Monday, August 27, 2007


“I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.” Oscar Wilde

Murphy’s law determines that when all is said and done, a good deal more is actually said, rather than done and this is particularly so of our community. That we are a nation of talkers must not be doubted and for this facet of our identity, we have our noble ancient ancestors to thank, for they enjoyed nothing more than to sit, consume various delectable comestibles, sip the juice of the vine and discuss the nature of things. That was known in times ancient, as a symposium. Today, with the barbarous intrusion of playing cards and worry beads into the picture, most probably by Ishmaelite major-domos, it is known as a “kouventa tou kafeneiou” though it still substantively retains its primeval hypostasis.
That our people have such a propensity for talking, rather than doing, was identified early on in the piece by Plato, who considered the possibility that his compatriots could talk themselves out of existence: “How can you prove whether at this moment we are sleeping, and all our thoughts are a dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to each other in a walking state?” Had Plato been around today, apart from most likely being sued by the American toy giant Hasbro for impinging upon their trademark of the non-toxic petroleum distillate compound similar in texture to bread dough that has been sold as a children's toy around the world for over half century, he could have plausibly addressed this question to Parliament. For the word Parliament derives its etymology from the Old French parlement meaning “speaking, talk.” Contrast this with our own word for its Hellenic corollary: «Βουλή» which means “will or determination” and you rightly ponder who these βουλευτές actually are, as well as what they have done with the real parliamentarians. One is however reassured with the consideration that these terms complement each other in so far as parliamentarians may be classified either as thinkers or talkers. Doing, is the preserve of the public service, which must be jealously safeguarded if the whole Westminster System is not to come crashing down with the assorted crazed hordes of Gog and Magog blighting our civilization as only blighters who have been cooped up in the Caucasus by Alexander the Great for an eternity can.
There was a plethora of parliamentarians at the recent Cypriot Youth Forum, an extraordinary initiative of the youth of the Cypriot Community of Melbourne. Its convening comes at a time when youth participation in Greek community affairs has reached such a level that it seems almost impossible to resuscitate it and when youth forum after youth forum, packed full of showcase elitist neo-Greeks, who serve only to self-righteously preen their Hellenism before others, have assisted no one. The convenors of past youth forums have generally not been representative of the vast corpus of Greeks out there who are not involved in the organised community.
It is short sighted to suggest that young Greeks consciously make the choice not to get involved. Rather, it is the case, that fewer and fewer youth are exposed to the Greek community per se. The focus needs to be on making sure that these persons will not be left out of the loop as it were. Instead, in the past, we have continuously employed the services of ‘youth leaders’ of the Greek community who fit a certain stereotype: educated, with good jobs and dynamic – perfect to take home to one’s mother. This is not to say that these people’s commentary and opinions do not provide a valuable insight. It does however mean, that those who do not fit into the ‘desirable’ stereotype, remain without a voice as their so-called representatives are out of touch with them. This in turn ensures the perpetuation of the same ‘token youth’ and the exclusion of all others.
“Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself,” the conflicted progenitor of the Ubermenschen, Friedrich Nietzsche once observed. In our case, the convening of youth babblements serve to disguise the first generation’s hysterical and too-often self-inflicted despair at the horrifying prospect of their offspring permitting their works and deeds to wither on the vine. Thus, sundry talkfests and youth forums often serve as a palliative to an organised community in terminal decline, by means of a claque of well-meaning but often naeve and ultimately inept youth who at least during the talkfest and a few hours after, will aspire to immortality. Just how this will be done, is a matter invariably relegated sine die, pardon the forensic pun.
The recent Cypriot Youth Forum was thus a breath of fresh air, as a component of that gust of animation that is currently blowing through the Cypriot Community of Melbourne, not in the least thanks to the inspired vision of its president, Stelios Angelodemou. Instead of dictating to the youth, preaching to them or compelling them to act in a manner that fulfils preconceived stereotypes, Angelodemou’s committee has taken great pains to approach community youth and convince them that it is in their interest to identify and participate in community affairs. Along the way, the Cyprus Community has provided recreational facilities that permit interested youth to meet over a game of pool or to ‘crash’ on a couch, get to know each other, bond and develop their own means of retaining a sense of community. The atmosphere of benign amiability is palpable.
Oscar Wilde once commented: “I like to do all the talking myself. It saves time, and prevents arguments.” Admittedly, there was not too much talking among the youth at the forum. Instead, and it is a measure of just how seriously the Cypriot Community Committee takes its youth, it arranged for the attendance of various politicians and prominent Cypriots, to provide the youth with their own insight into their identity and their vision for the future.
This makes perfect sense. If one is to go forward into the future, it is the height of folly to do so without the advice and the benefit of the experience of those who have gone before. If the second generation is to assume the responsibilities it aspires to and acquit itself admirably in fulfilling them, then it ought to have a deep knowledge of its predecessors’ perspective, just as judges of the High Court continuously refer to the founding fathers, when attempting to interpret the Australian Constitution.
The politicians, notably Maria Vamvakinou and Theo Theophanous were positively inspiring, urging their audience not to forget the tragic events that stigmatised Cypriot identity for all time but to delve deeply in order to understand these and use them as a touchstone upon which to mould and fashion a unique Cypriot identity, with reference to Australia. Maria Vamvakinou paid homage to inspired photographer Georgia Metaxas, for her photographic journal of the Justice for Cyprus Campaign over the years, centering around the tragic aspect of the missing persons, which was exhibited, quite appropriately, in the area of the Forum. “Sometimes,” she observed, “we ask ourselves why we continue the struggle. It is because if we let go, if we let go of what we are fighting, we will then we will lose it, for good.” In her passionate and heart-stirring speech, she was referring to the struggle against the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, but one cannot help but consider that what she was actually pointing to, was the future of the Cypriot idenity in Australia in its entirety. She also made a timely and pertinent point in this era of sanctioned homogenisation of Australian culture, that the youth must ensure that their culture is not merely tolerated but respected as a unique and separate component of Australian society, for in this way it will be preserved. The presence of other politicians of non-Hellenic origin, such as Harry Jenkins, Federal Member for Scullin and George Seitz, State Member for Keilor reinforced the message that the perpatuation of Cypriot culture in Australia is not merely a matter of the fringes, but of intrinsic importance to all Australians. Their attendance at such a forum does the youth and Angelodemou’s committee credit, in contextualising their place in our multicultural society in an appropriate and relevant manner.
Peter Abraam, former CEO of the Victorian Major Events Company also provided unique insights, pointing to the empowerment of youth through knowledge and reference to their identity. “You can achieve anything you want,” he explained, continuing on a personal note that one should never take their community for granted, reflecting that it was only now, when faced with the prospect of assuming a position in Dubai, that he has considered just how much he is leaving behind and how important his community both as a social and supportive network, is to him.
“Much talking,” Indian sage Saskya Pandita wrote, “is the cause of danger. Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune. The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about.” The indefatigable High Commissioner Achilleas Antoniadis’ spirited and eloquent intervention at the eleventh hour to throw the floor open to the patient and considerably impressed youth, as well as his pertinent comments as to the importance in distinguishing between a Cypriot and a composite Australian-Cypriot or Cypriot-Australian identity prepared the groundwork for a youth empowered to the extent where it may, of its own accord, define its own identity and take the requisite steps to nurture and preserve it. This is something that the first generation cannot assist with and it is incumbent upon the latter generations to utilise the vast amount of emotional and temporal capital deposited by their predecessors, to good effect.
The heartening difference between this and other past community forums seems to be that a mechanism has been instituted to maintain the momentum of goodwill and enthusiasm that it has generated. The fact that a committed group of young Cypriots have determined, with the support not direction of the main committee, to find real value in continuity is an achievement in itself. The question as to whether they and the rest of us, as Henry David Thoreau considered, “will lie on their backs, talking about the fall of man, and never make an effort to get up,” is the essence of Greichischkeit itself.


First published in NKEE on 27 August 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007


“For seventeen years he did nothing at all, but kill animals and stick in stamps”- Sir Harold Nicholson (1886-1968) in Diaries and Letters about King George V.

The above appears cruel and hyperbolic until it is juxtaposed against the following statement of the same King George V to J A Tilleard, the Honourary Secretary of the Philatelic Society, upon being given the weighty appointment of Philatelist to the King: “But, remember, I wish to have the best collection, not just one of the best collections in England.” Before we think too harshly upon our deceased former ruler, let us remember the immediate reaction of the last emperor of Austria, Charles, upon learning of his accession to the throne: “What should I do? I think the best thing is to order a stamp with my face on it.” Or consider the vanity of King Christian X of Denmark, who, incensed at his portrayal upon stamps with his hair parted to the left and also to the right, remonstrate angrily: “Next time ask my barber to approve them before you issue stamps with my portrait.”
Indeed, from the playground, stamp collection is, in Darwinian-style, decried as the preserve of those who cannot survive the healthy physical pursuits of the jungle gym and sports field. Not being able to have the adage “survival of the fittest” applied to them, young stamp collectors adopt as their motto, “survival of the fastidious.” Seeking to justify and legitimize what their more robust playground peers would variously term their “nerdiness” or “dorkiness,” they ascribe to their pastime, lofty and noble sentiments, which grow in magnitude as they grow older and assume high positions in their society, thus ensuring that such disapprobation a may exist towards their hobby, is not publicly expressed.
Thus, according to Cardinal Spellman of the United States, stamp collecting can be used to plug the gaping holes in the edifice of the United Nations: “The collecting of stamps brings untold millions of people of all nations into greater understandings of their world neighbours.” President Roosevelt concurred with these sentiments, commenting: “Stamp Collecting dispels boredom, enlarges our vision, broadens our knowledge, makes us better citizens and in innumerable ways, enriches our lives.” Considering that some of Roosevelt’s other pastimes included creating the New Deal social welfare package, fighting Hitler, carving up Europe and serving as one of the architects of the post-War world, this remark is not without significance, though noble prize winning scientist and godfather of the element of Rutherfordium, Ernest Rutherford baffles us beyond belief when he paradoxically asserts that: “All science is either Physics or stamp collecting.”
Such subliminal messages even make their appearance in the realm of literature, where if Clifton Fadiman in ‘Any Man Can Play,’ is to be believed, stamp collection is a happy marriage of orderly fascism, with a good dash of nineteenth century liberal protection of the individual hastily splashed in: “The philatelist will tell you that stamps are educational, that they are valuable, that they are beautiful. This is only part of the truth. My notation is that the collection is a hedge, a comfort, a shelter into which the sorely beset mind can withdraw. It is orderly, it grows towards completion, it is something that can't be taken away from us.”
In the quest for legitimization, insidious stamp collecting freaks have even gone so far as to seek an ancient pedigree for themselves. They claim a divine derivation for the objects of their affection, postulating stamps to be the modern derivative of the kerykeion or caduceus, the staff of the Greek god Hermes, borne by him in his capacity of a messenger. The herald’s staff, borne by the keryx in ancient Greece, afforded him safe passage in all circumstances to the place of delivery of the message with which he was entrusted, just as the appearance of a postage stamp of suitable denomination upon an envelope will appease the daemons of the post office from swallowing the contents of our letters wholesale and instead ensure that they are delivered to their destination. It is no small wonder then, that the United States Post Office has inscribed the following saying by Herodotus in his ‘Histories’ in stone, on the façade of the New York Post Office: “Neither rain, nor snow, nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” E V Lucas is perhaps slightly more lyrical when he posits that the reason why stamps do or should deserve our affection is because they are virtual, faithful friends: “The postage stamp is a flimsy thing/ No thicker than a beetle's wing/ And yet it will roam the world for you/ Exactly where you tell it to.” Perhaps then it is fitting then, that the first Greek stamps ever to be issued, in 1861, bore a representation of the god Hermes.
I justify my own collection of stamps during my youth with the following observation by the poet Yeats: “Designs in connection with postage stamps and coinage may be described, I think, as the silent ambassadors on national taste.” As a boy, I lovingly cut out the stamps from letters received from relatives in Greece and perused them intently in order to gain some sort of insight into the fabled land of my ancestors. Accordingly, Greece was a sombre land where people wore ethnic costume and lithographs were all the rage, whereas Australia was a land of mammals and sea creatures. My delight in finding a 1984 Australian Christmas stamp that featured a Byzantine icon of the Nativity ensured my devotion to the multicultural state thereafter.
Taking Yeats’ observation further, up until the age of fifteen, whereupon my stamp collection was first bequeathed to my sister and then duly filed away into obscurity, it was my firm belief that the political system of Eastern Bloc countries, in particular East Germany and Hungary, was infinitely superior because their stamps were so well designed and colourful. I also resolved to migrate to the exotic land of Umm al-Qawain, which I later discovered to be a constituent emirate of the United Arab Emirates, because of a set of five stamps that I possessed, which portrayed dazzlingly coloured tropical fish. Just prior to kicking the habit for good, I was amazed to receive into my possession, a set of stamps issued by the short-lived government of Autonomous Northern Epirus in 1914, a remarkable artifact of modern history and also amassed a good selection of soccer stamps from various People’s Democratic Republics.
Stamps can therefore be used as historical evidence, a learning tool and propaganda. Olympic Stamps in particular are worth our attention because they mark one instance in which all countries express the same attitude towards the same ideal in exactly the same way. In a stroke of genius, the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, in collaboration with the Chinese Community of Melbourne, is playing host to an exhibition of Olympic Stamps lovingly and painstakingly collected by a Mr Ioannidis, resident in Greece.
The exhibition, launched this month and currently occupying the third floor of the GOCMV tracks the history of the Olympic Games through postage stamps, first day covers and other postal paraphernalia. On the way, not only is it remarkable to notice how all countries cannot fail to be inspired by the ideals of the Olympic Games but that they all tend to express that ideal in similar ways. European countries, with Greece at their helm, tend to emphasise unity and the ancient pedigree of the Games, through their featuring of ancient representations of athletes, and the ruins of ancient Olympia. These representations are to be found less in Anglo-Saxon and other countries, where more emphasis is given to the competition itself and the portrayal of the actual sporting events is more common. This notwithstanding, one thing is certain: it cannot be doubted that the millions of Olympic stamps that are issued worldwide each Olympiad and in the lead up to each Olympiad, pay homage to a singular achievement and to a singular people in a manner that does not find a counterpart anywhere else on the globe.
Coupled with the fascinating exhibits, which commence with the first issue of pre-Olympic Stamps for the 1896 Olympic Games, and end with the most recent stamps issued in anticipation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, one is able to track the development of the Games’ importance, their growth and the changing emphasis on various of their aspects throughout the century of their existence. Mr Ioannidis’ carefully researched commentary also provides valuable historical snippets of trivia. For example, it is a little known fact that as early as the 1860’s, the inhabitants of the Greek village of Artakoy, in Bithynia, Asia Minor were holding athletic games, which they called ‘Olympic.’ Similarly, the great Northern Epirot benefactor Evangelos Zappas wrote to King Otto of Greece in 1856, offering 400 shares in his steamship company so that the dividends could be used to establish the Olympic Games, the ‘Olympiad’ and to provide prizes to the Olympian victors. In 1859 he succeeded in reviving the Olympic Games in a city square in Athens.
It is a testament to Mr Ioannidis’ dedication that both the Chinese and Greek Communities embraced his exhibition, which has toured over ten cities in Greece, with such fervour. In compiling the exhibits, Mr Ioannidis did so with the stated aim of “imbuing viewers with a sense of the history and the noble ideals of the Games, as well as an appreciation of the Greek thought process that led to their development and revival.” Ultimately, culture is an exportable commodity and the Olympic Games provide a unifying pivot point such as could never have been imagined by the ancient Greeks, permitting others to see us at what they consider to be our very best. Considering that the ideology of sport, with all its ethical ramifications has been adopted wholesale by the entire oikoumene, this exhibition is pertinent to philatelists, stamp-collectors, sports-fans, and cynics alike, abolishing the distinction between the dorks and the cool for all time.
Having enjoined one and all to visit the third floor of the GOCMV, on the corner of Russell and Lonsdale Streets, Melbourne this month and to view this unique, exhibition in the annals of our community, we leave you with the following musing by American humourist, John Billing, equally applicable to decently rendered propaganda: “Consider the postage stamp, its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.”


First published in NKEE on 20 August 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007


“X in our alphabet being a needless letter, has an added invincibility to the attacks of the spelling reformers, and like them, will doubtless last as long as the language. X is the sacred symbol of ten dollars… In the algebra of psychology, x stands for Woman’s mind. Words beginning with X are Grecian and will not be defined in this standard English dictionary.”
Ambrose Bierce: The Devil’s Dictionary.

“Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!”

Kent, in King Lear.

Are not the above expositions, the epitome of ingratitude? After providing sundry barbarians with the ‘lights’ of our civilization, nay even the tools with which to record their paltry thoughts, these self-same abounders in uncouthness take issue with the great gifts we have made to them and now dare to question their value and in the case of z, the legitimacy of their parentage as well. And one would suggest that it is these aspersions cast upon the letter zed’s paternity that have led English speakers to blasphemously pronounce the venerable compound glyph X as Z, as well as ks and suggest various detestable alphabet reforms, culminating in George Bernard Shaw’s abomination of a Phonetic Alphabet which made its first pernicious appearance in published print in 1962.
Yet we would not be too hard pressed to find precedents for this sort of behaviour, especially among our Slavonic brethren. It was the venerable Greek saints Cyril and Methodius, who, realizing that if you teach someone how write what they think, you can, at least at the outset, control what they think, introduced a modified form of the Greek alphabet to the Slavs. They have remained largely outside the western world ever since. At first, the grateful Slavs expressed their gratitude by faithfully employing all letters of the Greek alphabet provided to them, including, paradoxically enough, aspirants that were totally unnecessary. Then came the unspeakable typographic reform of 1708, the Grazhdanka, led by the equally unspeakable Peter the Great who in his attempt to tear his Imperium from its Byzantine “Asiatic” past and re-orient it towards the West, not only expended the lives of thousands of serfs in constructing St Petersburg in the frozen bogs of the Baltic, but also removed the letters Ψ, ξ, and ω from the alphabet, citing as a justification that these letters, as opposed to the rest of the alphabet, were ‘foreign’ and obsolete. All this served to do, was to inefficiently extend the amount of space needed to write compound consonants. Thus the city of Pskov, rather than concisely being written ΨΚΟΒ would henceforth be clumsily written as ΠCKOB. What hurts, is not so much that Peter removed some decent and useful letters from the Russian alphabet but that he did so without having the sensitivity to ask us first. This is tantamount to gifting your children a double-storey, four bedroom house in Templestowe that has taken you twenty years of factory overtime to pay off, only to have them sell it behind your back, in order to purchase a two bedroom unit in South Yarra instead.
To add indult to injury, the de-hellenisation of the Russian alphabet did not end there. In 1918, the godless Bolsheviks saw fit to discard Θ, simply on the grounds that their pseudo-proletarian, crimson, Marxist tongues could, Norfcote-fashion, no longer distinguish between the original unvoiced ‘th’ and voiceless, labiodental fricative ‘f.’ All Athanasy’s found themselves overnight being called “Afanasy.” At least the venerable theta was banished from existence by official decree. The letter Y, “Izhitsa”, written in Byzantine style as V and used to write such ecclesiastical terms as MVPO, was merely ignored until it went away.
Even the Romans, with their track-history in mass slaughter and arbitrary annexations of realms were much more sensitive in the way they treated their Greek heritage. They faithfully preserved the legend that it was Evandros, the son of Sibyl who presented them with the gift of alphabet, though in the case of the Roman alphabet, that was probably developed and adapted by the Etruscans and the Romans from a form of West Greek prevalent among Greek colonies in the Italic peninsula. Unlike the Russian ingrates, though the Romans originally considered dropping letters they considered they had no use for, such as Z and Y, they gracefully resolved to retain them, to be utilized in the recording of Greek loan-words, a novel linguistic “Made in Greece” indicator. The hypernationalistic French, who pride themselves on the innate superiority of their tongue have the sensitivity to call the letter Y ‘y-grec,’ (the Greek y) and to retain it in their alphabet. It can therefore be seen how the perfidious Russians are beyond linguistic redemption. They should be compelled through the UN to pay compensation to us, in the form of surplus letters or to re-adopt our alphabet wholesale. As for other nations, such as the Albanians, who spurned a perfectly good Greek-based Tosk alphabet only to throw themselves into the arms of an inferior Roman standard, the less said about them the better. When the linguistic apocalypse comes and the Master Compositor will arraign the nations before Him and quiz them on their fidelity to the instigators of their own alphabetic revelation, it is quite possible that the only peoples that shall be deemed worthy of redemption shall be the Copts, for faithfully preserving their Hellenic alphabet despite centuries of Ishamelitic persecution.
Yet let he who is without error cast the first glyph. For on that terrible day, will we not also be accused of gross ingratitude by the Archangel of Literacy, in harsh, guttural Semitic tones? For what is the Greek alphabet but an expert adaptation of a Phoenician original, expert only in that our ancestors had the novel idea of applying, without license, several consonantal glyphs to the representation of vowels. Though Herodotus was the first to attribute our alphabet to the Phoenicians and to record the belief that it was Cadmus who first brought the Phoenician alphabet to the Greeks at Thebes, we too have attempted to hush up this provenance, dismiss it as inferior and, in the ultimate hubris of all, indulged in the unauthorized discarding of letters and sounds. As a result, our language has been stripped of the phonemes that comprise its heritage. For this, I blame the Peloponnesians and the Athenians who wielded their pride in their so-called ‘refined’ pronunciation of their particular Greek dialect in order to mask their inability to pronounce more complex sounds. Though they managed to pull this off in Greece by imposing their phonemically limited patois upon other Greeks their incompetency is still betrayed in far off Australia today, when in supermarkets around the country, little old ladies pull out their purse and ask “Khow muts?” while pulling their grandchildren’s ears and exclaiming “Sat up.” All these lost phonemes and letters must now be restored, if we are to dislodge the phonemically superior Anglo-Saxons from their global hegemony.
The letter F, a voiced labial-velar approximate, that corresponds with ‘w,’ derived from the Phoenician ‘waw’ and renamed “digamma,” fell out of general use in the seventh century BC. Yet before then, we have tantalising snippets of its use, notably in coins. Ilium, another name for Troy, was known as FΙΛΙΟΝ, pronounced ‘Wilion’ giving rise to the 7th century Mycenaean joke: Q. What were the Danaans doing at Wilion for ten long years? A. I don’t know. Playing with their willies? The word for wine, OINON, was originally written as FOINON, showing just how closely derived the English word is from the Greek. Granted, this sound had become extinct from the Greek language, but that was no excuse for its abolition and the case for its reinstatement is pressing, given that the phoneme has recently returned to the Greek language, notably in the explanation of Greek teenagers on ANT1 sitcoms: “OYAOY,” which could more elegantly and Hellenically be written as “FAF.”
The loss of Qoppa, (Q) a voiceless uvular plosive that exists in all Semitic languages as a ‘K’ sound, but much more throaty, is a savage indictment upon a people that have lost their ancestral glottal dexterity. Except for a few ancient coins (for example in coins from Syracuse we see the word «ΣΥΡΑQΟΣΙΩΝ») and the numerical qoppa, used in Greek legal documentation, which is herein suppressed, owing to NKEE’s diametric opposition to Unicode fonts, this unique letter has not survived. Perhaps in its revived form, it could be used as a measure of satisfaction. For example, one may eat a κολοκύθι and not be satisfied, in which case kappa is acceptable. The wolfing down and subsequent satisfied belching would justify the writing of Qαρπούζι, with a hearty, throaty qoppa.
Sampi is a lazy letter. It takes exactly the form that its name denotes: «Σαν πι.» Yet though it may look like a lower case pi, it is in fact, a ss sound, such as exists in Arabic, which has three forms of s, which was written wherever a σσ exists in Greek today, as in τεσσεράκοντα. Though it exists in the numeral 900 in Greek numbers, sampi could be reinstated in its original function and besides, could be applied to the recording of the serpentine σσσσσσσ that emanates from the mouths of middle-aged Greek coffee-shop patrons on Lonsdale street, whenever a nubile female intrudes upon their field of vision.
Stigma, also a lazy letter, and surviving as the mysterious number 6 (ΣΤ΄) in Greek numerals, is nothing but a ligature connecting the letters σ and τ. Economists and efficiency experts calculate the space saved in replacing those letters with stigma in Κώστας, Στράτος or Στελάρας, and the time saved by Greek school pupils in wondering why they are in grade “St” will revitalize the Greek economy, wholesale. Similarly, San, a letter corresponding to the phoneme “ts” could also save time, when having to write particularly complex words, such as «Τσισιολίνα,» and the fact that its uppercase takes exactly the same form as an uppercase m would be of great delight to schoolchildren who could mystify teachers with written notes about the said teacher’s ΠΟΥΜΑ, or lack thereof.
Perhaps the most pressing case of reinstatement is that of the letter sho, (þ) written as a p with an erect stem. This was a letter introduced into the Greek alphabet by the Macedonian colonists of Central Asia, in order to write Bactrian, an Iranian language. Thus, in Bactrian coinage, we see one of the Zoroastrian deities, Adroxsho, being described as ΑΔΡΟΧþΟ. The re-adoption of this versatile letter will do much to correct the inadequacies of a grossly deficient modern Greek alphabet whose letters do not faithfully record the dialects of its people. Epirot children will be relieved to read the importance of putting on one’s «παπούτþα» before going outside, be able freely to describe their kooky uncles as «þορομπάνταλοι» in print and Pontians will be able to record their quaint greeting, þαιρετίας, with pride.
And what of other unemancipated sounds that exist in Greek that have no representation? Why not invent some more? Did not the Emperor Claudius invent the three Claudian letters in direct response to his mother Antonina’s taunt that: “You have as much chance of becoming Emperor as you do of introducing new letters into the Roman alphabet”? Before taking your leave and advising that today’s article is brought to you by the Hebrew letter Yod, we suggest that for these, the immortal Dr Seuss, offers a few clues:
My alphabet starts with a letter called yuzz. It’s the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-matuzz. You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond Z.”

First published in NKEE on 13 August 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


“Went to Tea at the English Ambassador’s. Again, no one paid attention to me. I am so short after all and….” Ioannis Metaxas’ Personal Diary

My late grandmother, who at the most generous of estimations rose to the lofty heights of just an inch above five feet, used to have a saying that asserted her pre-eminence over those who purported to tower above her: «Ο ψηλός είναι υπηρέτης του κοντού.» This was based upon the sound reasoning that taller people are often, at the behest of their shorter brethren, compelled to reach up into cupboards, shelves and the like that are out of reach of said shorter brethren and to make their contents descend to their level. Conversely, since taller persons manifestly have further to bend when attempting to pick something up from the ground, the advantages of being short in stature are manifold.
Dictators tend to be tall or at least need to be of average height in order to assume power, simply because the populus needs someone lofty to look up to, inasmuch as the female of the species generally prefers a mate taller than her, the phrase “he was too short” often being proffered as an excuse for a romance still born. Mussolini’s unprecedented popularity, especially with women, is a case in point. Because of the cruel social stigma attached to being vertically challenged, in the rare cases where short men ascend the echelons of power, they make up for their shortcomings (pardon the pun) by becoming exceedingly vicious and aggressive. Instead of using their newly acquired absolute powers in order to foster the creation of a tolerant and egalitarian society that welcomes the full participation of short people everywhere on an equal basis, they cravenly mislead people into believing that they are tall and handsome, by ordering their hapless artists to portray them as larger than life and pretty (this is called Socialist Realism) and having said portraits hung in very high places, such as Tiananmen Square or the Kremlin, where they can be looked up to and venerated. Stalin was a particularly vicious short man, as was his rapist and murder henchman, Beria, Ceaucescu of Romania, Franco, the Caudillo of Spain, Napoleon (famously) and Mao. Nest time you see an unhappy short man, give him a hug. This may save your life in years to come, when same short man becomes a genocidal dictator and institutes a series of purges, or, who knows? Your generous display of love may throw him off the course of disaffection that would culminate in dictatorship, altogether.
Ioannis Metaxas was the second dictator of Greece, the first being the towering and inept Theodoros Pangalos. He was however, the first short dictator of Greece and he quickly attempted to arrest that fact by mobilizing his propaganda machine to cause his statue to increase in the consciousness of the Greek people. In his photomontages, the corpulent Metaxas, looking more like a retired civil servant than a date with destiny dictator, is juxtaposed at five to six times his natural height, against a miniscule populace. When photographed against the towering King George II, the result is mildly amusing, in that one would conjecture that had Metaxas lain on his back, he would have been just as tall. As Alki Zei commented in her children’s classic “Wildcat Under Glass” (Το Καπλάνι της Βιτρίνας) the effect of a squat Metaxas with a slightly downturned mouth was most frog in a pond-like.
Though he was replete with shortness, Metaxas was not a naturally vicious person and the 4th August 1936 regime, which swept to power as a result of King George II’s abrogation of the Greek democratic process at a time when fascism was widely seen as a viable governing ideology, has been said, notably by historians Richard Clogg, C M Woodhouse and others, to have been authoritarian with fascist leanings rather than fascist per se. Though the Metaxas press was voluminous in its pre-war praise of Nazi-Germany, enough evidence exists to suggest that this was a tactical ploy in order to extract much needed Reischmarks from the German Reich to bolster the Greek treasury, rather than a true commitment to fascism. As such, Metaxas’ 4th August regime, in contrast to that of Hitler or Mussolini, was relatively non-violent, lacked an expansionist agenda, was not anti-Semitic and lacked a political mass-movement.
According to official ideology, Metaxas imposed his regime primarily to fight the turbulent social situation prevalent in Greece in the 1930s in which political factionalization had disrupted Greek parliamentary democracy. The sinking credibility of the Parliament was accompanied by several coup attempts; in March 1935, a Venizelist putsch failed and the following October elections reinforced the royalist majority, which allowed the exiled King George II to return to Greece. The king re-established the monarchy in the country, but the parliament, split into incompatible factions, was unable to shape a clear political majority so that the government could govern. Meanwhile, the increasing activity of the Communists, whose 15 deputies from the 1936 elections held the balance between 143 Monarchists and 142 Liberals, Agrarians, and Republicans, created a deadlock.
In May that same year widespread agrarian unrest (tobacco farmers) and industrial unrest in the north of the country erupted, which eventually brought the head of the government, General Metaxas, to suspend the parliament on the eve of a major strike, on 4 August 1936. Endorsed by the king, Metaxas declared a state of emergency, decreed martial law, annulled various articles of the Constitution and established a crisis cabinet to put to an end the growing riots and to restore social order. In one of his first speeches, Metaxas announced: “I have decided to hold all the power I need for saving Greece from the catastrophes which threaten her,” using this as a pretext for the creation of his appellation as “Saviour of the Country.”
The roots of Metaxas’ “New State” were sought in Greece's classical history. Metaxas thought Hellenic nationalism would galvanize the heathen values of ancient Greece, specifically those of Sparta, along with the Christian values of Byzantium. In conscious imitation of the Roman fascists, the followers of Metaxas chose the labrys, the axe-symbol of ancient Minoan Crete as their symbol, which, given the commonly held historical opinion that the Minoans were a pre-Greek civilisation, is not without irony.
Presumably because as a short schoolboy, Metaxas was never chosen for sporting teams or was simply put in goal, the regime's propaganda presented Metaxas as “the First Peasant”, “the First Worker" and as “the National Father” of the Greeks. Photographs showing the corpulent First Peasant pulling a plough while dressed in his suit, desperate to be accepted as one of the people, are reasonably mirth inspiring. Revenging himself on all tall people once and for all, Metaxas adopted the title of Αρχηγός and set about re-organising the country so that Greece would once more achieve the heights of greatness.
This was achieved by banning the Communist Party and exiling its leaders. Though exile was commonly used as a punishment against dissenters during the regime, it is notable that the regime is not known to have committed political murders and did not instate the death penalty. Dissidents were, rather, usually banished to tiny islands in the Aegean and this, before they were developed as the fleshpots of Western European tourism. One feels that the crusty but ultimately insecure Metaxas, whose original efforts to make a success of the team-sport known as Parliamentary democracy through his founding of the Freethinker’s Party met with abject failure, would have forgiven his exiles everything and permitted them to return to their homes, if only they would promise to play with him. This promise not being forthcoming by hardened Venizelists such as Georgios Papandreou, content to sit in limbo on Andros, Metaxas had no choice but to play by himself.
Nonetheless, Metaxas remained painfully cognizant of the fact that despite his propaganda machine working to bursting point, neither he nor his regime enjoyed the adulation that was reported in the press as being afforded to him. In a moment of extreme truth, he conceded in his diary that “the displays of spontaneous affection we have stage-managed are false.” Indeed, it is fascinating to note that though the regime press saturated the populace with sycophantic and gushing panegyrics to the Leader verging on the idolatrous, whereby the Leader was the all-seeing, all-knowing great Greek, his people refused to buy this, most probably because short people could definitely not be all seeing, without a boost by a tall aide. So much for the product testimonials. He was constantly fearful that King George II would withdraw his mandate to rule, and unlke the Colonels of 1967 who deposed the King when he proved a hindrance to their regime, Metaxas did all he could to placate him. Wishing to be loved also by the Greek people at large, he strove to gain popularity through an elaborate program to socialize the Greek economy, including the introduction of a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, maternity leave, a 40 hour work week, holiday leave and stricter work safety standards, elements that have been attacked and eroded around the world by more ‘liberal’ regimes in late years.
Metaxas' regime also founded the National Social Service (IKA) and initially stabilized the drachma, which had been suffering from high inflation. Exploiting the newfound solidity of the currency, Metaxas' government embarked on large public works programs, including land drainage, construction of railways, road improvements, and modernization of the telecommunications infrastructure.. Metaxas' economic program met with initial success, with a marked rise in per capita income and temporary decline in unemployment in Greece between 1936 and 1938. However, unemployment skyrocketed after 1938). Capitalizing on this success, the government instituted debt relief for farmers and instituted price floors on some agricultural goods to redistribute wealth to the countryside, like so many chips offerd by the playground nerd, in order to purchase his classmate’s affection.
Despite persecution of Slavophone Greeks in Macedonia, Metaxas’ regime was generally tolerant of minorities within the borders of Greece, especially of the Sephardic Jews of Thessaloniki, despite their pro-Venizelist tendencies. However, beatings of those who spoke Slavonic were recorded and the heavy press censorship did not permit for any other conception than of a completely homogenized Greek state. The bizarre burning and banning of books ranging from Plato to Zola ordered by Metaxas in imitation of the book bournings of Germany are a savage indictment upon his misguided attempts to be the pilot at the helm of the ship of State.
Metaxas finally achieved his dream to be considered as the father of his nation when, after years of championing fascist regimes, he fell victim to the Mussolini’s lust for territorial aggrandisement. Despite his courting of ‘sister’ regimes, Metaxas refused to permit Greece to be rendered little more than a client state to Fascist Rome and hence, the national myth of ‘OXI’ was born. Metaxas was fortunate enough to die before the 1941 German defeat of the Greek armies and it is this try-hard fascist’s anti-fascist stance that has signalled his delivery from character assassination and total maligning in revisionist post-Junta Greece.
Here endeth the story of a little boy who just wanted to be friends and ended up spending his adult life trying to convince an entire nation that he was worthy of its love. It is not without coincidence that a lasting legacy of his regime is that Greek politics has ever since been dominated by politicians and colonels, all tall in stature, though the song, «Είναι γάτα, είναι γάτα, ο κοντός με τη γραβάτα» proves that there is room in Greek society for short people yet. We leave you this week with a thought:
"Height is relative. In a room the height of people is noticeable. Next to a very tall building, the height of people does not make much of a difference. Looking from an airplane or from the moon, the height of people on the ground is insignificant.” Regardless, it’s the tall guys who still invariably get the girls. Next thing you know, they will be telling us that bigger isn’t better.


First published in NKEE on 6 August 2007