Saturday, July 14, 2018


“Bloody fascist, communist, dictatorial SYRIZA lunatic government,” my friend raged over his soy latte.
“Yes, but what have they done now?” I asked.
“They have rejected New Democracy’s proposal to amend the voting laws so that Greeks overseas can vote in Greek elections,” he responded, eyebrows quivering.
“Considering that you have never lived in Greece and don’t hold a Greek passport, why is this a problem for you?” I enquired.
“A problem? Of course it is a problem!” he spluttered, twirling his spoon within his cup with vigour. “They are making all the non-Greeks living there citizens and denying the vote to those who have left. Soon we will be ruled by non-Greeks!”
“Pardon me for saying so, but given that both of us have been born and have lived here all our lives, who is “we?” And here in Victoria, adopting the same approach, would you say that the mainstream is ruled by the migrants that have come here, especially those involved in politics?”
“But that’s different!” my friend protested. “This country belongs to no one. Greece belongs to the Greeks.”

I must admit that since the heady days of the operation of the Council for Greeks Abroad, to have been a fervent supporter of the belief that Greece was, or should be, a type of Israel: a homeland in which all its diasporan children, scattered throughout the globe, had an immediate stake. By law, such a stake is already offered: a person of Greek descent may, having established that descent, become a Greek citizen and live in Greece as a Greek.

A person of Greek descent who lives permanently abroad, whether citizen or not, cannot however participate in Greek elections and this is a source of rancour not only among many of those living in Australia who are Greek citizens, but also those of Greek descent who are not citizens but hold the deeply held conviction that be virtue of their descent, they should have a say in the manner in which Greece is run.

The fact that Greeks living outside of Greece should determine political outcomes in Greece seems paradoxical to many in Greece. Recently, I was interviewed by a radio station in Ioannina about the Tsipras-Zaev Treaty and diasporan reactions to it. After presenting my midgivings about the Treaty and describing the manner in which it was received by the Greeks of Melbourne, the interviewer asked me: “Do you vote?” When I replied in the negative, his response was meaningful: “Then why do you care?”

Even more revealing was my own instinctive reaction to the question. I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. All of us who have been born here, to varying degrees, have spent time and effort creating, developing and shaping a sense of Greek identity, particular to ourselves. Doing so, requires dedication, whether this comes in the form of attending Greek school and church, learning the language, participating in festivals and cultural events or even interacting with one’s peers as a ‘Greek.’ Furthermore, these efforts take place within the context of a community whose institutions have been designed specifically with a view to preserving and perpetuating that identity and this is why in turn, it imbues its young with those values. Therefore, being “Greek,” in multicultural Australia is at the core of our very being. Our entire sense of self is invested in the concept of being “Greek,” which is why validation of that identity by the motherland in so important to us and why, when those of the motherland are perceived to call that identity into question, or seek to impugn it entirely, it hurts so much.

The very idea of diasporic Hellenism however, is inimical to the Helladocentric dependency that seems to afflict our understanding of our identity. The ancient Greek colonists who left their mother cities to found flourishing Greek colonies of their own did not lose their identity by virtue of the fact that they no longer lived in Greece. Instead, especially in Ionia, the Black Sea and southern Italy, though they maintained cultural and religious ties to their cities of origin, they refined, extrapolated and expanded the scope of that identity, making lasting contributions to broader Greek civilization, from within their places of settlement. Such a vital and emancipated approach to their identity was in not any way compromised by their inability to vote or otherwise participate in the running of the affairs of their ancestral polis. After all, political life in ancient times was inextricably linked to one’s participation and presence  within the polis. If one was not in the polis, this would render the term politics, rather redundant. The focus, always was upon actively participating in the society in which one lives, rather than the one left behind.

The dismay many Greek Australians feel at not being able to participate in the Greek voting process has thus more to do with a deep seated ontopathology giving rise to a sense of denial. If one is able to vote in Greek elections from Australia, then one has really never left Greece and the entire antipodean existence therefore becomes a marginal irrelevancy. In this way, one can continue to get worked up about bus strikes in Greece, or the refugee crisis (as diasporans, we want them all out, because they are taking up resources that could otherwise be allocated to antipodeans who generally don’t want to come back except as tourists on a holiday to Mykonos and Santorini and also because if they stay there long enough and get the right to vote, they may become more “Greek” enough and thus disenfranchise the identity of our future great-great grandchildren) and be completely indifferent and disengaged from one’s immediate, local environment.

Ultimately, it is the Greek communities of Australia that are will be the poorer for the propagation of an identity that requires direct participation in Helladic affairs. For generations, we have been labouring under a cultural cringe that views all of our cultural efforts as ersatz, the diet coke of Hellenism, ergo not quite Hellenic enough. Instead of allowing our own voices, our own modes of expression, behaviour and ultimately traditions to develop and flourish, we remain fixated upon validation from the motherland, bent upon preserving every aspect of its existence and replicating its forms in contexts that often bear no relevance to their creation in the first place. As a result, in perpetually reaching for the generating sun of the motherland, we run the risk of allowing our cultural roots to become shallow, then atrophy and die, ensuring that our precious investment in the  concept of Hellenism, was a wasted one.

I do not lament the fact that my grandparents migrated to Australia. I am proud of the fact that I consider Essendon my ancestral homeland, one that three generations on, is becoming enshrined in family lore. I am also enamoured of the villages from which my ancestors came from, for I am tied to them with bonds of blood, language, religion, culture and friendship. I want to have the best of both worlds: the opportunity to flit and slide seamlessly between the Greek and Australian cultural and linguistic traditions and I find I can already do so without the need to vote for a parliamentary representative in the part of Greece from which my grandfather left sixty five years ago. I can do so within the context of the Greek community of Melbourne, which is still large, vibrant, Greek speaking, complex, multi-faceted, unique and utterly absorbing. It is within that community and nowhere else, that I can articulate and manifest my hybrid self, secure in the knowledge of total understanding by my peers. It is here, in the Greek polis of Melbourne, that my true stake in Hellenism lies and it is in no way diminished by my inability to be exploited by Greek parties for short term political gain.

The ruling government of Greece has not rejected diasporan voting per se. Instead it has sought to defer determination of the issue, through the creation of a twelve member committee that will set up “working groups,” responsible for its discussion. Given that the Greek communities of Australia have not ever formally asked for the vote, it is to be expected that this is merely one of a perennial series of Greek carrot-dangling from a disingenuous wielder of an identity stick, eager to exploit, but never to offend.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 14 July 2018