Monday, December 12, 2005


When I first learnt that the Australian Hellenic Council of New South Wales was planning to stage a peaceful protest during the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, my first reaction was to wonder whether its schismatic Victorian chapter would follow suit, given that its only act of note recently, has been its departure from the Australian Hellenic Council. I also wondered why Greek community groups directly affected by the policies of the Turkish Prime Minister, including the Pontian Federation, were not actively preparing to draw attention to their issue. In the case of the Pontian Federation I learnt that their campaign had been reduced to a small paid advertisement in the Herald Sun-affiliated papers of Australia. While the said advertisement, which discretely drew attention to a website wherein presumably the main facets of the Pontians' grievances are contained was accepted to be published in two states, in Victoria, it was rejected, owing to its wording.
Indeed there is much to protest about. Turkish troops still occupy one third of the sovereign republic of Cyprus and as a result, thousands of Australian citizens are denied enjoyment of their homes. They also prop up an illegal regime that has ethnically cleansed the territory under its jackboot, and which the Australian government does not recognize.
Similarly there are thousands of Australian citizens who have had their properties confiscated by the Turkish authorities owing to discriminative tax and other regimes targeted against ethnic minorities within Turkey.
How can Australian business trust a government that arbitrarily confiscatespersonal and communal property based on individual faith? Before seeking Australian investment in his country, Prime Minister Erdogan should look at protecting the existing investments of Australian citizens in Turkey and this is something, which should be brought to the attention of all Australians.
Further, the Turkish government's continuous discrimination of Christian churches and the confiscation of their property as illustrated in the 2005 Freedom of ReligionReport issued by the United States' Department of State portrays Turkey, as not so democratic or western as policy-makers would have us believe. The continued forcible closure of the Christian theological school at Halki and the constant attacks against the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the spiritual headquarters of at least 250 million Orthodox Christians further belies this.
Given the above, one would believe that the Greek community in Melbourne would be taking great pains to point out a few of these issues of concern to the mainstream. Though, given its insularity, xenophobia and general anti-social character, it would be to much to ask for it to join forces with other Australian community groups who have similar concerns vis-avis the Turkish government, such as the Armenians, Assyrians and Arab Christians, one would have thought that such combined action, would be effective in sending a message to Australian MP's, that a perceptible percentage of their constituents are concerned about certain aspects of the Australian-Turkish relationship, giving them incentive to raise these aspects, if not during Erdogan's visit, then at least at a later stage. The successful peaceful and well-organised protest in Sydney by the Australian Hellenic Council (NSW) in conjunction with the Armenian Youth Federation, is a case in point. In a community so fragmented and self-interested as ours however, the mere conception of any such co-operative action on an infra ethnic, let alone an inter-ethnic basis, is purely utopian.
Sadly, if our newspapers are anything to go by, we are too interested in pursuing a futile debate in such deluded topics as philosophy v religion, GOCMV dissidents v G. Fountas and the like to be able to appreciate the importance of the issues that pertain to our place within Australian-Turkish relations, let alone be capable of organising ourselves in such away as to be a critical mass that can make itself be heard. The lack of unity within our community as well as its ethnotopic nature renders it incapable of defending the interests of its smaller constituent members, or in the case of those who come from Constantinople, Imvros and Tenendos, are still too afraid to speak out. This is demonstrated to demoralising effect year after year by the organised Melbourne Greek community's total indifference and lack of participation in the events commemorating the Pontian genocide, which is seen as largely a Pontian preserve. It seems that despite our boastfulness and highly developed sense of historical importance, we are no more capable of moving to an integrated conception of a Greek identity than our ancient ancestors, thousands of years ago.
Even when selected well-meaning individuals or groups are fired by zeal and concern as to the issues that affect them, they are often reduced to circumambulating the fundamental orifice of their community and preaching to the converted, or instead, making a few painfully fractured attempts to puncture through the mainstream's screen of indifference and contempt at what it calls 'ethnic politics.' We witnessed this earlier this year with the formation of the Australian Macedonian Advisory Council (AMAC) and continue to witness it with other such groups, with the notable exception of the Australian Hellenic Council, which though elitist, still manages to bend the ear of a politician or two.
Sadly, and AMAC experienced this first hand this year, such groups or individuals who seek to promote, lobby or raise awareness of issues that pertain to their Greek identity in Australia, often run up against the indifference or outright enmity of the Greek consular authorities. In principle, this is not unjustifiable. Fervent as they are, community campaigners can only be amateurs in the great game of international politics. By rights, the task of promoting Greek interests belongs to the Greek foreign affairs officials posted in this country. Unfortunately, as their lukewarm response to Erdogan's visit and their inability to create Australian awareness of issues such as Halki, the discrimination of Christians in Turkey etc as well as Greek Ambassador Xydas' frank admission that without the Greek community, Australia's policy on the Macedonian Issue would be more prejudicial to Greece's interests suggest, Greek officials are experiencing great difficulty in promoting Greece's interests in this country. Unlike their Turkish counterparts, who create or direct Turkish interest-based groups such as the Australian Friends of Turkey, which enjoys a close relationship with the Turkish consul-general, to promote Turkish culture and under such a veil, its government's policies to the mainstream, Greek officials struggle to follow suit.
Greek officials must also understand that such community lobby groups as exist, whether professional, self-appointed, deluded or well-meaning, do not seek to blindly promote Greece's policies, for they are often at odds with them, but rather, their own interests as Greek-Australians. Greek officials should therefore take pains to fully inform these groups on the official Greek stance on issues that affect Greek-Australians, permitting them to form coherent strategies and put these into effect. failure to do this results in the scenario experienced this year, where the Pan-Macedonian Federation called a public meeting in order to gain community consensus a to how best to respond to the latest developments in their pet issue. In that case, the meeting was a debacle, as Greek consular officials declined to attend the meeting or advise what the latest developments were, causing great confusion as to who was doing what and who a protest should be directed against. While non-co-operation between Greek entities is a historic precedent, it is now a luxury that can be ill afforded.
As the sun of indifference sets over the mountain of community inertia, the fact of the matter is that our demographic is too widespread, our interests too diverse to influence the development of Australian-Turkish relations. By vociferously protesting in this increasingly monolithic climate, we run the risk of being seen to be creating ethnic strife against the interests of Australia, instead of what we really seek to do, which is to assist in the development of Australian-Turkish relations that respect the rights of all Australian citizens. Even if we indulge in the utopian fantasy that we are a cohesive community, would our protests and vague indications of electoral clout to a government that enjoys a sizeable majority in both houses be enough to refocus its delight in hosting a Turkish trade delegation of immense proportions to examining the human rights of a miniscule and economically insignificant few of its citizens? Do not Benthamite principles apply here?
That being said, the Labor federal member for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas', spirited speech in Parliament on 7 December 2005 where he brought to the attention of the House his concerns over the Turkish occupation of Cyprus and the closure of Halki was eloquent and exactly what we would expect of our home-grown pollies. Now if only the community resources existed to assist this lone voice in the parliamentary wind.
Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe we should fatalistically persist in guarding the pass at Thermopylae, even though a by-pass has been built decades ago. I do know is that we desperately need Anna Daskalaki-Angelopoulou to organise a bigger, better Greek trade delegation and to also choreograph the main event of the year: the day we rouse ourselves from our lotophagic reverie, and march off in protest, against ourselves and the sybaritic lotus-eaters we have become.

First published in NKEE on 12 December 2005