Saturday, August 25, 2012


Mention the word SAE to members of the Greek community and chances are you will most likely obtain the response: «Τζάμπα τουρίστες.» The reason for such a cynical response can be ascribed to the singular fact that for most of its sordid existence, the Council of Greeks Abroad, at least its Australian component, was comprised of delegates of defunct or marginal community organizations, who in no way represented the consensus of opinion of the Greek community and whose sole aim, as it seemed, was to cadge free tickets to the motherland, in order to go through the motions of attending a conference, being photographed with a few politicians, upon the conclusion of which, they could all repair to their villages, there to eke out the Grecian summer months in thermidorian torpor.

Attending a SAE conference was an experience not to be missed. Having had the privilege of being a «τζάμπα τουρίστας,» on four separate occasions, I was shocked at how at each successive conference, both delegates and organizers alike took the proceedings less and less seriously. While the lengthy and often televised speeches by politicians and luminaries still took up most of the conference agenda, the rest of the time was devoted to the propounding of empty proposals that lacked a framework for implementation. Dealing with anything from Greek language education, to the affording of the vote to Greeks abroad, most national issues and everything in between, these proposals were heavily debated after each regional council had split off from the plenary, raising questions as to why such regional councils would not have been better served staying home and debating their empty proposals there. Such debates were not without humour. It would be invariably be expected at each conference, for example, that an eruption of angry Cypriots, voicing their dissent at proposed solutions to the occupation of Cyprus, in their colourful, staccato tones would erupt, causing more than one Greek politician to ask wryly: "If they can't figure out what they want, how do you suppose we will ever get the Turks to do what we want?"

Nonetheless, after lengthy resolutions were agreed upon, they were voted on by the delegates in plenary sessions, mostly according to party lines. For that was another insidious element of SAE - the fact that it, like most other aspects of Greek public life was coursed by deep fracture lines where the undercurrent veins of Greek party factionalism would flow. This was evident in that most of the conference seemed to be devoted to byzantine negotiations, skullduggery and lobbying designed to elevate the nominee of New Democracy or PASOK to the presidency of the World Council. Indeed, this was the reason why most delegates were in attendance: to indulge in the stultifying micro-politics that have already blighted their own communities, on a wider playing level, egged on by Greek politicians whose sole aim was to distract delegates through petty politicking, thus keeping them away from a consideration of substantive issues. At any rate, it became apparent that the only functioning constituent of SAE was its European regional council, solely because its proximity to the motherland lent it political force and a stake in the wider Greek discourse, and to a lesser extent, the American council, owing to its being a source of funds.

The youth component of SAE, in which I played a small part, was even more of a parody, for it was comprised primarily of 'youth' delegations of organizations that had no youth participation. However, while some of the youth delegates also treated the conference as a means for a subsidised holiday, most took it very seriously, considering it a vital opportunity to establish relationships with delegates from such unlikely places as Kazakhstan or Russia, to revel in the concept of world-wide Hellenism and forge links of shared experience and mutual assistance. Unfortunately, such idealism was marred by the fact that while the conference organizers were perspicacious enough to determine that a youth component to SAE was needed, not much thought was given as to what it should do. At the commencement of the four successive youth conferences I attended, delegates were commanded solely to draft and then re-draft ab initio a constitutional framework for the operation of SAE Youth, completely disregarding previous attempts, in a lame attempt again, to divert the youth from other pursuits.

In their own way, the conference organizers were wise to do so, for youth delegates, especially those from Australia, unlike their European counterparts, do not partake of the servile approach towards politicians and are notoriously outspoken. From the by now famous exclamation by a Northern Territory youth delegate to the plenary that: "I haven't washed for three days, travelling to a conference that is so poorly organized," to the walk out that was provoked by an ex-deputy foreign minister's attempt to ridicule an assertion in one of my speeches that the Greeks of Northern Epirus were enduring persecution, Australian youth delegates, unlike their older exemplars, challenged not only other delegates but the entire framework of the conference. Some of the verbal jousts were actually quite amusing. At the last world conference in 2006, I referred, in my address, to the fact that though it had been announced that the SAE Youth were being dissolved, they were going to be re-structured into a new entity, that hopefully would achieve great things. Minutes later, I was accosted, or rather spat at by a livid now ex-deputy foreign minister who, not having listened to the speech, was advised that I had actually announced the walk-out and non-participation of youth delegates. When he had the recording of my speech played back to him, rather than calm down and offer to apologize, he merely commanded: "Go back up there and refute those things that you didn't say." I turned my back on him and walked off.

Australian SAE Youth delegates also made history in another respect. At the November 2006 Melbourne regional conference, the Australian SAE Co-ordinators announced that places for youth at the imminent World Conference in Thessaloniki had been drastically reduced from twenty or so to three. They urged the dismayed youth to elect the delegates from among themselves, causing no small amount of bickering and in-fighting. At some stage, it occurred to me that a) if "youth" are the future, in drastically reducing their numbers, are not the powers in SAE really signaling that the so-called future is not so high on their list of priorities? And b) is there anything to be gained by a token youth presence at a conference organized by persons who manifestly do not respect them? Minutes later, I led the entire corpus of Australian SAE Youth delegates onto the podium where I announced that as SAE does not respect the youth, the youth would not participate in the World Conference. In the ensuing chaos and disbelief that we would give up a free ticket to Greece, and in fear of losing face with their Greek Supreme Overlords, the senior committee played right into our hands. Somehow, places were found for all of us.

In light of the above, Deputy Minister for Greeks Abroad Konstantinos Tsiaras' recent announcement that SAE is to be re-launched as a re-vamped, self-funded entity justifiably raises eyebrows. Quite simply, SAE did not work, because the vast majority of Greeks are disengaged from the entities that were recognized officially as representing them. Rather than affording rights of representation to defunct community groups, a grass roots movement has to be launched from within the community to provide effective representation, rather than have this being imposed from above, by the would be-arbiters of Hellenism in the motherland. Our community is much more diverse and complex than many of us believe, comprised of families of mixed ethnicities, interests, gender orientation and concerns. Surely if their voices are to be heard, this should take place first on a local level and only then should we consider re-plunging into the heady stream of global Hellenic politics. That is not to say that much good did not arise from palaio-SAE. The Pan-Hellenic Games offered a unique and unprecedented outlet for otherwise disengaged youth to engage in sporting competition. It was also through SAE that the Panepirotic Federation of Australia was able to organize the building of a technical college in Argyrokastro for the Greeks of Northern Epirus. These projects, and others like them initiated by other regions of SAE are what any revitalized organization should concern itself with: fostering links and methods of mutual assistance between communities of Greeks Abroad and ensuring that Greeks abroad are treated as Greeks rather than strangers within Greece. Arguably, this can be done by nuanced policies within Greek consulates by enlightened diplomats rather than through the talk-fests in which a great deal more is ever said than done. The revival of Neo-Sae will also pose the perennial question. Who are we going to vote in as president? My money is, as always, on Vladimir Putin. until next time, then, say ΝΑΙ to ΣΑΕ.


First pubished in NKEE on Saturday 25 August 2012.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


And the Olympic Gold medal for the sport of “Nice Try” this week is awarded to Turkish prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who in a bid to convince officials of the International Olympic Committee that Turkey should host Olympics in the future, explained to its president, Jacques Rogge, that: “Turkey is the birthplace of the Olympic flame. We want the Games back in our country. The IOC has the right to bring the Olympic flame back to its origin.” The scholarly Turkish Prime Minister bases his claim on the sound reasoning that there exists a Mount Olympus in Western Anatolia. It follows axiomatically, at least to the prime Minister and his hordes, that as a result, the Olympic Games are Turkish.

What Başbakan Erdoğan should have mentioned, in order to further his claim, is that there is not just one, but four places called Olympus in Anatolia. There is Mount Olympus on the northern coast, now known as Arit, Mount Olympus on the outskirts of Smyrna, which is now known as Mount Nif, the ancient Lycian city of Olympus on the southern coast of Turkey and, most famously, the Mount Olympus near Bursa, now known variously as Uludağ. This sounds impressive until it is juxtaposed against the mountains of same name in Greece. There are six of them: the home of the gods in Pieria but also on Lesvos, Arcadia, Skyros, Euboea and Lavreotiki. If the Olympic Games were to be awarded on the bases of homophones, Greece would win hands down.

It may surprise the Turkish Prime Minister to learn that none of the lofty peaks entitled Mount Olympus have, of course, anything to do with the Olympic Games whatsoever. In fact, the word Olympus is said to be a pre-Greek term, with no known Indo-European etymology, signifying a tall mountain. It may also be inconvenient for the learned leader of the Turkish nation to consider that the reason for the prevalence of so many peaks sharing the appellation of Olympus in his country, is that for three thousand years, that country formed the heartland of Greek civilization. For the Greeks of old were possessed of the propensity to name new settlements after their place of origin. Thus there was a Naxos in Southern Italy, a Messinia (now Messina) in Sicily, while in both Italy and Turkey there was a Heracleia and a Calipolis (Gallipoli). Since Spartan colonists founded the Anatolian city of Isparta, one is astounded that the Turkish government has not yet applied the same reasoning to lay claim to Leonidas, Thermopylae and all marketing proceeds and profits of the movie 300. If they try to do so, the answer is simple: «Μολών λαβέ.»

Yet Bithynian Mount Olympus, the mountain the Turkish PM is using as his flagship for the appropriation of the Olympic Games truly is a mountain of great historical importance and for this reason, we should all be grateful to Erdoğan for drawing the world’s attention to it. The mountain’s former Turkish name is of course, Keşiş Dağı, meaning the mountain of monks and this because during the early Middle Ages, the mountain was renowned for its prevalence of hermitages and monasteries, which rivalled those of Mt Athos in number and splendour. The monks of Bithynian Mount Olympus not only gave Orthodox monasticism the form in which it exists to the present day, but also presented a firm and stubborn resistance against the innovations and heresies of the iconoclast emperors of Byzantium, to the point where they finally prevailed over them, causing the veneration of images to be restored to Orthodox Christianity. The main protagonist in this struggle and by far the most famous resident of Mount Olympus was the wonder-working Saint Ioannikios the Great, one of the greatest monks in the Orthodox tradition.

It goes without saying that athletic games such as those performed in Olympia every four years from 776 BC, for approximately seven hundred years, were never performed on Bithynian Mount Olympus. The only Games ever to have been held in the vicinity are those attested to by Homer in the Iliad, these being the funeral games sponsored by Achilles for Patroclus, outside the walls of Troy, on the coast. Yet, considering the widely unrecognized fact that, if some modern Turkish historians are to be believed, the venerable bard Homer was actually a Turk called Ömer, one can see how all these seemingly disparate actualities can collectively make a persuasive case.

Nonetheless, and given the above, on closer inspection of the Turkish Prime Minister’s reasoning, one may delight in the identification of a much more sublime and profound motivation for his claim. For in promoting the interests of a mountain that has nothing to do with the physical exertions of the Olympic Games and everything to do with the quietitude, self-cultivation and interior struggle of Orthodox monasticism, does not Erdoğan’s claim sound akin to a clarion call, exhorting all of us to abjure activities of the flesh, to seek not triumph in the frivolities and vanities of physical accomplishments, to reject the mercenary zeitgeist of glory and sponsorship but rather, to establish on Bithynian Mount Olympus, the foundation stone of Byzantine monasticism, a greater game, one that involves casting aside one’s chthonic passions in order to transcend oneself and catch a glimpse of the uncreated light of the Divine?

After all, the Olympics have never been called ‘Games’ in Greek. The word is «Ἁγώνας,» which means struggle and this is exactly the term that orthodox monks utilise to denote the meaning of their calling. Further, the word for exercise, a condition precedent for an athletes’ involvement in the Olympics, is the same word used by monks to refer to the practises of the daily lives: «άσκησις,» whence comes asceticism. If one goes further, as Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan has, and reads the various troparions of the Orthodox Church devoted to martyrs, or peruses the writings of such holy fathers as Saint John Chrysostom, then one will immediately notice that sundry martyrs and saints are more often or not referred to as «αθλητές,» or athletes, since in its literal form, an athlete is one who performs a burdensome task. In this context, crypto-Christian Erdoğan then is quite clear. Let all of us reject the worldly Games, with all their pomp and emphasis on brute strength as the measure of superiority, and instead, struggle to participate in the True Games, silently, with humility and fervour, with our eyes fixed on the heavens, in the hope of salvation.

Similarly, Erdoğan’s seemingly paradoxical statement that the Olympic Flame belongs to Turkey can now be explained. It is of course trite to mention that while a constantly burning flame was maintained in the sanctuary of Hera in ancient Olympia, a torch lighting ceremony of commencement did not take place in the ancient Games. Instead, the lighting of a flame was introduced at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, only to be taken up and extended to a torch relay by the Nazi’s at the 1936 Berlin Games, as the perfect way to illustrate Hitler’s belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the Third Reich.

This is obviously then, not the flame of Erdoğan. Rather, is not his the inner flame, the flame that burns passionately for truth and love? It is not also the flame of thousands of votive lamps lit by the monks of Mount Olympus and all over modern Turkey by its people for over two thousand years that were extinguished suddenly in the 1922 catastrophe and the genocide that preceded it and have not been lit again…that is until now?

Erdoğan may have intended his absurd IOC remarks only for domestic consumption by his hordes, as a cheap and easy way of maintaining popularity, as only a nationalistic politician in an eastern Mediterranean country knows how. However, in doing so, he inadvertently serves to highlight the intrinsic role Greek civilization, in all of its multifarious forms has played throughout the ages, in developing ideals of physical and spiritual cultivation. And if he neglects or forgets to mention that the propagation of many of those ideals took place by Greeks in the country he now rules over, whether these be the widely applauded and western adopted physical Games, or the silent, long suffering yet equally as awe-inspiring ascesis of the spiritual athletes of Mount Olympus, then we, the inheritors and bearers of this tradition must never do so.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 19 August 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012


International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge cannot help himself from slighting Greece, at every opportunity. Fervent patriots will recall his breaking with the tradition of IOC presidents calling each successive Olympic Games “the best ever,” when at the 2004 Athens Games, after swallowing copious amounts of ascending bile, he called them the “unforgettable, dream games.” This of course, was well received in Australia, as the august president’s remarks were interpreted to signify that the Athens Games were inferior to those of Sydney.

Now the diatribe has looked at vast amounts of conspiracy theories in its time, propounding a doctrine of Greece’s isolation, coupled with the view that for reasons that have to do with Greece’s inherent spiritual and cultural superiority, the western world fears and loathes Greece and is dedicated to her destruction. Such theories have generally been tried and found wanting. Yet Jacques Rogge’s behavior at the London Games, would raise the eyebrow of even the most cynical sceptic. His pronouncement that: “In a sense, the Olympic Games are coming home tonight,” has caused fury in Greece. Rightly, the Greek people ask whether the president of the IOC knows anything about Modern Olympic History. If he does, then why does he hide the fact that the Modeern Olympic Games were the brainchild of Epirot benefactor and businessman Evangelos Zappas, who as far back as 1859 was organizing Olympic Games in Athens, and went on to donate the Panathenaic Stadium to the Greek nation for this purpose?

Similarly, when Jacques Rogge stated that: “The British approach to sport had a profound influence on Pierre de Coubertin, our founder, as he developed the framework for the modern Olympic Movement at the close of the 19th century,” did he not know that it was the English Doctor William Penny Brookes, who, inspired by the 1859 Athens Olympic Games, adopted such Games into his own “Wenlock Olympic Games?” Is he ignorant of the fact that the erroneously called “founder of the Modern Olympics” Baron Pierre de Coubertin was inspired in his own endeavours, by Dr Brookes? Further, is he ignorant of Professor David Young of the University of Florida’s conviction that:

“Had it not been for Zappas, the Athens Games of 1896 surely would not have taken place. Zappas's actions, his will and the previous tradition of Zappas Olympic Games had made Crown Prince Constantine of Greece, an advocate of Olympic Games before the formation of the IOC in 1894.”

The answer of course is that if Jacques Rogge knows this, he doesn’t care. In his mind, Britain has far more claim to be the ‘home’ of the Olympic Games as: “This great, sports-loving country is widely recognized as the birthplace of modern sport. It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules and regulations. It was here that sport was included as an educational tool in the school curriculum.”

Greeks can protest that the ancient Greeks were the first ones to institutionalize and codify sport, in a tradition attested as far back as Homer, until they are blue in the face. For Jacques Rogge and the western world who accepted the sentiments expressed in his speech as their own, sport and the Olympics are a western accomplishment and while they are obliged to provide some lip service to the Greeks, they owe these non-westerners only grudging acknowledgment, in their quest to efface their claim on their supreme cultural attainment.

This can be evidenced in other Olympic ‘slights’ at the expense of Greece. For the first time, the Greek flag was not flown next to the Olympic Flag, in homage to the people that founded the Games, nor was the Greek national anthem heard, as is established tradition. Further, the Olympic Hymn, composed by Spiros Samaras to lyrics penned by Greek national poet Kostis Palamas, was not sung, though the IOC has declared as far back as 1958, that this Hymn should be sung at the commencement and closing of the Olympic Games, and has been so chanted continuously, until now.

Greeks also feel affronted that when Jacques Rogge was quizzed about London’s readiness to host the Games, he responded: “I’d like to believe that they are as ready as Sydney or Beijing, to mention the most recent Games.” Is the exclusion of Athens a mere oversight? Or do deep, dark and nefarious purposes compel such an omission?

Contrary to common Greek belief, these hurtful occurrences do not represent a conscious desire to erase the Greek character of the Games, stemming from a deep seated western feeling of inferiority at the achievements of such a small but tenacious people. Instead, they are symptomatic of a phenomenon that has its roots in the renaissance and beyond.

When Greeks seek to promote their ‘western’ credentials, they point to such elements that were developed in ancient Greece, and have inspired or been adopted by western cultures, such as theatre, democracy, architecture and the Olympic Games. They expect that since the primal myth of Western civilization holds that it is founded upon such ancient Greek values, that this will translate into a respect and acceptance of the Greek people at least as equals and at best as worthy of admiration, reverence and awe. More often than not, such respect is not forthcoming and the Greek people feel bewildered and hurt.

Yet these hurt Greeks would do well to remember the disgust of the majority of eighteenth and nineteenth European travelers through Greece, who formed the opinion that the modern Greeks were nothing like the rational, logical and civilized ancient Greeks they had constructed them to be. Instead, they were alien and oriental, objects of derision. Some, swallowing their distaste, attempted to impose a selective and false reconstructed system of ‘ancient values’ upon the renascent Modern Greeks, something that was and still is, eagerly accepted by Modern Greeks since it is western-sanctioned. Others, such as Fallmerayer went as far as to deny the connection between the ancient and modern Greeks altogether.

All the disparate parties however ignored the fact that the ancient Greeks were no more logical or rational or accomplished that their modern counterparts or anyone else. By imperialistically holding up a false view of our ancient ancestors and their accomplishments as an example to emulate, the West was merely appropriating for itself a model that it felt reflected its own greatness and aspirations. There was no room for silly orientals in that paradigm, who by their very flighty and over-emotional nature, were automatically disqualified from it. The high-handed and dismissive manner in which Greece is being treated by western nations during the current economic crisis is symptomatic of the neo-colonialist view that as a lesser, oriental race, we lack the maturity to look after ourselves, and thus need to be directed by the West. It is of course unfortunate that the irresponsible antics of Greek politicians reinforce that stereotype time and time again.

The Modern Olympic Games are as much a homage to the long gone ancient Greeks as democratic parliaments are. Over the sorry century of their existence they have been used primarily as a Western tool of cultural and political superiority and as a method of promoting the extension of western values, be they capitalist or communist over the globe. How else can one explain Rogge linking the Games with “sustainable development.” Rogge is perhaps right then when he states that the Olympic Games have come home. For certainly the modern Games, with their emphasis on hype, marketing and doping have nothing to do with the traditional Greek values or mindset and it is questionable whether we should want to be associated with a symptom of the bankruptcy of Western civilization, other than in a spirit of international brotherhood.

If the Greek people truly want to be emancipated, they should cease the odious practice of seeking validation from a Western world that rejects its intrinsic worth. There is much in the modern Greek tradition to revel in and to use as the basis for forging a third way. Greek people are compassionate, generous, humane, able to form deep and lasting relationships and intricate social networks. They are ingenious, inventive and able, in ways incomprehensible to many other cultures, to harmoniously reconcile urban living with the harmonies of the natural world and most importantly, they have survived four thousand years of almost constant warfare, aggression and strife as a coherent nation. This is the crowning achievement of our race and we need not take umbrage at the empty snubs of others. For as Rogge admits and he would do well to heed his own words: “Character counts far more than medals.”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 August 2012

Saturday, August 04, 2012


Voula Papachristou, an Olympic triathlon gold-medallist hopeful may have thought that it would be witty to relate the cases of West Nile virus in Greece, to the presence of African immigrants in that country. This would explain why she "tweeted" the following comment on Twitter: "With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of the Western Nile will be eating at home." What our mindless little tweety bird did not realise, is that the said virus is transmitted by birds, bitten by mosquitoes. And silly little birds are also responsible for the transmission of other viruses, such as that of racism. If we were to continue this line of reasoning further, we would posit that birds such as budgerigars can either be taught to fly or sing. Since the tweet of our pernicious song-bird is particularly viral, perhaps she should stick to what she knows, running, and leave social commentary to those who have a deeper understanding of the human condition than one hand-reared in the rarified atmosphere of the gilded cage that is the sphere of Greek Olympic athletics.

As it transpires, owing to her racist and insensitive commentary, Voula will not be able to 'fly,' as she has been dropped from the Greek Olympic Team that is to compete in the London Games. This, one would think, is proper and right. After all, was not our own Stephanie Rice publicly censured for her own inauspicious and now notorious tweet: "Suck on that faggots," upon the victory of her particular team over the South Africans? Similarly, Voula has since apologized for her unfortunate outburst, and we are compelled to accept that she has appreciated the magnitude of her blunder and is responsible enough to accept the consequences of same.

In 'say whatever you want with impunity and with total disregard for anyone else's feelings' Greece however, Voula's exclusion from the Team has met with a storm of protest and indignation, particularly from the males of the species. After all, as athletes go, Voula's physical appearance is amply possessed of such symmetry and harmony as would cause many a male to drool and eagerly agree with whatever vacuous tweets emanate from her beak. Had Voula the features of old-time Greek film actress Georgia Vasileiadou, it would be questionable whether she would elicit so much sympathy and such indignation, especially on the various social media that portray her scantily clad, sensuously draping herself within the folds of the Greek flag. So much for rational argument.

Physical appeal aside, what is of vast concern is the deeply disquieting manner in which Voula Papachristou, who is said to be a supporter of the extremist Xrysi Avgi political party, is being portrayed by various prominent Greeks, comedian Hary Klynn among them, as principled stand against African immigration. According to these persons, Voula's exclusion from the London Games is political correctness gone horribly wrong and marks the apogee of hypocrisy, highlighting the supposed hold 'left-wing' ideologies have over the Modern Greek social discourse, who allegedly stifle opposing schools of thought. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

It is the right of every citizen of a state to question government policies and engage in debate as to their efficacy. Had Voula's tweet been something akin to: "What is the government doing to combat illegal immigration?" then such a remark would be no more innocuous than the interminable Australian parliamentary debates as to the efficacy of policy (if indeed such exists) on asylum seekers. That is, though her point of view may be diametrically opposed to that of others, it is a point of view that can and should be posited, as a private individual, regardless of what we think of the wisdom a celebrity figure such as an elite athlete charged with the responsibility of representing her country in an international field, entering such a debate in a public forum. Voula, sadly, did not ask such a question. In her misguided employment of smug sarcasm, she denigrated a minority group, that of West African immigrants to Greece, reducing it to the status of a disease. This is not informed debate and she was certainly not "brave enough to make such a joke," as some commentators implausibly argue. This is pure bigotry at its most crass and Neanderthal and this is not the behaviour that we would expect to come from a member of the "Hellenic race," which if the national myth and stereotype is to be believed, abounds in vast, undiluted quantities of «φιλοξενία» and «φιλότιμο.»

While in the case of a private individual, we may either scorn and indignantly condemn a vile and cowardly vilification of a section of modern Greek society or, alternatively, share her bias and find her bluster amusing, in the case of Voula, we are obliged to remember one important factor: Voula Papachristou, along with her colleagues, as Olympic athletes, are charged with the honour and the responsibility of representing the country of Greece in the peak international sporting event of the world. As such, they are the face of Greece, meaning that they represent the people of Greece. This in turn encompasses ethnic Greeks, along with the significant other migrant groups who now reside in that country and contribute in their own way to the formulation of that society. By publicly reducing one of those groups to a virus and denigrating them in the process, Voula is clearly signifying that she does not wish to represent Greek society in its entirety. Therefore, she is voluntarily divesting herself of her assumed responsibility to represent Greece to the world. Consequently, any desire for participation she may have as a representative of Greece in the Olympic Games is illogical and untenable and it is proper and right to exclude her from such participation.

It is truly about time that participants in the Greek public discourse grew up. Granted, Voula's bigoted and ill advised foray into the world of public policy can be perceived as an unfortunate attempt at humour by someone totally unqualified to provide considered social commentary. Yet public figures must have some type of awareness of the importance of the positions they hold and the ancillary sensitivity to possible divisive actions. While it is not known what type of cultural sensitivity training Greek athletes receive in relation to their public conduct, if any, Voula's exclusion from the Olympic Games sends a clear message to other would be "jokers" or "commentators": Before you publicly proclaim your bias, remember who you are, who you represent and who you are about to hurt. It is a lesson well learnt.

Of course, such manifestations of bigotry are the unfortunate consequence of a previously largely homogenous society experiencing the growing pains of adjusting to an unplanned, ad hoc and largely laissez faire multi-culturalism. Right-wing fringe groups reacting to the economic crisis by blaming minority groups aside, and without dismissing the validity of convictions as to the incoherency of current social and immigration policy leading to an increased crime rate, it is important to stress that even when they are spouting rubbish from their facial orifices, as they are wont to do when engaged in abstract theorising, the vast majority of the Greek people are deeply sympathetic to migrant groups and treat them with the common decency that they are renown for. This does not man however, that we should tolerate behaviour that offends and pillories an entire racial group.

Descending from our high horse from just a minute, it is worthwhile to note by comparison that our own ethnic group has been reduced to the status of a disease for at least two generations here in "racially tolerant" and "ethnically harmonious" Australia as well. For that is what the term "wog" means. When did this term of abuse cease to be one? When we adopted it and dextrously employed it as an article of ethnic pride. Until next Olympiad. mouths closed..


First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 August 2012.