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