Monday, June 23, 2008


Two are the paraleipomena of the Diatribe entitled “Protopogrom,” published on 9 June 2008 herein. Readers may recall that that Diatribe concerned itself with the hate rally held outside State Parliament by members of the community who identify as having an affinity with FYROM. It purported to ascertain why State Parliamentarians would attend such a violent exhibition of racial intolerance and published a letter by the Pan-Macedonian Federation to the State member for Keilor, Mr George Seitz, outlining some of the darker aspects of the rally he attended.
The first paraleipomenon of that Diatribe is that inadvertently, (the Greeks would traditionally ascribe it to the ‘daemon’ of the press), the very next diatribe bore exactly the same title as the previous one, though it had absolutely nothing to do with its subject matter. Rather than entitle this Diatribe “Protopogrom III: The Diatribe strikes back,” it was considered expedient to point out this, and other matters arising from the minutes.
The second paraleipomenon is that I was most pleased to receive, on 16 June 2008, a response from Mr George Seitz, dated 13 June 2008, to the letter exhibited in ‘Protopogrom.’ If anything, it shows that Mr George Seitz takes ‘community’ fallout’ with the gravity that it is due. His letter, omitting formal and irrelevant parts, read as follows:
“Perusal of your letter and the relevant documents have taken me some time, hence I apologise for the delay in responding.
I must reiterate that I did not take part in the rally or the March as portrayed by some. I was simply representing the Labor Party at the podium, delivering a very neutral speech that was pre-formulated for me.
In fact, the images you forwarded to me were not condoned by the organisers of the rally nor did they have any official participation within the rally. Upon commencement of the march, organisers were alarmed, thus immediate instructions were dictated to dismiss and remove any unauthorised paraphernalia and inflammatory statements.
Since, I have made enquiries with the organisers of the rally and expressed my displeasure. They have assured me that the pictures supplied by you were not condoned or approved by the organisers of the rally nor did they support those sentiments. Their sincere apologies have been extended to the Greek community as there was no intent to insight (sic) any racial hatred or religious discrimination in the Greek community.
Therefore, on behalf of the organisers of the rally, I sincerely apologise to you and the Greek community.
Under no circumstances was racial demeanour of the Greek flag intended.
I fully support all nationalities and strongly believe that all communities in this Country have a right to exist and express their views publicly in this democracy.”
Over the years, I have thrived on my good relationship with the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia, and hope this friendship will continue for future years.”
Mr George Seitz’s response is appreciated. It should be considered for what it is: An effort to reassure the Greek community that he is in no way hostile toward it. This is exemplified by the last paragraph, where he pays respect to the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia. The recognition he affords this organisation is significant, considering the aspirations denoted by its title.
The first substantive paragraph is particularly revealing. Mr Seitz points out that he did not ‘take part in the Rally,’ but was simply representing the Labor Party and presenting a speech that neither condemned nor condoned the position of the rally organizers. This serves to confirm the contention of the Diatribe: ‘Protopogrom,’ where the opinion was advanced that politicians, unless inspired by strong conviction have no need to be convinced of the ‘truth’ or compelled to ‘take sides,’ on ethnic minority issues - this being our Jesuitical approach to the issue so far. Indeed, in a post-modern world, where subjectivity is the norm and objectivity a utopian fallacy, it would suicide for a disinterested politician to do other than make a token appearance at a function, to let the ethnic community in question know that it is respected and valued - though not necessarily taken heed of in all matters. This post-modern approach to ethnic communities is further reinforced by the penultimate paragraph of George Seitz’s letter. In it, he reiterates his support for “all nationalities,” along with this “strong belief” that all Australian citizens should be able to express their views publicly. In other words, he is distancing himself from the rally organisers and their position on a contentious issue.
On the same token however, he does not provide his written commitment to the current policy of the Australian government vis a vis the naming dispute between Greece and FYROM, as was requested of him by the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia in its letter, most probably because such matters of foreign policy exceed his ambit as a state parliamentarian and because he just does not wish to be drawn into the debate. Up until this point, Mr George Seitz’s response is cogent, sensible and respectful.
However, having taken great pains to distance himself from the ‘warring parties,’ Mr George Seitz goes on to do something completely baffling: he inadvertently becomes a spokesperson and apologist for the organizers of the hate rally. Consider the third paragraph of his letter. In it, Mr Seitz maintains that the instances of hatred and racism captured by the camera (approximately six were provided to him and were displayed with the Diatribe: “Protopogrom”), were unofficial and disendorsed by the organisers of the rally. He maintains that bearers of such sentiments were dispersed. The first question that springs to mind is why Mr Seitz feels compelled to justify the conduct of the organisers of the hate rally, when sentences ago, he took pains to point out that he did not ‘participate’ in the rally. Secondly, should not the Organising Committee itself by justifying its conduct to the Australian public, rather than hiding behind Mr Seitz? Thirdly, while we accept that Mr Seitz is entitled to rely upon the advice of those of whom he has made enquiries in good faith, we would contend that photographs do not lie. The photograph of hate rally attendees holding an irredentist banner laying claim to Thessaloniki and displaying maps of FYROM covering northern Greece was taken on Bourke Street, during and not before the march.
Further, we express incredulity at the veracity of sentiments expressed by the hate rally organizers to Mr Seitz. The courageous and well-intentioned Mr Seitz, upon receiving the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia’s letter to him, raised it and expressed his ‘displeasure,’ to the organizers. We appreciate his diligence and contentious approach in this regard. However, Mr Seitz will forgive us, if we do not believe, as he does, that the organisers of the hate rally had no idea that expressions of racial intolerance towards the Greek community would have made themselves manifest at the rally. Such racist behaviour heavily peppers all protests of this ilk, to the extent where one could be mistaken for assuming that ‘Greek-bashing’ is a cultural tradition. We can forgive and appreciate Mr Seitz’s selfless gesture of peace-making and reconciliation, but surely expressions such as “Fascist Greeks,” “Solun will be the capital of Macedonia again,” and the display of the symbol of Holocaust perpetrators belies the rally organisers’ affectations of goodwill - as expressed to Mr Seitz. Indeed, how can Mr Seitz claim that under no circumstances was the “racial demeanour of the Greek flag intended” (here we assume he refers to the defacement of the cross on the Greek flag by a swastika)? Why should he be made to feel that he has to make such a claim? Why do the Rally Organisers not have the respect and courage to relieve Mr Seitz of the odious task of acting as their apologist? And really. How can you organise a rally in which attendees purposefully carry Greek flags defaced by the swastika and have the cheek to claim (for we have Mr Seitz’s word that they do), that nothing was intended by it? Contrast the hate rally to the Greek community’s rally of November last year. At the latter rally, the Organising Committee, headed by the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia emphatically stated that absolutely no instances of racial intolerance would be tolerated. As a result, there was not even ONE manifestation of racism. In the light of this, perhaps Mr Seitz can forgive us our incredulity, not at his words, but at those who were ticked off by him and who attempted to excuse their conduct to him.
I am deeply sorry for the position in which Mr George Seitz has been placed. In his efforts to mediate between the two communities and implore each side to give the other the benefit of the doubt (for that is, I suspect, the ultimate purpose of his letter), he has involuntarily placed himself in a precarious position, perched as he is, upon the precipice of the particularities of ethnic politics. For I believe it is inordinately demeaning for Mr George Seitz to sincerely apologise to us, on behalf of the organizers of the rally. Why should Mr Seitz apologise for the display of swastikas, of maps depicting FYROM’s borders extending to encompass Greek territory, banners proclaiming the desire to take over Thessaloniki, the display of guns, etc…? Did he not point out, just paragraphs earlier, that he merely attended the rally as a representative of the Labor Party? As was pointed out to Mr Seitz in the original letter sent to him by the Pan-Macedonian Federation, we were certain that he did not support the extreme and hateful racially intolerant behaviour displayed by those attending the protopogrom. It takes big man to acknowledge his mistakes and apologise. However, Mr Seitz has apologized for things that were not of his doing and for which he should not take any blame. That is simply not fair on him. Nor should it be fair for the public to consider that a precedent has now been set whereby well-intentioned politicians will now be exploited as apologists for the antics of various community groups. That is why it must be maintained and understood that a contrite Mr Seitz is seeking in his letter only to disendorse violence and uphold the traditionally peaceful, Australian manner of conducting public debates. He deserves our sympathy and utmost respect, as a beleaguered mariner, undeservedly navigating the treacherous shoals of disputes not of his making.
The same cannot be said of the cowardly and I think, unrepentant hate rally organising committee. I am willing to stand corrected, but save for Mr George Seitz’s apology to the Greek community on ITS BEHALF, I do not believe it has taken any steps whatsoever to justify its conduct and make the appropriate apologies to the victims of the racial vilification that took place at their function. For of what use is an ‘apology’ transmitted by a third party? If we assume for a moment that there was no intention to offend or vilify the Greek people in organizing the rally, surely its outcome, comprising of vilification galore, should have sufficiently moved a horrified committee to make the appropriate clarifications and apologies? In doing so, they would have found us to be sympathetic and understanding. Yet this has not been done. There is no direct apology, no direct disendorsement of instances of hatred against Greeks. What the rally organisers and their community should remember, is that the issue at hand is a naming dispute. It is not a clash of civilisations or cultures (how can it be, when save for the language, our traditional cultures are almost identical?) and certainly not a race war. It is a debate about ideas. And in a debate, we conduct ourselves like gentlemen and when we fall foul of the rules, we acknowledge our mistakes, apologise in person, without hiding behind third parties, no matter how honourable and move on.


First published in NKEE on 23 June 2008