Saturday, May 28, 2011


Μεγαλοψυχία, a Greek compound word literally meaning greatness of soul, translates as generosity or magnanimity. For Φιλότιμο, also a compound word literally meaning love of honour, no proper translation can capture the connotations of mutual assistance, willingness to help, provide succour and otherwise act in an honourable way for the benefit of one's neighbor, that the term connotes. Both of these qualities, highly prized by the Greeks existed in large quantities among the valiant Cretans who not only fought alongside Australian troops during the Battle of Crete, but also risked their lives and those of their loved ones to hide Australian and other Allied troops when the Battle was lost and the Nazi occupation commenced.
Crete was seen by the Allies as an important bulwark in their Mediterranean strategy. Furthermore, new research by Maria Hill in her ground-breaking book: "Diggers and Greeks," suggests that Britain may have deliberately provoked Germany into invading Greece, as a way of coercing Turkey, who would have felt insecure at such an invasion close to her borders, into entering the war on the side of the Allies. Considering the devastation and loss of life that such a cynical exercise in realpolitik caused, the after effects of which are felt to the present day among survivors who still nurse traumas, the prospect that this hypothesis has basis in fact is a sickening one.
The Battle of Crete and the war in Greece is significant for Australian military history in a number of respects and yet how many Australians know that:
83% of the Australian soldiers captured by the Italians and Germans came from the Greek and Crete campaigns?
The Australians who fought on the Greek mainland were the only 'Anzac corps' to fight in World War Two?
The campaign in Greece is regarded as the 'Second Gallipoli', yet is rarely discussed and often ignored?
The Diggers who fought in Greece and Crete were never issued with a campaign medal by Australia ?
The soldiers were forbidden for many years to wear the medal issued to them by the Greek government on Anzac Day?
The Australians in Crete endured some of the worst aerial bombardment of World War Two, causing many to suffer from war neurosis or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
The relationship they developed with the Greek people during the war, saved over one thousand Australian lives?
'It has always annoyed me that we never got an Australian medal for Greece and Crete or a European medal, but the New Zealanders got it but for fighting in Italy, not for fighting in Greece' Keith Hooper of the 2/6th Australian Infantry Battalion opines, 'I always felt you don't find much about Greece and Crete in many histories and I always felt that the British were a bit ashamed of that campaign.' No wonder, given the disaster of the Greek campaign where Australian troops were deployed on a suicidal mission or the debacle of Crete, a campaign that should have been won by the allies but instead resulted in the capture of most of the Australian forces at Rethymnon. The Greeks of Crete paid a heavy price for resisting the Germans, complying with Allied plans and hiding Australian soldiers. The razing of Kandanos, where an entire village was destroyed and all its inhabitants massacred, along with the massacre of the entire male population of Kondmari by the Nazi's are indicative of the fate of the lion-hearted Greeks who sacrificed everything to fight alongside and protect Australian soldiers, guest in their land.
It is for this reason that the Herald Sun's characterization of the cross-party trip, led by Upper House president Bruce Atkinson and organised by member of parliament John Pandazopoulos to Greece, including a four-day tour of Anzac war graves from the World War II campaign at a time where only gradually is the Australian military recognising the importance of the Cretan campaign. (Federal Minister for Veterans' Affairs Warren Snowdon points out that: "There are more than 40 Commonwealth grave sites in Greece but it is a largely forgotten part of the war.") as one where: "The bankrupt Greek Government has played host to a gaggle of junketing state MPs," is particularly hurtful, and disrespectful.
The Greek government is not bankrupt. And even if it is, does that disqualify it from honouring and welcoming the representatives of a country whose soldiers fought so valiantly for its freedom? If anything, the Greek government should be commended, not vilified and subjected to ridicule for allocating sorely needed funds towards honouring Australians representing their government. The Greek people, both in Australia and Greece itself, would never take the approach of sections of the Australian media and ignore or make light of the contribution of Australian soldiers to our country. This is because μεγαλοψυχία and φιλότιμο are concepts that are still revered. We will never forget the Australian contribution to the defence of our freedom. In parallel, we will also never forget the price our people paid for that contribution. It is a price that demands respect and cannot be reduced to a dollar value. Certainly, if honouring Australian soldiers and the Greeks who gave up their lives to protect them is deemed to be a junket by Herald Sun journalists then we thank them for letting us know. The Greek-Australian community is grateful to the Herald Sun for implying that Greece is not a country that Victorian MP's should bother visiting, despite the existence of a large Greek community in their state, simply because in their estimation, Greece simply is not possessed of the requisite funds to qualify in their estimations, as a country worth having relations with. It is useful to know where one stands.
For the Diatribist, it is immaterial whether most Australians do not acknowledge or care about the sacrifices and suffering of ordinary Greeks in defence of their valiant Australian friends in Greece. Nor is it material that the revering of Gallipoli does acknowledge that 15,000 Greeks were ethnically cleansed from the villages of that peninsula by the Ottomans, so that it could be fortified against the ANZAC's, nor indeed that enough evidence now exists to suggest that the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli may have been the catalyst for the most brutal and deadly bout of the genocide of the Christian people of Anatolia. Regardless of the ingratitude, insensitivity and possibly blatant racism that attitudes of disrespect may betray, one is secure in the knowledge that the Greek people will never forgert, or cease to appreciate and honour those friends who stood up for their country in its time of need and will welcome them always with open arms. This is the reason why so many Australian veterans are drawn to Crete year after year. The bonds forged with its people, in blood, battle and friendship can never be sundered by the obtuseness of the unenlightened. We, an ancient nation that has endured immense hardships but has also given our friends such concepts as democracy, aesthetics and civic duty, does not need to say: Lest we forget. We never do.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 28 May 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011


"We fear however that
one day we will be "discovered"
by those who shunned us
may God not let us live to see that day."
('The Philosophers,' Νick Trakakis)

Philosopher, theologian, poet and all round good, oozing with positivity guy Nick Trakakis, with whom I have had the honour of co-habiting this page from time to time, is the author of the realization of his own fears. For, through his meticulous labours and scholarly discretion, has managing to ferret out of the dank fens of our community, a large quantity of quality Australian born Greek-Australian poets.
With a few notable exceptions, the Australian-born Greek Australian poet is a timid creature. Not for him the razzamatazz, trumpets, glitz and glamour of the Sunday book-launch, accompanied by homemade cakes and mutual back-slapping, or the casual appearance of their poems on the correspondence pages of the Greek language counterpart of this august publication. No, the Australian-born Greek-Australian poet is made of humbler, more stoical, reclusive and yet sterner stuff, preferring to dwell, feed and procreate verse on the fringes of the organized Greek community, passing largely unnoticed by the more mammoth organisms that comprise the genus. In fact, should you have the rare privilege of inadvertently coming across a Greek-Australian poet, ensconced in the local library, at a local pub poetry reading, or seated at their workplace, furtively scribbling verse behind their computer screen, quaking in fear lest their boss or their workmates discover their perversion, you need to be considerate and careful, lest they scurry away into the obscurity they have grown so used to. Feeding them makes them less timid, but has the tendency to encourage them to be garrulous, especially with regards to poetry, whereupon the unique ritual, often mistaken for a mating ritual among some of the males of the sub-species of the genus, of commencing all sentiences with the word 'I,' takes place. This is generally to be avoided. Australian-born Greek-Australian poets tend to thrive in captivity and enclosed spaces generally and some display arrested development after too much preening, encouragement and uncritical admiration by those who own them as pets. The jury is out as to whether they display the tendency of biting the hand the feeds them, though some authorities hold that those that are taken care of in the wintertime, tend to emerge ready to bite their victims, in the summer.
It is for this reason that the recent publication and presentation of a landmark anthology of the best of the poetry of Australian born Greek-Australian poets, under the discerning editorship of Nick Trakakis is a historical event for the Greek community. As Helen Nickas pointed out at the Melbourne launch of "Southern Sun: Aegean Light," with all the title's attendant similes and references to Ozone layers, harshness etc, the anthology proves once and for all that Greek-Australian literature (just like Greek-Australians) cannot be stereotyped or categorized, presenting instead, a wide range of styles, inspirations and influences, each of which may touch on aspects of the Greek identity in novel ways. In particular, because it has emerged from obscurity and not overshadowed by the dictates and tastes of Greek language Greek-Australian poetry which at one end of the scale invariably rhymes and deals with the loss of the homeland or social injustice and at the other end, is more modernist and deals with a range of subjects, mostly influenced by modern Greek literature, it must be classified as Australian poetry, and form a niche within it. After all, if one writes in English, then stylistically, and contextually, much of what has been read before in that language will influence the consequent literary output.
Ross King, way back in 1979, when writing about Greek literature predicted that:
"...grandchildren will have some chance of standing back and reconsidering and some will write. (Introspection comes later in a cultural experience.) Uncle Blasos or grandpa will seem jolly and amusing in the distance. There will be antipodean. jokes. But the richest experiences, which are occurring now, are likely to remain uncommunicated."
He was of course totally wrong in this, given the vast output of first generation literature. However, he was right in hinting that the literature of the English speaking generation will more likely be about their own experience and search for an identity rather than that of their parents.
With some of the more intellectual poets, an examination of the Greek identity may be in the form of reinterpreting texts, especially philosophical or historical that the West has deemed to form part of the Greek identity. The fact that they influence the poetry of Australian born Greek-Australians indicates that a Greek identity or influence is not only constructed by what is passed down from those who have had direct communication with the motherland, but also through books written about that motherland - in English.
Sometimes, a consciousness of that identity does not mean that aspects of that identity must be recorded in a faithful way. After all, one's own vision is purely subjective. It may be displayed in haunting, evocative verse that reflects upon pastimes such as lace-making, in the poetry of Angela Costi, or in the phonetically incorrect recording of Greek songs, showing that what is understood today by the first generation as a Greek identity, will survive in half whispered and understood fragments in the future, much as the great Antipodean poet Cavafy had predicted. The process of this taking place is enshrined in "Southern Sun: Aegean Light," making it all the more valuable a collection.
Literary greats such as Tom Petsinis, rub shoulders with lesser known poets in the collection, yet all the poems have something valuable to say. Furthermore, proving that Australian born Greek-Australian poets are a diverse and quirky bunch, there do appear poets within the collection who choose to write mainly in Greek, Dr Christos Galiotos and yours truly, though as I remarked at the launch, I do so mainly in order to inhabit a righteous and harmonious realm beyond the ravages of literary criticism, with questionable results.
Given that Greek literary endeavours in Australia are usually driven by the first generation, it is questionable how long it would have taken those interested to display the depth of sensitivity and dedication that made "Southern Sun: Aegean Light," possible. The fact that this endeavour stems from the second generation which is now seeking not only to create but to define and examine itself is an immense and consoling achievement and Nick Trakakis truly deserves our gratitude. It is hoped that the publication of the anthology will inspire deep research into the literary output of the Australian-born generations of our community, for their work is highly crafted and truly inspirational.
Occupying a place between the highly indentified Greeks of the first generation, and those of the latter, more assimilated generation, the poets of the collection show both how umbilical cords can be broken slowly, and what remains. As one of my favourite poets, also in the collection, Peter Lyssiotis reminisces:
The last word my mother spoke
left a small black hole
in the air outside the kitchen
just above the lemon tree -
it's still there.



First published in NKEE on Saturday 21 May 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011


"Are you serious? Do you really think that you can create a grass-roots movement here in Australia, that will cross the Indian Ocean and inspire the apathetic Greeks to bring about constitutional change in Greece? You must be joking. You don't even live there. Who are you to dictate how Greece should be run?" The scene was a coffee shop on Lonsdale Street some years ago, where two friends were arguing about whether an organization could be formed in Melbourne that could extricate Greece from the latest of the quagmires it has the tendency to ooze into. My idealistic friend did attempt to form an organization, only to abandon it later on, curding the apathy of the first generation and their utilization of the organization as a vehicle to convey their own personal agendas.
In the deepest darkest days faced by the Greek nation, whether ancient or modern, crisis and catastrophes befalling the motherland have not only affected those unfortunate enough at that time to be residing within it, but also those many Greeks who have sought an alternative place of residence, at least psychologically. From times ancient, these Greeks have sought to assist, bail out or otherwise come to the aid of the motherland in her time of need, whether that be by providing money, in the case of the Italian colonies in ancient times, or towards the close of the Byzantine era, by attempting to glamourise Greek civilization in the hope that this will cause admiring Westerners to seek to preserve that culture by providing valuable aid against the incursions of the Turks.
Perhaps the most successful effort of Greeks abroad to influence events in their home land would have to be the Philiki Etaireia, which, supported by some of the most affluent, powerful and outstanding Greeks of the day, provoked, funded, guided and carried on the Greek Revolution. Brilliantly, they did so through a means of trickery and deceit - extracting moneys and recruiting members to their cause by lying about the illusory support they had obtained from world powers and over-stating their power, influence and preparedness. As the great George Costanza advised Jerry Seinfeld: "It is not a lie, if you believe it." The members of the Etaireia did believe their own lies and the freedom of Greece is the ultimate tribute to their self delusion. One of the lasting effects of the Philiki Etaireia's achievement ever since, would have to be an over-inflated belief in the importance and potency of Greek communities abroad.
This belief usually is linked to the magnitude of the Greek community in a given country. It was believed that given the size of the US Greek community, its "Hellenic lobby," should be powerful and influential and Greeks scratched their heads in wonderment, as to why this vast and affluent community displayed a marked inability to intercede with the U.S government in Greece's favour.
These days, Greece is once more facing tough times and it was not without interest that I noticed a talk planned by the recently established "Hellenic Democratic Initiative," entitled: "Greece in Crisis: Dealing with Corruption and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011. Where to from here?" This was intriguing, and I am sorry I did not attend the talk, for any solution to Greece's current crisis would be most welcome. Even more intriguing are the aims of this local salvationary organisation, created in October 2010. These lofty aims are to:

1. Advance participatory democracy, transparency, social justice and the adoption of the rule of law in Greece;

2. Unify, motivate, encourage and mobilize the global democratic forces of Hellenism;

3. Help combat corruption, nepotism, human rights abuses, clientelism and environmental damage.

4. Engage civil society and undertake direct initiatives to help promote Hellenic interests and deal with challenges imposed by globalization;

5. Encourage political activism and establish an open socio-political dialogue that will identify and address issues affecting Greece, Hellenism and global society;

6. Formulate an ecumenical, patriotic, social alliance that will articulate a new ethos and will create the necessary consents and momentum required to enhance the aspirations of Hellenism in the 21st century;

7. Establish a truly representative and participatory democracy that will encourage civil discourse and citizen participation and will provide citizens with means of checking and balancing governmental authority and power.

Truly these aims are inspirational and we should admire the founders for having the sensitivity and insight to propound them. They truly are aims to aspire to, though one would question whether their conception of "Hellenic interests" would coincide with those of a Greek government, persons of Greek heritage, or the very large amount of non-Greek peoples who currently reside in Greece and make valuable contributions to its society and economy. Ascertaining the reason why and the method by which far-flung Melburnians may determine what is in fact a Greek interest, would be most illuminating. Similarly, how one arrives at a determination of the "aspirations" of Hellenism in the twenty first century would also be interesting.
Many of the aims of the concerned Hellenes who wish to save their homeland may border on empty platitudes, (how can one from Melbourne form the 'ecumenical' patriotic and social alliance -especially when Greeks live in socially diverse communities around the world) in order to enhance such aspirations? How will they, from Melbourne, encourage political activism in a society that is, if anything, too politically active? How will Melbournians teach their compatriots about a system of checks and balances? Are they not being condescending in assuming that the Greeks of Greece are not capable of bringing about such changes or desiring them if they truly wanted to?
The exposition of lofty ideals such as those expressed by our friends of the Hellenic Democratic Initiative (and why pray tell is the 'Democratic' aspect of the endeavour so intrinsic to the Grand Restoration that is hoped for, that it must be highlighted so starkly?) remind one of do-gooder Robin Hood's statement of intent in that work of classic drama "Robin Hood: Men in Tights:" "I vow to put an end to the injustice. Right the Wrongs, End the tyranny, Restore the throne, Protect the forest, Introduce folk dancing, Demand a four-day work-week and health care for Saxons and Normans.."
These too are noble causes and we can all dream of bringing them to fruition. In actual fact, none of us need fear. In the aptly titled Dodecalogue of the Gypsy, an epic poem by Kostis Palamas about the fall of Greece, he states: «και μην έχοντας πιο κάτου άλλο σκαλί/ να κατρακυλήσεις πιο βαθιά/ στου Κακού τη σκάλα,/ για τ' ανέβασμα ξανά που σε καλεί/ θα αιστανθείς να σου φυτρώσουν, ω χαρά!/ Τα φτερά,/ τα φτερά τα πρωτινά σου τα μεγάλα!»
just wait for the Greeks abroad to flap their chicken wings. Σωθήκαμε!


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 14 May 2011

Saturday, May 07, 2011


Big Ted surveyed the room with a wide sweeping, but penetrating gaze, as if he was peering directly through his audience and off into the future. “I want to pay tribute to those people whose names are listed on the wall. It was their ambition and vision that has led us to this day. They built for the future.” The August Premier was of course, referring to the past presidents of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria and as he mentioned the fact that the aforementioned organisation is one hundred and ten years old, and is thus, one of the oldest Victorian institutions, a shudder of excitement passed through the audience. Ted Baillieu’s subsequent remark, that the Greek community of Victoria has its origins in the Goldfields and that there would be not a few Greeks today who would relish the opportunity to go gold prospecting largely went unnoticed by the adoring crowd, though it was apt, hinting at one of the guiding ideologies behind our community.
The occasion of the Premier’s speech a week or so ago, was the Victorian government’s announcement that it would provide the GOCMV with the sum of two million dollars for the construction of the Hellenic Cultural Centre on the site of its current building – a project that has both inspired and caused controversy among sections of our community. Ted Baillieu took particular pains to extract from GOCMV president Bill Papastergiadis, an undertaking that the current antiquated lift, whose arrival is always uncertain (rumour has it that bearded and stunted deposed GOCMV board members are exiled in the liftwell and raise and lower the lift by an intricate system of pulleys), shall be retained in the new Cultural Centre, for historical purposes. I should like to obtain a similar undertaking with regard to the period wood panelling that adorns the foyer of the building. As a throwback to the eighties, it is truly sublime.
Ted Baillieu also repeatedly and pointedly stressed his desire that the new edifice be constructed “sooner, rather than later.” He stated this in the same breath as his assertion that the Greek community serves as a model to others. And as opposed to the usual tribute talk we have come to expect from various politicians, one gained the distinct impression that Ted Baillieu meant every word he said. Through his words, and the very act of funding the Centre, it is evident that the Greek community has come of age. We are both partners and stakeholders in the state’s commitment to constructing a multicultural society and the provision of such a large amount of funds makes us an instrument in furthering that commitment, simply because our manifold activities and vibrant presence in this state have proven that we are more than capable of doing so. Ted Baillieu’s official announcement was thus a great and proud day for the Greek community.
It was also a great and proud day for Bill Papastergiadis, GOCMV president, who in his short time at the helm of our most ancient organisation has guided it safely through the shoals of discord and seen it rise in the esteem of the broader community and the state and who has imbued within it, a sense of optimism and vision. Ted Baillieu’s panegyric to founding fathers possessed of vision and who built for the future applies equally to Bill Papastergiadis and it was thus fitting that such a panegyric was delivered in his presence given that unlike those founding fathers, he belongs to the second generation – a generation that for the most part has not been able to find a successful or viable foothold within the framework of Greek community politics. His achievement proves that a committed second generation, adept at navigating seamlessly between the Greek and English speaking communities, can glean from these the opportunities and privileges to be enjoyed from both and use these for the greater benefit of all. It is hoped that his sterling work in gaining the esteem of the mainstream and injecting impetus and a sense of mission back into the GOCMV will convince other aspiring second generation and third generation Greek-Australians that the Greek community is not a mere quagmire of internecine strife and navel-gazers but rather, an inspiring and endless field of collective action, that is multi-faceted and inclusive enough to cater for a multiplicity of interests and concerns. Similarly, it is hoped that Bill Papastergiadis’ and his board members’ efforts will convince the first generation that the emancipation of the second generation is well overdue. After all, it is supposedly largely for their benefit that the Cultural Centre has been conceived in the first place.
The official announcement of the Baillieu government’s two million dollar contribution to the erection of the Cultural Centre is also a clarion call and rallying cry for further action. Having the resources of the government behind us and the Premier’s “sooner rather than later” injunction ringing in our ears, we are now committed to the speedy construction of the Centre. There is absolutely no further room for prevarication, debate or even focus on other unnecessary and divisive interests and pursuits. Victoria expects us to keep our word and as a united community we need to invest all our energy and resources into ensuring that this project is effected. For if it is not, the loss of credibility that will befall our community, will be tantamount to catastrophe and it would be unlikely, in that eventuality, whether we would be entrusted with government support to a similar extent, ever again.
Whether one agrees with the construction of the Centre or not (and the members of the GOCMV overwhelmingly have shown that they do,) it cannot be denied that the Baillieu government’s announcement marks an important watershed in our history, a towering achievement even before the Tower that will, with the right management, ensure our survival as a cohesive entity through this century, is even constructed. It is incumbent upon us to ensure its success. While we can justifiably take pride in our achievement thus far, if we are to bring this vital project to a proper completion, let us heed a few words of advice from Blessed Augustine: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? First lay the foundation of humility.” Let’s get to work.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 7 May 2011