Monday, January 26, 2004


Mars of course, is the Roman equivalent of Ares, the ancient Greek god of war. As avid fans of Xena, the Warrior Princess would know, Ares is a swarthy, bearded deity who struts around in leather pants, engaging in semi-sexual banter with Xena while attempting to plunge the world into chaos and a frenzy of blood-letting. There are actually two gods of war in the ancient tradition. Athena represents righteous, intellectual warfare, an ancient equivalent of the Pentagon today. She is also the mistress of defensive warfare, inventing the ancestor of the scud missile, being the Aegis, a goatskin which when worn, had the power to deflect projectiles and other harm-bearing nasties. Not content with that, Athena is also the inventor of weapons of mass destruction. The Gorgon's head mounted upon her armour turned all those who looked at it to stone. So there you have it, a fundamentalist who believed war is justified in certain 'holy causes' and a damn dangerous one at that, was one of Greece's chief deities. No wonder the western world is feeling nervous about the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. This is especially so, given that other gods also have terrible terrorist tendencies. Take the chief of the gods, Zeus, for example. Possessed of a weapon of such potency that it was able to defeat the Giants and the Titans, Zeus was able to rain thunderbolts down in a very arbitrary fashion on all those who displeased him. Now that is undemocratic and downright un-American. The general way of life of the Olympians is also not to be desired, it being full of Middle Eastern, conservative and highly repressive prototypes. Hera, though head of the household was supposed to lie back and accept her husband's infidelities while Hestia was so ugly and be-moustached that she was relegated to home exile, not being permitted to exit her place of abode and so euphemistically became known as a hearth goddess. Dimitra was forced into being a goddess of cooking and food while in order to satisfy the patriarchal undemocratic males of the mountain, Aphrodite was forced to be a harem girl. It is small wonder then that Alexander the Great's distant descendants, the Kalash in Afghanistan adopted such role models for their ladies.
This lengthy exposition serves as mere background to the main contention of this article which seeks to explain why it is that all of a sudden, the august president of the United States of America is so urgently expressing the need for a space station to be built of the moon (Selene, another of lusty Zeus' girlfriends). This is to make the incursion on to the red planet Mars much more easy and efficacious. President Bush's advisors, holed up in their bunkers deep under the Pasadena space centre, all cloned so as to look like Woody Allen in that masterpiece "Casino Royale" have decided that Globalism doesn't work: everyone keeps on stealing their ideas. They have failed to gain a monopoly on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and are considering that a change in philosophy is required. Who needs Globalism when you can have Universalism? The reason why a monopoly cannot be gained is because such matters are not man-created but rather, heaven sent and if we are to gain the means of destructions and distribute them fairly and squarely to all earthly comrades, we must seize them for ourselves, much like our ancestor Prometheus stole fire from the gods so many aeons ago, inventing the bushfire in the process.
So now Bush is preparing to take on Ares in the final showdown, the mother of all battles, the declaration of war on War itself. A good idea you say? Definitely not. What happened when our backward Middle Eastern Gods dethroned their ancestors by cutting off their moving parts with a sickle? Did they make the world safe for democracy? Absolutely not. In fact they introduced a despotism to the world unparalleled in history. If Bush does conquer War, will he not be transformed from a peace-loving Texan farmer to a gasping ignorant warmonger who, having seized the thunderbolt, will not hesitate to use it on such obscure an never before heard of targets such as, oh, I don't know, the Pannonian Plain, or Bet-Naharin or as translated from the Olympian, Kosovo and Iraq?
Another thing that has not been considered is the resulting civil war between superheroes. Our superheroes fight for good over evil. Who will take the side against evil when no one knows what this is anymore. While it is evident Spiderman, Superman and Wonderwoman will immediately be enlisted into the ranks of the Texans, the same cannot be said of more shadowy figures such as the Phantom or Dick Tracy. Other superheroes, such as Xena or Hercules, enjoying close relations with the Olympians will positively be torn in two. Do they comply with their movie contracts or defend their people? And what of Astro Boy, fighting for astral harmony throughout the cosmos? It shall be a sad day indeed my friends.At the end of the day, when Bush has occupied some 38% of the planet, that being the most dangerous and weapons-productive part, possibly the only solution, brokered by Mr Kofi Galaxannan, the secretary general of the United Universe will be to introduce a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation on the planet, with each side sharing the same Martian, war-mongering identity but ruling over its own, slowly building up a massive weapons stockpile until the move onto the next planet, which you guessed it, must be Uranus. This column is still investigating rumours that after the conquest of Mars, that great intellectual J-Lo, who is almost Olympian in stature will lead the attack on Uranus. J-Lo is actually an expert on the philosophical theories of Wittgenstein.
As Wittgenstein worked out that language is a structure whose basis one can only view from the outside, so J-Lo's fame is a structure whose basis can only beviewed from behind. Oh Lord, confuse our tongues, before we once more make the cosmos safe for democracy. Allahu Akbar!
first published in NKEE on 26 January 2004

Monday, January 19, 2004


The sun had already began to hang low in the sky, like a tantalizingly overripe peach provocatively flaunting its immanent fall, by the time we finished our most excellent fish soup, at Agioi Saranda, the port city of Northern Epirus and took the winding road down the rocky Northern Epirot coast, to Bouthrotum, the ancient capital of the Epirot kings.
Northern Epirots seem to have inherited their southern cousins’ driving skills. After the relative order and overabundance of caution in Australia, seeing manic Northern Epirots racing around blind corners, switching to the lane of oncoming traffic and overtaking at over 100km per hour on steep mountain bends in a race to get to Bouthrotum by sunset tends to have the effect of appreciating the harshness of the terrain, as well as lodging one’s hand in the handrail of the car door and clinging, for life’s sake. The hundreds of προσκυνητάρια along the mountainside marking other’s demise, competing with mounting piles of rubbish, punctuated by herds of pigs poking through them with their snouts in search of a meal do not exactly inspire confidence.
On our right hand side a long cigar shaped giant lolls lazily on the horizon. “Kerkyra,” Margaritis Ntais, the manic driver tells me. “In the days of Hoxha, when the persecution became too much, we would steal glances over the water and wonder what it would be like to be free, in Kerkyra. We would hatch elaborate plans of escape which we would dismiss as childhood foolishness. And then we would look away. If you looked too longingly at Kerkyra, you would be denounced as an enemy of the people.” Now at the age of thirty, Ntais knows what it was like to have been an enemy of the people. In 1985, on the day of the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha’s death, his brother was arrested for celebrating his 21st birthday, not knowing of the dictator’s demise. He was incarcerated until his release in 1991, after the fall of the tyrant’s regime. Some days later, his cousin, on a fishing expedition at Agioi Saranta, sailed north and doubled back secretly until he reached Kerkyra. As a result, Ntais’ family was harassed on a daily basis until the fall of the regime.
The stories of past bitterness accompany us to Εξαμίλια, or as it is known in Albanian, Ksamilia, the closest point to Kerkyra on the Northern Epirot coast. Small concrete domes litter the sea cliffs like oversized mushrooms. These too are reminders of the paranoid past, where Hoxha, fearing an invasion from the capitalist west, converted his country into a fortress by ordering the construction of millions of concrete bunkers and machine gun positions throughout the land, often on beach fronts or in the middle of fields. “We would come here on school excursions,” Ntais continues, “and we could see the military pulling down the last churches. They would tell us that we were Albanians and partisans and that over the waters in Greece, there was only death.
We round a cliff face and suddenly the undulating landscape slopes downward, the barren grey and brown of the terrain suddenly turning a brilliant green. Below us, the vast expanse of the salt lake of Bouthrotum, on the border of Albania and Greece massive, immense and unashamedly cobalt in its blueness, smooth like a sheet of opaque glass, with only the invasive pylons of the mussel traps to disturb its serene countenance. From here, the point where the lake tapers and becomes a long and urgent channel that cuts through the marshy conglomeration of reeds and grasses in its fervour to meet the Adriatic is clearly visible. Even the lakes of this country want to escape. Yet it is at this precise point that the ancient Molossian kings of Epirus decided to build their capital city, at a time when the kingdom of Epirus was poised to extinguish the might of Rome and assume the mantle of world power.
Bouthrotum has always been part of the Greek world. It is said to have been founded by none other than Helenos, the son of King Priam of Troy who fleeing his ruinous homeland, sought to found a new Troy, nestled in the flat plain between the mountains. Others speculate that it was founded in the 6th century BC by traders from Kerkyra opposite. Yet its heyday is said to have been in the days of King Pyrrhus who chose it as his capital city, endowed it with a good many temples, amphitheatres and other public buildings and after conquering almost all of Greece, used it as a springboard for his conquering of Sicily and Southern Italy, along with his failed onslaught on Rome. It continued to be a significant city during Roman times and still boasts the ruins of a circular baptistery and porphyry colonnaded martyrium of St Therinos, who was martyred during the persecutions of Roman Emperor Decius, only to be abandoned after the fall of Constantinople. Silence fell over the once vibrant city as it unflinchingly welcomed the onslaught of the silt and creepers that gradually reclaimed the land for mother earth. Not even the endeavours of the irrepressible Ali Pasha who fortified the area in 1791 could rouse the majestic capital from its torpidity.
The castle of Ali Pasha is in fact the first thing you see as you push through the marsh and arrive at Bouthrotum. It is a grey, squat building, much rather like contemporary representations of its builder, who like his successor, Enver Hoxha, engaged in a frenzy of fortification, convinced the western powers were bent on invading his little kingdom. It is primarily, a monument to totalitarianism. The second thing you notice is the Albanian sign that welcomes the visitor to Bouthrotum, the “Ancient Illyrian City.” The fact that all archaeologists agree that the ancient lands of the Illyrians were hundreds of kilometers to the north does not seem to perturb the curators of the site, who in the summer time engage persons to wear togas and recite poetry in “Illyrian”, a language of which no written records have survived. In these lands, the name and memory of its original Greek inhabitants are being erased. The third thing you notice is the long avenue of gum trees that lead to the ancient ruins. These trees, immensely tall among the conifers momentarily disconcert the visitor and send him into a reverie of directing the final and equally tragic Crocodile Dundee sequel. That’s not a ruin mate. My career is a ruin.
Bouthrotum, for all its anabaptism reeks of Hellenism. Ancient inscriptions are to be found on pillars, rocks and the walls that litter the unkept site. Squelching ankle deep in the mud, we reach the great amphitheatre, second to none, with acoustics akin to those of Epidaurus and with one subtle difference: The lake in its mastery of the environment has submerged the stage. It is in effect, an underwater theatre, where the fish and crabs are the ultimate heirs to the comedy of Aristophanes, as if they are the last players in a sick joke by Menander. And supposedly, this theatre is an Illyrian one. This time, the emotions rise to the surface. Spontaneously, we sing the Greek national anthem and then an old polyphonic Epirotan mourning song, our pitiful, sobbing voices translated into an angry, booming chorus by the co-operative theatre. As our voices carry over the border to free Epirus, we poke among the ruins of the Aesclepium, enlightened Pyrrhus’ medical clinic, the vast 6th century Orthodox Cathedral and then, as we become lost in the twists and turns of the forest, unexpectedly, the cyclopean walls of Molossia and the gateway to Pyrrhus’ palace. It is common knowledge that Epirots are held to be the shortest of the Greeks and this seems to be a trait inherited from our ancestors. Pyrrhus’ front door is 5ft in height, yet it is no less impressive. The conservative Epirots retained the Mycenaean tradition long after Greece moved into the classical era; the doorway is so like the Lion’s gate at Mycenae as anything I have ever seen. The representation on the lintel is a startling one: a lion, pouncing on and devouring a bull, the symbol of Epirus. Eerie in its prophecy, the doorway is empty and hollow, leading only to forest in the hearth where the king would have welcomed the visitor. The lords of old have all gone now.
As we pick among the ruins, hidden away in the jungle-like forest and see the sun set over Kerkyra, casting strange porphyry and gold hues over the ruins of the endeavours of the mightiest of kings, the border with Greece, a kilometre away is barely visible. The golden channel of Bouthrotum despondently races to meet the Adriatic and we look back to gain a last glimpse of the other palaces, lost among the undergrowth and never excavated and mutter “vanity of vanities.” Further down, as we reach Delvino, we note that the new road signs, which the albanian government promised would be in the minority language, Greek, appear only in Albanian. The following day, setting out for the capital of Northern Epirus, Argyrokastro, we come across the same sign, only the Albanian placename, Delvine, has been whited out and in its place the following have been written: «ΔΕΝ ΚΑΤΑΛΑΒΑΙΝΟΥΜΕ ΑΛΒΑΝΙΚΑ. ΕΔΩ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΒΟΡΕΙΟΣ ΗΠΕΙΡΟΣ.» Give the sign and then the countersign and wallow in the inexorable mud of infinity, sons of Pyrrhus. The fate of the works of his hands await you.

first published in NKEE on 19 January 2004

Monday, January 12, 2004


Democracy, as it was conceived in ancient Athens, was so conceived as to provide each Hellene with an opportunity to release that innate desire that rests within him, to express himself at length on any given subject. Athenians would meet, debate, discuss the problems of the day and after determining a possible plan of action, would vote on the merits of same. It was in effect, the first talkfest that ever took place in the history of the world.
Prior to the commencement of the SAE Conference 2003 (Council for Greeks Abroad), various members of the community questioned its effect and existence, dismissing it as just another ‘talkfest’ and a free one at that. Events however, at least at this conference have proved otherwise. For a conference to be a talkfest, two essential criteria must be met, firstly, that there is something to talk about and secondly, that the actual talking takes place.
It cannot be doubted that talking did take place at the SAE Conference in Thessaloniki. The Prime Minister used it as a forum to launch his election campaign, making a long winded speech that had absolutely no relevance to the problems of word wide Hellenism, or in fact, to the Conference at all, while following in his stead, wave after wave of politicians occupied the podium and subjected the hapless delegates below to an endless stream of words for an entire day. That’s one day down and two more to go.
Successive days were spent either in canvassing votes for candidates seeking to be appointed onto the SAE regional or world councils, having a coffee outside the actual conference room or sitting in dazed boredom as absolutely nothing happened. The few suggestions/comments/presentations that were made to each regional council were made quickly and were accepted with the boredom and indifference that can only come from knowing that Murphy’s law is universal and inevitable in its application: At the end of the day, when all is said and done, a hell of a lot more is ever said than done. Voting takes precedence and there is no need to discuss the problems of Oceania with other Oceanian delegates. We all know what is broken and what needs fixing. That is why on the final day of the conference, delegates waited in line for three hours for the arrival of ballot papers (which had not been prepared in time) in order to vote.
With the youth this phenomenon was a great deal more acute. Whilst at previous conferences there existed a prearranged structure for the youth delegates of SAE World Youth to hold a world youth conference, this year there was absolutely no programme, no agenda and the youth had absolutely no idea why they were in Thessaloniki. Meeting regardless of the official indifference and disorganisation, the Youth delegates were soon embraced by the tortuous twists and turns of the ruling party’s paranoia. For the third time in as many conferences since the World Youth’s inception, the world youth was called upon to vote on a rather contentious Constitution, so contentious in fact that totally engrossed in its intricacies, the youth was not able to find time to discuss issues that concerned it, provide reports about the state of the Hellenic youth in their country of origin or jointly discuss ways of cementing further communication and assistance between the youth worldwide. That is, the SAE youth were not permitted to do those things which one would expect a world body to do at such a conference and seem to have been diverted from their supposed task, deliberately.
Instead, they were treated to a lengthy diatribe by the deputy foreign minister Magriotis, the length and audacity of which, while worth publishing, far surpasses anything ever produced in this column and is not reproduced in an effort not to highlight the relative feebleness of this column in comparison. Mr Magriotis kept the youth waiting for him to address them for three hours. The sum total of Mr Magriotis’ diatribe was as follows: The Youth should agree on the Constitution proffered to it by the Greek government. They should do it immediately, without being given the chance to study it in its entirety. Hurry up do it now. Don’t ask questions. Those of course who did have the temerity to ask questions as to the effectiveness and application of the draft Constitution (which Constitution the youth had not seen prior to the conference) were dealt with in a condescending and often insulting manner. They were told that should trust the better judgment of the government and that they were naïve. This was augmented by a few condescending pats on the head of one of the female delegates, while elsewhere, the said minister was seen playing with the hair of another delegate while she addressed him. How professional. Having seen that he had sufficiently riled the youth, he then let it be understood that the only way that SAE will not bee seen as a free trip to visit one’s grandparents was if the Constitution was approved by the delegates while simultaneously hinting that whether the said Constitution was approved or not, it would be submitted to Parliament for approval. So much for democracy.
A Conference whose very organisers look down upon its attendees, insult them and cast aspersions upon the veracity of the delegates’ motives in attending and frustrates their proper function as a world body is doomed from the outset. Most of the youth delegates arrived in Greece armed with ideas and the desire to co-ordinate and promote worldwide Hellenism. To do so, they had to arrange time off work and endure an arduous journey. Free ticket or no free ticket, this is not a task which is undertaken lightly. For many of the youth delegates, arriving at Makedonia airport in Thessaloniki was their very first time in Greece. Their first impression of the country was standing outside in the freezing cold at midnight for hours, waiting for a bus to take them to their hotels as the Conference organisers could not be bothered welcoming or assisting the travel-weary delegates. It is the sad reality that throughout the duration of the conference, most delegates had enough negative experiences to warrant them questioning whether they should ever wish to visit Greece ever again, let alone the conference. It is a heinous crime to dash the hopes and aspirations of the youth abroad on the altar of politics.
Unfortunately it seems that as a people were are fixated upon structures and positions rather than realising our dreams. There really is no need for a conference that serves absolutely no purpose other than to undermine delegates’ confidence in their motherland. Hellenism could better be served with a more intensive cooperation of all organised bodies in each region. That is, if that was the purpose of the SAE World conference in the first place……. For next time, that is, if there is one, SAE regional executive councils should take note, voice their dissatisfaction and demand a say in the organisation of the conference. Contrary to common belief, they are not a rubber stamp.


first published in NKEE on 12 January 2004