Saturday, October 25, 2014


There are a number of reasons why OXI, an event that took place some seventy four years ago, still resonates with the Greek people, quite apart from the obvious fact that it is an event that is still within living memory. OXI is one of those events that fits neatly within the national mythology of the small, plucky, fiercely independent and ultimately patriotic and self-sacrificing people that we have constructed around ourselves. We may be dysfunctional, fractious and self-destructive, but when all is said and done, we come together in times of crisis to defend our fraught patch of earth, with fearsome results.
            The traditional celebration of OXI thus invites parallels with other events in Greek history in which it is believed that similar traits are exhibited. The 1821 Revolution in particular, is considered to be a close parallel, for there, much like in the case of the 1940 fighters, an oppressed, weak David combined to slay a gigantic Goliath and in the process, secure freedom. Furthermore, as was the case in 1940, that freedom was largely secured in the mountains of Greece.
            Those who seek to prove doughtiness as a Greek trait may even be tempted to proceed further into the mists of history, seeking parallels in the Persian Wars of ancient times. In those wars, the fragmented and perpetually squabbling Greek city states put aside their differences and combined to defeat a superpower, in much the same way as the Greeks did in 1821 and 1940. If one was to draw the parallel further, one could claim that in the century after the Persian Wars, the Greek people combined under Alexander to take the fight to the Persians themselves, though this may be stretching the paradigm too far.
            Our characterization of ourselves as indomitable rascals who come through in the end acts as balsam to our assuaged egos, at times of crisis. We tend to point to key events in our history such as OXI, 1821 and the Persian Wars, in order to prove that though we may be bankrupt, socially disintegrating and lacking in the esteem of the rest of the world, we still harbor within us, the dormant seeds of greatness, which seek only some further crisis as the catalyst by which to re-generate it. National poet Kostis Palamas expresses this aptly in the prophecy section of his epic poem “The Dodecalogue of the Gypsy,” in which he foresees: “Having no further step, down which to descend, upon the stair of Evil, you will feel, for the ascent which calls you, the sprouting of your wings, your former, great wings.” It comes as no great surprise that Kostis Palamas penned this work in response to another great catastrophe that blighted Greece: the failed war of 1897 and Greece’s resulting bankruptcy.
            Yet to view these key events isolated from the context in which they took place is to perhaps obfuscate our true nature. For while it is true that the freedom loving Greeks sacrificed a good deal in order to secure their independence in 1940 and we are right to commemorate them, it is also true that the organized freedom fighters also divided in warring factions, concerned more with securing their own position and interests (which generally corresponded with that of their patrons), so that with the inevitable withdrawal of the Germans from Greece, they could seize power. A bloody and brutal Civil War ensued, whereby patriots bent on securing the freedom of Greece exterminated each other for having different views as to how that freedom actually was constituted. This in turn caused the armed intervention and in some cases, occupation by foreign powers such as Britain and Yugoslavia. The bitter after-effects of this conflict have blighted Greek society ever since.
            Such internecine strife was not without precedent. The “glorious” 1821 captains, who so boldly led the Greek people in their fight against the oppressive Ottoman Empire, often proved to be more interested in abrogating to themselves, the perquisites of the Pashas, rather than securing the equality and freedom of their people. In the furtherance of these interests, they feel upon each other, squabbling for power and position and ultimately, causing the first civil war of free Greece, in 1823-1824, when the heroic Kolokotronis refused to return the fort of Nafplion to the Greek state, and then, the second Greek civil war, between 1824, 1825, when the noble Kolokotronis roused the residents of Tripolitsa against the local tax collectors of the government. As a result of the infighting, the Revolution itself was placed in peril and in fact it was through the intervention of no less a  personage than Ibrahim Pasha, who was well on the way to conquering Peloponnesus for the Ottomans, that Kolokotronis, captured by Kolettis, was eventually released. Finally, the intervention of a British fleet was required to secure the independence that Greek infighting almost lost.
            This too is not without precedent. For in the aftermath of the Persian Wars, the victorious Greek city states, instead of relishing their freedom, fell to fighting against each other in the Peloponnesian Wars and beyond. In doing so, they enlisted the assistance of their erstwhile enemy, Persia, which ended up, not only re-taking the Asia Minor coastline of Ionia, whose revolt proved the catalyst for the war, but also becoming the arbiter of disputes between the Greeks. Again, Greek rule of the Greek areas liberated by the Persians was decidedly more brutal than that of the enemy itself. Archaeologists generally agree that the cities of Ionia exhibited markedly greater development after their re-subjugation to the Persians, than during the time of their rule by their Athenian compatriots.
            Finally, if we are to include the Persian-empire busting achievements of Alexander within this paradigm, it is worthwhile considering that his diadochoi, fell to fighting each other, a fight that continued for centuries, culminating in their enlistment of the emerging Roman juggernaut as an arbiter of their disputes, and finally, their conqueror.      
OXI then should not only function as a celebration and conduit for the expression of national pride, but also as a cautionary tale. After all, if the Persian Wars have an Ephialtes, the 1821 Revolution has a Pilios Goussis and 1940 has any number of sell-outs or traitors. We have a right to be proud of our spirited defence of our motherland throughout history. We do not however, have a right to completely ignore our inability to maintain a state of cohesion and our tendency to turn on each other in pursuit of our own interests, at the moment of triumph. Celebrating, as we have done, OXI from the bottom rungs of Kostis Palamas’ ladder, we would do well to remember this, when next our erstwhile waxen wings sprout, and we fly yet again, too close to the sun.



Towering over the city of Ioannina, crowning the Ic Kale, or citadel, looms the Fethiye Mosque. Constructed near the ruins of a 13th century church dedicated to the archangels Gabriel and Michael, it commemorates the surrender of the city to the Ottomans in 1430. In front of it, an intricately woven metal cage marks the spot where the great despot of Ioannina, Ali Pasha, was buried, after his failed revolt against the Sultan. A short distance away, one can find the Aslan Pasha mosque, built on the site of the church of St John in 1619, which was torn down by way of reprisal, after the suppression of the 1611 anti-Ottoman revolt, led by Dionysius the Philosopher, who was flayed alive nearby. Since 1933 the mosque has housed the Municipal Ethnographic Museum of Ioannina, which contains a vast array of artefacts attesting to the Islamic heritage of the city.
These two buildings are the reason why mosques have been part of my cultural identity ever since I can remember. On our living room wall, there hung for years two brass souvenir dishes depicting the Fethiye Mosque with its tall minaret rising majestically above the town and its surrounding lake, in it, but not of it, and this was the only image I had of my mother's homeland until I visited Greece in my teenage years. Considering the devastation wreaked upon the hapless architecture of the city of Ioannina by the 1950s' construction boom, which transformed charming streets and beguiling facades into faceless, ugly and uniform concrete monstrosities, causing the city to lose much of its history and character, the Fethiye Mosque defines Ioannina like no other building.
This is why, in contrast to the nationalistic and kitsch approaches to souvenirs that can be found in other parts of Greece, it seems perfectly natural to the Ioannitan to purvey representations of the mosque as a tangible reminder of the city, without this in any way compromising its Greek character, just as it was natural for Orthodox women like my great-grandmother to wipe her face after eating a meal, in a manner closely resembling an Islamic prayer.
That is why, in response to my expressed admiration for the existence and aesthetics of the two mosques, while my cousin treated me to a diatribe about how: "those mosques should be pulled down as they are a symbol of oppression", her husband interjected gruffly, stating: "Don't be ridiculous. This is the only distinguishing feature of Ioannina." Ioannitans would cringe if told that they are incurably romantic and seized with a nostalgia for the past, yet I suspect that this is so. There are few Muslims left in the city after the Balkan Wars, which saw the sizeable Turkish and Albanian population leave the area. As late as 1930, the Osman Cavus mosque was demolished to make way for a school, and yet both the Veli Pasha and Kaloutsiani Mosques still stand, though denuded of worshippers. Similarly, the most distinguishing feature of the town of Konitsa is the ruins of its mosque, constructed by Suleiman the Magnificent over a Byzantine church. Its minaret, most of which has crumbled away, stands as a mute sentinel over the picturesque settlement sprawled on the slopes of the mountain. Navigating the torturous Ottoman streets of the town in 2008, I was treated to an impromptu lecture by an Orthodox priest who explained the history of the mosque. "We won't pull it down," he concluded. "Any place where God is worshipped is holy. But let's hope that the people who oppressed us never come back."
All over Greece, remnants of the Islamic presence in Greece still remain, largely shut, mouldering away or converted to other uses. Thessaloniki, being a large metropolis in Ottoman times and having been liberated a year after Ioannina, boasts several purpose-built mosques, without counting church conversions. One of these, the Yeni Camii, or New Mosque, bears witness to the melting pot of cultures and influences constituted by Salonican society. Built by Italian architect Vitaliano Poselli in 1902, with decidedly North African overtones, it was constructed especially for the city's Donmeh community, being Jews who converted to Islam. The Donmeh community left for Turkey during the population exchange and today it serves as an exhibition centre.
Apart from the Alaca Imaret Mosque or Ishak Pasha Mosque, built in the fifteenth century, of particular interest is the Hamza Bey Mosque, for it is known locally as Alkazar, after a cinema that operated in the premises for decades and has been a protected monument since 1926.
So entrenched are some of the Greek mosques in the local psyche that they subconsciously try to culturally appropriate them as their own. This is certainly the case with the Mehmet Bey Mosque in Serres, a city that houses several mosques, built by the son-in-law of Sultan Bayezit in 1492, which though it has never been used as a church, is commonly referred to as 'Hagia Sophia'. The Zirinci Mosque of Serres is also of great architectural significance, as it was designed and built by Mimar Sinan, an islamised Cappadocian Greek who was perhaps the greatest Ottoman architect of all time, responsible for popularising the style of domed mosques modelled on Byzantine churches that has defined Ottoman religious architecture for evermore.
With Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan recently linking the preservation and use of Christian monuments in Turkey to reciprocity vis a vis Islamic monuments in Greece, it cannot be doubted that the large number of such monuments, some of which have been present on Greek soil for over five hundred years, comprise an inseparable part of the Greek identity as well as forming an invaluable bridge between cultures and faiths. One can only hope that the celebration and current restoration of many of these monuments will lead to closer and enhanced ties between the peoples for whom they form a common historical heritage. Judging by the recent burning of an age-old Cappadocian church by a Turkish filmmaker in order to lend verisimilitude to his so-called artistic endeavours, such ties and mutual respect for monuments is sorely needed.
First published in Neos Kosmos on 25 October 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Little Britain is a British character-based comedy sketch show, comprising sketches involving exaggerated parodies of British people from all walks of life in various situations familiar to the British people. Little England, on the other hand, is a Greek film by Pantelis Voulgaris, comprising an inordinately long narrative of affluent pre-war bourgeois Andriots, in various situations familiar to the Greek people.
“The feelings portrayed in the film – love, separation, loneliness – are timeless. All these emotions have always been a part of the world of cinema. There is no such thing as decadent or marginal emotions. The characters’ emotions in the movie are not specific to any era or time period,” Pantelis Voulgaris comments on the film.
Little England, which is a sobriquet that seems only tenuously relevant to the isle of Andros’ relative pre-war prosperity, where the drama is interminably played out over an excruciating two and a half hours, concerns itself with the inevitable compromises and loss of love forced upon a young girl in order to secure her financial future. In a manner reminiscent to Euripidean drama, the doomed lover, Media-like, turns on herself in self-destruction, sacrificing her family unit and children, not when she is forced to marry someone she does not love, nor when she is is forced to endure years of living in close proximity to him, nor when she is forced to hear him make love to her sister, who he has married, but rather when, his ship, aptly named Mikra Agglia, sinks, with him on board. Here the symbolism to a Greek audience is easily identifiable. Ships are said to be the conveyors of dreams. When they sink, so too does hope.
Though the climax is easily foreseeable, such is the power of Voulgaris’ cinematography, ably evoking an antediluvian idyllic natural environment, in richly adorned scenes and juxtaposing it against the emotional trials of his heroines, that he is able to convey the viewer through some extremely stilted dialogue, as well as predictable and stereotypical behaviour of the characters in the movie. The males especially, appear to be two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, rather than well rounded human beings. One plays the patient, jilted and enormously wealthy but un-loved husband and father, the other, the dashing, entrepreneurial lover and raconteur, and the other, the distant, lonely, gentle pater-familias. We learn next to nothing about these men. We are given no insight into the way they think, how they feel about the situations they are thrust into or what the alternatives to their situation in life comprise their hopes. Instead, they plod along, more like pawns in a games of cross-chess played by the females of the movie than well rounded characters in their own right.
In one view, this is a flaw. The cuckolded, unloved husband displays no emotion when learning of his wife’s public declaration of love for her brother in law. Instead, emotionless, he packs up his children and exits the stage. Similarly, the closest the lost lover comes to emotion is in detailing the acquisition of his ship, which according to him, will “right wrongs,” and in, according to his lover’s post mortem account (and we do not know if that account is real or a fantasy) indulging in a bout of furtive love making. On the other hand, the pater-familias is also disengaged and silent, being silenced with just one statement when he dares to take his wife to task for engineering the destruction of her family.
Viewed differently however, Voulgaris has perhaps evoked, better than anyone else, the almost unreal and caricature-like quality that the almost always absent males evoked in the plans and consciousness of Andriot females. According to this view, given they are never home, they are extraneous to the real narrative which is female focused. Which view of the movie is correct is a vexed question, for while Voulgaris was presented with a brilliant opportunity to analyse the introverted, Byzantine composition of the female sub-culture of Andros, he chose not to do so in depth, giving us instead, tantalising snippets of repressed sexuality in scenes where the women dance with each other in male clothing, reminisce about retaining the taste of their man’s mouth on their lips years after his demise or lamenting the fact that they were not even able to wear out one set of linen. In this, we are presented with an idealisation of the absent males that is as intriguing as it is far from reality and judging how much the ideal male as opposed to the real male features in the Andriot women’s construction of their world view is a fascinating endeavour. Voulgaris here amply proves his mastery of the art of insinuation.
Where the movie possibly could be said to derail itself is in the inexplicably long denouement after the heroine’s mental and physical breakdown. It appears that Voulgaris is playing catch up, rushing to fill in the back-story and the lacunae in the script that are necessary for the viewer’s complete understanding of what has been left unsaid. One could suggest that this detracts greatly from the emotional intensity of the film, which appears, after it has resolved itself, to flow endlessly on, to no apparent aim. At any rate, it plays merry hell with its internal rhythm. Nonetheless, the agonizingly slow physical and mental decay of the heroine, coupled with the lapse into irrelevancy of her once dominant mother and the descent into bitterness by the once flighty and hopeful younger sister possibly serve as a cautionary reminder that when lives are built upon stereotypes, ideologies or bourgeois susceptibilities, things can go remarkably, tragically, irreversibly and rather blandly and lingeringly wrong.
Little England, not an easy film to watch, presents a novel retelling with Euripides Media, in that it is the mother’s ambition and lost love (one that is only hinted at), which proves the catalyst for the destruction of her children. Unlike Media, there is no dragon, or ship to descend and carry her away as a Deus Ex Machina. Instead, the only escape is ignominy and death, or, in the case of the already peripatetic males, flight. As a modern day re-telling, Little England, the feature of this year’s Greek Film Festival, is rich, symbol-laden and harrowing as it is absorbing.
First published in NKEE On 18 October 2014

Saturday, October 11, 2014


The traditional iconography of some of the “warrior” saints of the Orthodox Church has always disconcerted me a little. Saint Eustathios, Saint Minas, Saint George and Saint Dimitrios are invariably depicted in soldier’s armour, something that seems to fit uneasily with the pacifism of Christianity. In some of the nineteenth century, baroque inspired iconography, Saint Dimitrios, patron saint of Thessaloniki, is actually portrayed on a horse, in the process of sticking his spear into a man lying prone on the ground. This martial quality is emphasized in the apolytikion of the Saint, which at our Parish, being the parish of Saint Demetrios in Moonee Ponds, is chanted every week:
“The world has found you to be a great defense against tribulation
and a vanquisher of heathens, O Passion-bearer.
As you bolstered the courage of Nestor,
who then humbled the arrogance of Lyaios in battle,
Holy Demetrius, entreat Christ God to grant us great mercy.”

The apolytikion is not exaggerating when it suggests a global reach for the saint, for Saint Demetrios is one of the most popular saints of the Orthodox world, transcending ethnic and cultural boundaries. In Russian, he is called Dimitri of Saloniki and was a patron saint of the original Rurik dynasty from the late 11th century on. Izyaslav I of Kiev, whose Christian name was Dimitry, founded the first East Slavic monastery dedicated to Saint Demetrios and of course, the name Dimitri is in common use in Russia today. In Kosovo he is known as Shmitri, in Albania as Shën Mitri and in Lebanon and what is left of Syria, as Mar Dimitri or Mitri, a protector of the beleaguered Christians of the region.
From the Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church, we learn that Saint Demetrios came from a noble family in Macedonia and that he rose to a high military position under Maximian, Caesar of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, reaching the rank of proconsul. When Maximian returned from one of his campaigns to Thessaloniki, which was his capital, he had games and sacrifices celebrated for his triumph. Saint Demetrios was denounced as a Christian, and thrown into prison. While in prison he was visited by a young Christian named Nestor, who asked him for a blessing to engage in single combat with the giant Lyaios, who was posing as the champion of paganism. Saint Demetrios gave his blessing and Nestor, against all odds, slew his opponent in the arena, as David had once defeated Goliath.
 The enraged emperor, learning that this had occurred with Saint Demetrios's aid, first had Nestor beheaded outside the city and then had Saint Demetrios impaled in prison. Later Saint Demetrios’ servant Lupus was beheaded after using his master's blood-stained tunic and signet ring to work many miracles. The Thessalonian Christians buried Saint Demetrios and Nestor next together in the bath where he had been imprisoned. During the seventh century a miraculous flow of fragrant myrrh was found emanating from his tomb, giving rise to the appellation Myrovlitis, the Myrrh Gusher to his name. His tomb is now in the crypt of the great basilica dedicated to him, in Thessaloniki.
 Extreme popularity for Saint Demetrios is first attested in the sixth century. It grew because of his miraculous interventions in defense of Thessaloniki during the many sieges it endured during the early Middle Ages, particularly by Slavic tribesmen who overran the Roman provinces of Hellas and Macedonia during the sixth through to the eighth centuries. It is for this reason, out of insecurity and fear, that the saint’s martial quality have been so emphasized and indeed, the final liberation of Thessaloniki in 1913 has also been attributed to him.
The very first pages of the Russian Primary Chronicle, on the other hand, maintain the saint’s marital qualities but present him as a punisher of the Greeks. The Chronicle relates that when Oleg the Wise threatened the Greeks at Constantinople in 907, the Greeks became terrified and said, “This is not Oleg, but rather St Demetrius sent upon us from God.” Russian soldiers always believed that they were under the special protection of the Saint, Demetrius, who was always depicted as Russian in icons displayed in Russian army barracks.
Yet in the teaching of the Church, it is the spiritual warfare in which he engaged, that makes him worthy of emulation and in this way, his depiction holding weapons can be reconciled as merely symbolic and not an exhortation to or a glorification of violence.
According to St. Gregory Palamas, Saint. Demetrios was graced with splendid prophetic power and was counted worthy of "the apostolic and teaching diaconate and a high position". He was full of virtues and was not inferior to the saints in asceticism "and in their radiance of life"
The warfare which St. Demetrios waged within his heart was “comparable to the warfare of the great ascetics. He kept his nous pure of any unseemly thought, protecting the immaculate Grace of holy Baptism, had a will that harmonised with God's law "like a book of God and a tablet and plaque engraved by God or a writing tablet written by the finger of God and placed before all for the common use". In this way St. Demetrios was “chaste in both body and soul. He had his citizenship in heaven and walked on an equal footing with the angels, having a body as well. 
The patron saint of Thessaloniki was "both a teacher and an apostle, wise and chaste and holy, and we may say very beautiful and spotless, and made radiant by nature, zeal and grace".
For his encouragement of the young Nestor and his chastity, Saint Demetrius is thus regarded as a protector of the young, and is also traditionally invoked by those struggling with lustful temptations. Thus in his church in Thessaloniki, one of the only mosaics to have survived the Great Fire of 1917, depicts him as a young man, his arms draped protectively around the shoulders of two children.
Given Saint Demetrios’ significance for both the Orthodox Church and the Greek nation, it is not surprising that his feast of 26 October is an important event here in Melbourne, especially for those whose origins derive from Thessaloniki. This year, the significance of the feast is augmented for an event unprecedented in the history of Australian Orthodoxy has taken place: the parish of Saint Demetrios in Moonee Ponds has been granted the gift of a portion of the miraculous and myrrh-gushing relics of the Saint. In this way, all Orthodox Australians are able to feel and witness the immediacy of the Saint, when praying for his intercession, but also partake of a unique piece of history as well. In an age of hard-nosed economic rationalism, of materialism and of spin, the need to touch the ideal of the divine is felt as keenly as ever before. Whether one is called upon, as in the case of Iraq and Syrias’ Christians to compromise one’s faith in order to survive, or in the complacent world of western bourgeois capitalism, to compromise one’s principles and sense of decency, or to sacrifice to any modern day idols, the Orthodox hymns in honour of the saint are a lasting call to remain steadfast:
“Even though callous tyrants gave you over/ to be subjected to the most cruel and painful tortures,/ and thy much-suffering and steadfastly enduring body/ did undergo a multitude of various torments,/ you, O Godly-minded Demetrios,/ did not renounce Christ,/ neither did you offer sacrifice to idols,/ but endured all as if it were somebody else who suffered,/ awaiting future reward and the undying love of the Word of God.”

First published in NKEE on Saturday, 8 October 2014.

Saturday, October 04, 2014


“Controversy is only dreaded by the advocates of error.” Benjamin Rush
Recently, Neos Kosmos featured an important piece of writing penned by Elena Piaki, a year 12 student of literature who sought to portray “collapsing values, such as democratic or cultural values, that were longstanding in the history of Greece but are collapsing due to a rise in xenophobia and fascism - a concerning phenomenon in Greek society.” She attempts to achieve this through the framework of a very human story, involving the relationship between a brother, who has been seduced by Golden Dawn propaganda, his sister and Laila, a Pakistani migrant friend.
            From the outset, the reader is seduced by the expert use of language and clever juxtaposition of symbols. Thus the singing geraniums of Greece (evoking a seventies fun in the sun Greek movie – the basis of many a Greek stereotype) are contrasted with the crimson poppies of Pakistan, which are grown for heroin and thus symbolize exploitation and death. Greece then, is a land of opportunity, one that is a haven and a healer.
Piaki’s expert depiction of the Greek landscape is however, by no means conventional. Lavender walls, limestone churches with the sun bathing their arched windows in golden light, the palace of Knossos and the obliquely streaming sunlight is contrasted with the Golden Mosque of Lahore with its splendid domes and embellished arches. In this inspired passage, Piaki is challenging externally imposed and yet ubiquitously internalized constructions of our own esteem. Could we assume that it is because Laila sees the achievements of Greek civilization as naturally illumined by the sun and thus superior to those of her own, that she feels the need to share her own people’s accomplishments through a comparison with a man-made structure that does not give its own light but merely reflects it? Or is this what the cultural supremacist in all of us wishes to see? Piaki leaves all this tantalizingly ambiguous as she subverts her narrative to cleverly give voice to deep, dark, nefarious instincts and purposes that lurk beneath the subconscious and, in indulging in a masterly chiaroscuro of words, acquits herself brilliantly.
            Thus as the composition progresses, this natural illumination is diminished. In its stead, we are given a ring of street lamps producing a wan light, and a darkness that is overpowering. Gone is the warmth of hospitable, life-living Greece. Rather, it is now cold, the shop fronts are unlit and the fountain, a symbol of vitality, has now become an ‘ice-sculpture.’ It is in this hostile, unrecognizable territory, which forms a corollary to the increasingly unrecognizable brother, as he recedes from the light and warmth of friendship and family ties and falls further and further into the darkness of Golden Dawn, that a terrible crime of racial hatred will take place. Piaki inverts the physical environment and nature itself, in order to demonstrate just how unnatural and alien crimes of racial hatred are to civilized humanity.
            In keeping with Piaki’s understated approach, the actual abuse that takes place is not described. Instead it is left to the reader’s imagination and this merely serves to highlight the dramatic intensity of a piece that is sophisticated, well-constructed, multi-faceted and highly polished. We would all do well to look out for the youthful Elena Piaki’s future work as,  she is undoubtedly a writer that displays both talent and promise in equal abundance, one that deserves our community’s support and encouragement.
            Regretfully, both these aforementioned elements appeared to be lacking in the majority of reader responses when the piece was posted in social media. Instead, Elena was treated to a barrage of hatred all of her own by members of the Greek community affronted by her temerity to tackle her subject matter. Her skill in writing, her sensitivity of depiction, all these things passed them by as moths in the night, and instead, they accused her, simply by virtue of the fact that she dared to pen an imaginary piece about the bashing of a female migrant, of self-hate, racism and ignorance.
Some of her critics employed the tried and true Helladic tactic of prohibiting all right to analyze of depict Greece in anyway, if one is not born or does not love there, hence: “I’m sick and tired of the uninformed 'Australakia' shooting their mouths off at topics they know nothing of.”
Others adopted a similar approach, but instead enlisting the fact that Elena is young, in order to imply that her work has no merit:“Keep bagging Greece! Great stuff from a little ignorant kid...”
            These responses paradoxically reinforce the effect and power of Elena’s work. Some of the vitriol and indignation conveyed in them is reminiscent of some Turkish responses whenever the genocide of the Christians of Anatolia is broached. In short, it is difficult for some within the community to even countenance the fact that Greeks could be violent and intolerant and when their perceptions are challenged, they then do become violent and intolerant.
            Of concern however, are those responses that seek to castigate Elena not for implying that Greeks, just as all other people are capable of racism but rather, for considering that violence against migrants or foreigners is reprehensible. Thus:  “Naive , and uninformed is definitely what you are when you call the Greek reaction to 1400 years of muslim invasion , destruction ,slavery and genocide - racism.”
And then there is this which draws together all the elements of the previous responses while further making assumptions (in this case as to the legality of the fictional Leila, whose status is not set out in the original text) of its own:
“Illegal immigrants are deported in Australia on a daily basis! How dare you expecting Greeks to keep illegal immigrants in Greece?! You are right! You don't live in Greece, you have no idea on what's happening in Greece at all...all you do is to call the people there racist! Shame on you!”
In drawing out such deeply disquieting sentiments from her readers, Elena can be assured of the enduring poignancy and relevance of her work in a manner only to be dreamed of by other established writers. She also provides a mirror on a community which not only must address endemic racism as a problem instead of seeking to deny its existence but also on the sections of it which are nasty, aggressive, narrow in vision and incompletely incapable of providing that mutual support and encouragement that comprises a community’s primary role. If this is to be the young Elena Piaki’s first and traumatic encounter with the broader Greek community, one that supposedly prides itself on its offspring’s progress and accomplishments, we all need to exercise self-scrutiny when we ask why latter generations are fleeing organized community involvement and indeed its entire discourse, in droves.
This is because Elena, a writer already on the way to greatness, does not need us. Our community however, if it is to remain relevant and renew itself in the future is in dire need of the razor sharp pen and freshness of approach of every Elena out there, wishing to engage in discourse with things Greek, no matter how confronting or disturbing to our sensitivities these may be.
It was reputedly the Buddha who observed that: “In controversy, the moment we feel anger we have already ceased to strive for the truth and instead have begun to strive for ourselves.” We have Elena to thank for seeing in the sleek Meander, a deadly spider that has taken within us, a multiplicity of terrible forms.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 October 2014.