Monday, May 29, 2006


"I can’t believe I still need you/ I can’t believe I still want you/ I can’t believe life means/ Nothing without you/ Baby I'm still in love with…/ Everything I hate/ Everything you do/ Everything I fear/ Everything on you." These lyrics, chanted by the divine (by virtue of her plastic enhancements) Anna Vissi best outline the strangely ambivalent attitude our people have towards the Eurovision Song Contest, creating an internal conflict that simmers and then on occasions erupts with a fury far outmatching that of the Titans imprisoned beneath Vesuvius.
As with everything else of course, we invented Europe and immediately proceeded to defile her. Zeus' rape of Europa becomes even more distasteful when one considers not only the act of violence but the fact that the name Europa itself, meaning "wide-eyes" denotes a cow-like quality to Europe. When one adds to this the Latin tautology of "vision", we immediately discern that the term Eurovision refers to "Wide-eyed sight," and it is left to the etymologist to speculate whether this bovine sight is attributable to the domesticated ungulates glued to the television set, or rather, the silly cows strutting their inconsiderable talents, compelling us to liken the whole event to the pungent smell of the digestive refuse emanating from the male of the species.
Over the years, Greece has actively participated in the Eurovision song contest, though never taking it quite seriously. Our contestants seldom did well and as a result, we dismissed the whole competition as frivolous and yet another manifestation of the homogenizing effects of globalisation upon vibrant cultures. People in the Greek music industry with pretensions to culture, such as the august Panos Metaxopoulos still maintain that the necessary pandering to the jaded and thoroughly degraded aesthetics of a European population ravaged by the depravations of modern western culture in direct parallel with the heinous crime committed by the father of the Olympians upon hapless Europa, result in songs of questionable quality, though no one can quite put their finger on why this is so.
Nonetheless, Eurovision, especially in countries where strait-laced Anglo-Saxon cultural values predominate is seen as a Bacchanalian orgy of bad taste, if anything, a necessary but carefully supervised blood-letting of frivolity and misplaced idealism that must be purged before the inevitable return to the whetting of the grindstone of filthy lucre. Coupled with the acid commentary of Terry Wogan, Eurovision serves to reinforce the level of cultural correctness that is permissible in our culture and provide a telling paradigm as to why we must reject the aurochian lowings accompanying the worship of our ancestors' Braze Bull for the brash and flash monolithic croonings of our Pacific mentors, who will not allow the worship of any other.
If a festival of bad taste was what was hoped for out of Eurovision 2006, then the audience was sorely disappointed. Athens 2006 was well, normal and to the horror of all devoted Eurovision fans, it was actually taken quite seriously. One speculates that this is so because the primary aim of Greek foreign policy, at least since the beginning of this decade has been to have the Greek entry placed in the top three of finalists in all Eurovision song contests. So far, Elena Paparizou (and her now forgotten sidekick, you know, the chunky guy who played the bouzouki) and Sakis Rouvas have fulfilled their national duty. In the face of the immortal Anna Vissi however, we witness the collapse of the present administration's policy, exposing its ineptitude in selecting this muse of Music personified, for Anna is far above any such earthly considerations. A mere glimpse of her visage is enough to underline how high she actually is.
We tried too hard and as a result, we put everyone to sleep. An Olympics 2004 style dramatization of the development of "4,000 years of Greek music" was so perfectly executed that not even Terry Wogan could make a sarcastic comment about it. And indeed, staging such an intellectual display in the concert of distaste is tantamount to performing a religious ceremony in a pagan temple. This is the first telling clue that something is not quite right with the world.
The second clue is the thoroughly mainstream presenting by the erstwhile colourful Sakis Rouvas and the immensely bland, devoid of personality or relevance Maria Menounos. Rather than exchange in tasteless banter, contrived jokes with punch lines that can be seen from Mt Ida in Crete and uncontrived frivolity, they just got on with the job and presented the program. None of the scintillating repartee of Masha and Pasha at Kiev 2005, so raw that it made entire audiences cringe. Here the seemingly banal triumph of mundaness was punctuated only by Greek government spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos' refusal to award the first prize to the Eurovision 2006 winners, the barbaric Finn contestants.
In the apocalyptic literature of Tolkien, especially in the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarrilion, an undercurrent theme is the perversion of all creation. The Enemy seeks to parody the works of the Creator by twisting them to its own design. The Enemy seeks to enslave as many as possible by binding them to its iron will and does so first by entrancing its minions, making them see its works as fair and reasonable, convincing them subliminally of its worth. This Enemy can be likened to the Antichrist, in that it is the embodiment of evil and utterly opposed to the truth, while convincingly disguised as wholly good and a bringer of the truth.
Subliminal messages of this kind are apparent throughout the history of the competition. On April 25, 1974, the Portuguese entry "E depois do adeus" was used as the signal for the tanks of the left-wing military coup that overthrew the fascist government to move in. They also abounded in this years' Eurovision. Now that we are lulled into a false sense of security by the relative absence of tackiness, its respectability as compared to previous years is a clear indication of its subversive and thoroughly evil messages moving into the mainstream. And consider the lyrics of the Lithuanian entry delivered in an insinuating, childlike tone:" We are the winners of Eurovision/ We are, we are!/ So, you gotta vote, Vote, vote for the winners… 'cos we are here to represent the truth." Who are the winners? Obviously the Enemy, which refers to itself in Royal plural. It command us to worship it, stating that it represents truth. Not convinced? Look at the title of the Israeli song, "Together we are One" It is drawing us to it. Too far-fetched you say? Look how the Enemy has possessed hapless Turkish contestant Sibel Tüzün to sing its praises: "I am no ordinary person/ I ain’t no imitation, but a real diamond/My brilliance will bedazzle you, watch out/ Are you ready for love… I’m your superstar." All the hallmarks and signs of the times are there. It loudly promotes its superiority and protests its goodness, it warns of its impending coming and tries to hide the fact that it is but a poor and fallen imitation of the Truth.
If by now you feel that the interminable debate between creationists and evolutionists in the letters page of this publication has caused a gasket to blow in his diatribist's brain, think again. For the Enemy, through the Croatian contestant, drops all pretence of namby pamby touchy feely Eurovisionistic twaddle when it threatens the violence that is to come and partially reveals its identity and time of coming: "For the grass has not yet sprouted/ Where my high heel has trodden/ Tick-tock 'round half past two/ You shall pinch me, but no one will see/ I know well guys like you/The devils are your godfathers."
Anna Vissi, like a demented Cassandra attempts to warn us of our impeding doom and is thus relegated to ninth place. Her song is a cry of anguish. She knows something is wrong. Eurovision is everything she hates and yet everything she loves and though she can't believe she still needs it, her grief at finally realizing she is one of the damned, accentuated by her falling upon her knees in full knowledge of her spiritual devastation is heart-wrenching.
Meanwhile, the minions of the Enemy await. We turn to the Book of Daniel and read that "the ten horns are ten kings who shall rise from this kingdom." Finally out they come, those ghoulish representations of fallen angels to hearken the beginning of the time of tribulations. As their hideous overload spreads his wings, we gasp in horror at his horns, realizing exactly what the cow-worship foretold in the word Eurovision finally signifies. And those with gnosis tremble when our already lost to the Beast Greeks award twelve points for these lyrics: "The saints are crippled/ On this sinners’ night/ Lost are the lambs with no guiding light./ The walls come down like thunder/ The rocks about to roll/ It’s the Arockalypse/ Now bare your soul."
No more pretences here. The Enemy has come. Yet all is not lost. For though the saints may be confounded by this sudden revelation, out of the distant Eurovision past, a lonely 1977 group of prophets, Pascalis, Marianna, Robert and Bessy has provided the mantra of benign silliness that will dispel the demons for ever: "Avanti: Do fa fa fa/ Sol fa sol fa mi do si mi mi mi, do si do si sol si do." And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
First published in NKEE on 29 May 2006

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


In January 2001, after being captivated by Rudyard Kipling’s description of the mountain tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan that may or may not be descendants of Alexander the Great as recorded in his epic ‘The Man who would be King,’ as well as the annals of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom and more notably the first Greek Buddhist monarch, Menander, I wrote an article in NKEE about the Kalash, the tribe that is widely held to have been descended of the ancient conquerors and still retains customs and beliefs of that time, long after they have been forgotten in their birthplace. Indeed the Kalash have a fairytale aspect to them; they are said to worship the twelve gods of Olympus and sacrifice to them, have a great many Greek-sounding words in their language and further, their homes and tombs are adorned with a symbol that looks remarkably akin to that of the Star of Vergina. People love lost tribes living in pristine harmony with their surroundings and their past and it is easy to see why romantics would desperately seek to include them within the Hellenic family, as a distant but exotic cousin.
A few days later I received a telephone call at work. After heaping lavish and largely undeserved praise upon the aforementioned article, the caller asked: “So have you been to the Kalash villages yourself? Where did you get your information from? How can I get there? I am dying to go.” “Mate,” I replied, putting paid once and for all to any claim I may have ever had to the romanticism of an intrepid traveler, “I have never been there and I have absolutely no idea to get there. I obtained all my information from books.” The caller thanked me politely and I hung up the phone feeling slightly sheepish.
Years later, while inhabiting what was then my usual haunt of the Bendigo Hotel, my gaze chanced to glance upon a patron wearing a Pakol, the traditional Afghan flat hat that is so reminiscent of the Ancient Macedonian kausia. This did not seem entirely incongruous in a try-hard rembetiko teke, though it did cause me to wonder what had befallen this gentleman who had called me that day at work and whether in fact he had made it up to the land of the Kalash. This seemed so remote a possibility that I dismissed it almost immediately, instead indulging in speculation as to whether the wearing of such a hat in the aftermath of 9/11 would necessarily be a condition precedent to having interesting adventures with the authorities.
In March of this year, the indefatigable Peter Kalliakoudis, noted Hellenaras called me. Seeing his number on my mobile, I braced myself for the inevitable blast of infectious Hellenic-related enthusiasm that almost invariably follows the pressing of one’s yes button. Sure enough, I was not disappointed. “Mate,” he exclaimed, “there is this guy, he has been to the Kalash villages and he has come back bringing one of them with him. You have got to come and meet him. A real live descendant of the ancient Macedonians. Unbelievable!”
Indeed it was. It sounded like a fairy tale. And yet a few weeks later, there I sat, with George Thermos, who I recognized as the Pakol-wearing denizen of the Bendigo Hotel sitting opposite me. Next to him sat Zarin, a similarly Pakol-wearing gent with crisp, well defined, swarthy features and an ornate feather in his hat. “What made you visit Pakistan in search of the Kalash?” I asked George.
“Well,” he replied, “I read this article in NKEE a few years ago that got me interested. I wanted to explore an avenue of Hellenism that survived before the advent of Christianity. This has particularly appeal for me.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a well-worn article that seemed to have been folded and re-folded a hundred times. I recognized it as my own and was dumb-founded at the coincidence. “No way,” I exclaimed. “You were the guy that rang me seeking further information. So you finally made it? How did you do it?”
George Thermos, a modern day Odysseus, has been to the Kalash villages of Pakistan four times. Witnessing my incompetence first-hand and after seeing a Greek documentary on the Kalash, he contacted some parties in Greece and made his way to Pakistan where after a long and arduous journey through some of the most inhospitable mountain terrain in the world, he reached the lands of the Kalash and there he sojourned, in the company of equally romantic Greek aid workers, also bent on improving the lot of their long-lost cousins.
“When I reached the Kalash villages, I was taken aback at how close the people’s mentality was to our own. Quite apart from the noticeable similarities in customs and even words, I felt that somehow, I had finally come home. I had never felt so comfortable and so accepted anywhere else before. And I truly feel that these people are my people,” George enthused. I had to ask him the inevitable question given the difficulties of the times. “No I haven’t had too much trouble on account of my travels or my hat,” he laughed, “though coming home the last time, I was taken aside by officials who seemed so interested in my travels that they asked me questions about them for about four hours.”
Talking to Zarin, I was amazed at how close his mentality and sense of humour was so close to our own, though his conception of his own identity is different to that which is ‘imposed’ by neo-Greek romantics and is invariably dualistic, having as its opposite, the ever encroaching Islamic culture that threatens to swallow the Kalash way of life whole. He does not feel Greek though he captivatingly recounts ancient myths to the effect that his tribes assisted the Macedonian soldiers in their passage across the Hindu Kush, lived with those soldiers and shared their way of life with him. Thus the Kalash identity myth immediately places itself as more ancient than those that would claim the Kalash as brothers, though it still admits them as a valuable part of the narrative.
Similarly, while similarities do exist between ancient Greek festivals such as the Demetria and the Eleusinian mysteries and Kalash seasonal cereal and grain festivals – after all Dionysus was said to have come from India, Zarin’s description of what seem to be Aryan proto-Hindu festivals at best forge but a tenuous link between our two cultures, though by his own admission, much sympathy exists among his own people, for the Greeks. Examining the so-called Star of Vergina Kalash symbol, I found it to be closer to the stylized chrysanthemums of the Imperial Japan than the symbol of the Macedonian Kings. Nonetheless and despite my logical conclusions, I could not help but speculate that Zarin, in profile, looked exactly like kausia wearing Greco-Bactrian king Eumenides, as immortalized in his coinage. In a magnanimous attempt to assuage my ego, Zarin stated that he was surprised at the accuracy of the article printed on the Kalash by NKEE. When George Thermos first showed it to him, he was convinced that it had been written by someone that had visited the Kalash and had studied them in depth, which in my eyes condemns me more as a charlatan-adventurer than ever before, albeit one who takes trouble with his sources.
There was something surreal and yet at the same time heart-warming about spending time with George and Zarin. In an increasingly polarized community, where many are quick to criticize or accuse the print media of hidden agendas and where community indifference or interest in things that one may consider trivial rather than intrinsic causes one to take a cynical view of one’s own environment, place within it and own viewpoint, it is reassuring to know that NKEE can not only inform, but also inspire its readers to reassess their own conception of their identity. This is achieved through the encouragement of a pluralism of thought that rarely if ever finds its counterpart in the previous generation and its print media. In George’s case, a single article inspired him to embark upon a journey that has changed his life and entire outlook, causing him to bridge the gaps of religion, custom, culture and history as these terms are defined by others and carve his own singular niche in the world. And we here at NKEE, are grateful and touched that once in a while, we can come across people like George who have the strength of spirit to achieve the inconceivable, and who reaffirm for us that together, we can achieve miracles.
First published in NKEE on 22 May 2006

Monday, May 15, 2006


"Politics,” Henry Adams wrote, “as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.” In Australia, the word ‘hatred’ is uncommonly used as a descriptor of public life. Within that sphere, founded upon the Westminster principal of genteel folk applying their own Benthamite conceptions to the macrocosm, there is always ‘conflict,’ ‘debate’ and ‘disagreement,’ but seldom ‘hatred’ per se, though lately, the spectre of ‘ethnic hatred’ is sometimes bandied about, surprisingly given the mainstream media’s aversion to emotive language, within the context of terrorism and the need for security. This has seen Australian society become insular and more determined that the internecine strife of the war ravaged countries it quixotically attempts to assist is prohibited from entering this country through a cordon sanitaire of political correctness and prescribed or proscribed topics of discussion.
The cynical and arbitrary way in which such distinctions are made should not be overlooked. For if one has the temerity to overstep the cordon and brush up against proscription, one runs the risk of being totally excommunicated from the fold through the acquisition of the title ‘unaustralian.’
More often than not in this country, the word hatred, whenever it manifests itself, is preceeded by the verb ‘inciting’ and the adjective ‘ethnic’ emphasising the myth that trouble in paradise is never intrinsic, with all the inherent contradictions that this implies, but rather, imported. Generally speaking, the consensus is that ethnic communities should leave their troubles ‘at home,’ especially given that such ‘troubles’ are contemptuously dismissed as nonsensical, as they almost always refer to diverse historical viewpoints and past conflicts that bear no relevance to the main narrative. That is not to say that Australia closes its eyes to the plight of those afflicted by conflict throughout the world. On the contrary, on an official level, Australia’s humanitarian assistance to the Pacific nations and Africa is significant while within the mainstream, Australians are quite sensitive to the humanitarian catastrophe of Rwanda, the Middle East crisis and the starving communities of Africa. Proving that history is as important to Australia as any othe country, Australians are also sensitive to past events that determine their outlook upon the future. Thus, much sympathy exists for the victims of the Holocaust and rightly so.
Somehow though, the same level of sensitivity does not exist for issues troubling the ethnic minorities living within this country. There seems to be a determination not to tolerate any such sensitivity where facts are disputed between one or more ethnic groups. The immediate assumption is that this will cause ‘ethnic hatred.’ The panacea seems to be a quick papering over the cracks in ideological homogeneity with the “You’re in Australia now” wallpaper. Ethnic issues that have somehow infiltrated the cordon sanitaire are mercilessly weeded out from our parochial vegetable patch without proper investigation as to their edibility or extent of mailgnancy. For example, while it is perfectly permissible for enlightened Australians to discuss the Darfur conflict with concern and take firm positions on the subject because it is occuring so far away and poses no threat of disruption to our community, when it comes to divisive issues such as the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, where two Australian communities have clearly conflicting positions, the whole validity of the existence of the issue is called into question, and crystalline facts and UN resolutions miraculously become fluid and dismissed from the mainstream narrative. Those responsible for the sprouting of such contentious plants above the surface of our community humus are termed ‘haters’ because the aforementoned plants have no place in the homogenous discourse of our garden. Interestingly enough, the various and diverse weeds of our garden who feel that elements of ‘competing’ weeds are somehow impinging upon their interests attempt to gain legitimacy for their survival by calling for the extirpation of the other’s weeds in the interests of preserving ‘ethnic harmony’. This is paradoxical, considering that while debate between ethnicities can be passionate, this has rarely if ever translated to violence and especially not to the extent of the Manly riots last year.
Jenny Mikakos, member of the Victorian Legislative Council has experienced this firsthand. Her speech in Parliament where she highlighted the Pontian Genocide in the light of its 19th May commemoration and called upon Turkey to engage in a reconciliation process was particularly brave, considering that firstly she had to contend with the interjections of some of her parliamentary colleagues who have a diametrically opposed point of view upon the issue, proving the words of J Minchin: “In political discussion heat is in inverse proportion to knowledge,” to be particularly apt. Further, in an election year, she, among all her collegues of like ethnic origin has consciously exposed herself to accusations of inciting ethnic hatred and misusing her position to propagate her own private views. Already sections of the community that opposes her views on the genocide and has the tendency to become hysterical when the mere word is mentioned are moving in that direction. Thus, in raising the question of the Genocide in Parliament, Jenny is possibly facing vote losses by angry members of her electorate.
To charge Jenny with inciting ethnic hatred, especially in the light of her ethnic background is of course as ridiculous as accusing the Jewish community of doing the same by raising awareness of the Holocaust. Jenny has been a member of Amnesty International for a great deal longer that she has been a member of the Labor Party and throughout her career she has championed the rights of afflicted people throughout the world, regardless of nationality. In particular she has been vocal in expressing her solidarity for human rights abuses in Rwanda and Sudan and her current concern for the commemoration of the Armenian, Assyrian and Pontian Genocide should be viewed within the context of a Parliamentarian who is also a humanitarian and certainly not as any cynical attempt to play ethnic politics – especially when her principled stand may be to her political detriment. When one considers that the main thrust of Jenny’s speech was an appeal that “the Turkish Government must begin the reconciliation process by acknowledging these crimes against humanity,” we realise that this issue does not affect local communities at all but rather is one of international importance that must resist efforts to be contemptuously degraded to the mandragora of ‘ethnic politics.’ So much so in fact that other politicians, notably Rob Maclellan, Bob Carr and Steve Georganas have felt sufficiently moved to make similar speeches on this issue in the past and it is upon this established precedent that Jenny has drawn.
In courageously exposing herself to criticism, Jenny has put into practice the great humanitarian Nelson Mandela’s maxim that: “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” If only all of our politicians could follow Jenny’s suit, venturing off the easy road of political expediency to traverse the high and narrow road that leads to principle and character. Unfortunately, if the conduct of those of her collegues who rudely attempted to shout her down is anything to go by, Walter Bagehot’s assertion that: “One cannot make men good by Act of Parliament,” sadly rings true and it would be a savage indictment upon our political culture if a selfless Parliamentarian could not take a stand on an issue of principle without obtaining total respect for making that stand, regardless of whether one agrees with their viewpoint or not. That, is called democracy.
Sooner or later a mature and compassionate Australian society will eventually have to realise that the bizarre ethnospecific cordon sanitaire it has erected around the perimeter of its own intellect is unsustainable and by continuing to enforce it, it is merely perpetuating harmful stereotypes that entrench the very phenomenon that it seeks to extirpate. Jenny’s speech is therefore a step in the right direction and it is pleasing to perceive, despite the somewhat limited reaction by isolated sectors, how positive and enthusiastic its reception has been in the wider community, serving to decry the stereotype of politicians as self-serving and restoring our faith in our Parliamentary system. All Victorians should justiably feel extremely proud of her.
Lastly, one cannot help but notice that the first line of Jenny’s speech reads: “On 19 May the Pontian community in Victoria and around the world will commemorate the 87th anniversary of the Pontian genocide.” The Pontian community. Not the Greek community. I think there is something in that for all of us, don’t you?

First published in NKEE on 15 May 2006

Monday, May 08, 2006


In their groundbreaking study: "From Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000," Toula Nicolacopoulos and George Vassilacopoulos point out that one of the ways that the dominant culture secures and reinforces its position as legitimate owner of this country is by asserting the right not only to exclude or include others, and the Greek community has certainly experienced that power first hand, for it is by its virtue that it was permitted to exist at all, but also to define and control exactly how such groups as are permitted to reside here, may manifest their ethnic identity. Thus our various communities, brotherhoods and other organizations have a structure and method of operation dictated to them by the laws of the State they are formed in and any operation outside the ambit provided by the Law is, as various impassioned groups have discovered after costly and unnecessary litigation, illegal, despite what commonsense and the law of the united guild of Greek cattle herders may have hitherto provided.
Lately, and indisputably in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks which have seen all Anglo-Saxon societies throughout the world become increasingly introverted and suspicious of 'foreign' cultures, so much so in fact that Australian current affairs programs actually have the gall to conduct polls as to whether 'foreign' church services should be held in English, quite probably in order to determine whether the wog version of the Holy Spirit has terrorist tendencies, what has insidiously and increasingly come to be asserted more and more by the corporate sphere, is a purported right to also determine on their behalf, the manner in which ethnic communities are permitted to manifest their ethnic identity and further, to delineate the bounds of what constitutes acceptable ethnic behaviour.
The Football Federation of Australia's recent actions constitute a prime example of this. In a move that has infuriated the Greek community and has even gravely disquieted Greek communities overseas, the FFA, as of 1 March 2006 has issued what it terms a "Spectator Code of Behaviour," according to which: "Each person at a National Team match must: (f) not, and must not attempt to, bring into the venue national or political flags or emblems (except for the recognised national flag of each of the competing teams) or inappropriate banners, whether written in English or a foreign language;"
The implied assumptions contained in this rather curt sentence are manifold. Firstly, one wonders how FFA officials would be in a position to determine which banners written in a 'foreign tongue' would be 'inappropriate.' Conceivably, all foreign language banners would be disallowed on the suspicion that they are inappropriate by making use of the same logic that saw classroom teachers reprimanding students for speaking Greek in the playground on the assumption that if they were expressing something decent they would be doing so in the Queen's English and not in an unknown foreign babble. After all, we do speak English in Australia and my plans to smuggle in a banner to every international football match inscribed: "Genghis Khan Lives" in the Sogdian script of Outer Mongolia have consequently been well and truly foiled.
One would apply a parallel logic to the banning of national or political flags or emblems. The FFA, despite its infinite wisdom and assertion of the right to mediate between ethnic groups it knows little about, has no way of knowing which national or political flags may cause offense either to Australia, an opposing team or a cross-section of society, though implied within paragraph (f) there seems to be a tacit admission that a certain section of spectators have the propensity to carry such flags to matches. As supreme arbiters of social cohesion, they have resorted to the Solomoniac solution of banning all flags and symbols across the board, regardless of their meaning and importance. Evidently this must incidentally mean that Australian sporting symbols such as the boxing kangaroo and the green and gold banner are also banned and it shall be interesting to see how closely the spectator code of behaviour will be enforced in this regard.
The problem with this particular aspect of the Spectator's Code is its cultural insensitivity. It ignores the fact that ethnic communities and the fans of 'foreign' teams do not manifest their ethnic identity solely through the display of a national flag. The Greek community is a prime example. Our flags and symbols may include the double headed eagle, a simple Greek flag consisting only of the cross without the stripes, which incidentally was the national flag up until the mid-seventies, the flag of Cyprus, various Hellas or Greek soccer team flags, the Star of Vergina and countless other harmless symbols, all of which are inoffensive and an integral part of how one expresses their local or regional identity, or cultural affiliation. Apparently these are banned. Further, other ethnic groups who may wish to highlight their support of one team or the other by proudly displaying their own ethnic flag, will not be able to do so. Strict adherence to this code would presumably prohibit the display of the Eureka flag as offensive to the Chinese victims of racist miners. After all, that flag is as 'political' as the flags of the Liberal and Labor Parties, which must also be prohibited, though I would venture to say, this would affect no one.
Such hysteria about the display of ethnic symbols is quite puzzling, especially when one considers that recently, in 2004, the FFA permitted Turkish fans to display the highly offensive flag of the illegal puppet regime that occupies the north of Cyprus, without this causing too much protest or upheaval by the aggrieved parties, though this was propably due to ineptitude on their part. In fact the timing of the publication and institution of the Spectator's Code leads one to suspect that it anticipates the upcoming Greece v Australia friendly match, which through the FFA's actions has the potential of becoming anything but friendly. Such a suspicion is further underlined by the admission of certain fans of the Greek team that they had the decency to consult with the FFA a good deal prior to the release of tickets and politely advise them that they wish to display a banner within the stadium bearing the star of Vergina, the royal emblem of the Greek kings of Macedonia. Somehow, a certain section of our community to whom the star of Vergina purportedly is also of significance, came to know of the aforementioned Greek fans' plans, protested vociferously, allegedly totally misrepresented the intentions of the said fans and apparently did much to secure the FFA's blanket ban.
If the FFA thought that they could endear themselves to Greek-Australian fans who are vital to the propagation and establishment of Football as an institution in this country by its actions, it should think again. It should reconsider its position not only in the light of the fact that the Greek community is a proud one that will not suffer lightly to be told by others totally ignorant of its composition how to manifest its own identity but also in the light of the fact that it is widely held that the majority of the 90,000 people that came to support Australia in the World Cup qualifier in 1997 against Iran, and in 2001 against Uruguay belonged to Australia's Greek community.
As pointed out in previous Diatribes, notably "Soccerculturalism" late last year, the FFA and the wider community cannot have it both ways. It cannot attempt to 'purge' Australian soccer of the intrinsic ethnic colour that constitutes its vertebrae and insult its fans' heritage, then expect them to all come and support the FFA's sporting endeavours. It is too much to ask an insensitive FFA to investigate the meaning of each 'wog' symbol and determine at its own discretion, the level of its potential malignancy. The FFA and other entities like it should have the perspicacity and maturity to understand that like it or not, there will always be points of controversy and debate among sections of society and that the 'ethnic' section is no exception. A blanket ban on such moot points merely serves to entrench 'opposing sides' in the trenches of their own belief and increase bitterness all around, especially considering that it is now evident that the FFA feels that it can pick and choose which ethnic symbols to suppress at will. This can only send the message to the ethnic communities that are the mainstay of support for Football in this country that while their dollars are welcome, their identities are not unless scrubbed up, re-packaged and made 'acceptable' to a self-righteous and hypocritical self-appointed mainstream. Not very friendly at all.
Interestingly enough, a few bouts of silliness and thoughtlessness notwithstanding, most ethnic conflict in this country has been perpetrated by the ruling culture against minorities and not via intra-ethnic strife. Whatever the future of the FFA's Spectator Code of Conduct, it should serve as a rallying call to all those mired within their own complacency: the rights and privileges we have come to expect from our hosts are illusory and impermanent. Great vigilance and a greater commitment to preserving our heritage against those who would assail it are also required. This means that fans should consider what their favourite sport's administrators think of them and manifest their pride with discernment and circumspection, lest the boa constrictor of restriction chokes displays of ethnicity from the game they engendered. The command for today therefore is not to take our culture in vain, lest the angry gods of Olympus and the Titans of assimilation that lurk beneath the Tartarus of every parochial molehill, strike us down for good.

First published in NKEE on 8 May 2006

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Χριστός Ανέστη. The news that the Victorian branch of the RSL would this year permit descendants of Turkish troops who fought the Australian Anzacs to march side by side with the ANZACs’ descendants did not rouse feelings of outrage in me, as it did in other compatriots. The First World War took place some ninety years ago, relations between the two erstwhile enemy countries have been cordial ever since and nothing is more eloquent a symbol of forgiveness than demonstrating to one’s former enemy that old enmity is laid aside, than inviting him to honour dead ancestors together. It is a magnanimous gesture on behalf of the RSL, similar in calibre to the monument set up by the stout-hearted Cretans, to the fallen murderous and barbaric Nazi soldiers of the Second World War and the keystone in a process of reconciliation and purging of the toxins of ill will.
What I did find objectionable and implausible however, was Victorian RSL President Major-General McLachlan’s assertion that the Ottomans were a “very honourable enemy.” It is an assertion that does not seem to be borne up by historical fact. One cannot help but think that its timing comes cynically close to media reports of the parlous state of Australian memorials on the Kallipolis peninsula and is a sop intended for the maintenance of eroding soil, as well as privileges. Finally, it is an assertion that offends the sensitivities of significant portion of Australian society and as such, it is indicative of the regard the RSL appears to have for that sector that does not fit into the Anglo-Celtic ‘ANZAC’ stereotype, regardless of their efforts both as allies and subjects.
The Major-General’s arbitrary selection of “honourable” enemies seems to contradict eyewitness testimony from Australian prisoners of war, notable George Handsley of the Light Horse Regiment, whose ordeals were published in 1919 in his book “Two and a Half Years a Prisoner of War in Turkey.” Documenting his ordeal, Handsley wrote: “This camp was described by the prisoners who had been there some time as the worst in Turkey, a ‘hell on earth.’ Floggings were given daily on the slightest pretext and very often we received thrashings for offences of which we were ourselves totally ignorant.”
Further telling accounts are archived in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. According to the official memorial website: “Food was poor, medical care primitive and all experienced a casual brutality. Many laboured to build the Taurus railway in southern Turkey in extremes of heat and cold. “It was hell,” an Australian recalled, “we had to fight to keep alive.” Indeed, it is further stated that of the Australians captured by the Ottomans in World War One, one man in four died in captivity. "
Just how ‘honourable’ the ‘enemy’ in question was is encapsulated in the British White Paper titled ‘British Prisoners of War in Turkey, published in 1918, which includes the following excerpt: “It is a story of national crime. The Turks killed our men slowly, deliberately and with a luxury of torture.” Is the President of the RSL therefore displaying a flawed understanding of history or are we witnessing something more insidious, a spin-doctoring of history to achieve a particular aim?
This would come as to surprise at any rate. In considering whether the appellation of “honourable enemy” befits the Ottomans, one immediately recalls the alleged ethnic cleansing and alleged genocide of alleged Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians at the same time that the ANZACs were battling to take Kallipolis. Yet is it worthwhile to point out to the Major-General and others like him that the Ottomans were only able to fortify themselves in Kallipolis after cleansing the peninsula of its native Greek population? Probably not. For the Major-General’s comments clearly show that what allegedly happened to an alleged bunch of dagoes, who by the way were fervent supporters of the Triple Entente and in the case of the Assyrians actively enlisting in the British army, is totally irrelevant, falling as it does outside the canon of pure Australian military history.
Funnily enough, the Australians’ obsession over honourable enemies is paradoxical when juxtaposed against their own conduct during the war, especially towards their own minorities. At the commencement of the First World War, Greece sought to remain neutral, its people sympathizing with the Entente and its Germanophile King, with the Kaiser. Thus until 1917, after our most honourable allies bombarded and occupied Piraeus, the Greeks of Australia were treated with suspicion and contempt, despite their vociferous support for the war and the fact that no less than fifty seven members of the Greek community volunteered to fight for the Australian forces.
Thus, though as Hugh Gilchrist tells us in Volume II of his monumental work: ‘Australians and Greeks,’ Greek shopkeepers decided to donate all their profits to the Australian war effort and the Greek Community of Melbourne and Victoria bravely denounced Greece’s decision to remain neutral at a meeting in Evangelismos Church, this is how the Australian press saw Greek affirmations of loyalty and patriotism: “Da Greeka people off Melbourne gotta together one big crowd last night and saya altogetha and shout… Venizelos he good man, we helpa send him big telegram and saya you plucky chup, bog in, ‘ooray. Then we eata steaka oyst, drinka wine of country, go home verr’ happy. Ah! Brava chap da Greek.”
The method in which honourable Australians tried to convince Greeks to become honorable allies was by beating them up. In Newcastle, Brisbane, Sydney mobs ransacked Greek businesses whereas in Perth, Kalgoorlie and Boulder, mob violence against Greeks was extensive and brutal, while honourable Australian soldiers ate in their restaurants and refused to pay for their food. The damage inflicted upon Perth Greeks by honourable Australians was so extensive that in October 1918, the Acting Prime Minister received a letter pointing out that “some of the Greeks had been forced into bankruptcy and nearly all had been turned out onto the streets,” whereas the Darwin anti-Greek riots were attributed thus: “Drink…was at the bottom of the trouble, the principals in which were some whites and Greeks.”
Despite the fact that Greeks were treated as sub-human and their genuine protestations of solidarity and donations spurned, they acted honourably by turning the other cheek and not allowing this to influence or in any way hinder their commitment to their country, so much so in fact that the authorities that spied on them and held back their citizenship, were forced to admit that they were decent and law-abiding people. The apogee of such patriotism was exemplified in Brisbane, where Hector Vasilios, an eleven year old boy who had spent much of his small savings on little gifts for the Australian returned soldiers was accidentally killed when he stepped off a footpath and was hit by a passing car carrying returned servicemen. The RSL would do well to remember this.
The RSL would also do well to remember that as allies, the Greeks of Lemnos and other nearby islands were instrumental in supplying Australian troops and seeing to their medical care during the time of their ill-fated Kallipolis campaign. Further the RSL should perhaps better extend the appellation ‘honourable’ to those Greek families that had their homes and villages burned down or family members tortured and executed by the Nazis in reprisal for their hiding of Australian troops during the Second World War. This is a blood debt that can never be repaid, though some formal gratitude would not go astray, as would some sensitivity and discernment.
History is a concept considered differently by nations. For Greeks, it is the yardstick by which all current and future progress is measured and as such we have interminably long memories, coupled with a deep sense of obligation, solidarity and affection for those that have joined us in our suffering. The Major-General’s comments on the other hand suggest that the custodians of Australia’s military history have rather short, or selective memories and that one’s heritage can be forgotten or bandied about at will in order to curry favour and expediency. Let it be so, if the lily-white historical narrative cannot bear to give up its intrinsic and underlying colouration. Yet at the sounding of the last post, when the Greek-Australians continue to give so much to their adopted country without seeking reward and caring not whether formal gratitude is forthcoming or whether it is afforded to the undeserving, in the setting of the sun and in morning, we shall remember them, lest they forget.

First published in NKEE on 1 May 2006