Monday, October 29, 2007


This week, Diatribe peruses the book “The Macedonians in Victoria” recently released by the ‘Macedonian Community Council of Victoria’ and sponsored by our very own Victorian Multicultural Commission. The Victorian Multicultural Commission by the way, does a brilliant job of promoting ethnic pluralism. The aforementioned ‘book’ provides an example of the quandary a ‘multicultural’ organization can find itself in, when caused to ‘adjudicate’ not only between two opposing forms of nationalism among ethnic minorities but when members of those minorities, in this case, those purporting to be ‘Macedonians’ appear to abuse the goodwill and benign interest of the authorities in promoting ethnic harmony, by misapplying their resources towards indulging in polemics that may cause inter-ethnic strife.

While it is trite that two opposing views exist within the broader community as to the ‘Macedonian identity’, it is of concern that the authors of the book seem to have placed the unwitting Victorian Multicultural Commission in a position where it could be seen as unilaterally having ‘taken sides’ upon the Macedonian issue, something that is not the case. This is particularly unfortunate, given that the publication appears to be full of inflammatory comments and unsubstantiated statements whose aim appears to be to discredit the Greek State, Greek-Australians and especially those of Macedonian background. We can only be assuaged by remarks made by responsible persons within the Commission that they were unaware of the inclusion of such comments in the book and certainly do not endorse them.

In particular the following is to be noted:

a) Authorship

One of the co-authors of the book, Robert Najdovski, is eighteen years old. While it is unclear to what extent, if any, he is responsible for any of the research or text in the book, the sponsorship of a supposed “scholarly” work by an academically unqualified secondary student places the Victorian Multicultural Commission in a compromised posititon.

b) Offensive and Racist Front Cover

The front cover of the book is offensive to many nationalities who have traditionally resided in the geographical region of Macedonia. It depicts a map that presents Northern Greece, eastern Bulgaria and western Albania as forming a political entity entitled ‘Macedonia’, something that is not the case. The implication appears to be that these lands somehow belong together or should form a single entity.

This irredentist attitude is further displayed in the illustrations adorning the top of the front cover. The authors have sought fit to include two landmarks of the city of Thessaloniki, the White Tower and the Church of Saint Sophia, thereby implying that the said city, which is the second largest city in Greece, should belong to their ‘homeland.’ It is to be noted in passing that in a recent message to the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia, from Premier John Brumby, he links Melbourne’s Dimitria Festival, a celebration of the patron Saint of Thessaloniki, with “the traditions and culture of Macedonian Hellenism.” Finally of course, the ubiquitous Star of Vergina is displayed rising from the left (Bulgarian) shoulder of ‘Macedonia’, a historic logo that is actually owned by the Greek State, and which has been discarded by the FYROM government as a national symbol in favour of a sun reminiscent of that appearing on the Japanese Imperial war flag.

c) Title and Content

The book seems not to examine in any detail, “The Macedonians in Victoria”. Instead a good deal of space is taken up in chapters such as “The Macedonians in Albania”, “The Formation of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia in 1944”, and polemical chapters such as “Our country is Macedonia” (p149), “We are Macedonians” (p 175) and “The prejudice of Jeff Kennett” (p 181). Essentially, this appears to be a book with an explicit political purpose: to promote the arguments of those members of the community who culturally and ethnically identify with the FYROM and to assert a particularly narrow racially exclusive conception of such an identity. Thus, while the book is entitled “The Macedonians in Victoria”, the book excludes the history of Greek, Albanian, Turkish, Romany, Serbian, Bulgarian and Vlach-speaking Macedonians who live in Victoria.As such, it discriminates against Macedonians who do not fit the authors’ ethnic stereotyping, on the basis of their race.

On many occasions, in their attempt to foist racial homogeneity upon the racially diverse Victorians of “Macedonian” origin, the authors seem to make questionable claims such as that in the 1930’s 90% of the Macedonian population in Australia came from ‘Aegean Macedonia’ (p 54). This is misleading because it does not address the issue of whether or not that population actually had a Greek consciousness, which we would argue, is the case. In effect, the authors seem to deny to many Greek-Victorians, the right to identify with their own Macedonian heritage, which heritage cannot be determined on racially exclusivist lines.

d) Offensive and irredentist use of the term ‘Aegean Macedonia’.

It is common knowledge that various nationalist extremists who culturally and ethnically identify with FYROM refer to the Greek province of Macedonia as ‘Aegean Macedonia’, and display it on their maps as terra irredenta to be redeemed, as the authors have done. The authors liberally employ this term, making offensive irredentist statements such as “The Macedonians from Aegean Macedonia did not succeed in liberating themselves either in the Second World War or during the Civil War of Greece…” (p 38). Again, at page 141, the authors state that “…Aegean Macedonia... is still within Greek political borders…” and also refer to it as “the Greek ruled part of Macedonia” (p 42). Here the authors are clearly stating that Greek Macedonia and its inhabitants should belong to the entity with which they culturally identify. Further, on page 79, they include a photograph of one Risto Altin, also known as Christos Altis, who they state has devoted “his life…to Macedonia’s liberation.” This appears to be a highly improper misuse of the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s funds

As if this were not enough, on page 39, in order to grant legitimacy to their irredentist argument, they statethat “Macedonian remains the language spoken of (sic)… Aegean Macedonia.” This is incorrect. The overwhelming majority of the population of the Greek province of Macedonia speaks Greek. The authors then impugn the right of the inhabitants of the Greek province of Macedonia to live in their homes stating: “After the Greek Civil War, Macedonians were driven out of the Aegean part of Macedonia and they were ‘replaced’ by people of other than Macedonian origin.” (p 44) This oblique attempt to allege ethnic cleansing is both unhistorical and mischievous. Further, it has nothing to do with the life of ethnic minorities in Victoria, which Diatribe is informed, formed the subject of the authors’ application for a grant to publish the book.

The publication of a book through State funds, that does not respect the sovereignty of nations and calls for the revision of borders, especially when this is based upon fallacious evidence, sets a dangerous precedent that threatens to disrupt the social cohesion, ethnic harmony, mutual respect and co-existence of racially diverse, multicultural Victoria.

e) Racism directed against Greeks

The book is replete with disparaging references towards the Greeks, both of Greece and Australia. The following of many such inclusions within the book, appear to attempt to portray the Greeks as implacable enemies of the authors’ compatriots:

i) The inclusion of a photo of protesters bearing a placard that reads “I’m not scared

of Greeks, raciest (sic) vampires”.
ii) Statements such as “Greeks and Macedonians were always at odds” (p 147)
iii) Quoting from a speech referring to the Greek community in Australia, where the

following is said: “Unfortunately our suppressors have advantages even here” (p

iv) Constant references to “the power of the Greek vote” (p 168) and “the Greek lobby”, implying that Greek-Australians are able to subvert the Australian political system. The convening of a conference by the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies is thus referred to as “a provocation of the Greek lobby” (p 138). Further, they make the extra-ordinary claim: “A Greek representative of the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia admitted that Jeff Kennett’s support might have been related to vote-grabbing. He also confirmed that that is what politics is about.” (p 183). This is particularly hurtful and offensive, as it is reminiscent of and parallels anti-Semitic accusations of Jewish political influence. As if to drive the analogy further, the authors also accuse “the Greek lobby of starting the fire at Saint Nicholas,” (p 88) in the same manner that the Nazi’s blamed the burning of the Reichstag upon the Jews. Of course, such comments are defamatory as the arsonists in this and other cases are unknown.
v) The country of Greece is portrayed as a violent oppressor. Thus there are references to: “Greece’s lies and misrepresentations” (p 155), “ethnic Macedonians in Greece had been subjected to the most extreme measures of forced assimilation” (p 107) as well as Greece allegedly meting out the following punishments for “speaking Macedonian… forced eating of salted fish… imprisonment, the drinking of castor oil… piercing the tongue with a needle, cutting off part of the ears” (p 43) Further, the unsubstantiated claim that “5,000 Macedonians were imprisoned for using Macedonian” (p 43) and that “Greece was not very happy with the reunion of the children refugees as they told the world the truth about what happened…” (p 130) appears to be part of a calculated attempt to discredit Greeks and Greece in the eyes of the uninformed reader, with unreal, unfounded, unsubstantiated and imaginative tirades.

Again one wonders what these references have to do with the title of the book “The Macedonians in Victoria.”

e) General Racism and Sexism

Of particular concern are the apparently latent assertions of ‘Macedonian’ cultural superiority and racial stereotyping as they occur within the book, even where the book makes some sort of attempt to sketch the life of only one specific section of the Macedonian community, chosen arbitrarily along racial lines. For example, the authors lament the fact that “the children, through the schools become more Australianised” (p 69). They also make gross racial generalisations as follows: “Unlike their English-speaking counterpart who can live in a rented flat, Macedonians prefer to get a loan from the bank and buy their own houses” (p 69) Such racial stereotyping verges on the ridiculous when the authors state that “it is not very common for Macedonians to buy businesses as … there is no Macedonian ‘tradition of involvement in business. The Macedonian’s expectations include a house with a large garden in which they can grow vegetables and plant fruit trees.” (p 69). The Macedonian Greek community is comprised of many members who are successful businessmen. The authors’ assertion is fallacious.

Sexist references also abound within the book. The authors are particularly demeaning when referring to the place of women in Macedonian society. According to the author: “The majority of Macedonian women support the old traditions, saying that the family ‘where the hen sings’ is not a family” ( p 67). It is highly offensive to refer to women as ‘hens’ and thus discount the equal position of women in society. In particular, unsubstantiated and unreferenced comments such as “The daughters are brought up under strict supervision and are expected to perform their domestic duties, leaving the running of their private lives to the greater ‘wisdom’ of their male relatives” and “It is seen as a waste of time and money for a girl to go to university because, when she marries, her education would be wasted. Worse still, higher education may lessen the girl’s chances of making a good marriage…” (p 67) are unscholarly, fallacious and present a biased view of “Macedonian” women. Within the Macedonian Greek community, there are countless examples of emancipated, educated women who play a leading role within their families, profession and society in general. Such generalised observations as are made by the authors present an idealised, incorrectly static and thoroughly sexist view of “Macedonian” society.

The Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia and indeed the entire Greek community is right to be greatly incensed and also bemused at the publication of this amateurish polemic. It does not delineate the history of the “Macedonians” in Victoria but appears to use this title as a vehicle and/or cover to advance contentious and racist arguments about the “Macedonian” identity and to indulge in polemics with the Greek-Australian community.
The Greek community respects diversity of culture and perspective and applauds the valuable work of the Victorian Multicultural Commission. The Greek community is also mature enough to understand that on such sensitive issues, given that the parameters of multiculturalism are not defined by us, due care should be taken not to recklessly offend other ethnicities. For, it is in the tolerance and respect for other cultures, regardless of any historical or political differences, that true multiculturalism lies. As proponents of this principle, we are proud to call ourselves Australians and would hate to think that a small, self-interested section of society would so blatantly attempt to disrupt our ethnic cohesion and commitment to tolerance, by enlisting the support of our own Victorian Multicultural Commission to this end, under false pretexts. Meanwhile, let us be secure in the knowledge that such printed material purporting to be history satisfies the jaded cravings of the few and is seldom read or considered by the many, however well received by the recyclers it may be.


First published in NKEE on 29 October 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007


«Καλύτερα να έχεις εις την χώραν σου σχολείον ελληνικόν, παρά να έχεις βρύσες και ποταμούς, διατί η βρύσις ποτίζει το σώμα, το δε σχολείον ποτίζει την ψυχήν...»
St Kosmas the Aetolian

It is unsurprising that the above quote was spoken by a clergyman and saint who also advocated that schools were immediately more important than churches, during his ministry, for in the Greek mind, there has always been a religious component to its conception of schools. Thus the first school (for we did invent schools) in the form of the ancient Academy, contained a sacred grove of olive trees dedicated to Athena goddess of wisdom and its head, or principal, was known as the “scholarch.” The etymology of the word school, comes from a root that signifies acquiring or getting something, in this case, knowledge.
Over the years, various forms of ancient communal life were incorporated into the concept of school, most notably the gymnasium and it is this marriage of the two ancient conceptions of religion and community that led the Byzantines to arguably found the first public school system at a primary level in the world, in 425 AD and to maintain it, with intervening fits, starts and other vicissitudes, until 1453 AD.
Thereafter, one of the more defining expressions of Greek resistance to Ottoman rule is the not so mythical but variously exagerrated romantic institution of the “Kryfo Scholeio.” In the popular consciousness at least, in the dark days of Ottoman repression, the Church developed secret and where permitted, not-so secret facilities that ensured that the Greek culture and language did not die out. By the early ninteenth century for example, owing to the political astuteness of Ali Pasha, Epirus had more schools within its boundaries than the rest of Greece put together. The donations of benefactors were also geared towards the construction of schools. The ingenious Epirot Zosimades brothers for example, wished to construct a school in Ioannina at a time when the construction of new schools within the Empire was prohibited. They were able to circumvent the regulations by building the school in autonomous Wallachia, where the building of schools was permitted and transporting it brick by brick to Ioannina. When the enraged authorities took issue with the construction of the school, the Zosimades brothers were able to argue that they were not building a new school, rather transporting one that had already been built. Such desperate persistance in the construction of schools exemplifies their importance in the Greek mind.
It is thus evident that the concept of grouping students together in a centralized location runs parallel to the development of unified, modern cultural identity. Early modern Greek schools contained within them the seeds for both nationalism and imperialism. They were nationalist, in so far as they instilled in students a sense of their ethnic identity gleaned for scrapings and shavings of a glorious ancient and Byzantine past (in proportions analogous to the individual prejudices of the teacher). Considering that from the Byzantine times right up until the close of the Ottoman era, the Greek’s conception of self was submerged within a wider religious idenity within an oikoumene that was or should have been either Orthodox Christian or Islamic, the promotion of a Greek ethnic identity within schools was of seminal importance to the emergence of the modern Greek state. This identity had as a central tenet, its uniqueness and superiority.
Considering that other Christian races subject to the Ottomans availed themselves of Greek school facilities, not having an unbroken tradition of education or literature in their own language, one may have been forgiven at the outset for believing that this was so. However, rather than blindly accepting the Greek claims of superiority and uniqueness, they were able to use these sentiments, gleaned from “Greek” schools, in order to formulate their own sense of identity, one which invariably led to nationalistic conflict and the “Salade Macedoine” that was the Balkan wars. For example, it was the Greek educated nobles of Romania, led by Tudor Vladmirescu who in revolting against the Ottomans, were actually revolting against the cultural and political domination of the Greeks. While our historiographic myths tend to see the Phanariot hospodars as benign and enlightened rulers who instituted social and educational programs that benefited the native peoples of Wallachia and Moldavia, the Romanian national myth describes how the oppressed Romanians utilised the tools given by them by the hated Greek exploiters, in order to rouse the masses. If there is any poetic justice for the Greeks here, it lies in the fact that having refused to come to the aid of Ypsilantis’ Moldavian revolt, Tudor Vladimirescu fell foul of his Romanian people, was murdered and thrown down a toilet. Similarly, the leaders of the Albanian national movement, notably Faik Konitza and Naim Frasheri were educated at Greek institutions and translated the assumptions contained in such an education into their own national context. In other words, we are the authors of the limitations upon our own historic national aspirations.
It was in this that Greek schools exemplified just how intrinsic they were to the maintenance of a Greek identity. The first thing the Bulgarian komitadjis would do, when entering what they called a “Grekoman” village during the Balkan Wars, was to kill the teacher and replace him with a Bulgarian one. Underlying this approach to ethnicity is the tacit admission that ethnicity is but a fluid construct to be variously manipulated and instilled in an amorphous and largelly ethnically unconscious population at will. Counter-attacking Macedonomachs would remove the Bulgarian teacher and re-install a Greek teacher, thus ‘restoring’ that village to Hellenism. Schools were and still are treated as ‘units of idenity’ in Albania. In 1934-5, Greece had to take Albania to the World Court in order to secure the re-opening of Greek schools in that country and the free and unhindered operation of schools that teach the Greek language is still an aspiration rather than a reality in that country, owing to the ‘threat’ that these schools, as perceived harbingers of Greek nationalism and irredentism are seen to pose to the myth of Albanian homogeneity.
This historic background would seem to explain the almost holy stature we have afforded to schools within our community in Australia. It was a natural and sub-conscious act for first generation Greek migrants to endeavour to build schools as these were seen as the ark that would preserve and propagate Greek civbilisation and pure Hellenism to the generations of transplanted, static and immovable Greek children unto the ages. As these migrants entrenched themselves and gradually gained acceptance, they had a care to seek other ways in which to eternalise their Hellene-producing bastions. One of the methods they employed was the campaign for the institution of the Greek language in government/public schools, and some private schools as well, as well as tertiary institutions. The sub-conscious thought-process behind this seems to have been that by having Greek education instituted in public schools, this would amount to a tacit legitimisation of their presence and culture, since it was a ‘foreign’ government who would be providing the funding for such an institution. Further, according to historical precedent, there would be an ‘opening’ out to the other races of the realm, notably the British-Australians, who, recognising the innate superiority of all things Hellenic, would flock to avail themsleves of such superior enlightenment and in the process become imbued with Greek culture.
This never happened of course. Greek education remained in a ghetto of its own, restricted to Greek students and those with a direct interest in Hellenism because of family or other ties, simply because language learning within the Mainstream, is positioned upon two planes. The first is that of the acceptable languages which are considered to be on par with the dominant culture’s civilization ie. Latin, French, German, traditionally and later on Chinese and Japanese, the mastering of which confers some type of prestige. The second plane is that of the ‘ethnic’ languages. These are the community languages of the migrants which are of no value to the Mainstream, since those migrant communities are expected to conform with the cultural and political norms prescribed by the dominant culture, and their languages and cutlure are therefore confined to the ethnic ghetto, as inferior. As a result, the learning of these languages, in the private and public sphere exists to the extent that cultural perpetuation of the ethnic minorities in question is permitted by the Mainstream.
Recent comments by a veteran Greek school teacher and campaigner for the institution of modern Greek into public schools to the effect that we have been lax in our promotion of Greek language education are certianly pertinent at this time. Given the rapid decrease in numbers of enrollements in VCE Modern Greek, the demise of Modern Greek language programmes in Melbourne tertiary institutions in the past ten years, (compared with the inspiring activism by the Greek community and the Church to have such programmes instituted in the seventies anyway), the fact that while primary enrolments are stable, these increasingly do not follow through to the secondary level, and the fact that the quality of education is generally not to a standard that would permit a Greek-Australian to operate on any functional level within our community or that of Greece, one would have to ask why this is so.
This is because sub-consciously at least, a large section of the generation of Greek-Australians that is now producing children despises the Greek language. They despise it for two reasons, the first being because they have been brought up in a society which places no value on its aqcuisition. Thus, the time they have had to spend aqcuiring it has been painful, simply because it has been seen as a futile waste of resources that could have otherwise been employed for greater material or social benefit. Secondly, it constitutes a sub-conscious reaction and act of rebellion against the unilateral imposition upon them by the first generation of THEIR values, aspirations and conceptions of identity. Because as native-born Greek-Australians we must always recognise the first generation Greek-born migrants as authentic transmitters and arbiters of Greek culture and identity, we ourselves can never be authentic Greeks. As such, we will never be able to live up to our trasmitters’ expectations and we hate them for it and ourselves for our failure to fulfil them and to find our own identity.
The ontological fear felt by ‘unauthentic’ Greek-Australian parents is manifested in such ironic incidents as their pleading of their first grade offspring’s Greek teachers not to speak to their children in Greek in class so that they do not “freak out,” and constant complaints about Greek schools giving their students homework that is either “too much” or “too hard.” This ontological fear is addressed by Greek schools who purport that “learning Greek is fun and easy,” and have a policy of not correcting their students’ mistakes in red pen so as to ‘not upset them,’ or rather, their parents, in an effort to slowly coax and entice them back into a safe middle ground where parents may feel that they are at least fulfilling their progenitors’ expectations in part by sending their children to Greek school, but are not having their ontological position challenged by their children being educated in Greek to a better standard than their own.
This comes in stark contrast to the situation thirty years ago, where learning Greek was not ‘fun and easy’ but a ‘noble, holy and necessary task.’ If Saint Kosmas was to tour the Greek communities of Melbourne today, he would be told that one does not have to speak Greek to an adequate level to be Greek, as long as one ‘feels’ Greek and would also probably be castigated by ontologically fearful Greeks for attempting to ‘impose’ his own views. The truth is that at the moment that we were permitted to transcend the ethnic ghetto and integrate ourselves within the Mainstream, the Greek language ceased to be integral to our survival, since the Mainstream deals with us on a racial rather than a linguistic basis. The Greek language is thus a burden that many of us would love to divest ourselves of, and only cling on to because it is still imposed as a value by the Titans of the first generation. Upon their demise and unlike our Cavafian predessors, it is highly likely that as Antipodean Poseidonians, our lost identity and knowledge will not be a burden, or a release. If we are still able to spell and pronounce Poseidonian that is….


First published in NKEE on 22 October 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007


«Εγώ που ήμουνα Θεός θα φύγω τώρα σαν τρελός,.. ξένος, για πάντα ξένος»

Stratos Dionysiou

«Ξενιτιά, φαρμακωμένη, στο σπίτι μου θα πάω, και ξερό, ξερό ψωμί ας φάω.»

Northern Epirot Folksong.

Herein contained is the contention that our fellow sucklers of the same racial teat (ομογάλακτοι as opposed to ωμογάλακτοι with all the negative connotations that a lack of pasteurization and ethnic homogenization entails) are obsessed with strangers, occupying positions upon the linear plane between the extremes of philoxenia – a love of strangers (as long as they play the role of strangers and don’t try to become too familiar with our cultural foibles) and xenophobia.
Such an obsession is deeply and historically entrenched within our psyche. The term xenos can be translated to both foreigner (in the sense of a person from another Greek state) as well as a foreigner or traveler brought into a relationship of long distance friendship. Xenos can also be used simply to assert that someone is not a member of your community, that is simply foreigner and with no implication of reciprocity or relationship.
In times ancient, the concept of Xenia or guest friendship became a social and religious institution, most probably because in a world of insular city states, the bi-polar Hellenic view of “us against them” or “Hellenes versus Barbarians” (ie. everyone else in the world) was the defining element that provided Greeks with their sense of self, to the extent where they variously attempted to either narrow the definition of “xenos” where this suited them (notably Thucydides’ and Demosthenes’ unwillingness to term the Macedonians, Greek, which was more politically motivated than anything else) or broaden it when they saw fit. This broader concept, which arose, ironically enough as a result of the Macedonian conquests and the spread of Greek culture throughout the Middle East, where a Hellene was said to be anyone who partook of Hellenic paideia, still did preserve the concept of a xenos within it. Thus, it is termed the Hellenistic period – Greekish enough for the uninitiated, who as much as they may try, can never as xenoi, aspire to the attainment of true Hellenism.
Xenia, as an ancient Greek concept of hospitality, probably thus arose because there would have been no other way for insular, suspicious people proud of their own small little world to move about freely abut Hellas without being transfixed upon the unphiloxenic point of the spear of a paranoid peltast. The Grand Olympian Zeus himself was sometimes referred to as Zeus Xenios, meaning he was god of, among other things, travelers. This created a particular religious obligation to be hospitable to travelers, but guests also had responsibilities, beyond reciprocating hospitality, the violation of which could have dire consequences.
The Trojan war described in the Iliad of Homer actually resulted from a violation of xenia. Paris was a guest of the Spartan king Menelaus but seriously transgressed the bounds of xenia by abducting his host's wife, Helen. Therefore the Achaeans were required by duty to Zeus to avenge this transgression, which as a violation of xenia was an insult to Zeus's authority, resulting in the war. Of course, underlying the whole story is an undercurrent of hysterical fear of xenoi. Despite the tenents of xenia, xenoi are a threat who can and will at any stage, abuse their host’s hospitality and make free with their women.
Ancient Xenia consisted of three basic rules. The respect from host to guest, the respect from guest to host, and the parting gift from host to guest, elements of which exist in the Greek concept of philoxenia even to this day. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide him with food and drink and a bath, if required. It was not polite to ask questions until the guest had sated his desire. The guest must be courteous to his host and not be a burden. The parting gift is to show the host's honor at receiving the guest. This was especially important in the ancient times when men thought gods mingled amongst them. If you had played host to a deity (a concept known as theoxenia), and performed poorly, you would incur the wrath of a god. Again, the undercurrent of hysteria is palpable. If you do not look after a xenos who is more powerful than you and who has the potentiality to do you harm, chances are that he will. Therefore, we are philoxenoi not because we love xenoi but because we must be so.
It is one of the more biting ironies of our existence that the xenos-fearing Greek ended up having to be a xenos in other foreign lands, because for various reasons, his own beloved country could not support him. This experience, known as xenitia, is one of the most bitter, unpalatable and yet fascinatingly contradictory and schizophrenic experiences of the Greek people. A Greek may live in luxury, achieve wonders, notably in Ottoman Romania or to provide a modern day counterpart, in the United States but nonetheless, will consider that experience to be unpalatable and almost unbearable, not only because he is far removed from the hovel of his birthplace, which assumes the mythological status of an Arcadia, upon which bucolic elegies are spun, but because though in actual fact he is the ‘foreigner,’ and is seen as such by the natives of the land he has chosen to settle in, he seems himself as cursed to live among xenoi, an unnatural experience for a Greek, who can tolerate no rivals to his sense of cultural and racial superiority.
Xenitia is thus a raw material to be pillaged, expoited and twisted to the benefit of Hellenism, whether that takes the form of conferring a material benefit upon the Greek homeland, by way of sending back subsidies, the securing of favourable treatment of Greece or Greeks by the xenic-host country or the extraction of privileges from such host-countries (invariably seen as tribute towards a superior and vital culture) that will ensure the Hellenes’ survival in the abnormality of xenitia, in order to better proclaim the glory of Greece from such harsh, distant shores. Physical survival and material well-being in the popular consciousness, become subordinated to or at least subsumed within a need for the survival of Hellenism as a whole so that any individual attainment by a single Hellene rebounds upon the whole race even if it objectively has no racial basis or origin at all, in juxtaposition to the works and deeds of the xenoi.
Such xenoi as are encountered while in xenitia are useful, as their otherness confirms the Greek’s sense of identity. While our ancient pedigree of xenia and its modern Christian permutations ensure that we treat xenoi kindly, appreciate them for their intelligence and their provision of technological and other material benefits, they will never be able to aspire to assuming our identity. Being accepted among them is a joy, as by experiencing their foreigness, we become more secure in our own sense of self. Too often, that sense of self, a sterotyped gleaming marble wall of a high and noble history precedes our own personality in our own interpersonal relationships. Questions such as “Where are you from?” considered rude in some cultures until after at least some type of introduction and acquaintance are vital and necessary from the outset for a Greek, for upon the answer is dependant the method and mode of treatment of our counterparts.
A xenos who would purport to transcend his hypostasis is a threat and an anathema. For the potentiality that the Other from which we derive our understanding of our selves can dissolve, depriving us of a reference point poses the ultimate threat to our cultural existence. A xenos must remain a xenos, if we are to remain Hellenes. Since a xenos cannot become a Hellene without a Hellene losing his Hellenicity, a xenos within a Greek context, purporting to some sort of affinity or intimacy with Greeks that goes beyond lip service to a grand and superior culture and aspires to equality is more than just a danger. He is a contagion. A Greek that will become intimate with him in his quest to appropriate Greekness will lose their identity and invoke the wrath of the Gods, for no gentile may penetrate the Holy of Holies of our conceptual self. The fear and trepidation in the tremulous voices of those Greeks whose first inquiry as to the nature of the second generations’ choice of partners (as guardians and bastions of culture, they themselves are as infllalible as the Oracle at Delphi and a good deal more inscrutable) does not relate to their benigness but rather: «Είναι ξένος;» is telling. It is then that old traditions long forgotten are resurrected, languages long relegated to interspersion among the tongues of the xenoi are revived in full, modes of behaviour that are no longer followed are hypocritically re-imposed we and remember who we are and what we have been set upon the earth to do. Such xenoi will always be xenoi and will never be “dikoi mas.” We will tolerate them because we must, but we will watch them closely, as the untrustworthy Parises that they are, for their hubris condemns them and they have seen things in the inner sanctuary of the mythology of our ethnicity that we would rather not reveal.
When xenitemenoi return from xenitia, they return Home. Odysseus spent ten years fighting the xenoi who appropriated his peoples’ property and another ten in xenitia desperately trying to get home. In doing so, it was perfectly justifiable for him to abuse the xenia of others, notably foreign, semi-divine women who were in love with him and wanted to guarantee him joy for the rest of his days, because everything may be subordinated to Nostos and the re-affirmation of Hellenism. Indeed the only xenia he did not abuse was that of the Phaeacians, and only because they asked nothing of them, respecting the boundaries of his identity and sending them on his way.
Modern day xenitemenoi, just like their mythological archetype perennially return to their own Ithaca expecting a welcome home. They are soon disabused of their delusion, being recognised only by trivial mortally ill dogs and servants. It incenses them to learn that their home, the spouse of Hellenism for whom they have striven so hard to keep pure and unadulterated, is beset by corruption and iniquity. She is and always will be pure. She will pine and long for the return of all her children-lovers in order to enclose them in her matriarchal-passionate embrace. But her suitors, capitalism, greed, self-interest, modernization, globalism and finally, xenophobia, will not permit her to do so. Odysseus is gone, Odysseus is dead. Odysseus is a xenos and can no longer be admitted to the hearth. An incident at a Piraeus bus-stop I once witnessed is a case in point: A wizened grandmother holding a middle aged woman by the arm, turned to her friends and said: “Allow me to introduce my daughter to you. She is a xeni. She lives in Australia.”
Sophocles uses the vagueness of the word xenos in his tragedy Philoctetes, with Neoptolemus using the word exclusively for Philoctetes to indicate the uncertain relationship between the two characters. When and if Odysseus does manage to string his bow and cleanse the Augean stable that his home has been reduced to, he will still not find happiness. A xenos in xenitia, a xenos still in his former home, he will take off once more, in the pursuit of pure Hellenism, only to be assailed by Telegonus, a product of his blasphemous union with the xeni demi-goddess Circe. Telegonus, a xenos, has no bonds of kinship with this foreign man. He kills his progenitor with a stingray barb for it is xenitia that shall have the final revenge, since in a globalised world where all is familiar and nothing is foreign anymore, the time will come when we will look in the mirror of the xenoi’s eyes, desperately seeking our own reflection and nothing will be seen.

First published in NKEE on 15 October 2007

Monday, October 08, 2007


The picture accompanying this Diatribe, is of the front cover of the Big Issue. It portrays a picture of the Panayia Theotokos, that is, the All Holy Mother of God, portrayed in the traditional style of iconography that has been employed by the Orthodox Church for almost one thousand years. According to that tradition, iconography has a purely religious function: that is, it serves to instruct the believer as to central tenets and events upon which the Christian religion is centered, while also serving as a means to venerate saints and worship God. The method of ‘writing’ such images is governed by tradition, and requires a good deal of spiritual preparation and discernment. Viewed from this perspective, to the believer, iconography has no secular, decorative function. It is not art. Rather, it is a sacred and holy window towards the prospect of deification.
Within that tradition, the Panayia is often portrayed holding an infant Christ in her arms, in a tender human scene that serves to remind believers of the ineffable mystery encapsulated in the fact that a) Panayia is a Theotokos, that is she was the vessel through which God made himself manifest in human form, b) Panayia is a mother, thus emphasizing Christ’s humanity and that c) through Christ, Panayia is the mother of all of us that d) in Panayia giving birth to Christ, all women are honoured and are afforded a unique primacy of place within the Christian world-view.
The Panayia in the Big Issue ‘spoof,’ ‘mockery’ or ‘parody’ of Orthodox iconography (which given the above, constitutes a parody and mockery of the beliefs of 350 million Orthodox Christians world-wide, a parody and mockery of a two-thousand year old Orthodox iconographic practice whose roots are firmly based within the ancient Greek tradition, and at least for believers, a parody and mockery of the concept of the Panayia Theotokos) does not hold an infant Christ in her arms. Instead, we see what appears to be a 1950’s photograph of a baby, whose painted arm is raised in the manner of Christ conferring a blessing. That baby, is manifestly not Christ, who is usually portrayed within the Orthodox tradition in a manner prescribed by precedent and with a halo. Panayia, on the hand, does not look upon her ‘child’ in the sorrowful, careworn, deeply loving and self-transcending manner that we see in Orthodox icons. Instead, her eyes are closed, as if she is drawing into herself, oblivious to everything around her and a child’s pacifier is placed in her mouth. When comparing the prototype to this image, the contrast is quite startling and gravely disquieting.
From a perusal of the Big Issue, we learn that the image serves to advertise the cover story which is essentially about Parenthood: “‘Mum’s the Word: What They Don’t Tell You About Parenthood’ Four new parents talk about life with baby: Nicola Philp finds that post natal depression means it’s not just bub who needs comforting; Thuy On shares her pregnant expectations, and dramatic delivery; Pat Kinsella drives fearfully into fatherhood and an exhausted Gillian Curdie takes her daughter to sleep school.”
In other words, in its quest to provide an arresting image that will draw the reader’s attention to its cover story, the Big Image is “taking the piss” at a person and a tradition, venerated by millions. “Taking the piss”, in popular parlance, signifies making a mockery of something, viewing it from its lighter side or divesting it from any serious connotations that it may have for others. As such, it forms an important part of the Australian tradition, closely linked as it is to the proverbial “tall poppy syndrome” which prevents anything, whether human or a denizen of the ethereal realms to grow too much out of proportion of its importance in the consciousness of society. Thus to the inevitable question “Is nothing sacred?” the Australian, or at least my next-door neighbour would respond: “Yeah. Football and beer.” But then again, the Australians’ capacity to make light of a serious situation, coupled with their wry humour are their most endearing features. Such traits are a direct descendant of European nineteenth century liberal values, which sought to demythologize ‘sacred cows’ such as class systems. They are also a product of a hitherto largely classless Australian society and quite possibly, a distant lineal mutation of the first people to “take the piss,” the ancient Greeks, especially Aristophanes through his biting satires and more literally, Menander, with his focus on bodily functions in general.
A deconstruction of the expression “taking the piss” however reveals more than just light-hearted banter. Its literal description of a urologic discharge harbours menacing connotations of paraphilia and a sadistic desire to humiliate that can only parallel the perversions of the urolagniacs and we would do well to recall this semantic substructure when would be proponents of free speech see fit to abandon social norms and the concerns of others in their pursuit of instant titillation.
Given the rapid development of defamation law in recent years, the Western World’s love affair with “free-speech” is amazing. Freedom of expression generally is held to be the product of a mature democratic society, which can cope with the manifestation of diverse or conflicting attitudes and we laud ourselves at arriving at such an apex of civilization. The reality of course is far different. It is questionable how “free” speech is in our mass media, especially when it is controlled only by two or three entities. Undesirable opinions can be lampooned or buried so that cultural or ideological conformity can be achieved, whereas advertising and the constant repetition of mantras dedicated to the wonders of individualism can render even the slightest expression of contrary views heresy.In these heady days, in which we are still enmeshed in the throes of a “War on Terror,” free speech works like this in western democracies: We are all “free” to applaud the invasion of Iraq, even express our concern at its wisdom but we are of course, not free to actively express support for Al Qaeda or armed violence in the furtherance of any cause, even if we were so demented and galactically insane as to want to do so, as certain Islamic clerics in Australia have found out recently.
Ultimately the canon of what is sacred and what can be parodied alters and morphs depending on the vicissitudes and conditions of the time. At this particular juncture, the integrity of the West and its civilizing mission is as sacred as the White Man’s Burden was to Kipling and Victorian England. Religion on the other hand is not and it is here that an inability to understand diverse cultures despite one’s own self-bestowed mantle of gentility and plurality can cause harm.
The Big Issue has, albeit inadvertently, displayed such an inability, almost tantamount to the blunder made by Scandinavian publishers a year or so ago in circulating a cartoon of Muhammad in the guise of a terrorist, his turban in the shape of a bomb. That was nothing more than a thinly disguised sadistic urolagnic attack upon a rival culture and religion, masquerading as free speech. Its publishers should have known, as St John of Damascus did more than a thousand years ago, that the portrayal of Muhammad in his bodily form is a terrible offence to Muslims.
There is nothing outwardly malicious or deliberately hostile towards the Orthodox religion in the Big Issue’s inadvertent, insensitive and rather stupid blunder and it can thus be distinguished from the controversial Muhammad cartoon case. Nor will enraged “Orthodox fundamentalists” descend in fury upon the offices of the Big Issue as harbingers of divine retribution for blasphemy, as was the case in the aforementioned controversy. The publishers of the Big Issue, cognizant of a western tradition that views iconography as art and either not knowing or not caring about the purely religious Orthodox iconographic tradition they have attempted to employ in their quest for publicity, have merely tried to make some sort of point about the trials of parenthood. The point is intelligent, effective but nonetheless, inappropriate.
It is noteworthy that the Big Issue, in attempting to capture the attention of its prospective readers, did not use ‘conventional’ images of the Virgin Mary gleaned from the traditions of the, at least in Australia, ‘more mainstream religions.’ Had they done so, it is arguable that by using such images as are familiar to the religious sensitivities of ‘mainstream Australia’ they would have been even more effective in enticing prospective purchasers to purchase their publication. Why did they not do so? Why did they in contrast, deliberately seek out to employ a relatively unknown iconographic and religious tradition of what is, at least in Australia, a minority religion?
The possible answer is that there is safety in obscurity. The image is reminiscent enough of conventional images of the Virgin Mary to capture the reader’s attention but obscure and exotic enough for it to be dissociated from ‘westernised’ portrayals of the same subject and thus not cause offence. From this, is it possible to draw the inference that underlying such an approach is an assumption that the ‘mainstream’ religions and their adherents are more important, worthy of respect and thus superior to the ‘minority’ religions that exist largely within ethnic ghettoes and who by virtue of their perceived non-penetration within the mainstream are unlikely to protest and even if they do so, their relative impotence and insignificance within broader society will render such protest harmless anyway? One would hope not.
In this country, migrants have had to espouse various British-Australian derived perspectives and assimilate various assumptions in order to adapt to an ‘Australian way of life.’ This is an on-going process, as can be evidenced by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews assertion that the new citizenship test will assist migrants to learn about Australian values and “our way of life.” While established ethnic groups within Australia have, over the years, had their loyalty and devotion to Australia arbitrarily impugned according to the notion that a man cannot serve two masters, simply because they are ‘foreign,’ these ethnic minorities have acculturated themselves, in accordance with the norms dictated to them by the dominant culture. While the assumption behind such a demand for acculturation is that the dominant culture is superior, this does not excuse the ignorant parodying of aspects of minority’s culture and beliefs.
What the Big Issue has therefore achieved, is to highlight the inequitable relationship between cultures in this country, at least in the popular consciousness. Had a minority publication or culture attempted to employ western conventional ‘sacred’ images in a similar manner, their loyalty to Australia would have been impugned and they would have been accused of being un-Australian. However, because ‘our’ cultures and religions are only tolerated in so far as they do not conflict with British-Australian values and not accepted as equal in value with the dominant culture, they are open to selective abuse, which abuse will no doubt be attractively packed within layers of references to free-speech, all tied up with secularist string.
Until next time, this, from the Akathist Hymn: “Orators most eloquent do we behold mute as fish before you, O Theotokos… Rejoice, you who proves the philosophers fools. Rejoice, you who proves the logicians illogical.”

First published in NKEE on 8 October 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007


Is it just me, or does the Macedonian “Issue” tend to lie dormant these days and only raise its sun of Vergina-rayed head during key moments in Australia’s political life? Of late, and in the ever-looming shadow of an election whose announcement has seemed as long in coming as the arrival of Godot, we are yet assailed with the news, or rather the rumour that sources within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have indicated that the Department in question, is on the verge of recognising the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” as “Macedonia,” in the aftermath of the Canadian government’s unfortunate decision to afford such misguided recognition to an infant state, postulating a reconstituted ethnic identity. This is somehow linked to the said infant state’s imminent accession to NATO.
Leaving aside that this particular snippet of news will undoubtedly hearten the militant Albanian inhabitants of the FYROMIAN village of Shipkovica, who feel so strongly about their Macedonian identity that they have barricaded themselves in their village, refused access to their village by FYROMIAN officials and declared themselves the Republic of Ilirida, announcing that “until the final showdown’ the territory of Ilirida would be defended by the Albanian National Movement (ANDI), the howls of consternation arising from Greek-Australian living rooms are palpable. Community leaders are as we speak, scratching their heads in perplexity, desperately trying to find a course of action that once embarked upon, will provide others with the perception that they are doing something.
Because this happens to be an election year, the most common response to the current ‘crisis’ will be to attempt to elevate it into an ‘election issue.’ Considering that this is an issue that materially concerns the bi-lateral relations between Australia and the Infant State, one can see why the title that shall be afforded by the Australian state to the Infant State may be a valid, if somewhat marginal election issue. However, in the public perception, this dispute, peculiar to both the Greek and Infant-state culturally affiliated communities of Australia is primarily one that concerns the bi-lateral relations between Greece and the Infant State and thus does not concern Australia at all. Any attempt by us to elevate what is considered to be an ethnic ghetto issue, into the public discourse will be met with widespread resentment. It will be seen as yet another example of the fact that ‘ethnic’ loyalty to Australia is suspect. At a time when all Australians are called upon to determine which band of politicians are best suited to advance their country’s fortune, the ethnics are proving that their primary loyalty and identification lies not with the country that let them in, but rather, their home country, as they are importing conflicts that have no place in Australia and are not of its making, within its golden shores.
Underlying such a view, is of course, the premise that we don’t belong here and that the supreme arbiter of who does belong is the dominant British-Australian group within our society. Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou, in their seminal study “From Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000,” have suggested that Australian society has been traditionally afflicted by what they term an “ontopathology” that is, an ontological crisis of identity. Accordingly, the dominant group has attempted to legitimize its conquest of the content and its dispossession of its aboriginal inhabitants by invoking the myth of terra nullius, that is, that the land was uninhabited because the Aborigines were uncivilized, ie. sub-human, by becoming the arbiter of who is to enter the country and determining how these groups will identify themselves and behave, in reference to the conqueror’s values. Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou convincingly argue that the manner in which we identify ourselves to the broader Australian community and the forms of institutions that we have employed in order to organize ourselves as an ethnic community have been derived from British-Australian regulation of our existence and their need to safeguard their position as the dominant group in Australia by placing us financially within the dominant social group and simultaneously racially without it.
Proof of the pudding in this case, seems to be our acknowledgment that British-Australia, in the form of British-derived institutions of government are the sole arbiters of how the ethnic groups under its jurisdiction will identify themselves and in turn, how these will be recognised by it. In the nineties for example, the Victorian State government determined that the official language of the Infant State was Macedonian-Slavonic, despite the objections of the majority of Victorian citizens who spoke that language. It is our constant plea to the Federal government, not only not to recognise the infant state as ‘Macedonia,’ but also not to grant any recognition to any purported ‘Macedonian’ ethnic identity. In doing so, we are placing ourselves in a position of being little more than a subject group that recognises its inferiority, in that it cannot deal with the dominant group on an equal basis. Rather, through supplication and petition towards our superiors, we hope to win their favour over and above the merits of another subject group. In the hierarchy of subject groups, we expect to be successful because a) we believe in the superior arbiter’s institutions as conferrers of justice, since our cause is just and b) justice notwithstanding, we deserve preferential treatment as we are racially and culturally superior, and as such have a right to influence our superior’s ontological decisions. Thus, according to our conception of our ontological place within society, while all subject ethnic groups may be equal, some are or should be more equal than others.
Here is where we make a basic mistake. While the dominant group may indeed consider various subject groups ‘less equal’ from time to time (historically Asians, Africans and arguably in recent times Muslims - all non-Europeans) it will also confer recognition upon those subject groups in accordance with their capacity to adhere to the values and directions of the dominant group. Thus, where all things are equal and the dominant group is faced with two subject entities that are both ‘loyal’ and ‘obedient,’ it has no reason not to reward one of these with its coveted recognition by its name of choice, despite the (lawful) howlings and protestations by the other. Political and social expediency and cohesion in the regulation of subject ethnic groups, not ‘history,’ ‘truth,’ ‘justice’ or ‘cultural superiority’ are the primary considerations. When our lawful protestations seem to threaten to cross the boundary into being socially disruptive and disrupting the British-Australian imposed Pax Ethnicana, (hear read visible and loud 1992 and 1994 protest marches), we are brought back into line and mollified by being accused of disloyalty and creating ethnic tension and being reassured of our importance to the dominant group, respectively.
Notwithstanding the above, we persist in the delusion that if only we play the game more expertly, we will be able to ‘win,’ or more correctly, be ‘permitted’ to ‘win.’ Here it is our inherent superiority, which, if we can prove it to our superiors effectively, so that they can truly comprehend it to its full extent, that shall ensure the tipping in our favour of an otherwise artificially leveled playing field. The fate of the ‘Macedonian Issue’ in Canada is a case in point. In analyzing our ‘reverse,’ Greek press articles refer to the valiant efforts of the Greek lobby which was bested, not due to any other consideration than proportion. Thus, one article refers to there being 300,000 Greeks in Canada, and 200,000 cultural affiliates of the Infant State, some 10% of the total population of that State and thus proportionately more influential. In this way, a competition that began as one about history, identity and truth, is reduced to a game of numbers and power.
If anything upsets us more about the ‘Macedonian Issue’ and our reverses in it, it is not so much the fact that governments worldwide have demonstrated a preference for political and social expediency over history, linguistics, ethnography and truth, for we would, in a post-modern world, where everything is relative and the existence of such absolutes as truth are called into question, be naive to expect otherwise. Instead what really cuts us to the quick is that a group that we consider to be inferior, whether numerically, politically, culturally or racially has not permitted us to dominate it and has in fact managed to have its fallacious claims dominate our truth not only upon the domestic, local or parochial sphere but throughout the entire global playing field. Our hurt is thus the hurt of wounded egotism, and this is the real reason why the “Macedonian Issue” is perennially brought to the fore - not because we hold out any hope that we shall be able to convince an uninterested Australian or international public about the justice of our cause (after all the term Macedonian as it is erroneously employed to denote cultural affiliates of the Infant State has become so ubiquitous as to be even used by an disquietingly significant proportion of Greek-Australians) but because it is a yardstick of our success/failure as the most superior among inferior ethnic groups. There must be a round two, a re-match, from which we will emerge victorious, never to have our superiority among inferior ethnic groups challenged by them ever again. The way in which a group of people have attempted to selectively pick elements of our cultural and historic identity in order to reconstitute them into an ontology originally designed to denude Greece of its territory and subsequently re-hashed in order to support the emergence of a to all accounts, unviable state, is unjust and reeks of falsehood. Its attempt to deny us of our ontological right to self-identification is heinous. However, our own attitude is pure hubris and we would do well to re-assess our sense of self as an investment for the future.
So what is to be done? Shall we take to the streets and wave Greek flags? Shall we deftly, in the lead up to the election seek out photo opportunities with politicians to convince our peers that our word carries weight or influence? Shall we hope to delude parties into believing that if they do not promise to resolve the ontological issue in our favour, we will vote them out or not vote them into office, even though they know full well after the decades of our co-habitation that our political consciousness is seldom if ever swayed by our ethnic consciousness? Whatever we decide to do, one thing is certain: we would do well to view the resolution of our own ontological dispute from within the context of the wider ontological crisis that regulates the place of racial groups within society. At least that way, whatever the outcome, we will at least not suffer the come down of disabused delusion.

First published in NKEE on 10 October 2007