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