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