Saturday, May 25, 2013


Imagine, if you will, the German government, instead of abjectly apologizing for its predecessor’s role in the Holocaust, the most heinous crime of the twentieth century, turning around and denying that it ever existed. Not only that, try to imagine the German government then stating that while the Holocaust is a myth, such Jews that were killed, deserved to die because they were fifth columnists, supporting Germany’s enemies and thus had to be removed. Further to this, try to stretch your incredulity a degree further and attempt to conceive of Germany that then proceeds to impose political sanctions upon countries and prohibits its Members of Parliament from attending such important commemorative events as the Fall of the Berlin Wall on the basis that they recognise the enormity of the genocide that was the Holocaust.

Inconceivable, no? Yet further south-east, another country has been doing exactly that ever since 1923 and while in the case of the Holocaust, it was overwhelming international pressure that caused Germany to assume responsibility for the almost total destruction of the European Jewish community. This was not an easy process and took time.  It was widely reported that when footage of the extermination camps was played prior to feature films being screened in movie theatres, most Germans averted their eyes, not wishing to admit or be accountable for what had transpired. It was only thanks to a prolonged and concerted effort by the occupying powers and world opinion that Germany was able to come to terms with its past and take steps to ensure that such a crime would never be repeated.

In the case of Turkey however, responsible for the extermination of millions of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks during the death throes of the Ottoman Empire, no such pressure has been exerted, by anyone. Instead, the world community has presided in silence for almost a century over the Turkish government’s successful attempt to erase any remnant of the thousands of years of history of the Christian peoples of Anatolia, deny their genocide, foist the blame on the victims themselves and bully other countries to keep silent.

It seems that the Turks have so far got it right. The West does not care about the Christian genocide, despite the fact that the Ottoman propensity to massacre Christians was condemned in the English parliament by Gladstone as far back as 1878, and US diplomats on the ground, such as George Horton and Henry Morgenthau wrote extensively on Ottoman officials’ attitudes to the genocide as it was taking place. The West does not care that Turkey continues to treat what little is left of its minorities on a quid pro quo basis, closing the Halki Theological School, but allowing Christian worship in Panayia Soumela on 15 August, reconstructing an Armenian church in Diyarbakir (why does it need reconstruction if the genocide did not take place?) but re-converting Saint Sophia in Trapezounta, a unique example of Byzantine Pontian artistry and until lately a museum, into a mosque, thus denigrating the memories of all those hapless Pontic Greeks who have been slaughtered because of their religious persuasion ever since the downfall of the Empire of Trapezounta in 1461. For the West, Turkey’s strategic position, its role as a power broker in the volatile Middle East, its burgeoning economy, all these considerations have taken precedence over any human rights considerations.

The hypocrisy is stark and blatant. Syria is a terrorist state whose leader must be removed while on the other hand, Turkey is permitted to invade sovereign nations such as Cyprus, with impunity. Enough said.

Proof of the indulgence of Turkey in relation to its culpability for the terrible crime of genocide is the audacity and cynicism with which Turkey treats its ‘friends,’ when they raise the issue. Despite Kemal Ataturk’s assertion that: “Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace,” which supposedly underlies Australian attempts to popularize the ANZAC legend by linking it to an ‘honourable’ enemy, it has become apparent of late that the slumber of slaughtered Australian soldiers upon “friendly” soil is now negotiable.

In a cynical and insulting attempt to hold Australian history to ransom, the Republic of Turkey has sensationally stated that certain Australian legislators are not welcome to take part in Anzac celebrations in Gallipoli, as a consequence for the New South Wales Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament  passing a motion recognising the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides.

In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has released a statement stating that those who were responsible for this motion will “doubtlessly be deprived of the hospitality and friendship  normally extended to Australians. ..These persons who try to damage the spirit of Çanakkale/Gallipoli will also not have their place in the Çanakkale ceremonies where we commemorate together our sons lying side by side in our soil.”

Of course, no mention is made of the fact that in order to facilitate the defence of Gallipoli, that peninsula was ethnically cleansed of tens of thousands of Greeks. We can’t mention this, lest Turkey has another hissy fit and bans us from importing Turkish delight. Further, we are not permitted to mention the fact that one of the soldiers decorated by Ataturk himself for the defence of Gallipoli was an Armenian, Sarkis Torossian. Turkish historiography has repeatedly attempted to write him out of history. The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglou has stated: “We are going to make the year of 1915 known the whole world over, not as an anniversary of a genocide as some people claimed and slandered (sic), but we shall make it known as a glorious resistance of a nation – in other words, our defence of Gallipoli.” As Robert Fisk points out, Turkish nationalism is supposed to win out over history. Descendants of those who died with the Anzac troops at Gallipoli, however, might ask their Turkish hosts in 2015 why they do not honour those brave Arabs and Armenians – including Captain Torossian, who fought alongside the Ottoman Empire and now are being deleted by what appears to be racist regime that cannot permit the existence of the other within its history, let alone the peaceful co-existence of the native Christian peoples of Anatolia within its boundaries.

«Ηθικός αυτουργός» is  a Greek expression that literally signifies a moral perpetrator – that is, not an actual commissioner of a crime but rather a person who, either aided, abetted, encouraged or otherwise covered up a crime. The West’s inability or disinclination to take Turkey to task about the first European genocide of the twentieth century, renders them «ηθικοί αυτουργοί»  of that crime. It is the West’s indifference to the Armenian Genocide after all that led Hitler to remark famously: "Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" on22 August 1939 and to consider that he could perpetrate the Holocaust with immunity.

Turkish diplomacy is clever. My guess is that instead of inspiring feelings of outrage among veteran groups and ordinary Australians as to how its elected MP’s and indeed the ANZAC legend is being held to ransom for political purposes, those self-same groups and the populace at large will instead turn its outrage at the victims of the Genocide and their descendants and blame them for tainting the ANZAC celebrations with petty politicking and lobbying on an issue of no concern to the ANZAC’s or Australians in general.

This is because firstly, we have failed to educate Australians that their legend is based on the mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing of the Greeks of Gallipoli. Secondly, even if we did adequately explain this, it is doubtful whether this would elicit any sympathy, for the same reason that while the Boston shootings can cause a deserved outpouring of sympathy for its victims, thousands can perish miserably in Bangladesh, Syria or Iraq daily without the public batting an eyelid. Quite simply: the West’s treatment of such catastrophes reeks of orientalism and is based on political and racial considerations. Quite frankly, Australian citizens will resent having national myth yoked to events pertaining to some of its minorities. And in doing so, they and the Federal Government who will now doubt go into damage control and reassure Turkey that there is no question of the Genocide being recognised on a federal level, are also quite happy to allow denialists to pour salt in the wounds of survivors and their descendants, sending the message to other would be genocidal criminals that such behaviour can bear no ill consequences, if you have the right friends who need you.

Whatever other low act of obfuscation is attempted by a Turkish government feverishly insecure about its past and increasingly unable to explain the inexplicable in the face of a growing acknowledgement by scholars that the Christian Genocide in Anatolia is a fact,  we at least can be satisfied in this: Despite their best efforts, the perpetrators of this crime did not manage to wipe us off the face of the earth, as they intended. We are here and always will be, mute reminders of the fact that we, as a people survived and that as long as we do survive, they know that they will not get away with it.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 May 2013

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Genocide is the responsibility of the entire world."
― Ann Clwyd, A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq
  A few weeks ago, an article penned by John Williams appeared in Quandrant entitled, "The Ethnic Cleansing of Greeks from Gallipoli, April 1915." This marks a rare moment where a mainstream publication has attempted to draw attention to an aspect of the Gallipoli myth that the organised Greek community itself knows little about and as a result has done nothing to ensure that it enters the public discourse. This aspect is the fact that the hallowed turf upon which the Anzacs lost their lives was, for at least 3,000 years, the home of Greek people, who as a result of the First World War and the Allied landing on the peninsula, fell victim to a persecution whereby: "all the hallmarks of later 20th-century ethnic cleansing - rape, pillage, murder and the seizing and destruction of property - were present in full measure."  As far as I know, only Dr Panayiotis Diamandis and Stavros Stavridis, both committed genocide scholars have attempted effectively to place crimes of this nature in an Australian context. Both, of course, doe not represent nor are affiliated to any Greek community organization and indeed for some of these aforementioned organisations, Dr Diamandis is a figure of controversy.
Some time later, I attended the annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration. At that moving event, which was notable both in how fervently it was attended by passionate members of the Armenian youth and also by its marked absence of Greek community representatives, a member of the Liberal Party read out a letter by Liberal leader Tony Abbott. In  that letter, Tony Abbott referred to what happened to the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottomans as a "genocide." Also present at this sombre ceremony as a keynote speaker, was Deakin University Academic Liana Papoutsis, who has a special interest in Genocide. In her nuanced address, Liana Papoutsis stressed the need, along with the political aspects of the crime of genocide, to also focus on facets pertaining to gender and in particular crimes against women. In June, she will be travelling to Rome, there to attend an international conference, wherein she will speak about the Armenian genocide. Liana Papoutsis is Greek and she too does not represent or is affiliated to any Greek organization. In fact, the multitude of Pontian organisations that are supposedly charged with the responsibility of raising awareness of the genocide of the Greeks of Asia Minor are blissfully unaware of her existence, and I harbor grave reservations as to whether they have followed the lead of their Armenian cousins and written to the leaders of the political parties, requesting that they outline their stance regarding genocide recognition.
 A little less than a week later, on 1 May 2013, the NSW Legislative Council passed a motion recognising the genocide of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks by the Ottomans around the time of the First World War. The Armenian Genocide has already been recognised by the NSW Lower House in 1996, and the "Armenian, Assyrian and Pontic Greek" genocides were recognised by the South Australian parliament in 2009. On 8 May 2013, the NSW Premier Barry O Farrell in the Lower house also moved for the recognition of the Genocide against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks.
This year's recognition thus marks the first time that an Australian parliament has recognised that the genocide was perpetrated against Greeks, rather than Pontians, who are not an ethnicity. This may, of course come as some surprise to some Pontians, for in our community, whose ethnic consciousness comprises a loose confederation of regional tribes all sharing the common suspicion that Socrates and Kolokotronis may have been our ancestors, each regional group tends to abrogate to itself the right to deal with issues pertaining to its own narrow history, with the result that Greeks from other regions treat such events with indifference. In our blinkered communal world, commemorative events centre around bringing to Australia scholars of middling reputation from Greece in order to re-hash the same old narrative year after year to a specifically Pontian, ever ageing and ever dwindling Greek speaking audience. Some aspirational Pontians also hold a Pontian Genocide Workshop, again for internal consumption but invaluable at least in that it ensures that  knowledge of the crime is passed down the English speaking generations. This year, the Pontiaki Estia workshop of "Pontian Continuity" laudably features genocide scholars Racho Donef and Stavros Stavridis and deserves complete community support.   It is there that genocide related activities come to an end and there seem, (save in South Australia where the Pontians, through their local groups and their Federation, were at the forefront of the ultimately successful campaign for genocide recognition) to be scant attempts to engage firstly with the broader Greek community, (as is evidenced by the pitifully attended Genocide protest held outside the Turkish consulate every year), secondly with the other peoples who were also victims of this unspeakable crime (in the 2007 Return to Anatolia conference, the Armenian contingent withdrew in disgust as the various Pontian clubs could not agree upon joint participation) and thirdly, with the broader Australian community, though this is slowly changing.
 The hitherto named 'Pontian' and now properly termed Greek genocide is a case in point. The most recent 'bout' of recognition seems to have come about primarily through the efforts of the Assyrian community in Sydney, not by the exertions of the Greeks. Furthermore, in his moving speech, the revered Fred Nile thanked Dr Panayiotis Diamandis for enlightening him about the genocide over the course of many years, exemplifying both what the dedication of one individual can achieve but also, how ineffectual, indolent and complacent our community institutions can be. It is hoped that by re-branding the genocide as Greek, this will stir the rest of the community from the sloth of their disinterest enough to realise that anything that happens to any part of the Greek people also affects them, and become a clarion call for concerted and united action upon this issue but this is highly unlikely. Instead, it appears that little known figures, such as Diamandis , Papoutsis and Stavridis are destined to maintain a shadowy existence, away from the vertiginous strobe lights of the Greek community stage, achieving many and great things, in spite of the rest of us and our local organisations.
At the abovementioned Armenian genocide commemoration, guest of honour, National Politicial Editor of U.S.-based publication POLITICO, Charles Mahtesian offered this example of just how committed his compatriots are to achieving genocide recognition: An Armenian living in a state where Armenians were few, contrived to gain his congressman's ear in a novel way. Learning that said congressman had his hair cut at the same barber, he arranged an appointment for himself at the same time, so that while being shorn of his curly locks, he was able to introduce the said politician to this most heinous crime and the necessity of its recognition. This type of dedication is lacking in our community, where such activism as exists has kudos and micropolitics as its primary motivation.
That is not to say that the recognition by state governments of matters that the Department of Foreign Affairs can easily distance themselves from should be viewed out of context. Yet it is hoped that as a symbol of the growing appreciation of this crime by the broader community, official recognition in each state can present a compelling case to the Federal Government for a change in its policy on this issue. To this effect, Armenian bishop Najarian's message to the politicians attending the Armenian genocide commemoration is telling: "Do not promise what you cannot deliver. Instead, deliver on your promise not because you will derive a benefit from it, but rather because you believe that it is right." We would all do well to emulate such forthrightness when dealing with our elected representatives. They do not exist merely to provide us with photo opportunities.
In his book «Μικρασία Χαίρε» Ilias Venezis, genocide survivor and captive of the Turkish army states that remembering catastrophes such as the genocide and putting these into context constitutes a source of strength for our people, to be drawn upon in times of crisis. In such times, as now, the Greek people can consider their past and take courage stating: "this is nothing compared to the suffering of our fathers." It is incumbent upon us not only to remember that suffering but also to make others recognised it in order that the perpetrators and the denialists can finally understand the extent of the pain that their actions have caused and reconciliation can be achieved. After all, as Philip Gourevitch aptly points out in: "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda,"  "Genocide, is an exercise in community building."
First published in NKEE on Saturday 18 May 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013


An unexpected confluence of two snippets of ostensibly disparate news has recently formed within the tortured workings of my mind. The first is  Federal Minister for School Education Peter Garrett's assertion that: "The fight for the survival for the Modern Greek language is far from over and the Greek community must not rest on its laurels now that Modern Greek has been included in the National Curriculum." According to Minister Garrett, who acknowledged the hard work of the Greek community in ensuring Modern Greek was included in the National Curriculum he also mentioned that by enrolling children in Modern Greek, the language will retain its status in the curriculum by maintaining a strong demand, and will ultimately mean the survival of the Modern Greek language in Australia.
This last statement of the minister did not disturb me unduly until I happened to chance upon a text blandly announcing that the hours of Greek language broadcasting on SBS radio have been reduced owing to changed "demographics." Apart from a meeting convened by concerned members of the Greek community last year in order to attempt to retard the diminution in broadcasting hours, not even a whimper was heard in protest. This is due to the fact that the talented and highly professional staff at the SBS Greek program are compelled to produce high quality programmes to an ever decreasing and indifferent audience, largely unsupported by our large and supposedly resourceful community.
It is trite to mention that the equation of loss of broadcasting hours with community indifference signals a loss of plurality of voices and opinions that will in the long run only harm the vibrancy of the Greek community. How long will it be until the inspired and fascinating plethora of Greek voices and diverse viewpoints emanating from the airwaves of 3ZZZ or 3CR are stilled due to changed "demographics?" How shall we then sate our desire for debate and information?
The answer obviously is that because we will no longer require Greek language broadcasting, the principle of its loss may hurt our pride, but otherwise, it shall not in any way otherwise affect us as we attempt to negotiate the vicissitudes of our daily lives and seek fulfilment in Anglophone forms of mass media communication with which we feel more comfortable. Nor will we be able to protest such a loss, even if we were so minded. After all, how is it that we would, after neglecting and abandoning Greek language programs, raise a fuss κατόπιν εορτής, when these are pruned back to service the requirements of other minorities who genuinely need the airspace?
It is to this happenstance that Peter Garrett's insightful caution gently points. It is one thing to have Modern Greek included in the National Curriculum. It is quite another to keep it there. According to the Minister, the only way that this will occur, is through continued demand. To this effect he links the existence of Modern Greek within the National Curriculum with 'the survival of the Modern Greek language in Australia.'
This is a sobering thought. Sooner or later, community indifference and the plurality of other options will place our languages existence within the National Curriculum in jeopardy. One only has to remember the extensive community campaigns staged a few decades ago in order to ensure the teaching of the Modern Greek language in tertiary institutions, only to see the same institutions one by one, remove the language from their programs, owing to a lack of enrolment and interest. As a community, we are inordinately effective at achieving milestones. Unfortunately, we are so bent upon attaining and savouring the moment of achievement, that we give little thought as to how to maintain it when we get there.
While the laudable efforts of all of those community members and members of parliament to have Modern Greek included in the National Curriculum should not be disparaged, it is in my mind, the height of folly for our community to hasten to place all of its educational eggs in the Governmental basket for various pertinent considerations.
It should be our community and not the government that decides the content of Modern Greek courses. The aforementioned two entities have different aims. The government aims to encourage language acquisition to the extent that this is possible within a monolingual zeitgeist. For our community on the other hand, language acquisition is just one of the constituent components of the broader task to ensure the survival of its ethnic identity. That identity is complex, comprising not just of a language, but also 4,000 years of a cultural and religious tradition that underlies it. Furthermore, while the rudiments of a language can be learned in a class context, the only way one can become functional in it and understand all of its connotations is to live the culture that gives rise to our language. With respect, that can only take place within the Greek community and its existing structures, be they secular or religious. It is not in the interests of the benevolent Australian government, nor is it within their educational ambit to actively facilitate such an endeavour.
To this effect, what becomes painfully obvious when considering the sometimes bewildering plethora of Greek schools that exist, at least in Victoria, is that we have, up until the present, missed out on an important opportunity to come together as a coherent entity in order to develop our own co-ordinated united approach to teaching the Greek language and construct our own curriculum, tailored to our own special needs and serving our goals as a community. Of course in order to arrive at such a unified across the board approach to teaching our children, we would of course have to agree what exactly it is that we want our children to learn and herein lies the problem. Do we merely want them to be able to lisp «Χρόνια πολλά παππού,» do we want them to be functional, fully integrated members of a community in which their place is assured and not merely afforded grudgingly and in which they can engage  effectively with all other members on an equal and cross generational basis? Do we believe that we have the means to bring this about or is the measure of the level of our achievement merely enumerating how many schools we have without being able to or having any interest in controlling or assessing the quality of the teaching in each one?
Once the Greek language education of our children becomes the concern and responsibility of the entire community and is not relegated solely to concerns of profit or of broader based, government policy, our community is then in a unique position to tweak or alter the curriculum in order to address the requirements or sensitivity of the times in a more timely fashion than any education department could ever do and with more emphasis on utility rather than political considerations. Surely it is of vital importance that we retain control of our own educational and language needs rather than solely charge an entity, however benign, with a task that is for it, not an imperative.
Once the euphoria of achieving the inclusion of Modern Greek in the National Curriculum wears off, it will perhaps be of benefit to consider what would happen if, in the belief that our educational needs were now taken care of, we allowed other Greek language education providers to atrophy. Eventually, the time would come when there would not be sufficient students electing to study Modern Greek at school in order to justify the existence of the language on the curriculum. The language is thus tacitly dropped, owning to lack of demand as the minister prefigures, and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to deter such an unhappy occurrence.
Unless that is, we hedge our bets both ways. By all means let us encourage students to elect to study Modern Greek in the public system but simultaneously, let us coordinate a united community policy to language acquisition that services our own needs and in no way compromises the strength to be found in a plurality and diversity of approaches to such a complex issue of dire importance to our continued existence. After all, we are talking about grooming and conditioning the next prospective audience of what remains of the SBS Modern Greek programme here..
First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 May 2013.

Saturday, May 04, 2013


There are certain toponyms that are deeply etched within the psyche of the Modern Greek. These toponyms, dredged up from the dank and dark depths of a reconstructed history and national consciousness are oft cited as lexical encapsulations of the diachronic character of the Greek.
Take Marathon for instance. Its hallowed plain serves as mute testimony to the stalwart courage of the Greeks who steadfastly refused to be cowed by the numerical superiority of the Persian invader and scored a mighty victory. Of course, the conduct of the Macedonians, who collaborated with the Persians rather than resist them, is conveniently glossed over when using the Marathon paradigm as determinative of a “Greek” identity.
Salamis, is another of those toponyms that early on, were used to define the “Greek.” For it was there that Themistocles trapped and destroyed the Persian fleet, through his capacity to think outside the square and challenge conventional ways of doing things. If Marathon equals Greek bravery, then Salamis equals ingenuity. Of course, the heavy presence of Greek allies in the Persian fleet, such as Queen Artemisia, is of limited use for the purposes of this paradigm.
Thermopylae as a toponym, is hugely symbolic of a supposed endemic Hellenic trait of extreme patriotism and devotion to duty regardless of the cost. It was the example of Thermopylae that Greek soldiers fighting the Italian invaders in the mountains of Northern Epirus were exhorted to emulate. What is of course glossed over, is that the Spartan sacrifice was of no strategic or useful purpose, a retreat and conservation of Greek resources being of more value against the Persians, and appears to have been a needless  sacrifice of three hundred lives more for show than anything else. Furthermore, somehow, the nefarious role of the perfidious Greek Ephialtes, the disaffected traitor who led the Persians across unknown terrain in order to outmanoeuvre the Greeks, was detached from the stereotype of kenotic, self-sacrificing Greek who is ready to die for his ideals and his country.
Yet Ephialtes and Thermopylae would linger long in the consciousness of the Greek people, so much so that by the time we get to modern Greece (for some reason, great battles or events taking place in Hellenistic or Byzantine times don’t seem to have found themselves a place in the Modern Greek narrative. No one for example has derived any cultural from the Alexandrian battles of Granicus, or Arbela, nor from those of Actium, Pelusium, Pharsalos  or Pydna, when Greece was subjugated to the Romans for the final time. The Mithridatic Wars, being wars of liberation against the Romans by a renascent Pontian genius-king rate barely a mention though they are just as heroic, ingenious and ultimately tragic as the poignant battles of the Persian Wars.  Similarly, the major battles of Byzantium, such as those against the Persians, or the battle of Yarmuk against the Arabs, Manzikert against the Turks, which witnessed the thousand year old struggle of Romaic Hellenism for survival and culminating in the tragic, Thermopylaean resistance and ultimate sacrifice of the defenders of Constantinople and its emperor in 1453, are more notable by their absence in the modern Greek narrative, as if these one thousand years of Greek history had little effect on the Greek psyche and the modern Greek nation merely picked up where  the ancients had left off) a dualistic view of history becomes propagated, where the most heroic and superhuman activities of the Greek people, who are equal to their ancestors in ingenuity and valour, are laid waste by unscrupulous traitors, who are constantly lurking in the background. Thus, the mountain fastness of Souli, which defied the autocratic Ali Pasha was destroyed, not via attrition or a Muslim superiority but rather via the perfidy of the unspeakable traitor, Pilios Gousis. Had it not been for him, and the other many traitors secretly working to undermine the Marathonian achievements of our race, such as the disgusting individual who leaked to the Ottomans the plans of the Greek defenders of Mesolongi to escape from that town during the Revolution, imagine what a great nation we would be.
The inference within the toponymic connotations in clear: Virtues are Greek. Vices cannot be included within our constructed stereotype so in order to distance them from us, we label them as un-Greek. Take for example the latest toponym which has lent itself to an aspect of the modern Greek character: Manolada. This denotes the village where Bangladeshi migrant workers, who were working for a pittance at a strawberry farm and had not been paid for six months, finally summed up the courage to take their employers, descendants of the heroic fighters of Marathon, Salamis, Thermopylae, Souli and Mesolongi, to task. Instead of having their wage claims negotiated, or at least some discussion ensuing, the hapless migrant workers were ordered to get back to work, and when they did not, one of their supervisors shot them.
Greek politicians and media commentators have been very quick to condemn this racist violence but have also been inordinately hasty in their attempt to dismiss or distance the rest of society from this tragic phenomenon. According to them, the assault upon the exploited workers was an “aberration” and an uncharacteristically “non-Greek” act. It would also appear that the two workers who were dragged in the streets of Manolada tied to a motorbike as a punishment for complaining about not being paid recently, were also victims of a non-Greek act. Furthermore, the two Greek men who were arrested last year for beating a thirty-year-old Egyptian immigrant, jamming his head in the window of a car door and dragging him for around one kilometre were also engaged in non-Greek acts that by no means reflect Greek society as a whole.
Yet it is arguably the way that a society deals with its members at a time of crisis that ultimately reflects itself more than its imagined or idealised virtues ever will. It is the modern Greek people who gave the racist Xrysi Avgi party seven percent of the vote. It is the modern Greek people who tolerate the discriminatory antics of the members of this party, who rampage around the streets of the country, deliberately going out of their way to humiliate and intimidate foreigners living in Greece and are bent upon excluding them from the national paradigm. As one Greek national put it, “….instead of showing interest about our fellow human beings that are being treated like animals right next to us, we debate whether the Nazi salute is German, Roman or Ancient Greek.”
Labelling disturbing social phenomena as “non-Greek,” is but the latent, obverse form of the racism that currently blights modern Greek society as it undergoes one of its periodic disintegrations. Not only does it serve to permit Greece to gloss over the seriousness of such heinous acts, it also permits Greek society to continue to delude itself into thinking that all the poisons that have lurked in the mud of its complacency all this time and have finally hatched out, are not endemic to its identity and can thus be shrugged off as an aberration, thus absolving us of any responsibility to take the requisite steps to address racism.
History has proven time and time again that victimising and vilifying marginal groups at a time of disaffection is something that no nation is immune from. True dignity and courage worthy of Marathon and Thermopylae lie not in assertions of cultural superiority, chest pounding and the rattling of shields and spears but in how a nation pulls itself together and embraces all of its people, regardless of creed or colour, in times of extreme crisis. It remains to be seen whether Manolada will, in years to come, be the toponym that best describes how divorced from reality our sense of self actually came to be. My guess is that it will, like most of our shortcomings, be swept away with the detritus of other ‘non-Greek,’ to come back to haunt us time and time again, whenever events cause social dust to be stirred….
First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 May 2013