Saturday, March 26, 2016
General Secretary for Greeks Abroad Mihalis Kokkinos is the bearer of an interesting title, for one assumes from his position description that he is our secretary, yet none of us apodimoi have ever appointed him or approved his assumption of that position.
This is important to point out for ‘our’ General Secretary, during his brief sojourn in our constituent of the lands of the Greeks Abroad, has been making various statements that concern us, with a minimum of consultation or discussion with those who he purports to serve.
Thus, while on the one hand he states with enthusiasm that he wholeheartedly supports the granting of Greeks Abroad the right to vote in Greek elections, on the other he has unveiled his grand if convoluted plan for the resuscitation of the defunct Council of Greeks Abroad (SAE). The centerpiece of that plan, is, supposedly, the broadening of the Council’s representative base so that all Greeks Abroad may be granted a vote, through their institutions.
Here there is, gentle reader, cause for pause. If Greeks Abroad are to be Hellenically enfranchised and thus able to participate directly in Greek politics, why would they need a Council of Greeks Abroad? What possible significance or relevance could vote in a Council for Greeks Abroad possibly have to someone already voting in Greek elections? Does a person who votes in both the Greek elections and Council of Greeks Aboard elections assume electoral rights over and above those of the average Greek citizen? What are the constitutional implications of such a super-enfranchisement? Or does our perspicacious General Secretary envision the Council as an organsiation that will only give voice to the (majority) Greeks Abroad who are not entitled to, or will not exercise their right to vote in Greek elections?
Sadly we do not know the answer to this question, for while our diligent General Secretary waxed lyrical on the subject of votes, he was rather light on any other substantive issue. According to him, Greeks Abroad will be able to participate in the Council of Greeks Abroad, via their community organsiations, whether these are the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, which our beloved GS rightly paid lip service as the organisational star around which our other communal bodies revolve. Furthermore, and hold on to your beanies, for footy season is nigh, in order to make SAE truly representative, a multitude of individuals of special interest, and organisations that do not have a specific place of origin as the reason behind their creation will also be admitted. It is with jubilation that we see our devout GS proving the Biblical proverb “there is nothing new under the sun” correct, for organisations of this nature, and individuals were included in the last Council for Greeks Abroad as well.
Apparently, then, all one has to do in order to gain a stake in SAE is to join their local ethnotopical syllogo/soccer club/ tsiftetli pump class/ rabid pro-Hellenic facebook page. When first attempting to appreciate the breadth of our fearless General Secretary’s vision for our people, I felt this was a stroke of genius. In one fell swoop, our GS has arrested the terminal decline of our community organisations, for even as these lines are read by the gentle reader, hundreds of thousands of Greek-Australians are mobilising to re-swell the ranks of their organsiations, simply in order to be given a place at the SAE table. Sadly, the GS does not describe what that place will be. Nor does he actually state what conditions would be imposed upon organisations in order to ensure that members voices would adequately be heard at any SAE conference. In fact, his statement is nonsense, because organisations are bound by their constitutions and within these, the powers of committee members, as opposed to ordinary members to make decisions on behalf of their organisation are clearly defined. Our well-intentioned GS is either being disingenuous, or he really has no idea but the complex structure of, and the challenges facing our increasingly diverse community.
Considering our red GS’s statement that the previous SAE didn’t work, something I take issue with, we would do well to wonder why he believes that our enthnotopical and other organisations, most of which have been deserted by their members, are qualified to adequately represent the Greeks Abroad, especially when the average period for regime change is 15 years, and the vast majority of Greek-Australians no longer see much relevance in identifying with the region of Greece from which their parents hail, nor belong to such organisations and are thus effectively disenfranchised in our GS’s rather narrow vision. One would suppose that our ingenious GS, brought up in a highly politicised culture of class conflict would have them create their own organisation in which to engage in the dialectic.
As is the usual case with Greek pontificators and politicians alike, in attempting to articulate his vision for SAE, Kokkinos has failed to see the wood for the trees, plunging into a flawed, garbled and unworkable foray into structural issues electoral politics because he probably mistakes that for community cohesion and participation and not delineating how SAE will relate to the Greek government of the Greek-Australian people. Significantly he has not told us what exactly (assuming that they get the voting right and our community organisations desist from the internecine strife that will invariably ensue in the inevitable scramble for privileges) SAE ‘s role will be. We know neither whether its deliberations will carry any weight with the Greek government nor whether its resolutions will have the status of law. This is probably because he himself does not know. As an aside, I would be interested to consider his suggestions as to how to gain the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia’s trust in SAE, given that the Archdiocese pronounced it flawed from its inception and did not participate in it. Here again there is a resounding silence and it is noteworthy that General Secretary Kokkinos did not identify that vital organisation as significant in all his expositions about representation.
I find our unelected, foisted General Secretary’s assertion that the previous SAE failed offensive. If it did fail, it did so because the Greek government wanted it to. It failed because the Greek government took it upon itself not only to restrict and define who would supposedly have a voice at the Council (and these definitions were more often than not politically motivated), thus creating schisms within communities but also, because it could not and would not permit Greeks Abroad to dictate or even articulate policy to it. As a result it squandered millions (some of which belonged to wealthy visionary Greeks Abroad such as the late Andrew Athens), in sustaining an elaborate charade wherein we were led to believe that our opinions counted, that a genuine consultative body existed that could advise and inform Greek governments about issues of concern to us. There was not and there never will be.
The truth is that Greek governments and the Greek people want us Greeks Abroad, nowhere near the Greek political system and especially nowhere where we can exercise influence. We are a threat. As persons living in another country, with increasingly limited material interests in our place of origin, we are that dangerous thing: original thinkers, unencumbered by the need to bow and scrape in order to crawl through the sludge that is the venal political society of modern Greece. We fear not the politicians, nor do we need to compromise our integrity or our beliefs in the hope that our son/daughter/cousin/grandchild is able to go to school/find a job/open a business. Instead, we think outside the square, are innovative and are able to conceive of bigger pictures that our compatriots, mired in the filth of corruption and social disfunction, have given up hope of beholding. And this scares the excrement out of the Greek bureaucracy.
SAE Oceania past leaders such as Costas Vertzayias and George Angelopoulos did their utmost to make SAE work, free-trippers notwithstanding. It is significant that one of the only local community-generated philanthropic benefactions to come out of SAE arose in Australia, the brainchild of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia and Costas Vertzayias, being the raising of funds in order to build a medical clinic in Giorgoutsates, Northern Epirus. Costas Vertzayias shared with us a vision of a united Greeks Abroad who for the first time, could communicate with each other, share experiences and problems with each other and most of all, help each other. It is a vision that endures within many of us still. Arguably, this can be done without the need or interference of the Greek government and could possibly be a more relevant and engaging model for a new SAE.
When the Greek government finally washed its hands of the SAE that it effectively sabotaged, George Angelopoulos persisted, despite a dearth of funds, in organizing SAE on a local level, especially keeping alive that excellent means for inclusion of the disenfranchised youth: the Panhellenic Games. We are indeed then, the true believers and if our General Secretary is serious about reviving SAE, he should imbibe deeply of these leaders’ passion and commitment.
Finally, I take umbrage at a person who purports to represent my interests, though I am not able to elect him or have a say in his appointment, visiting my country and telling me that while I individually and my community as a whole has a voice that will be heard by the Greek government, it is the Greek government that will determine the tone, timbre and composition of that voice. If the Greek government does have any sort of respect for the Greek-Australian community, perhaps it could afford it to us by permitting us to work out for ourselves, who are our best, most effective and relevant (to our issues, not Greece’s) representatives, that is, after they reveal to us from on high, the status those representatives will be granted, in the motherland. If we are not afforded this modicum of respect, and judging by our visiting General Secretary’s performance, this is highly likely, then it is probably best that we do not involve ourselves in the sorry exercise at all.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 26 March 2016