Saturday, September 28, 2019


“The people who guard the rainbow don't like those who get in the way of the sun.”
Terry Pratchett, Going Postal
“Those who fear that the political system of Greece will be subverted by a flood of votes from the homogenes who have a tenuous link to the motherland, voting in Greek elections via post, are worrying themselves needlessly. The current legislative reform is primarily targeted at those Greeks who left the country as a result of the crisis and concerns itself with ensuring they are able to exercise their rights from the countries in which they reside,” wrote one Greek commentator recently.
The issue of the postal vote, which has absorbed the attention of Greece and its diasporan communities of late, is in fact, a rather trite one. Considering that all persons of Greek ancestry are entitled by law to apply for Greek citizenship, and thus, should they ever visit Greece, are entitled to participate in its political processes, the question is procedural rather than conceptual, involving the proper regulation of already existing rights.
What is of interest however, is the manner in which the mainstream of the motherland distinguish between Greeks and homogenes (ομογενείς), that is, people of the same genos, a term generally employed to denote ethnic kinship, which conceptually overlaps in general with the ethnic derivation of the Helladites, but clearly creates two separate classes within the tribe. The choice of terms is logical and properly reflects the geographic and historical distribution of expatriate tribe members around the world. Nonetheless, it is the juxtaposition of these terms against founding father and state-propagated ideologies of worldwide Hellenism, according to which all members of the tribe, wheresoever situated and proportion of exogenous ethnic agglomerations notwithstanding are somehow all part of the same political and ethno-cultural continuum, that is creating dysphoria both in the motherland and in diasporan communities.
The dysphoria is purely ontopathological. At its heart, is a dilemma that has troubled the Greek people since the time of Herodotus: “What is a Greek? “ and what is more, considering migration as a cultural and political phenomenon formed part of the Greek identity since times ancient: “in what respect can a person of Greek descent living outside Greece be considered a Greek?”
The question was posed in antiquity, by Aeschylus, in his play “The Suppliant Women” (Αἱ  Ἱκέτιδες), written around 470BC. The narrative revolves around the Danaids, the fifty daughters of Danaus, king of Libya, who was a descendant of Io, a priestess of Hera at Argos, who was wooed by Zeus and turned into a heifer and pursued by Hera until she found asylum in Egypt. The Danaids, his daughters, were commended to marry the fifty sons of Danaus’ twin brother Aegyptus, a mythical king of Egypt, a marriage their father wished to thwart. For this reason, he constructed the first ever boat and fled with them to his ancestral homeland, the city of Argos, throwing himself upon the mercy of its King, Pelasgus and seeking sanctuary among the Argives.
For the chorus of Danaids, the choice of Argos, their place of origin, as a place of asylum is an obvious one: “What land but this would offer us a haven,/ Where else the world o'er should we welcome find,/ Having no arms but the suppliant's feeble weapons?”
Landing at Argos and holding branches by way of seeking asylum, according to the tradition of the Greeks, the Danaids quickly disconcert the Argives. Their king in particular, noting the Greek manner of supplication, juxtaposes this against their garb and bearing, which to his mind, signify the stranger. He has difficulty reconciling the two and his immediate focus is upon how foreign they look:  “What little band is this that I salute?/ Whence come ye, not, as Hellenes are, attired,/ But with barbaric bravery of robes,/ And fine veils finished with the weaver's spathe?/ These woman's weeds are not of Argolis/  Nor any part of Hellas. Herald ye/ Have none; nor minister to be your friend;/ Nor guide in a strange land. And how ye dare/ Adventure here, thus utterly forlorn,/ Is matter for amazement. By your side/ Before these Gods of Festival are laid/ Branches that well accord with suppliant's law./ In Hellas that surmise confirms itself:/ Fair dealing must conjecture all the rest,/Were there no living- voice to clear the doubt.”
The Danaids, refer, as modern diasporans do, to sanguinary ancestral myths, in order to establish their ethnic credentials: Briefly and clearly then: Of Argive blood/ We boast to be: the mother of our race/ A cow made happy in the son she bare,/ And I will fix upon this frame of truth/ Its proper parts until the whole cohere.”
The king is unmoved by the postulation of the myth of kinship. To him, ties of blood unproven, mean nothing. It is culture that counts and their foreign looks preclude them from being members of the tribe. While they try to establish themselves as Argives, he immediately calls them the opposite, strangers,: “Women—strange women, ye compose a tale/ Not credible. How can ye be of Argive blood,/ More like to Libyans than our womankind?/ Yea, such a plant might grow on Nilus' bank;/ Methinks, these forms were coined in Cyprian mint/ Struck to the life by your progenitors./ Stay: I have heard that nomads of your sex,/ Horsed upon camels ride in cushioned selles/ Along the coasts of Æthiopia:/ They should resemble ye; or, on my life,/ Had ye but bows I could have ta'en an oath/ That ye were the unlorded Amazons/ That fare on flesh.”
It is only after a lengthy narration of the ancestry and history of the Danaids, that the king grudgingly accepts an ancestral commonality of lineage:  “Anciently, I do verily believe,A common tie unites ye to this land.” Yet at the same time, although by the laws of Argos, the Danaids should now be entitled to protection, King Pelasgus’ affirmation of the ancestral tie does not automatically afford the protection against harm any Argive would be afforded. For him, he continues to see the daughters as strangers, whose interests are not synonymous with those of the rest of the “trues” Argives. They can call themselves Argives, as long as they do not inconvenience the polis: “Oh, may your cause who claim to be our kin/ Work us no mischief, nor on any hand/ Strife grow from what we neither could foresee/ Nor have provided for. That to this realm/ Were an unwanted, a superfluous care.”
It is evident that to King Pelasgus, regardless what the tenets of his religion or prevailing kinship ideology may prescribe, common ancestry does not automatically grant the Danaids equal legal rights. When faced with the prospect of the angry sons of Aegyptus arriving in Argos to claim their fugitive brides, he implies that the Danaids are subject to not Argive, but to Aegyptian law:“If by the law of the land Ægyptus' sons/ Are your rightful lords, to wit, upon the plea/ Of next-kin, who would choose resist their claim?/ Your answer must be founded on the law/ Domestic; and ye must maintain and prove/ That over ye they have no power at all.”
This dramatisation of the conflict between matrilineal and patrilineal inheritance reaches an emotional climax as the asylum seekers threaten to hang themselves upon the very ideological foundation of the polity: the statues of the Argive gods. King Pelasgus, unable, or unwilling to confer kinship upon the Danaids himself, refers the decision to the vote of the Argive people. They vote to recognise the Danaids as their peers and affrod them sanctuary. Consequently, when a herald of the Aegyptians arrives to attempt to force the Danaids to return to their husbands to be. Pelasgus threatens the herald, urging the Danaids to remain within the walls of Argos. The play reaches its conclusion with the Danaids retreating into the Argive walls, protected and, presumably, considered as Argive, not Libyan. “Pelasgus and the State at large/ Each offer us a home; and both are free.”
Of course, the Danaids did not remain in Libya and demand they have a say in the running of Argos. What is of significance here is the manner in which practicality informs the conferral of kinship. After all, the sons of Aegyptus are also Argive in origin, and thus, also potentially able to claim the rights and privileges that go with that ancestry, hence the appeal to popular consensus, rather than the application of law. Ultimately, expediency and the perceived interests of the state will inevitably trump prevailing ethnic myths and ideologies.
The Danaids of myth, true diasporans, did not remain in Argos. When the sons of Aegyptus landed in Argos and declared war on the city, Danaus, in order to spare Argos from war, handed his daughters over, instructing them to murder their husbands on their wedding nights. All of them did so except  of Hypermnestra, who refused because her husband, Lynceus, honored her wish to remain a virgin. Danaus was angry with his disobedient daughter and pursued her legally through the Argive courts, necessitating the divine intervention of Aphrodite, who saved her. Vows of virginity notwithstanding, Hypermnestra and Lynceus, went on to found an Argive ruling dynasty, which is exactly why you can’t trust those wily diasporans.
The other forty nine hapless daughters of Danaus were condemned to spend eternity carrying water in a sieve or perforated device. Thus in the ancient tradition, they came to represent the futility of a repetitive task that can never be completed; a fitting metaphor for the interminable attempt by the Greek to define the relationship between itself and the Greek diaspora.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 28 September 2019

Saturday, September 21, 2019


“We here in the Antipodes, the Antipodeans, do things differently from you over there in the Motherland,” a friend was explaining to a recently arrived lady from the Motherland.
“Yes, I’ve heard,” she chuckled. “You do everything upside down.”
It was at this point that I interjected. “We are not Antipodeans.” My friend looked at me in horror. “Sure we are. We have been calling ourselves Antipodeans for years. We have a festival and a literary journal bearing that name.”
Any way you look at it, despite the term becoming familiar with use, we are not Antipodeans, in any sense of the word. In geography, the antipode of any location on Earth is that point on the Earth's surface diametrically opposite to it. In the case of Australia, its antipode is not Greece, but rather, missing Europe entirely, the North Atlantic Ocean. Greece’s antipode, in contrast, is Moerai, of Iles Australes, in French Polynesia.
The word, however, is Greek in origin, ντίποδες meaning with feet opposite ours.  As such, it makes an appearance in Plato’s dialogue Timaeus, where  referring to a round Earth, there is an explanation of the relativity between the terms “above and below” and give rise to an understanding of the later term, “Down Under:”
“For if there were any solid body in equipoise at the centre of the universe, there would be nothing to draw it to this extreme rather than to that, for they are all perfectly similar; and if a person were to go round the world in a circle, he would often, when standing at the antipodes of his former position, speak of the same point as above and below; for, as I was saying just now, to speak of the whole which is in the form of a globe as having one part above and another below is not like a sensible man.”
As the word was adopted by all of Aristotle, Strabo, Plutarch and Diogenes Laërtius, it passed into the Latin as antipodes. As it did so, it altered its original sense from "under the feet, opposite side" to "those with the feet opposite," referring to the traditional belief of a  hypothetical people living on the opposite side of the Earth. This is the source behind medieval illustrations imagining such people as "inverted", with their feet growing out of their heads, pointing upward.
It was in this sense, that the term Antipodes first entered the English language in 1398 in a translation of Bartholomeus Anglicus’ thirteenth century De Proprietatibus Rerum by John of Trevisa: “Yonde in Ethiopia ben the Antipodes, men that haue theyr fete ayenst our fete.”
Yet it was the second century geographer Crates of Mallus, famous for constructing the earliest known globe of the Earth, who, in constructing his sphere, first gave names to the continents he assumed existed.  As the great Greek geographer Strabo appreciated: “For Crates, following the mere form of mathematical demonstration, says that the torrid zone is "occupied" by Oceanus and that on both sides of this zone are the temperate zones, the one being on our side, while the other is on the other side of it. Now, just as these Ethiopians on our side of Oceanus, who face the south throughout the whole length of the inhabited land, are called the most remote of the one group of peoples, since they dwell on the shores of Oceanus, so too, Crates thinks, we must conceive that on the other side of Oceanus also there are certain Ethiopians, the most remote of the other group of peoples in the temperate zone, since they dwell on the shores of this same Oceanus; and that they are in two groups and are "sundered in twain" by Oceanus.”
The visionary Crates, apart from Europe, Asia and Africa, postulated the existence of another three continents. To South America, he gave the title “Antipodes” and it was this continent that he believed existed as the opposite number to Europe. He also correctly hypothesized the existence of a continent in the location of North America and called it Perioecoi, (Περίοικοι) deriving from περί, "around", and οκος, "house". Lastly, like his rough contemporary Ptolemy, who believed that the Indian Ocean was enclosed on the south by land, and that the lands of the Northern Hemisphere should be balanced by land in the south, Crates considered the existence of a great south land. To that land, which turned out to be Australia, he gave the name, not of Antipodes, which was already taken, but of ντίοικοι, (Antioecoi), meaning literally, those who live opposite home.
There is a vast semantic difference between being “down under” or having one’s feet against one’s compatriot’s feet, so that one is naught else but their implausible mirror image, compelled to ape their every move, upside down, with no thought as to one’s own local environment (and such an existence is implausible because as St Augustine wrote: "it is too absurd to say that some men might have set sail from this side and, traversing the immense expanse of ocean, have propagated there a race of human beings descended from that one first man,"  and since Christ did not appear in the southern hemisphere, any people of that region were beyond redemption,)  and having one’s home opposite to that of one’s original ancestors. The spatial disparity allows one to evolve with reference to one’s original culture, but in parallel to it, without slavishly adopting it wholesale.
Considering oneself to be an Antipodean in relation to one’s original cultural origin, is to remain shackled within a mindset of the mirror image that creates a strange and traumatic ontopathology: as much as one strives for authenticity in identity and culture, one can only ever be the mirror image of that progenitive culture and in fact, semantically, its opposite. This creates a situation where one can only engage with their own identity via a process of sterile emulation, a pursuit that as generations go by, becomes fruitless and leads to oblivion, as the original identity loses all relevance to the continent upon which it is transplanted and is not considered authentic by those who generated it in the first place, since it is its inverse. Without local development, such barren mimesis, where one merely goes through the motions, withers on the vine.
Being one of the Antioecoi, on the other hand, allows one to view one’s progenitive culture at arms-length, positioned within the context of the host culture. This permits the Antioecian to extract from the original culture, those core values of perennial relevance and graft them to the local prevailing conditions, granting them immediacy and relevance in one’s daily life, which is where all true culture is created, thus ensuring the vibrancy of a tradition which will transform and grow, in parallel but not in slavish imitation of the progenitive culture, evolving in an exponential amount of combinations and permutations.
Arguably, both the Greek community in Australia, and our English-speaking fellow citizens have spent the greater part of the past one hundred years, in an Antipodean relationship with our progenitive cultures. Evidently, the appellations by which we are defined and which we use to define ourselves, inform the manner in which we view ourselves to a significant degree. Without disregarding the importance of the ties that bind us to those traditions, as antichthones, ie those peoples who inhabit regions on opposite sides of the Earth, (but only to our compatriots in the original homeland) it is high time we emancipated ourselves from our antipodean mindset and embrace our status as vibrant Antioecoi, able to articulate our own socio-cultural heritage and perspective, in reference to our own shared experience, defining our identity based on our consciousness of our own developed history, rather than upon the perception of those we love, but have left behind.
“So, when all is considered, what are you,?” the newly arrived Greek friend asked. “What is your πατρίδα;

It was at that moment that I finally came to question, Crato’s the concept of the Antioecoi. For whether opposite, around, under or in the periphery, we do not exist in relation to those we left behind, but in relation to ourselves. They and their legacy, conversely, only exist in relation to us. In this context, the orientation of our homeland to the motherland is completely irrelevant. In a viable, self-contained culture, those of the motherland are our Antioecoi, not the other way around.
“I am γηγενής, born of this particular patch of Earth,” I eventually responded. “My ancestral homeland is the City of Moonee Valley.” I went on to relate the history of the Greeks of the municipality, touch on its most famous resident, Dame Edna Everage.
“Ahhh,” came a sigh of understanding. “I get you.”


First published in NKEE on 21 September 2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019


"The worst thing was … how they screamed every night at midnight. I do not know why they started screaming. We were in the harbor and they were on the pier and at midnight they started screaming."
Ernest Hemingway, ‘On the Quai at Smyrna,’ “ In Our Time”.
Nobel Prize winning novelist Ernest Hemingway begins his account of the Smyrna Catastrophe by attempting to confuse the reader. Who are ‘they’ and who are ‘we,’ and what is the connection between the speaker and the ‘we’ in the harbour, or between the speaker and the events he describes? It is only as the piece unfolds that we begin to understand that Hemingway is describing the plight of the Greek women and children trapped at the waterfront of Smyrna, absolutely helpless, unable to escape and easy targets for the brutality of the victorious Turkish army.
Elsewhere he writes: “The worst, he said, were the women with dead babies. You couldn’t get the women to give up their dead babies. They’d have babies dead for six days. Wouldn’t give them up. Nothing you could do about it. Had to take them away finally.”
These laconic, relentless words reflect not clarity but rather, as Thomas Strychacz wrote, “the terror of events that rupture the boundary of what is rational and comfortably known.” We learn that the speaker is on a British ship, in Smyrna harbour, watching one of the greatest crimes of the twentieth century unfold. As we do so, Hemingway, interposes between the horror of the massacre, with the banality of army functionaries, going about their business, completely uninvested in the human tragedy unfolding before their eyes. Hemingway renders their discourse in clipped sentences, Woosterian sentences such as: “frightful rage,” “the fellow,” “topping,” and “My word yes a most pleasant business.” For the officer, the most immediate priority is not to save the innocent, screaming on the quayside from destruction, or to put an end to their suffering. Instead, it is to shut them up. “We used to turn the searchlight on them to quiet them. That always did the trick.” In two short sentences, the final humiliation and dehumanisation of the victims takes place. They are an annoyance. Nothing more.

Yet there is despair behind the aloofness and the sarcasm: “You remember the harbour. There were plenty of nice things floating around it. That was the only time in my life I got so I dreamed about things," the narrator confides. Yet is a despair, not borne of empathy, but rather of having to witness events that disturb his aesthetic. He views the Greek women, pulled on board the British ship and languishing in the hold, as animals, mere cattle: “You didn't mind the women who were having babies as you did those with the dead ones. They had them all right. Surprising how few of them died. You just covered them over with something and let them go to it. They'd always pick out the darkest place in the hold to have them. None of them minded anything once they got off the pier.” The act of birth, usually a movement from darkness to light, here is a movement into darkness and is in fact, a death.
For it is the plight of the animals that finally moves the dispassionate British soldier, not the slaughtered Smyrniotes at the quay: “The Greeks were nice chaps too. When they evacuated they had all their baggage animals they couldn't take off with them so they just broke their forelegs and dumped them into the shallow water. All those mules with their forelegs broken pushed over into the shallow water. It was all a pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business.”

Hemingway never got to Smyrna. Although he provided detailed, iconic reportage of the Greek retreat from Adrianople, and the plight of the Greek refugees of Eastern Thrace, he arrived in Smyrna too late, yet his short account proved immensely influential. In Hemingway’s writing about the events of 1922, nearly everyone is a victim. An elision of ethnicities take place so we are given neither significant action nor direction, but simply, endured violence. Humans and animals all suffer. As Madame Marie, the proprietress of an Adrianople hotel muses: “They are all the same. The Greeks and the Turks and Bulgars. They are all the same”.
Later, in his “In Our Time,” which opens with the Quay scene, Hemingway will link the tragedy of the corpses floating in the water at Smyrna, with the senseless execution of the six anti-Venizelist officials held responsible for the Greek military defeat in Asia Minor: “They tried to hold him up against the wall but he sat down in a puddle of water… When they fired the first volley, he was sitting in water with his head on his knees.”
For Hemingway then, Smyrna is cruelty and evil madness, a symbol of the suppurating sores of post Great War Europe.
In 1966, American writer John Dos Passos published “The Best Times,” a memoir in which he recalls his 1921 sojourn in Constantinople, reporting on the Greco-Turkish war. Heavily influenced by Hemingway he wrote: “A grubby little war was going on in Asia Minor… One port on the Sea of Marmara was crowded to the waterline with desperate Greeks, men, women and children, whose villages had been burned by the Turks. Another was stuffed with Turks in the same plight…The irony was that the Greeks and Turks and their pathetic women and crying children all looked so much alike it would have taken a linguistic expert to tell them apart.” The inference is clear: this is not a crime against a particular race. It is a crime against humanity itself and all the innocent are victims.
A master of laconic irony in the style of Hemingway, Dos Passos is scathing in his oblique condemnation of those who chose to focus on the political, rather than the human dimensions of the calamitous events of the Asia Minor Catastrophe. In his 1927 ‘Orient Express,’ there is a remarkable scene where the Greek Archbishop of Samsounta in Pontus who was Germanos Karavangelis, an earlier protagonist in the Macedonian Struggle, announces to a group of foreign journalists that the Greek population is being expelled from the city: “The archbishop’s full lips are at the rim of his tiny coffee cup. He drinks quickly and meticulously. In one’s mind beyond the red plush a vision of dark crowds crawling inland over sunshriveled hills. The women were crying and wailing in the streets of Samsoun, says the officer. The news must be sent out, continues the archbishop; the world must know the barbarity of the Turks, America must know…Again in one’s mind beyond the plush, and the polished phrases… the roads at night under the terrible bloodorange moon of Asia, and the wind of the defiles blowing dust among the huddled women, stinging the dark attentive eyes of the children, and far off on the heat-baked hills a sound of horsemen.”
As David Roessel writes in his chapter on the Quai of Smyrna in “In Byron’s Shadow: Modern Greece n the English and American Imagination,” by deliberately excluding the political background from the Greco-Turkish war and the ensuing Catastrophe, and instead focusing on an immediate event, masters of the art of Omission, where there is an omission from the text of overt descriptions of some crucial matter around which the emotions or themes of the text pivot, both Hemingway and Dos Passos achieve an intensity of focus that uses the fate of the Greeks, as a metonym for the plight of the entire world after the ravages of the First World War. Hemingway’s depictions of the Catastrophe as they appear in “In Our Time,” are thus intrinsic to Anglophone cultural conceptualisations of Greece linked as they are to the consequences of violence.
In “The Colossus of Maroussi,” a book that is key to the construction of Modern Greece in Western eyes, Henry Miller acknowledged the key importance of Hemingway’s accounts of the Catastrophe in placing the tragedy into its enduring global context:
“The Smyrna affair, which far outweighs the horrors of the First World War… has somehow soft-pedaled and almost expunged from the memory of present day man. The peculiar horror which clings to this catastrophe is due not alone to the savagery and barbarism of the Turks but to the supine acquiescence of the big powers… And as long as human beings can sit and watch with hands folded while their fellow-men are tortured and butchered so long will civilisation be a hollow mockery, a wordy phantom suspended like a mirage above a sea of murdered carcasses.”
So many murdered carcasses later, that final hollow mockery of civilisation belongs to Hemingway himself in his poem about the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne: “They All Made the Peace – What is Peace:”
“Well what do you boys know this morning?Oh they’re shrewd. They’re shrewd…
… Don’t talk about M. Venizelos. He is wicked. You can see it. His beard shows it..
Then there is Mosul 
And the Greek Patriarch 
What about the Greek Patriarch?”
Never forget the hollow mockery. Remember Smyrna.


First published in NKEE on 14 September 2019

Saturday, September 07, 2019


“I try to love you, but sometimes, it’s so hard,” Vasos exclaims in anguish, fulminating at yet another display of his son’s ineptitude. Welcome to the world of ‘Stath Lets Flats’ a British sitcom recently screened on the ABC. Written by gifted British-Cypriot comedian Jamie Demetriou, it concerns a stupid, incompetent, socially inept Greek property manager in North London who only retains his job because his father is the owner-manager. Stath, artfully played to a creepy crescendo by Demetriou, is blissfully unaware of his immense shortcomings and constantly badgers his father to afford him an expanded role in the management of the business, something that the beleaguered father, Vasos, played by Greek actor, Christos Stergioglou, refuses to do.

Comedies about being part of an ethnic minority within the Anglo-sphere are legion. For the most part they focus upon attempts by younger members of a given minority to navigate their way through their local environment, balancing what are portrayed to be the bizarre, incoherent, illogical and often regressive demands or strictures of their parents’ culture with the social norms and aspirations of the country in which they live. Such sitcoms have historically generally stereotyped the migrant parent’s generation as quaint and irrelevant, inept and unrelatable, backward and derisory, isolated and marginal, unreasonable, and clamorous, petulant and pushy and in the extreme case of the disquietingly racist ‘Superwog’ hysterical, aggressive, violent and psychologically disturbed. 

For the most part this generation is cast as figures of fun, to provoke laughter and to be used as a foil for the exploration of their offsprings’ “plight”: caught between two cultures. Acropolis Now cleverly solved this problem by relocating the parental generation to Greece, so that the drama largely unfolded within a generational vacuum. In the cases of Fat Pizza, Here Come the Habibs, and even older sitcoms such as Home Sweet Home, (where the Italian father was played by a British actor and the Italian children, by Australian actors), where parents are not portrayed as constantly screaming, gibbering in broken, pidgin English and affecting ‘ethnic attitudes’, they are cast in roles where they are unassimilated and have no bearing or relation to the reality of the society in which they live. Most plot arcs involve the children compelling their parents through persuasion, negotiation or rebellion to submit to the values of the dominant culture and it is through them as medium that ‘outsiders’ ie. members of the dominant culture can communicate with them and it is through those same children, that the migrant generation thus gains limited entry into the broader mainstream.

Herein lies the brilliance and the uniqueness of ‘Stath Lets Flats.’ Unlike the vast majority of ethnic comedies, here it is the assimilated generation that is repellant. In Stath Lets Flats, it is the migrant father who pulls the strings. Vasos, the father, speaks with an accent and is often portrayed breaking off into Greek when speaking to his son or to friends, but his English is functional, whereas his son’s colloquial street English inhabits a plane a few social registers below that of his father. There is no stereotypification of the migrant patois here. Instead, Jamie Demetriou presents the father as most migrant fathers who have inhabited in their new country for a while actually are: able to converse perfectly and without hindrance on a social and business level in English, albeit with a trace of accent denoting their place of origin.
At no stage does Vasos rely on his inept son Stath for entry into British society or as a means of interaction with Britons. We are introduced to him as the owner of a small but successful property management company. Jamie Demetriou casts him as the employer of a number of staff, most of whom are mainstream Britons and none of these seem to have a problem relating to Vasos as a boss or as a migrant. Quite the contrary, they manifestly look up to him and on numerous occasions Vasos is shown to be possessed of acute interpersonal skills that allow him to motivate his staff and maintain their trust in him. In short, this dignified, subtle and personable character, is loved and accepted by all.

The outsider in ‘Stath Lets Flats,’ is not the father but the repellant Stath, a creepy individual who is completely unlikeable and so self-absorbed that he cannot register the scorn of all of whom come into contact with him. Such clashes as are evidenced between father and son do not transpire because of a discontinuity in values arising from a cultural divide but rather, because Stath is incompetent and immature and his father needs to protect him and his business from his presumption.

In many ways, this is a true and rather affectionate portrayal of many a migrant father-son relationship. Vasos, for all his frustration with the manner in which his son has turned out, is infinitely patient and indulgent with him. While resignation and exasperation abound in his dealings with the appallingly ridiculous Stath, there is not a trace of the psychotic aggression to be found in Superwog. Instead, this infinitely kind widower, finds a place for his son within his business, guiding him and supporting him, and hoping against hope that he will one day miraculously be able to stand up on his own feet, even though Stath by his gormless antics and misplaced confidence confounds his father’s expectations time and time again.
Vasos also supports his prospectless daughter, Sophie, played by Jamie Demetriou’s sister, Natasia. More likeable than Stath, she too appears to be incapable of supporting herself in the real world and is carried by her indulgent father. Rather than her role being cast from the perspective of a “migrant” enforcement of gender stereotypes, or as sexual object, Sophie’s pointless and talentless forays into music and acting are financed and indulged by her father. Significantly, the only person the completely egotistical Stath displays affection and tact towards, is his equally inept sister. Both of them exist as satellites of a father who despite his kindness, infinite forbearance and unconditional love, has not quite figured out how to get them to emancipate themselves.

This then is the central conundrum of ‘Stath Lets Flats’ one of the most sensitive and affectionate portrayals of the migrant-parent relationship ever conceived for screen. If your children have no concept of emancipation, how can such an emancipation be achieved unilaterally from the parental perspective? Similarly, in a situation that arises in many migrant families where self-made businessmen have acquired status and property owing to a work ethos and a sharpness they don’t identify in their children, what are the implications of such an emancipation where the parent believes that its offspring is far from ready to spread its wings without doing harm to itself and the family? Vasos would love to retire but in Stath and Sophie, he sees not continuity, but the destruction of everything he has ever worked for. When, in those circumstances, can one ‘let go?’

Perhaps the most poignant scene in the series is where Stath, incensed that his father will not hand over the reins of the business to him, obtains a job with a rival agency and is physically bullied. The quiet, affable elderly Vasos cannot accept seeing his child coming to harm. Breaking convention, dismissing his son’s ‘betrayal’ as an inconsequential youthful folly of no importance, he instinctively swoops upon his son’s youthful assailant and dispatches him with a succession of short, sharp blows, expertly landed. The lesson: our migrant dads are softly spoken and infinitely resourceful but they carry a big stick. Always, forever, they have our backs, forgiving us our youthful indiscretions and indulging our flights of fancy. Jamie Demetriou thus presents a Greek migrant father in the form most intelligible to migrant offspring: that of an Olympian, or a Superman.

“We grew up in north London and there are so many multicultural communities,” Jamie Demetriou explains. “I hope it’s a story showing that type of inner-city situation where there are people from all walks of life. They’re all idiots in the same way but in different ways, too.” What he has achieved, is the holy grail of ethnic comedy: the ability to portray migrants and their communities as themselves, without resorting to crass stereotypes, or pandering to dominant cultural prejudices which ultimately demand that the cultures of those communities be portrayed as a burden or a source of psychological torment. And in his tender portrayal of the Greek migrant father, in all his majestic complexity and ambiguity, he restores much deserved dignity to a maligned and unfairly denigrated media type, in a manner yet to be achieved in Australia, proving that true comedy arises not from the despised, but from the redemptive qualities of the frail but glorious human condition.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 7 September 2019