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