Saturday, October 03, 2015
According to Newton's Third Law, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Transposing this into Australian Greek community physics, for every σύλλογο, there is a vociferously opposing and equal σύλλογο. While Newton's Third Law was used by him to derive the law of conservation of momentum, most of the σύλλογοι of the Greek community appear innately to understand this concept, having, after their cell division, mostly done or achieved, absolutely nothing at all other than the erosion of an immense amount of good will. Save for a few isolated cases, when all is said and done in the organizations of Greek community, a good deal more is said, (via expletives, defamation or gossip) than actually ever done. The division within our community organisations, just here in Melbourne (three Epirot groups, five Pontian groups, two Messenian groups and the list goes on), tends to indicate that we are (at least those who still identify with or are active within such organisations) a fratricidal mob, perpetually at war with each other and ourselves, often over the most trivial and ridiculous issues.
In the past, the organized Greek community has been divided not only by the geography of the homeland (Ithacans v Samians in the early Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria) but also by religion (Archdiocese versus Communities, Archdiocese versus various schismatic groups, Archdiocese versus Jerusalem Patriarchate Exarchate), politics (Communists v Royalists, Communists v Socialists, Communists v Archdiocese, PASOK Supporters v New Democracy Supporters, and innumerable other combinations and permutations), ideology (during the Monarchy and the Junta, the Consulate-General of Greece spied upon and encouraged members of the community to also report upon Greek-Australians whose ideological opinions or activities were considered as inimical to Greece), and even education, with the Greek Consulate having historically received hundreds of often defamatory and ill-intentioned complaints from stakeholders in the Greek language education industry about Greek educators attached to the Consulate, or other independent Greek schools.
It is for this reason that the ruling party of Greece, SYRIZA's latest vision for Greeks Abroad is, well, bizarre to say the least. According to Yiannis Bournous, impossibly appointed spokesperson of SYRIZA for matters pertaining to Greeks Abroad, (the impossible here referring to the fact that he looks as if he is no older than fifteen), SYRIZA supports electoral reforms that would a) facilitate the equal participation of all Greek political parties in seeking the vote from Greeks Abroad and most importantly, b) ensure that Greeks Abroad can participate in Greek politics without this subverting the will of the Greeks of the Greek State. According to the youthful Yiannis Bournous, this will be achieved by creating Greek electorates throughout the diaspora, and said diasporan Greeks who are entitled to vote, will vote for their own local representatives, who will then represent them in Greek parliament.
The proposal is not a new one, and various active and ambitious members of the Greek community with political aspirations have been waiting in the lists for decades and currying favour with their Greek party of choice in order to assume the mantle of Greek-Australian political leadership. Nonetheless, the proposal displays some concerning misconceptions about the place of Greeks Abroad both within Greece and in our case, Australia and they consequently require closer scrutiny.
This far into this article, it is trite to state that having an already fragmented Greek community further divided through "the equal participation of all Greek political parties in seeking the vote from Greeks Abroad," will most likely result in the disintegration of what is left of our organized local structures and the total alienation of the latter and disinterested Greek-Australian generations. After all, some of us still carry with us, vivid memories of witnessing our elders wreak physical violence upon each other at social events, over differences in Greek political affiliations. For others, the memories of being excluded from participating in various important Greek-Australian organisations because of their or their family's perceived Greek political orientation are still painfully recent.
The prospect of witnessing members of our atrophying community organisations engage in even more fruitless internecine strife in order to 'represent' a constituency whose material interests lie not in Greece but in Australia, is therefore not a particularly savoury or logical one. The challenges we face as a community, these being maintaining a sense of cohesion and developing welfare and educational structures that will ensure that we retain our unique sense of ethnolinguistic identity into the future, must be met not in Greece, (and in fact the Greek state, well intentioned or not, has historically hindered rather than helped in this regard) are matters directly relevant to Australia and its people, not Greece. There are matters intrinsic to our survival as a distinct entity and must not be a plaything of politics. The violation of Australian sovereignty by drawing Greek electoral boundaries within Australian territory therefore appears nonsensical.
Nonetheless, if Greece wanted to provide Greeks Abroad with the opportunity to vote in Greek elections from the countries in which they reside, the SYRIZA proposal would have some benefits. Currently, Greek citizens residing abroad, must travel to vote in the electorates in which they are enrolled. Consequently, not only are they arguably removed from the day to day issues that affect those electorates, but also, are not possessed of a direct interest in the politics of that electorate, save perhaps as landowners. Furthermore, being resident in Australia, for example, they are largely cut off from the networks of clientilism, nepotism and patronage that are so important to every-day living in Greece. Through their residence in Australia, they have become imbued with concepts of democracy and meritocracy that are alien to the Greek state and are potentially subversive, should Australian-based Greek voters decide to assert them. Much better then for the status quo, rather than permitting a postal vote, to keep such harm away from the Greek state by isolating their political involvement within a migrant ghetto in another country, where their participation can be manipulated and ultimately contained. This is what migrant participation "without this subverting the will of the Greeks of the Greek State," means: the creation of two classes of citizens, in order to prop up a defunct and superseded political discourse.
It comes as no surprise that the SYRIZA proposal appears not to be underwritten by any coherent vision of the place of Greeks Abroad within modern Greek society. A sophisticated approach to a diaspora community would be one that balances integration within the society of the motherland for those who seek this with tight support networks overseas, rather than tokenistic expressions of solidarity. Yiannis Bournous' recently expressed vision of a SYRIZA diasporan education policy that would: "guarantee the Hellenism [of young Greeks] and inhibit their compulsory assimilation into the communities in which they live," proves that we need to keep Greek politics totally away from our community, for it is inimical to our integration as an ethnic group within the broader fabric of Australian society.
Emma Goldman may have quipped that "If voting changed anything, they would make it illegal," but for diasporan Greeks, the right to participate in Greek elections is less about effecting change and more about retaining a link, however tenuous, with the land of their birth. This link is best served by the current voting arrangements. If the Greek government is serious about harnessing or integrating the resources of diverse diasporan Greek communities throughout the world, then this must be done in a sophisticated and consultative matter, having regard for their obligations as citizens to their countries of residence and the vested and most often opposing interests of Greeks residing in Greece. Somehow, we can be forgiven for thinking that this is not the Greek government's intention.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 3 October 2015