουμε ότι το κράτος έχει αποτύχει να τους δημιουργήσει την αίσθηση της ασφάλειας και μια δομή οπού τα βασικά ανθρώπινα δικαιώματα στην ελευθερία της θρησκείας και στον εθνικό δεσμό είναι σεβαστά και προστατεύονται Για την απάντηση, στο ενδεχόμενο της ελληνικής και της παγκόσμιας αδιαφορίας είναι τώρα παγερά εμφανής: όσοι χρειαστούν μέχρι οι Έλληνες της Βορείου Ηπείρου είτε να εγκαταλείψουν τις πατρογονικές τους εστοίες, είτε να εγκαταλείψουν μια πεισματάρικη δέσμευση στην ιδέα ότι είναι Έλληνες, κάτι που τους έχει φέρει μόνο δυσκολίες, πόνο και διώξεις και κανένα είδος κέρδους.

Εάν ποτέ βρεθείτε στην Βόρειο Ήπειρο, προσπαθήστε να φτάσετε στο φυλλώδες χωριό Λάμποβο. Μόλις φτάσετε αναζητήστε το σπίτι του Ευάγγελου Ζάππα. Καθώς φτάνετε στο θρυμματισμένο ερείπιο, κατάφυτο με τα ζιζάνια και τις κληματαριές του χρόνου, σκεφτείτε ότι επισκέπτεστε το σπίτι ενός Βορειοηπειρώτη που: έχτισε το Ζάππειο κτήριο στην Αθήνα, έχτισε το Καλλιμάρμαρο στάδιο στην Αθήνα, αναβίωσε τους Ολυμπιακούς Αγώνες και έχτισε σχολεία σε όλο το μήκος και πλάτος του ελληνικού κόσμου. Αφού τελειώσετε την ονειροπόληση πάνω στην ματαιότητα των ματαιοτήτων, πηγαίνετε στην Μοσχόπολη και δείτε εάν μπορείτε να εντοπίσετε την οικία του Γεωργίου Σίνα, διπλωμάτη και ιδρυτή του Αρσάκειου κολλεγίου στην Αθήνα και του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών. Θα μπορούσατε, εάν σας ενδιέφερε τόσο, να επισκεφτείτε αμέτρητα τέτοια χωριά και έρημα μέρη και να εντοπίσετε ένα ευδιάκριτο μοτίβο, οπού η συντριπτική πλειοψηφία των ευεργετών της σύγχρονης Ελλάδας, που της χάρισαν τα ιδρύματα που της έδωσαν τουλάχιστον την ευκαιρία της βιωσιμότητας, προέρχονταν από την Βόρειο Ήπειρο και έδωσαν τα πάντα στην σύγχρονη Ελλάδα , σε βάρος της γενέθλιας γης τους, η οποία δεν έχει επωφεληθεί ούτε με ένα ίχνος από την αγάπη για την πατρίδα των πιο διάσημων γιων της.

Το σενάριό μας θα μπορούσε να τελειώσει με τις τραυματισμένες αδερφές του νεαρού Νίκου αρνούμενες να μιλούν ελληνικά. Όμως ένα πράγμα είναι ανησυχητικά βέβαιο. Παρά την αδιαφορία των συμπατριωτών τους, και στο ενδεχόμενο της αποδοκιμασίας και του κινδύνου, οι Βορειοηπειρώτες θα συνεχίσουν απαθώς να ασπάζονται το ελληνισμό τους επειδή δεν μπορούν να κάνουν διαφορετικά μέχρι το πικρό τέλος.


Saturday, July 07, 2012


I have always wondered at the modern Greek obsession with basketball. Having always associated the game with the Americas, I would often ponder its relevance to the motherland - that is until I discovered that basketball was founded in 1891 by a Canadian physical education teacher in Massachusetts, as a way of "occupying a class of incorrigibles." All of a sudden, the epiphany arrived and the causal connection with the motherland was well and truly made.

Καλαθοσφαίριση as a title for the game has never really been accepted into vulgar usage. Most probably because it lacks brevity and carries with it, connotations of throwing things in the trash. «Μπάσκετ,» on the other hand, bears with it authoritarian connotations, sounding very close to the Turkic-derived «μπασκίνας,» meaning policeman. And yet this may possibly have been the aim of its inventor James Naismith, intent as he was, in pacifying the masses. Nonetheless it is a harsh and strange sounding word in Greek.

One of the even stranger things about the Greek basketball league, is that with a few exceptions, its' teams bear the same names as those of the National Soccer team, causing divided loyalties and no end of confusion, though one can expertly use this as a method to navigate through the howls of disapprobation accompanying the provision of the wrong answer as to which team one supports, at any given Greek kafeneio - the excuse to be proffered is that you meant that you support AEK in the Basketball League, thus buying you time to consider which soccer your interrogators (and of course your own sufficiency) support. Of course the cardinal error here and this is where everything unravels, rests on the fact that AEK is no longer in the National Basketball League.

Greek Basketball is a genteel game, as compared to its football counterpart. There are no anarchists in motorbike helmets rampaging through the city streets carrying clubs and throwing flares to light their way to the stadium. Nor do basketball fans have the propensity to uproot plastic seats in the stands and try to propel them at the players. There is a hearty amount of cheering and that is all. The first Greek basketball match I went to left me cold and indifferent, a feeling of malaise that was only overturned when I was informed that I had been spectating the legendary Nikos Gali, not to be confused with his Egyptian counterpart Boutros-Boutros and I had in fact, basked unwittingly in the presence of basketball divinity. It was then I realised that Greece displays noteworthy dexterity and measured presdigitation in its ball handling skills, especially as against other nations, and therefore, Greek basketball constitutes one of the many facets that make up the Hellenic mosaic of striving for greatness and is thus, demanding of respect.

It is in this vein that I approached a recent welcoming held by the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, for the players of the Greek National Basketball B' Team. From the moment the young players walked in the door, everyone, from the grizzled old community powerbrokers, to the aspiring restaurateurs, the self-satisfied bankers and businessmen, the disaffected and disinterested academics, the benign and ever observant journalists and the effervescent politicians, everyone was charmed and disarmed by their enthusiasm, friendliness and general goodwill. Ingeniously, the sagely president Bill Papastergiadis distributed the young men evenly among the tables of their well- wishes, so that they could get to know a representative cross section of the community. The result was a good deal of effervescent banter and copious amounts of humour, that is after the rather closer to the ground than the ceiling Greek-Australians were able to finally unlock their jaws and shut their mouths, left open in wonderment as they considered how these Titanic in stature young men, (some of whom surpassed two metres), could possibly be Greek and off course after certain of the middle aged women wiped the dribble (pardon the basketball pun I should say drool) from their ecstatic lips, and rightly so, for these are, to employ the term in its Huxleian sense, rather pneumatic young Adonises.

There is a perception, sadly fostered by other members of Greek delegations previously visiting our climes that modern Greeks are unfriendly, arrogant and unapproachable. The smiling lads from the Greek National Basketball team, each of whom went around each table in order to personally greet their well-wishes, take as many photos as were requested of them, supply an inexhaustible amount of jokes and even impart some of the bawdier Basketball chants, totally put paid to any suspicion of a lingering negative stereotype. In an address that soon came to resemble a Greek version of Brownlow medal night, president Bill Papastergiadis aptly put into words the pride, love and brotherhood Greek-Australians feel when meeting or hosting any of their compatriots in this country. Heart-warmingly, everyone, from the head of the Greek delegation, a humble but eloquent teacher from Agrinio, the rough and ready coach and the players themselves all responded in equally effusive terms, to the tune that they feel totally welcome and at ease with the Greeks of Australia and that if anything, it is a love that they share and will sustain them for years to come. This time at least, for the evening has progressed and much wine had been poured as a libation to long-lasting times, the words were discerningly heart-felt, as was the side-splitting speech then delivered by an elderly gentlemen, who, with a startlingly dead pan face, declaimed that he had watched the Greek team train and that he was pleased to state that they had managed to "get all their balls into the hole." This was a stroke of timing genius, especially as sausages had just been served to the choking audience.

Quite apart from playing host to visiting delegations as is the GOCMV's duty, in so involving such a broad cross -section of the community in its welcome of the Greek basket-ballers, president Bill Papastergiadis and his committee are actually undertaking something as revolutionary as it is important. Whereas to paraphrase poet Koraly Dimitriadis, Greek community functions have hitherto been characterised by many as pertaining to souvlaki and Greek dancing, the GOCMV has presciently noted that sport, especially in this country, where it assumes the form of a religion, is one of the most effective ways in which to foster community involvement and develop a sense of inclusion. After all, sport requires neither language skills, nor a detailed knowledge of Greek history or politics, in order to permit participation. On the contrary, it is a game where cultural and communal bonds are forged through friendly competition and it is symptomatic of the GOCMV's sophisticated approach to addressing the needs of the Greek community at large, that it seeks to target the wider interests of its grass-roots members, in a specific but at the same time all-encompassing manner that has not been attempted, at least for a generation.

The Greek National B' Basketball team may not have won its recent friendly match in Melbourne. Nonetheless, it succeeded in winning the hearts of the Greek-Australia community with their unaffected enthusiasm, gentility and generosity. It succeeded in hammering away at the language divide that often separates Greeks and Greek-Australians of the same age, as sport, humour and fun speak in a language of their own. And the diatribist can verily say, that he has taken on the tallest of the tall basketball Titans in an arm-wrestle and was resoundingly vanquished. Until next week then, time out.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 7 July 2012