Saturday, April 07, 2018


Interview by Dean Kalimniou with Chris Moutzikis, Chairperson of the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria.

Recently, the speaker of the Greek Parliament stated that among other organisations, Pan-Mac signed a letter addressed to the Greek government in which its members were threatened with death. How do you respond to that claim?

I think that the claim is a deliberate exaggeration. The letter urges the government not to compromise on the Naming Dispute. I accept it further states that the penalty for treason is death. We are not threatening to kill anyone. We are merely pointing out what the legal penalty is for a possible act, like saying: “Don’t park here, or you’ll get a fine.”

But the Death Penalty was abolished for High Treason in Greece in 2005. So how else is this letter to be interpreted? Did Pan-Mac obtain legal advice as to the applicable legal remedies before drafting the letter? Does this letter, which is factually incorrect, not damage Pan-Mac’s credibility vis a vis the Greek government?

We did not draft this letter. It was drafted by our sister organisation in America and it was signed by all affiliated Pan-Mac Associations world-wide. We signed to express solidarity with the world body, focusing mainly on our fervent desire that there be no compromise on the Naming Dispute. We were not aware of the legal issues, but I believe focusing on this small point takes attention away from fact that we are on the precipice of a “solution” to this issue that will be disastrous for Greece. This is what the Greek government should be concerned with. It needs to justify its actions to the Greek people.

Pan-Mac’s stance on the Naming Dispute is well known. Basically, you are against Greece recognising FYROM by any name that includes the word “Macedonia.” In the letter Pan-Mac signed, it is stated that such a compromise is tantamount to treason. What is treason in your opinion?

Treason is where someone deliberately acts against the interests of their country, knowing that this is harmful for their country. We believe that recognising FYROM as Macedonia or any cognate of that term is harmful for Greece as it impugns the historical, cultural and ethnic character of that region, which is vital for Greece. We believe that the government of Greece knows that to be the case.

Pan-Mac is a Melbourne-based organisation, albeit with an affiliation to a world-wide body, which in reality, refers to America and a few other diasporan communities. It represents people who are domiciled in Australia. Why should the Greek government listen to you, on this issue?

If this was an issue of domestic importance, I would agree that we would have limited standing to express an opinion. However, this is an issue that transcends the borders of the state of Greece. It goes to the core of being Greek, affecting the identity of every single person identifying as Greek throughout the world. Any decision made by the Greek government does not only affect Greek citizens, but all of us. Given this is the case, I believe that Pan-Mac has every right to express an opinion and encourage the Greek government to adopt it. It is an opinion that we believe, is held by the majority of Greeks world-wide.

Pan-Mac is just one of many Greek organisations in Victoria. Why should the combined Greek community listen to you? Why should we be bound by the pronouncements or policies of Pan-Mac on the Naming Dispute?

Ever since the nineties, Pan-Mac has been at the forefront of this campaign. We have organised several mass community rallies, and never ceased our activism for the truth, even when this was not convenient or politically expedient. In the process, we have earned the trust and respect of the community. The outpouring of support we receive on a daily basis, especially lately from younger members of the community validates our standing. Furthermore, there is a convention among community organisations here in Melbourne, that we are the organisation that is best placed to formulate community policy on this issue, just as we respect the Cypriot community’s right to articulate a policy on the Cyprus issue. Pan-Mac, along with other community organisations, is an active member of the Australian Hellenic Council, which is the mouthpiece of the Greek community to Canberra on issues concerning our community. It has adopted our position on this issue.

And your policy is correct, whereas that of the Greek government, according to Pan-Mac, borders on the treasonous. Why are you right and why is the Greek government so wrong? Why is Pan-Mac so vociferously against compromise?

The word Macedonia is inextricably linked to the Greek identity. The government of FYROM, has over the years attempted to appropriate our historical heritage. It has also made irredentist claims against Greek territory. We believe that any use of a compound name that includes the word “Macedonia” merely reinforces their spurious claims. Because the name is already used by those ignorant of the history and context, we believe that for brevity, any prefix arising out of a compromise solution will be dropped and the word “Macedonia” will used, something that is unacceptable. This country must have a name that reflects its own heritage, not ours.

Given the above, why do you think that the Greek government is entertaining a solution that involves the use of the term?

Quite frankly, this is one of the most disquieting things about the issue. The Greek government has not told the people why all of a sudden it has become urgent to solve an issue that has been smouldering away for decades, nor has it explained why it believes it is necessary to compromise by using a compound name when it is clear the majority of the people would be against it. We don’t know what the Greek government thinks it will gain out of such a compromise because they simply are not telling us. We don’t know what pressure is being applied and by whom, or why and this makes us fear that Greek government is being compelled, for whatever reason, to act against the country’s own interests. We cannot sit idly by and let that happen, without voicing our opposition to such a path. It might be politically expedient for the present government, but it is disastrous in the long term of Hellenism.

Is this why you organised the rally as a means of expressing that opposition?

We organised the rally to express solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Greeks in Greece who also held rallies. That is why we felt that it was important to use the same format for protest as that used in Greece. We wanted to be part of a chain of protest all around the world, sending a strong, unwavering message to the Greek government that we are against their policy on this issue, but also, that we are one, we are united.

There are those who state that you only organised the rally because you felt threatened by the rally organised prior to yours by hitherto unknown members of the community. Specifically, that in the light of that rally, that Pan-Mac would look weak and ineffective if it did nothing, given that others had already seized the initiative before it.

I don’t accept that view. At the time, we were doing what we always do: deliberating with members of the community, obtaining a consensus for further action and also liaising with the world-wide Pan-Mac body, so that our actions had the requisite community support and were co-ordinated. In our experience, which is extensive, we feel it is important to gauge events and consider the outcomes of possible courses of action before committing to them.

And do you think you were successful? The number of people attending was, by all accounts, far lower than what was expected, especially compared to past rallies. Does this indicate a community crisis of confidence in Pan-Mac’s leadership on the issue?

As part of a co-ordinated network of worldwide protest it was very effective. It concerned the Greek government enough for it to attempt to downplay the world-wide movement and grossly under-represent the numbers of those protesting in Greece. Furthermore, I believe any comparison between the previous rallies and this one, numbers wise, is unhelpful. There are many reasons why people chose not to attend the rally, and they do not reflect in anyway upon Pan-Mac and its reputation, which if anything has become enhanced over the past few months. The fact that the Premier of Victoria recently, on more than one occasion, stated that: “Macedonian is as Greek as the Parthenon,” a statement which was first made by his representative at the rally, can be attributed to the climate of understanding of the Hellenic character, engendered by Pan-Mac’s activism.

So why did people stay away?

Well, times have changed since the nineties. People have less spare time and more weekend commitments. Some expressed concerns about possible violence from members of the FYROM-Australian community, a fear that was not unjustified considering the appalling way in which some of their members conducted themselves during their own rally. Others found the venue difficult to get to. Also, we need to understand that these days, rallies are not the only means of protest and comprise only one of many facets of our campaign. Compared with the nineties, social media also provides an important forum for activism. There were two significant things about the rally that have gone unnoticed and need to be pointed out. The first is that the youth predominated, a most reassuring sign of the vitality of our campaign. Secondly, that there were members of the Armenian, Assyrian, Chinese, Indian, Russian and Serbian community present to express their solidarity, showing that our outreach is truly a multicultural one. Unity is vital.

On the subject of unity, people in our community lately have commented on an increasingly intolerant attitude displayed by the Pan-Mac executive and members towards those who express different views on how the Naming Dispute should be solved. They state that there is a dualistic, us and them, with us or against us, patriots or traitors stance towards “dissenters” emanating from leading personalities within Pan-Mac. Are those who believe in compromise traitors?

I’m aware of this allegation and I believe it is disingenuous. We encourage debate and discussion because a free and frank exchange of ideas is important. At the same time however, we will not shy away from holding to our deeply-held to our convictions and articulating our point of view. In the lead up to the recent rally, Pan-Mac convened public meetings where a number of diverse views were expressed by attendees. Some of those views were diametrically opposed to our own. Nonetheless, we respect those persons’ right to an opinion and facilitated them being heard. Some of our members feel passionately about this issue and express themselves in a passionate manner. That is no way implies that others do not have the right to put forward a view. However, we also have a right to critique their views, if we think they are incorrect, or not in the national interest. Democracy and debate work both ways.

One of those persons who have articulated a position on the Naming Dispute that differs from that of Pan-Mac is Professor Tamis, of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies. What is Pan-Mac’s relationship with Professor Tamis? Has it been damaged as a result of the difference in opinion?

We respect Professor Tamis for the brilliant work he has undertaken over many years in studying and promoting scholarship on Macedonian Hellenism. His research on the history of Macedonians in Australia is extremely valuable and will prove to be of enduring importance to the broader Australian historical narrative. We look forward to the development of his further endeavours in the field of historical research. As for his views on the Naming Dispute, I reiterate that Pan-Mac believes that everyone has a right to their own opinion.

The Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies has recently announced that it is seeking legal recourse against those persons/entities responsible for the atrocious acts of racial hatred committed against Greek-Australians, by some of the attendees at the FYROM-Australian rally, held a week after your own. Is this not something that Pan-Mac should be doing, or at least supporting?

I agree with you that some of the incidents of racial vilification and intolerance at the FYROM rally were unprecedented and deeply disturbing. Our rally was peaceful and we made sure that it was focused on the Naming Dispute, not against the FYROM-Australian community. There were no racial slurs, or pejorative sentiments expressed against that community. In contrast, with them, we witnessed the burning of the Greek flag, racist placards against the descendants of victims of the Pontian Genocide, derogatory slogans about the Greeks’ ancestry and even attacks on a Greek store owner. I am astonished that those responsible are so immature and given to hatred that they are willing to disturb the harmony of our multicultural and tolerant city and even make the streets of Melbourne unsafe, in order to pursue their goal. As a result, we have responded favourably to a proposal of mediation by the Victorian Multicultural Commission, in order to ensure that such terrible acts are never again repeated. We are currently engaging with this process, affirming our commitment to a peaceful and tolerant city.

There are many families in Melbourne that because they have either intermarried into both communities or come from regions where their ethnic identity is in flux, are experiencing significant emotional upheaval at the moment, as a result of the Naming Dispute. What guidance if any, has been provided by Pan-Mac to such persons, during this time?

You are right, this latest phase of the dispute has caused a lot of tension and has harmed interpersonal relationships and friendships. I’m aware of situations where family and friends have stopped speaking to each other because of this issue. I find that deplorable. To those who have come to us for guidance, and I need to stress that this includes both people that identify as Greek, and as FYROMian, we have urged them to put the dispute to one side and engage with one another, to relate to each other as human beings. We need to focus on the things that unite us. There are many. We share similar customs and traditions, our music is similar, we share the same religion and our histories are intertwined. This does not mean we cannot share our views on the dispute but if we do, it should be in a respectful and appropriate way.

Recently, the leadership of Pan-Mac has changed. You have been appointed chairperson. What are your aspirations for Pan-Mac moving forward?

Structural reform is necessary if Pan-Mac is going to effectively meet the challenges of the future and remain relevant to emerging generations. Currently, Pan-Mac’s structure does not address the fact that the vast majority of the Greek people, including those coming from Macedonia, no longer feel represented by small, regional brotherhoods. This needs attention, especially since we receive a vast amount of support from youth who are not represented or do not participate in the groups that traditionally constitute our Association. I would like Pan-Mac to be able to better utilise the tremendous groundswell of support it enjoys by people of all walks of life, making more of our extensive contacts within the academic world and especially in local, state and federal government. Greater attention needs to be paid to social media and modern forms of communication. New and novel ways to get our message across are already being trialled. We can always enhance our engagement with the broader mainstream community while also maintaining our close ties with our own community. The recent addition of the Thessaloniki Association as a constituent member of Pan-Mac both underlies the enduring relevance of our Association and acts as blueprint for the future.

Let’s assume that tomorrow, the Naming Dispute is solved. I want to moot two scenarios with you. Firstly, the Greek Government compromises and accepts a composite name. Here in Australia, the government has stated that it will accept any outcome agreed to by Greece.. What will Pan-Mac do? Will it ask the Australian government to go back on that commitment, which has been the focus of the Greek community’s lobbying up until now? Is there a contingency plan? Have feelers been made out to the relevant politicians in this regard?

There is constant communication with stakeholders, on all levels. We do not resile from our position and are prepared to campaign with greater vigour against any unfair outcome, should this prove necessary. We are already circulating a petition to the Australian government that we encourage everyone to sign.

I understand that petition is in response to a FYROM-Australian petition calling upon the Australian government to recognise FYROM as Macedonia. Why is it necessary if the government’s stance already precludes recognition of a name not acceptable to Greece? Isn’t that just duplication of the work already achieved by the Australian Hellenic Council and other community groups? And what if the response is disappointing? How will that reflect upon Pan-mac’s grasp of strategy and credibility?

Times and policies can change easily in response to pressure and expediency. We want to ensure this does not happen. To date, we are satisfied with the response and encourage all Greeks to sign the petition.

Let us assume that by some stroke of good fortune, the Naming Dispute is solved by means of FYROM accepting a name that does not include the term “Macedonia.” Does that make Pan-Mac redundant? Where to from there?

That outcome would be great. Redundant? Not at all. Our aim is to promote Macedonian Hellenism and make it relevant to the country in which we live. A solution to the Naming Dispute would enhance our ability to seek new and novel ways to make lasting contributions to the multicultural fabric of our society, as Macedonian Australians. What is inspiring is the interest we receive from younger, hitherto disengaged members of our community. Many tell us that it was through Pan-Mac’s work that they discovered the relevance of Hellenism to them. Periodically, we even have members of the FYROM-Australian community contact us because they are questioning the veracity of what they have been told by their community, through their reading of reputable historical research. We want to build on that.

Finally, I’d venture to say that apart from the pressing urgent domestic issues of poverty, economic crisis and institutional decay that plague Greece, there are other “national” issues of immediate importance to Greeks, such as the Cyprus issue, given that part of the island is occupied by a foreign army, or the crisis in the Aegean. In Northern Epirus, we have a large native Greek population living within Albania, that does not always have its human rights respected. In the case of Macedonia, we have none of these immediate problems. And yet Greek concern on these issues, save for those who come from these regions, is minimal. What is it about Macedonia that has been able to fuel the passions of the Greek people to such a great extent?

Possibly it is because Macedonia represents one of the greatest and most important period in Greek history. I’m not just referring to Alexander the Great and the enduring awe in which he is held by the Greek people. Rather, it is because it was only through Macedonia that the concept of Greek unity was achieved and it was only through Macedonia that Greek civilisation was able to engage as an equal with those around it and spread, creating the prototype for globalisation. It is this blueprint for a world-wide Hellenism, a Hellenism that transcends borders that is a relevant paradigm for us as a diasporan community. I think that this vision, realised by the Macedonians has been espoused by all of us and that is why Macedonia is at the core of our Greek identity. It is also why we react so strongly when it is threatened. That being said, you are right in stating that the other issues you mentioned are also important and we support and enjoy excellent relations with the Cypriot Community and the Panepirotic Federation.


First published in NKEE on 7 April 2018