Saturday, December 20, 2014


It was the Goatboy, an incisive former contributor to the august pages of this publication, who, commenting on the state of Greece a few years ago, observed: "Boyfriend, Hellenism is a superseded discourse."
While we in the diaspora have the luxury of proving our dedication to the fold by demanding the return of the Parthenon Marbles from Britain, our Helladic cousins seem, at least according to the media, to have lost theirs, the current financial crisis being merely symptomatic of a broader psycho-social malaise, one where the vacuum where traditional values and time honoured conventions existed has speedily been filled with discontent and chaos.
How else could one explain not only the seemingly senseless violence that has rocked Athens in recent weeks, supposedly in memory of police victim Alexandros Grigoropoulos and in support of imprisoned armed robber, Nikos Romanos, but also, the even more absurd justifications offered for such anti-social behaviour that has seen municipal, university and union buildings being occupied by anarchist sympathisers, caused injuries, damage to private property and destroyed the livelihoods of quite a few of those who here in Australia are known as 'battlers'. Last time serious riots took place, the Marfin Bank was torched and three bank employees, caught in the inferno, perished. No-one commemorates them. 
One would think that this is due to the fact that the anarchists who appear to be the driving force behind Athenian street violence display contempt for the capitalists and their petit bourgeois minions who blindly submit to social repression in exchange for creature comforts. What we learn, however, is that we are, in Greece, still back in the realm of Dostoyesvsky's The Possessed, having to deal with innumerable Verhovenskys, that is, pampered members of the bourgeois who not only appear to be totally divested of a moral compass, which is why they are able to commit acts of violence upon their fellow citizens while being immune to the pricks of conscience, but also are possessed of an inordinate sense of entitlement as well. 
The fact that Dostoyevsky penned The Possessed as a protest and a clarion call against the erosion of traditional values and social cohesion (by the conservative establishment) that permitted radical idealists to see no harm in inflicting misery upon the populace as far back as 1872, is indicative of just how far Greece seems to have lagged behind the rest of the world in social advances. Apparently, our French and Russian revolutions are just around the corner ... with pampered and pomaded patrician leading perplexed proletarians ... nowhere.
Convicted bank robber Nikos Romanos, at the tender age of twenty-one, is a case in point. Thousands took to the Athenian streets, screaming his name and tearing up the pavement to support his hunger strike. This strike is not in protest against prison brutality or inhumane prison conditions. He denies himself food not in solidarity with the thousands of Greeks who go hungry daily as a result of the breakdown of the Greek economy and social policy, nor in protest against the racist lunatic fringe of Greek politics that would deny food to those residing in Greece based upon the colour of their skin. Rather, Nikos Romanos, who walked into a bank with a Kalashnikov and proceeded to rob it before the bank's terrified employees, is denying himself food due to his desire to attend university. Apparently, in his distorted view of the world, so convinced is he that he should have the right to leave prison in order to continue his education that he is willing to pay the ultimate price for that right. And what does the anarchist robber of banks and hater of capitalism wish to study? Business administration, of course.
If this were not Monty Pythonesque enough, consider the bizarre attitude of his progenitor: "My son is very angry and very bright and very conscious of what he is doing. What seems absurd gives meaning to people. If the authorities had allowed him to pursue his studies, which is his right, none of this would have happened."
Let us reflect upon the word right. In the moral vacuum of the modern politicised Greek of like ilk, or at least the 6,000 thousand protesters who recently rampaged in the streets of Athens, it is the right of every person who visits violence upon their fellow citizens to not only evade punishment, but also to claim privileges. After all, Nikos Romanos is no ordinary criminal. According to his doting father:
"When he and his anarchist friends robbed the bank they were very polite, telling everyone there, 'we don't have anything against you - our beef is with the state'." This then, makes all the difference. The act is irrelevant and is erased if one's political alignment is the correct one. This appears also to be the reason why SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras saw fit to visit the armed robber in prison, immediately transforming him into a hero. If making Romanos see sense is hard enough, try telling Tsipras that banks are not the state and that indeed, it is mum and dad depositors, toilers who have not shared the privileges enjoyed by him in his sheltered upbringing, who bear the brunt of his irresponsible actions.
It is easy to feel sympathy for Romanos. He is young and silly, and in jail. According to his father, it was the horror of seeing his friend Alexandros Grigoropoulos, an innocent young protester, being shot dead by police six years ago that tipped him over the edge. Yet it would be wrong to cast him as the victim of an authoritarian regime that is determined to quash any semblance of protest. It would be even more incorrect to portray him as a fighter for social justice. As his father admits: "He is more bourgeois than the bourgeoisie, a bon viveur who every year went to Austria to improve his German and who had a talent for the piano ... but he knew what was happening around him. He could see how the corrupt elite had destroyed the social fabric of this country." 
We therefore sympathise with Romanos because like others of his generation, he has been brought up in a rarified atmosphere of bourgeois privilege, in which traditional values that build social trust are considered passé, and western materialist aspirations are embraced, coupled with an attachment to mythologised political upheaval, and a complete disregard for social or personal responsibility. In short, he is the victim of his parents' generation, a generation that, in many respects, refused to grow up. Had Romanos' parents taught him respect for others, self-effacement, and the value of knowing when to put the interests of the collective before the impulses of the individual, perhaps he would, through his education and professional life, have been able to make a lasting contribution to the society he has, in his frustration and grief, lashed out upon.
Yet for all the hyperbole surrounding the personage of Nikos Romanos, and the volume of the angry voices and fists supporting him, he and his kind are but a footnote in the margins of Greek society. Instead, the true masses are comprised of the same sullen, resentful, fearful, distrustful and frustrated people who are trapped in the quagmire of a society that has eroded what little social capital it may ever have had soon after liberation. Try as they might, (and they haven't really tried), our Helladic cousins have never been able to build a cohesive society that functions or is seen and widely believed to function for the benefit of all, rather than just the privileged potentates and power broker pashas. In such a society, Nikos Romanos would have found a sense of purpose, and well-meaning citizens would have advised his father to grow up. In the decomposing Hellenic Republic, however, he is but a hungry felon, with pretentions to romance but more besides. For in a volte-face of ridiculous proportions, the Greek parliament has voted to change the law so as to allow Romanos to attend university after all. Sending the message that in the land of teenage-angst-ridden Hellas, you can effect legislative change for selfish reasons if you throw a tantrum, we merely point sadly in the direction of the kindergartens of Athens, whose legal position has been uncertain since a 2002 law divested the state of responsibility for their running and placing this instead temporarily on local councils. The tens of thousands of Greek pre-schoolers, who have not been yet been schooled in the art of the destructive and violent tantrum, had better grow up fast.


First published in NKEE on 20 December 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014


In the vernacular, a kopanos is held to be a person possessed of sufficient mental and physical density as to render themselves able to be pummelled in frustration, hence the verb «κοπανάω,»  wherein the hapless kopanos is a mere passive recipient of a perpetrator's violent largesse.
The fact that Kopanos also denotes a settlement in Naousa, Macedonia may or may not be a running commentary on the relative intellectual gifts of its inhabitants, yet if the advertisement accompanying this diatribe is to be considered, which is the brainchild of the peach growers of Kopanos, some things are better left unsaid.
The advertisement, which coins the word "peachy," attempts to sell canned peaches to, among others, Australian buyers. How peachy this campaign is proving to be is difficult to gauge, especially given that so far, I have only been able to locate the advertisement in the ethnic media giving rise to a justifiable belief that the Kopanoi are labouring under the misapprehension that only the Greeks of Australia constitute a target market for the purchase of canned peaches. This of course is despite the fact that, if one accedes to the Kopanoi's exhortations as featured in their advertisement to visit their website , one is able to ascertain that their campaign forms part of a programme referred to and known as "Information, Provision and Promotion Measures for Agricultural Products in Third Countries (Turkey, Australia). We learn that said programme was initiated in 2011 and will be completed in three years. We also further learn that this campaign is funded by Greece and the European Union.
The reason why one feels the need to visit the website is simple. From a cursory glance at the  advertisement, one cannot easily understand what the Kopanoi wish us to do, or indeed, what they are advertising. By plying us with dietary information extolling the health benefits of canned peaches, in dubious English, do they wish us to eat more canned peaches, or in particular, ones produced by them? Or, given that there is a dearth of information as to where the consumer can locate Greek canned peaches should they be moved by the desire to do so, either in the advertisement or on the accompanying website, is this advertisement more geared towards possible wholesalers of Hellenic peaches?
In this at least, the website is revealing. Standing behind the Kopanoi is the Hellenic Canned Fruit Industry Network, whose stated aim is to"improve its members role in vaster international markets." Underlying this imperialistic move for peachy lebensraum and fruity ostpolitik, we are further told that said company wishes to "increase its market share by all means, mainly in the countries of Eastern Europe, which due to political and social changes can be seen as promising markets, as well as in third (sic) countries, such as Turkey and Australia."
Ina sense therefore, we are treated not so much to a culinary seduction whereby we will be caressed and cajoled into preferring Greek canned peaches above all others, but rather, a declaration of war, via which Macedonian peaches will commence there slow but steady march over Eastern Europe to third countries, whatever that means, and from there, conquer the world. Such a declaration makes sense, when one considers that it was Alexander the Great himself, who introduced the peach into Greece after his invasion of Persia and indeed, the reverse eastern reconquest of the peach may be a historic inevitability of the type that is impossible to forestall. Indeed a marketing campaign showing a Macedonian peach impaled upon the sarissa of a Macedonian soldier crushing all before him underfoot, accompanied by a caption that reads: "Peaches: Resistance is Futile," would be more in keeping with the tone of the website in question.
For it is a sad fact that yet another campaign for the promotion of Greek products has gone horribly wrong, especially in so far as Australia is concerned. After all, it is questionable how the Kopanoi feel that they will be able to make inroads into our country when they refer to it as a "third country," in a manner that implies that it constitutes a foreign planet that needs to be colonised. Instead of bombarding us with nutritional information as to the health benefits of the peach, information that they would have known, had they conducted even a minute amount of research, we already have in Australia, the Kopanoi fail to realise that we have, especially in Victoria, a local canned fruit industry of our own. In this respect, they should be exploring ways to compete with an already domestic market rather than pretend that one does not exist. One way of doing so of course, is to capitalise upon a Macedonian tradition of peach cultivation that exceeds two millennia.
 If the Kopanoi extended their research further, instead of squandering Greek and European Union funding on inept and quite frankly, embarrassing, ineffectual and incomprehensible advertisements, they would come to understand that the canned fruit industry in our state is in trouble and temper their approach accordingly, creating a campaign that would tease and entice the consumer, rather that boldly trumpet an amateurish business plan that would ensure that no serious business partner would go near them, let alone market or purvey, what are in fact, very nice peaches indeed.
The good Kopanoi at the Hellenic Canned Fruit Industry Network have also failed to comprehend one extremely important fact in relation to Australia: Ours is a food culture. Food is celebrated and explored in the media, in the form of cooking and game shows, in restaurants and in the domestic sphere to an unprecedented level. The way to the Aussie's heart, both male and female is these days, well and truly by way of our stomachs, and all the Kopanoi have to do is already draw on popular traditions that esteem the peach, in conjunction, famously with cream, whipped or otherwise, according to one's predilections, as an article of seduction, romance and decadence, in order to market the fruit of their labours effectively. Drawing the two strands, those of tradition and of sensuality together, a campaign that features the lusciousness of the peach with time honoured Greek know-how, in which the Australian public is told that when it comes to lasciviousness and fruit, Greeks do it better, would work wonders for the Macedonian fruit industry. Mentioning as an aside that Alexander and his soldiers were possessed of posteriors as firm as Greek peaches might also go some way in furthering the cause of the said stone fruit.
It is perhaps, meet to conclude this exposition into the marketing techniques of the Macedonian phalanx by noting that on the peachy website, the irrepressible Kopanoi have seen fit to conduct a poll on the information provided, in which they ask pertinently: "Are you satisfied with the information about the DAIRY products presented in the webpage?" It goes without saying that one hundred percent of all those responding, wholeheartedly and somewhat breathlessly affirmed their satisfaction.
To the Kopanoi of the Hellenic Canned Fruit Industry Network, therefore, this observation on the relativity of the peach by the master, Pablo Picasso: "One does a whole painting for one peach and people think just the opposite - that particular peach is but a detail." Until next week, stay juicy.

Published in NKEE on 13 December 2014

Saturday, December 06, 2014


By now we are used to seeing Greeks crop up in the most unconventional pages of world history. There was a Greek prime minister of Siam and a Greek Protestant king of Romania. 
A Greek bishop was behind the schism in the Russian Orthodox Church and a Greek was responsible for the assassination of South African prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd. We therefore register only slight surprise when learning that Greeks took part in the American Civil War, fighting on the side of the Confederates.
Thus on 22 July 1861, at Camp Moore, Louisiana, 73 men enlisted for the duration of the war. They constituted, together with seven assigned officers, Company I of the 10th Louisiana Infantry Regiment. Among the enlisted were six men who cited Greece as their country of birth. 
These were, adopting the spelling in which their names are recorded: Paoli Agius, age 35, a sailor; Francisco Liappi, age 48, a sailor; John George Metalieno, age 30, a sailor; Andre Nicole, age 33, a sailor; Christopholo Salonicho, age 40, a sailor and Constantino Villisariez, age 22, a sailor.
Government records show an unofficial memorandum mentioning a "Greek Company A" being formed within the Louisiana Militia, 1861. The company included a captain, three lieutenants, eight noncommissioned officers and 20 privates. Although it was called 'Greek', the list included other Orthodox people residing in New Orleans after 1860. A register lists the following officers of the company: Captain Nicolas Touloubief, First Lieutenant Alex Laxaredo, Second Lieutenant D. 
Gregori, Second Lieutenant Lt. N Bragores and Second Lieutenant Constantino Coratosos.
The adhesion of the Greeks to the Confederate Army was widely lauded by the local media, as can be evidenced by the following comment in a contemporary 1861 issue of the Daily True Delta, a New Orleans newspaper:

"Our Greek fellow citizens are emulating the public spirit of other nationalities, and are organising a company. The old blood which animated the heart of heroic Greece will be found yet strong in the veins of her children resident among us."
Allusions to the spirit of ancient Greece aside, things began to sour early. 
According to the True Delta: "The Greek company recently formed, for lack of other employment, has become split into parties, and the excitement of internal feuds supplies the place of more legitimate hostilities. One party strenuously opposes the entrance into the company of any but pure Greeks, while the other favours the admission of men of all nationalities. An embittered contest of factions led to personal collisions, in which the sharp logic of steel was used by the opposing parties, as the only argument which would convince obstinate doubters on either side. Chartres Street, near Madison, was this morning the scene of the last animated debate between the opponents. Three or four of the contestants were considerably worried by 'gentlemen on the other side', one of whom was sent to the hospital, one is lying at the company's armoury and two were conducted to the second district lock-up."
Merely a few days after that incident, another member of the Greek company, Alexandro Philipuso, "was attacked and severely wounded with knives, by some persons [...] who from their language are supposed to have been Sicilians".
A few days later, the trusty True Delta reported simply: "There has been some trouble in the Greek company of volunteers, and five of them have been arrested on a charge of larceny, proffered, as we understand, by some of their own officers. This is bad for the Greeks."
Infighting and racial bickering notwithstanding, the Greek company did eventually get to see action in 1862, at the little Warwick River. At Dam No 1, on 16 April, 1862, the Greek company fought with the 10th Louisiana Infantry Regiment, coming "to the front on the double quick", hurling back the Federal forces from its sector of the defensive line.
A month later, the peninsular campaign of General McClellan began to collapse slowly as his forces retreated in an orderly fashion to the south towards Harrison's Landing. In this action, on 29 June 1862, the Greek company participated in the battle of Savage Station. Two enlisted men of the company deserted, one of whom was Constantino Villisariez. Official records cite his date of desertion as 15 September 1862.

On 1 July 1862, the Union and Confederate forces engaged in a hotly contested battle at Malvern Hill. All of the Greeks in Company I participated in the operations and emerged unharmed. They also took part in a rear guard action at Williamsburg. Again, at Cedar Run, on 9 August 1862, under the command of General Stonewall Jackson, the Greek company caught up with and engaged the Unionists under General Banks. In this action, John George Metalieno was listed as 'absent' in the official roster of the company, but he reported for duty and fought in the next major battle, Bull Run. In that battle, Andrea Nicole was captured. According to the official records, he took the oath of allegiance to the United States shortly thereafter and moved to the North.
It was in the battle of Sharpsburg that Christopholo Salonicho was killed in action, on 17 September 1862. In the same engagement, Paoli Agius was shot and seriously wounded in the right shoulder joint. He is listed in the Hospital Muster Roll of the Louisiana Hospital in Richmond, on 2 December 1862.
The oldest enlisted member of the Greek Company I was Francisco Liappi, who was 48 years old. He was present and accounted for in all engagements through Malvern Hill. For the battle of Cedar Run, the official records indicated that he was absent due to sickness. There is no indication of his presence in the Greek Company in other battles. However, the final notation in the official records shows that he "deserted his regiment and joined the Confederate Cavalry in December, 1862".
John George Metalieno was promoted to corporal in 15 February 1862. He was wounded at the famous battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Records suggest that he was captured at Spottsylvania, on 11 May 1864, and taken first to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. He died of acute dysentery on 15 August 1864.
The Greek Confederate Company seems to have been staffed by wanderers, opportunists and lonely people far from home. We would do well to remember them, and all their other compatriots, who have carved even the smallest niche in the bloody battles of world history.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 6 December 2014