Saturday, June 16, 2018


In the nineties, which is the time that most Greek-Melburnians became aware of the “Macedonian” issue, the natural inclination of the community, was to express its solidarity with the Greek people by means of a rally. The first rally was met with such enthusiasm and mass participation, that soon after, we held another, equally blessed with a cast of thousands. All of us who attended were convinced our communal endeavour could move mountains.

The legacy of the rally was such that in 2007, when it was felt that the issue had reached a particularly critical stage, it was considered axiomatic that the community would, once more, express its concerns and solidarity with the Greek government and people, by taking to the streets, in another rally.

I was in the organising committee of the 2007 rally. I remember that a representative of the Greek state at the time flew down to meet with us, and told us in no uncertain terms that he could not openly direct us to stage the rally or endorse it. However, he continued, if we were to stage a rally, it would have to be according to parameters that he then proceeded to set out in detail, including but not limited to the slogans that were acceptable to the government of the time. When I sought a clarification as to the nature of the slogans, the gentleman snapped: “I never told you anything. Don’t you dare put words in my mouth.”

A few years later, I attended a meeting of the Australian Hellenic Council, where a representative of the Greek government, in consideration of the Greeks of Melbourne undertaking NOT to hold a rally on the Macedonian issue, offered to bring the Parthenon Marbles held by the Louvre, to Australia. My question to her, as to what powers she had to do so, given that this was a matter relating to the bilateral relations between Australia, France and their respective museums and had nothing to do with Greece was met with a stony glare, and silence. Nonetheless, the proposed rally never took place and the Parisian Parthenon marbles, remained in place.

This year, when as if out of nowhere, the Greek government indicated that the “Macedonian” issue had yet again reached a turning point, conditioned by our pre-history, we took to the streets again twice: the first time in a rally that was not endorsed by the organisations that by popular consensus traditionally “managed” the issue on behalf of the community, and the second time, in an “endorsed” version, both of which were poorly attended, in comparison with the previous mega-rallies and rather than express solidarity with the Greek government, significantly, openly protested against its perceived positions. This rally was held in support of the other massive rallies held in various cities of Greece, which, members of the Athens government stated at the time, would not influence their negotiations with their Skopjan counterparts one iota.

A week prior to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announcing an “agreement” on the “Macedonian” issue, the Greek people organised rallies in various cities, again calling upon their government not to make undue concessions in the naming dispute. In the aftermath of the Greek PMs announcement, one that has left a large section of the Greek people around the world reeling with anger and disbelief, the call has come again: Let us take to the streets and stage a rally. That will show those miscreants a thing or two.

The “agreement” which Alexis Tsipras termed, a “great victory” and a “singular opportunity” is fraught with ambiguities and gives cause for concern. It basically overturns decades of Greek government policy and rendering its previously held arguments about the ethnicity and language of the Slavic peoples of the region, bankrupt. According to the Prime Minister, Greece will recognise their language as “Macedonian,” provided that a qualifier is added to show the Slavonic provenance of that language. However he does not state what that qualifier would be, and how that qualifier would be applied in the case of speech, where brevity is required. The Prime Minister considers it a great deal that the country which he now wants to call “Northern Macedonia” will completely change its national narrative, disassociating itself from the Greek heritage of ancient Macedonia, and formally undertaking to give up any irredentist claims over the Greek region of Macedonia. No explanation of course, is provided as to how this will take place. Further, no indication is given as to how this agreement will in any way, bind the diasporan communities that have so blatantly and aggressively, purloined Greek history in order to construct their own identities and as a result, have caused ethnic tension in the countries in which they reside.

Most significantly, the Greek government’s inexplicable reversal of years of policy (and it is inexplicable because the Greek government is yet to come clean with the Greek people and its diaspora as to the reasons why such an agreement was necessary, revealing what if any pressures or undue duress was placed upon the Greek representatives by third parties and why, to come to such a bizarre agreement), is a slap in the face of diasporan communities such as our own, which were told and directed by successive Greek government representatives, among other things, that there is no such thing as a “Macedonian” language, just as there is, as we were told, no such thing as a Macedonian ethnicity and that it is in fact a “Bulgarian idiom,” of a Bulgarian people. In his announcement, however, Prime Minister Tsipras justified his agreement to recognise the language as “Macedonian” on the spurious basis that this language had allegedly thus been recognised by the United Nations since 1977. Consequently, past Greek governments had us taking to the streets and lobbying politicians about the nature of this contentious language, either if Tsipras is to be believed, knowing that this language had already been recognised, or oblivious to the fact that the modern incarnation of the Greek government would simply refute its own argument. Similarly, we were now being told and expected to believe without question, that there is such a thing as a North Macedonian ethnicity, and that this North Macedonian ethnicity has nothing to do with Macedonia, because while Macedonia is Greek, North is not.

This singular and arbitrary feat of nullification on the part of the Tsipras government, of all of our considerable efforts expended in campaigning for the Greek cause on the Macedonian issue, often at the expense of other pertinent issues such as that of Cyprus, has tremendous consequences for our community. Whatever happens (and it is unlikely that Skopje will ratify the Tsipras-Zaev agreement, with President Ivanov stating that he will veto any ratification of the agreement by the Parliament, something to which he is legally entitled and which probably means that Greece will be dragged to the negotiating table again sometime in the future, only this time, with our counterparts knowing just how far Greece is willing to compromise even before it begins), our community, which up until now, has been careful to co-ordinate its approach to Greek national issues and its lobby, such that it is, with that of the Greek government, is no longer willing to do so.

The Greek community has lost its faith and trust in the Greek government and consequently, the Greek government has lost its most powerful advocate abroad. We are no longer willing to expend the limited political capital we possess within the societies in which we live, promoting the concerns of a government that can and will, change these or resile from them, without consultation, at a drop of a hat, in the hope of validation from the increasingly remote motherland.

Instead, we will utilise that political capital in order to do that which we should have been doing all along: creating strong communal structures, tailored to the demands placed on us by local conditions, that will ensure that our communities will endure as distinct but socially integrated Greek entities, within the broader multicultural fabric of Australia, well into the future. The Greek government must no longer take our cooperation for granted. If it is to be provided, it must be earned. We, not the Greek government, will be responsible for formulating our own ethnic narrative and culture, and in this act of disassociation, protected from manipulation by the disingenuous over the seas, shall lie our ultimate emancipation.

Those within the community who cut their patriotic teeth in the nineties organising rallies and looking up obscure references to Macedonian tombstones in universities libraries, those who spent countless hours in the noughties on online forums posting on obscure aspects of Macedonian archaeology or Balkan linguistics are angry. They are angry at not being consulted. They are angry at not being provided the context by which such a momentous and controversial agreement was reached. They want to take to the streets. Their natural inclination is to hold a rally….and yet….

Rallies, as a means of influencing governments are manifestly no longer effective. Instead, they have become a tradition of state sanctioned dissent, whereby governments allow people to blow off steam, knowing full well that they neither bound by, nor subject to pressure by protesters. This is something fervent patriots in our community, struggling for any means to engage in activism, have difficulty in appreciate. The latest bout of maladroitness displayed over the Macedonian issue indicate that it is high time, both we and our compatriots in the motherland, abandon the exhausted rally as a means of exerting pressure and explore and invent new and novel ways in which to cause elected representatives to truly take heed of the will of the people, or at least account to them for their actions. If the sole legacy of this latest, most sorry but most likely not the last chapter of the Naming Dispute, is the creation of such novel methods of political participation, that will prove revolutionarily influential, then surely after all, there is a little balm left over for all, in Gilead.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 16 June 2018