Saturday, March 30, 2019


This year’s Greek Independence Day march to the Shrine of Remembrance was dedicated to the victims of the Genocide of the Greeks of the Ottoman Empire. Most of the people who attended would not have known this because while his Grace, Bishop Iakovos was praying before the Shrine’s Eternal Flame for the repose of the souls of the innocent victims of the Genocide, as well as for those who gave their lives fighting for the freedom of Greece, his prayers were drowned out by the sounds of people booing and hurling abuse at visiting Greek MP Giorgos Varemenos, for being one of those Greek parliamentarians who voted in favour of ratifying the Prespa Agreement.
Let that sink in for a moment. Over 350,000 Greeks were killed during the Genocide. In an event commemorating the 100 year anniversary of this terrible crime against humanity, various Greeks of Melbourne disrupted a mass dedicated to their memory, in the name of patriotism.
I observed the members of our local Pontian organisations look on in disbelief. They have borne the brunt of the campaign for recognition of the Genocide alone and largely unaided by the rest of the community. Now, in the name of patriotism, so-called Greeks were, through the use of expletives and verbal abuse, denigrating the victims of the Genocide and desecrating what is for Melbourne, a Sacred Space. A few of the younger members of those organisations were in tears. “Seriously? one girl exclaimed. “The thugs I can understand. But there are grandfathers out there making idiots of themselves. How can they be so insensitive? How many people have to die before these people develop a conscience?”
When I pointed out to one incensed old man who was screaming “Ουυυυ” and “Θάνατος” as loud as his wheezy larynx permitted him so to do, the irony of the fact that in disrupting  memorial service dedicated to the Genocide in order to protest against the SYRIZA government, he was actually adopting SYRIZA MP Nikos Filis’ known disrespectful stance towards the Genocide, he shrugged and commented: “I don’t give a s…t about the Pontians. They can all die as far as I’m concerned.” These then are the patriots who would save Macedonia, the land of refuge for Genocide survivors, from Giorgos Varemenos and his ilk.
Prior to the commencement of the March, members of the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne, vocal opponents of the Prespa Agreement and all those who support it, handed out flyers containing the lyrics of the well-known patriotic song: “Μακεδονία Ξακουστή.” They asked participants to sing it as they marched past the dignitaries, hoping that this oblique reference to their homeland would be subtle enough to trigger feelings of guilt in Giorgos Varemenos and Greek Consul-General Dimitris Michalopoulos, who is also the focus of local ire, because he is misguidedly seen by many to represent, not a country, but instead, a government that has betrayed the interests of its people. Some participants did sing Macedonia Renown, with varying degrees of gusto and their point was made, without disrupting the character of the event under way.
Similarly, in his sermon during the Thanksgiving Doxology at Saint Eustathios on the morning of the March, His Grace, Bishop Iakovos referred to the Macedonian Issue and the dangers that lie in governments not listening to their citizens, citing an old Greek proverb: “Φωνή λαούοργή Θεού.” (The voice of the people is the wrath of God.) Bishop Iakovos spoke calmly and concisely as Giorgos Varemenos looked on, uncomfortably. Evidently Bishop Iakovos, like many Greeks in Melbourne, has grave concerns about the Prespa Agreement and the way it was ratified. Yet, he did not turn Varemenos away. He did not engage in a verbal attack upon him. Instead, like so many other hierarchs that have come before him, he unflinchingly delivered his homily. Varemenos had no choice but to listen.
There was nothing subtle or calm about the howling, the shouting, the jostling and the swearing that undulated through sections of the crowd as the dignitaries assembled in front of the Eternal Flame, at the conclusion of the March, however. Young children, woken up early and brought by their parents and grandparents  in costume in order to spend a proud family day as Greeks together, began frightened, and started to cry. As the screaming intensified, I witnessed mothers sweep their children up in their arms and run away from the Shrine. One young woman turned to another who was howling abuse in all directions and asked: “Do you really think that’s appropriate? Please, can’t you tone it down a bit? I’ve got young kids here.”
The protesting patriot, flushed by her philhellenic exertions, turned to her, her hands clenched into fists and began howling: “F..k you and f..k your kids, you dumb f….g slut. Get the f..k out of here.” The young mother turned and fled.
A father shook his head disconsolately. “My wife has taken the kids to the car,” he commented. “She says this is the last time we are bringing them to the parelasi. She is Italian. It took me years to convince her to let them come here, and look what happens. Thanks a lot for nothing.”
In contrast with the dignified approach of Bishop Iakovos, the mob was not able to confront Varemenos with its convictions, simply because it was incoherent. Having unleashed a general hatred and drowned out his speech, all it managed to do was to compel him to leave the Shrine, something which, some of the mob told me later, they consider a triumph.
What those persons who sought to use the March as a forum to abuse delegate politicians from Greece seem not understand, is that our March, as it has evolved, has less to do with Greece per se and more to do with the perpetuation of our own identity and culture as Greek Australians. Members of our community, I among them, have every right to harbour misgivings about the Prespa Agreement. They have every right to feel aggrieved about the manner in which the Greek government seeks to present the Agreement as a triumph and appears to denigrate those who have a different view. They have every right to wish to communicate their feelings about the Agreement to the Greek government and its representatives, although as Australian citizens who do not vote in Greece, whether that government will take such sentiments into account is a moot point, especially when it has a track record of not taking the opinions of Greek citizens into account. What they do not have the right to do however, is to subvert our own homegrown institutions, in order to insult, hurt or harm others, especially guests., and before the eyes of our own elected Australian leaders and representatives. Nor do they have the right, in the process, to defile the memories of Genocide victims.
When we and our children don our national costumes and make our way down into the centre of Melbourne, more than just commemorating the heroes of old, we are engaging in a public assertion of our identity. We are stamping our cultural identity as Greeks not just upon any part of the Australian landscape, but in the very place where the most hallowed of Australian foundation lore is propagated. What takes place as we march to the applause of our relatives and friends, pausing only to take a quick selfie, is an act of identity creation and transmission. It is one of the few Greek-Australian ceremonies that has developed as a response to local conditions, rather than adopted wholesale from our country of origin, and deserves to be cherished.
It is trite to mention that our ability to use the Shrine as a place for the propagation of our own rites of identity is a privilege, not a right, gained by our ancestors by the valour they displayed in fighting side by side with Australian soldiers in World War II. It is thus a place not to be taken for granted and definitely not to be abused. Those who would jeopardize the perpetuation of the unique rituals that make us who we are through loutish behaviour therefore demonstrate that they have no love or care for our community.
Quite the contrary, by purposely permitting their own political passions to prejudice the conviviality of our community, they appear not to wish to belong in our community. They would be best served returning to the country they left behind, there to abuse the objects of their ire to their hearts’ content. These people have not realised that while politicians  and governments may come and go in Greece, our community will always remain in Australia. It is up to us to determine what form that community will take. It is up to the Australian politicians that witnessed the debacle of abuse at the Shrine, to determine just how serious a stakeholder in the broader multicultural fabric of Australian society, our community will be considered henceforth. And it is for the mothers of children subjected to the abuse, to assess whether our community is a safe space for their offspring to participate in, moving forward.
As we were walking towards the car, at the conclusion of the March, my six year old daughter suddenly asked:
  • Μπαμπά, τι είναι προδότης;
  • Why do you ask? I responded.
  • Το φώναζαν εκείνοι οι άνθρωποι προηγουμένως.
I felt sick to my stomach, both that my little girl had experienced the hatred of polarisation, but mostly, that this had transpired among my own people, on so special a day, on my watch.
  • προδότηςis someone who doesn’t love their country, I answered her, after thinking for some time.
  • Τότε αυτοί είναι προδότες, γιατί δεν αγαπάνε την πατρίδα τους αλλά κάνουν φασαρία και κάνουν τα παιδιά να φοβούνται, she opined. Γιατί υπάρχουν κακοί Έλληνες;
And that, for me, is the greatest betrayal of all.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 March 2019

Saturday, March 23, 2019


“It seems to me that you sir consider the folk, whose blood has been feeding and giving lustre to all the boyar kin, to be in fact nothing, and that you only view the pillagers to be the motherland... But how come you sir do not consider the motherland to be in fact the people, and not the pillagers' clique?" Tudor Vladimirescu, on the Phanariotes of Wallachia.
The Greek Revolution was first proclaimed by Ypsilantis, as head of the Filiki Etairia, in Moldavia. Both Romanian speaking lands, Wallachia and Moldavia, were ruled by influential Greek families from the Phanar district of Constantinople, on behalf of the Ottomans. They had influence, power and money. For the thousands of Greeks that flocked to these semi-autonomous provinces in search of stability, equality and economic opportunity, Moldo-Wallachia was a veritable promised land, a colony of unlimited scope for profit.
Planning the Greek revolution in Romania was thus perfectly plausible. There was already a well-established network of high ranking Greek bureaucrats and notables who had been sworn into the Filiki Etairia, along with Romanian boyars who could provide resources, man-power but most importantly, cover for the surreptitious preparations. Thus, the Filiki Etairia was multi ethnic, including not only the influential captains Giorgakis Olympios and Ioannis Farmakis, but also boyars Alecu Filipescu-Vulpea, Grigore Brâncoveanu, Tudor Vladimirescu, Russian consul Alexander Pini, the Bulgarian Pavel Macedonski, the Albanian Naum Bredhi, who went on to publish the first manifesto of Albanian nationalism. Ypsilantis, had every reason to believe that when the time came, the Orthodox Christians of the Moldo-Wallachian lands, would rise as one to expel the Turks.
Yet they did not. When Vasileios Karavias occupied Galați and aorganised  pogrom of the local Turks, the native Moldavians fled the city and their boyars, shocked by the violence, refused to join the revolutionary Sacred Band. Why? Because, considering their Phanariote rulers to be exploitative, they were more anti-Greek than anti-Turk.
In Wallachia, to the south, Ypsilantis had cause to believe that he could rely on the co-operation of Tudor Vladimirescu, a significant military power broker. What he could not appreciate, was the level of resentment held by Vladimirescu and most Wallachians against Phanariot rule, and by extension, Hellenism and the Hellenisation of the Romanians. Vladimirescu held that the Greek rulers, who were corrupt, purchased their positions through bribery and fleeced the country in order to recoup their expenses, had stunted Romanian nationalism, with their emphasis on a common Eastern Orthodox identity. Furthermore, at least ideologically if not in practice, Vladimirescu railed against the oppression of the poor. He believed it was necessary not only to get rid of the Greeks, as agents of Turkish oppression, but also the boyars who oppressed the lower classes as well. For this reason, when he did revolt, as Ottomanist Kemal Karpat suggests, the Ottomans interpreted it as a local uprising aimed chiefly at the protection of the local population against Greek exploitation.
Nonetheless, Vladimirescu’s 1821 revolt could not have taken place without the Filiki Etairia. Romanian historian Andrei Oțetea writes that his movement cannot be separated from the Etairia, who gave it "a chief, a program, a structure, the original impulse, tactics for propaganda and combat, [and] the first means of achieving its goals". Oțetea also claims that Vladimirescu was indirectly influenced by the political vision of Rigas Pheraios
t was thus the Filiki Etaireia that suggested that Tudor Vladimirescu organise a revolt in the region of Oltenia, as a way of obfuscating the Greek insurrection: a ruse conceived by Vladimirescu’s friend, Yiorgakis Olympios. Yet when Vladimirescu raised the flag of revolt (paradoxically, his flag was blue and white, whereas that of the Greeks was red, black and white), on 22 January 1821, proclaiming: "There is no law that would prevent a man from meeting evil with evil," he also wrote a letter to the Sultan proclaiming that his revolt was anti-boyar rather than anti-Ottoman, a sentiment the Sublime Porte seems to have approved of.

Rather than co-ordinate his activities with Ypsilantis,  as was the plan, Vladimirescu decided that he wanted to seize control of Wallachia for himself, resolving to march upon its capital, Bucharest. To repeated requests by the Filike Etaireia to desist, he responded that his conception of the motherland was fundamentally different: "the people, and not the "robber class."
As he progressed through the country, Vladimirescu began to persecute functionaries of the Phanariote regime. Interestingly enough, at this stage, he had many Greeks under his command, including a contingent of Greek volunteers from Germany. Arriving in Bucharest, he sent its Phanariot ruler, Scarlatos Callimachis an ultimatum, calling for , among other things, the removal of Phanariotes, and a specified racial quota in assigning offices and titles.
Ostensibly to unite with Vladimirescu, but more likely in the face of local hostility, Ypsilantis’ Sacred Band crossed from Moldavia into Wallachia. Vladimirescu sent him letters asking him to withdraw, but these reached Ypsilantis when he was already in the city of  Ploiești.
 While camped there, the Sacred Band  staged raids on civilians and  engaged in multiple confiscations of property. This enraged the local population, something that Vladimirescu was quick to exploit, writing to Ypsilantis: "[I act] on the basis of the right given to me by my own sword."
On 21 March 1821, Vladimirescu entered Bucharest and immediately fighting broke out between his forces and those loyal to the Philiki Etaireia. The Arvanite captain Savvas Phocianos occupied the Metropolitan Cathedral and shot at Vladimirescu’s forces, until he was compelled to accept Vladimirescu’s executive and judicial authority over Wallachia. Soon after, Ypsilantis and the Sacred Band attempted to enter Bucharest. Vladimirescu denied them entry and when Ypsilantis and his staff were allowed to visit the city, they found themselves ridiculed by anti-Greek locals, who called theirs an army of "pie-makers.”
Observing that the Greek army was small and ill prepared, Vladimirescu carved out an agreement to share Wallachia with Ypsilantis, he retaining the lion’s share of the country, assigning the Muntenian stretch of the Southern Carpathians to the Greeks and their allies. In the meantime, Vladimirescu emphasised the brutality of the Greeks to his followers. As Cioranu, wrote:  "just about most foreigners who were under Tudor's banners" abandoned their posts in Oltenia and joined the Sacred Band. In the process, they "looted churches, houses, villages, boyars, merchants and everything they could lay hands on, leaving Christians naked… and raping wives and girls in front of their husbands and fathers.” Attacks on the Greek troops were made, ostensibly in order to prevent atrocities of this nature.
On 27 March, the remainder of the Greek forces in Moldavia were attacked by a pro-Ottoman, Austrian backed force led by Gavril Istrati. Vladimirescu, applauded its actions,  writing to his own cabinet about the possibility of a common movement for justice. On 17 April,  Vladimirescu inspired his boyars to draft an anti-Filiki Etaireia proclamation, accusing Ypsilanti of being a dishonoured guest in a "country that had received him with open arms." In Muntenia, which was now controlled by Ypsilantis, Vladimirescu fomented revolt among the local population against the Greeks. He also appealed to the Sultan for assistance, through an Ottoman subject, Nuri Ağa, circulating allegations that Ypsilantis and Callimachi were both conspirators, hinting that the Sultan could only ensure Wallachia's loyalty by removing the Phanariotes altogether.
The Sultan was not convinced. A large Ottoman army entered Wallachia and Vladimirescu turned tail and fled. Numerous clashes between the Greek and Vladimirescu armies ensued, as Ypsilantis’ loyalists demanded that Vladimirescu at least defend Bucharest. Vladimirescu, on the other hand, provoked the Sacred Band, by dressing his men as Ottoman soldiers and staging fake attacks. As his situation grew more difficult, Vladimirescu became more unhinged. Fighter Dimitrie Macedonski, claimed to have stumbled upon proof that he had embezzled 1 million thaler, and demanded a trial. On 21 May, Ypsilantis agents marched into his camp and seized him. The Filiki Etaireia loyalists displayed his secret correspondence with the Sultan, causing the collapse of the Vladimirescu forces. The man himself was taken to the Sacred Band headquarters at Târgoviște, where he was tortured, shot, cut into pieces, and disposed of.
As a result of the internecine strife, resistance against the Ottomans was doomed. Ypsilantis' was routed at Drăgășani; the independent Wallachian fighters were massacred while resisting in northern Oltenia. Filiki Etaireia remnants, under Pharmakis and Olympios, held out at Secu Monastery in Moldavia. Olympios rdetonated himself during the siege, while Pharmakis was taken prisoner and decapitated. Savvas Phocianos was lured into Bucharest by the Ottomans with his men and they were all massacred. Such was the severity of the reprisal, that Ioan Dobrescu, the last Wallachian chronicler, reports that "even the mountains stank" from the corpses.
A national hero in Romania today, Vladimirescu presided of a revolution in concert with, but ultimately opposed to that of the Greek Revolution, simply on the basis of competing national narratives. While Marxist historians have attempted to emphasis the class struggle aspect of Vladimirescu’s movement, Karl Marx himself considered the 1821 Wallachian revolt a nationalist struggle. Ultimately, while the kingdom of Greece was established within a decade, historians such as Potra view the Wallachian revolt as one of many steps towards the establishment of a Romanian state: “this first revolution, which opened the way for a line of struggles [...] for the independence and freedom of the Romanian nation, violently shook up the feudal order, contributing to the demise of the Phanariote regime."
When viewed from this perspective, the stirring lines of Rigas Pheraios’ pre-nationalist call to arms for all peoples oppressed by the Ottomans, rings poignantly hollow:
“Στὴν δόξαν τοῦ πολέμου, νὰ τρέξωμεν μαζύ. Βουλγάροι, κι΄ Ἀρβανῆτες, Ἀρμένοι καὶ Ρωμιοί, Ἀράπιδες, καὶ ἄσπροι, μὲ μία κοινὴ ὁρμή…. ηλίστρα, καὶ Μπραΐλα, Σμαήλι καὶ Κυλί, 
Μπενδέρι, καὶ Χωτήνι, ἐσένα προσκαλεῖ.”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 23 March 2019