Monday, November 30, 2009


“It is when I sit in an AGM, listening to all the screaming and carrying on that goes on that I feel ashamed of being Greek.” First Generation Greek-Australian.
“I went to my first AGM the other day. Never again.” Second Generation Greek-Australian.

You wouldn’t know that bugger all students are choosing to study Modern Greek at VCE Level, their number declining rapidly over the past ten years. The media space devoted to yet another harbinger of our doom as a linguistic community is miniscule, and peppered with flimsy attempts to blame government policy, universities, anyone other than ourselves for this terminal decline.
The decline in student enrolments, is perhaps the most serious problem facing us as an entity today, for ethnic communities rely not so much upon shared racial characteristics to maintain cohesion, as they do upon a shared culture and language. Lose the language and you lose the main vehicle of cultural expression that underlies any attachment to an ethnic community. It may be argued, and in fact has been recently, in order to assuage our egos about our declining skills in the estranged mother tongue, that one does not have to speak the language in order to identify with the culture. However, if one can’t speak the language of that culture, then one will gradually become estranged from its thought processes and mores, to the extent where, communication with that culture and members of it will become impossible. As a consequence, identification with that culture will be gradually rendered impossible. The end result is assimilation, or in the best of cases, a Poseidonian identification with elements of a bygone culture that we merely re-enact, rather than live, and which we do not understand.
If you ask most of our community doyens however, the fact that marked and widespread language loss is occurring within the first generation’s life-time, does not seem to rate a concern. Instead, what is important is the perpetuation of the plotting and scheming which is a pre-requisite to an immersion in the byzantine world of internecine communal strife and petty politics. At a time when Greek schools, arks of the future, are in crisis, the letters pages of our print media are taken up in impassioned dissertations as to the magnitude of the inherent evil of various Pontian community ‘leaders.’ Further, in a scene reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 1960’s blockbuster ‘Spartacus,’ diverse Pontic personages are purporting to be the legitimate committee of the Pontian Federation. If it is not the Pontians, then some other regional group will invariably find itself splashed across the pages of the papers, through the intercession of some righteously aggrieved member, performing a public service by outlining just how the non-disclosure of tens of dollars in an annual report or the omission to inform a committee about a certain act by its executive has placed the entire community in mortal peril. Once in a while, a fervent Christian will appeal to readers to reject the ways of this world and espouse Orthodoxy, while in riposte, fervent atheists, convinced that belief in religion is backward and that belief in nothing is downright intelligent and enlightened write in exposing the fallacies of their opponents and identifying in Christianity, the sole source of Hellenism’s problems.
Of late, the issue that has become the primary focus of the Greek community, is the upcoming elections within the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria. This venerable organisation occupies a key position within our wider cosmos as unlike most of the community organisations that compromise “the community,” its basis of existence is not the region of origin of its members. As such, it is seen as widely representative, given that it comprises, (especially since the latest bout of branch-stacking), some 4,000 of the reputed 150,000 member strong Greek population of Melbourne. As such the GOCMV acts as a sort of Oracle of Delphi for the Melbourne Greeks and other, pettier organisations measure their legitimacy and status according to their relationship with it. Indeed, some organisations, especially those with a political aim, go so far as to claim a stake in the GOCMV, while the GOCMV itself is not averse to attempting to influence the governance of other organisations, in order to secure regimes more favourable to itself, quite akin to the manner in which the ancient Macedonian kingdom created client states for itself – that is, if the rumours are to be believed.
I once let myself be talked into nominating for the board of the GOCMV. At that time, I believed that the board, was like any other Greek board, where interested parties put up their hand to assist in the running of the organisation. A week after I nominated, I was advised that no place could be found for me on the ‘ticket,’ and was asked to withdraw my nomination which I duly did. Come the next elections, I was asked again to nominate for two different tickets diametrically opposed to each other. By now alert to the pitfalls of partisan politics, something that I abhor as something conducive to extreme nastiness, I cheerfully declined, though I note with amusement how even until recently, my name apparently appeared on various draft tickets. No, ticket evasion is the only way for a diatribist. We are after all, whiners, not fighters.
It is fascinating to watch the various political constellations, negotiate, batter each other, align and then fall apart again as egos, vested interests and idealism all condense into a critical mass that threatens to implode come every petty disagreement. The current period, in which the various parties position themselves in order to fight the election is absorbing. On the one hand, there is that perennial electoral favourite: continuing concern about the fate of the Greek government’s cheque that may or may not have been intended for Alphington Grammar. Last time around, the issue was where the cheque was. Now it is what it is used for.
Debate also raged among the gladiator pits of the Saint Dimitrios Parish hall among the stalwart community warriors with regard to resolving the vital question of whether to limit the Emperor’s reign over the Senate and People of Rome for two terms or not, as well as whether the leftist opposition and Trotskyite wreckers should be rehabilitated into the Party, or best left alone in case a Thermidorian reaction consigns all the sans-culottes into the guillotine. These stalwarts screamed, wailed and gnashed their teeth in the furtherance of the cause of their future and consequently, were afflicted with sore gums for days. Interestingly enough, the previous pole of differentiation, namely, the erection of a very large, very hard tower that would grant us amazing potency and ensure our longevity for aeons to come, appears to have, temporarily at least, drooped flaccidly to the wayside.
A brief plunging into the abysmal depths of various community haunts and one emerges dripping with damp and dank rumours about community presidents who are organising certain events in order to sabotage other organisations, at the behest of shadowy forces in the Greek Foreign Ministry, about opinionated doyens becoming so infuriated at certain obscure policies held by youth organisations that they set the media bloodhounds on them in an effort to cower them into the submission of conformity with their views. Then there is the story about a reversion to fisticuffs between members of a regional organisation as a consequence of a recent argument as to their stance on a certain “national issue” before an audience of youngsters, coupled by an impassioned observation by a significant community leader: “If you do not share my opinion, then you have no place in here.” Dem’s fightin’ words. And of course, there are the various rumours as to projected planetary alignments that will reconcile the zodiac and ensure that x rather than y becomes president of the Council of Greeks abroad. These rumours are most absorbing and only time will tell whether w will be able to really “get the numbers” as he says he will, to upstage v’s support of x and really cause an upset. It all depends on whether....
Where we were? Oh yes, Modern Greek VCE enrolments. Was that not what were we are talking about? I’m clicking my tongue in shame and disbelief at the parlous state of the Modern Greek language. How did this come about? I mean, we have so many schools, so many teachers, and is not Melbourne the third largest Greek city in the world? It can’t be that drastic that we can’t fix it. I mean, there are so many Greek organisations out there. I’m sure that if we got them all together in a mass forum or something, we can work out something with the government to get it all going again. But mark my words, if that man attends the forum after what that other guy said that he said about my organisation, then I am going to tell his president that I will make sure that the other organisations will never work with him ever again. Anyway, I hear that moves are afoot to remove him from his position. Apparently one of the factions in the GOCMV is demanding his removal and the way they are going about it is this........


First published in NKEE on 30 November 2009