Saturday, June 27, 2020


It is fair to say that Melbourne poet, journalist and social activist Bert Birtles harboured an enduring fascination for Greece. He named the poetry journal that he founded in 1935 Thyrsus, after the fennel rod tipped with a pine cone that was held in processions by ancient followers of Dionysus. Along with his wife Dora, for whose sake he was expelled from Sydney University for penning an explicit poem describing their tryst on the roof of the university quadrangle, in 1935 he travelled to Greece just as that country was embroiled in one of its most significant political crises: the return of the monarchy and the collapse of Greek democracy.
Birtles and his wife travelled throughout the country, meeting with key players in the intellectual and political spheres, assiduously recording prevailing social conditions. Most significantly, Birtles, a communist sympathiser, was, despite the dictatorships of Kondylis and Metaxas, able to visit and record the conditions of leftists exiled to the islands of Anaphi and Gavdos. As a result, in 1938, there appeared the first full-length book by an Australian on modern Greece, Bert Birtles’ “Exiles in the Aegean.” Bearing the sub-title, “A Personal Narrative of Greek Politics and Travel,” the contents of the book are clearly outlined in its dedication: “For Dora, who made the Journey with me, and for the Brave Greek Victims of Fascist Terror in Prison and in Exile.”

It was travel that awakened Birtles’ social conscience and gave rise to a remarkable Australian record of a pivotal moment in Geek history. “Having come to Greece with no set purpose but to enjoy ourselves,” Birtles writes, “we did not mean to stay more than two or three months; but as we became interested in the problems that the Greek people were up against, and as our interest in politics grew, we kept prolonging our visit… What might have been a very pleasant holiday, became an intellectual adventure.”
Greece in 1935 was a country bitterly divided between royalists and Venizelists. The political culture was one of violence. People falling foul of the regime, or possessing even the slightest left of centre views, were imprisoned or sent into exile. During this time of foment, former Venizelist General George Kondylis staged a coup and held a referendum for the return of King George II. Travelling through Ithaca at the time of the announcement, Birtles writes of the juxtaposition between the serenity of the rural landscape and current events: “We were climbing donkey-back up through fields that terraced into the hillside, rocky fields for grapes, corn and olives. The only sounds wee the tinkle of goat-bells and occasional shouts of the goat-herds, but we were suddenly reminded of world affairs at a bend in the mountain road. On a huge boulder was a large hammer and sickle, painted red. Underneath it was a slogan, also painted in red, each letter about a foot high. Our friends translated: “Down with Imperialism, War and Fascism!”
Also while in Ithaca, Birtles met some Greeks who had returned after emigrating to Australia. Asking them what they believed former Prime Minister Tsaldaris felt about the upcoming referendum, one responded: “He says it is going to be fair dinkum.” When asked by Birtles whether that was the adjective he used, the ex-Austalian responded, in broad Strine: “No, but that is what he means.”
Birtles’ experience of Athens was, unlike many from the Anglosphere, decidedly uncoloured by the romanticism of classical antiquity: “Unless you are determined to be romantic at any cost- falsely romantic,” he observed, “your first impressions of Athens must have been, like ours, of endless haggling over prices and arguments over politics.” Although like so many others he was enamoured of the Parthenon and visited it often, he refused to wax lyrical over it: “We did not value very much this abstract way of thinking about the Parthenon, as if it were something remote from the country’s history and the life of the people.” Referring to its shelling by the Venetians in 1687, he added: “This is what happens to the abstractly beautiful when rival imperialisms clash.”
While in Athens, Birtles met poet George Seferis. He was decidedly unimpressed with the career diplomat’s evasiveness, noting: “he was still in his thirties… the life of diplomatic ease had already left its subtle marks upon him. About him was an air of self preservation and… a studied tendency to intellectual evasion.”
For Birtles, leftist poet Kostas Varnalis cut a more impressive figure and he spends a few pages discussing his work: “The Light Which Burns.” He also quotes the poet as predicting: “When the social revolution comes to Greece it will be bourgeois and republican, not proletarian.” Attending a public meeting where Varnalis presciently warned against the dangers of ever encroaching Fascism, Birtles interviewed attendees to discover the reason for Varnalis’ extraordinary popularity. One explained: “It is because he is a poet and he tells the truth, and is not afraid to side with the people and suffer for it.”
Birtles also met the centre of political controversy, King George II, at a reception for journalists and described him as amiable and well-intentioned: “He looked shrewd, but not an intellectual and certainly not an exquisite.” As events unfold in the narrative, with the King’s sacking of Kondylis and Metaxas’ ascent to power, he eventually expresses the opinion that the King, was in fact the real dictator. Birtles reflects on his own conflicted emotion in meeting the monarch as follows: “As we went out, I was thinking how very Democratic a Democrat can be when he has shaken hands with a King.”

Observing a general election, Birtles noted that one major campaign issue was an amnesty for political detainees. He therefore resolved to investigate detainee conditions on the islands of their exile. Thus, using his Communist connections, he arranged to be transported to the penal island of Anaphi, where he stayed for eight days. Birtles records that the exiles lived in parlous conditions with the bare minimum of food and scant medical care. They organised themselves into communes and their rooms bore crayon portraits of Engels, Marx, Lenin, Zetkin and Rosa Luxembourg. They held political discussions and trained each other to withstand cross-examination in the manner of Georgi Dimitrov. In conversing with the exiles, Birtles learns that most of them did not hold communist views prior to their incarceration. It was during their imprisonment and exile, mostly on the most ridiculous of pretexts, such as the village schoolteacher who was imprisoned as a Communist because he taught against the Biblical creation teaching, that they became radicalised. In Anaphi and in remote and extremely hard to get to Gavdos, notorious for the harshness of its conditions, the preponderance of fleas and the prevalence of syphilis, Birtles witnesses and describes the formation of political and resistance networks that would persist and endure during the later Civil War.
While interviewing leftist political activists and politicians such as Communist Party deputy Sklavanas, and Dimitrios Glinos, Birtles advances the view that the bourgeois Greek political parties and especially the leader of the Venizelists, Themistocles Sofoulis, are ultimately to blame for the advent of fascism, as in their endeavours to marginalize the communists, they failed to create a united front to head off the forces of fascism that in Metaxas, ultimately prevailed.
It says much for Birtles’ chutzpah that he attempted to gain an interview with Ioannis Metaxas, the dictator asking him to submit his questions in advance and then after three weeks, declining to respond to them. In the meantime, Birtles had been present at the funeral of Eleutherios Venizelos in Crete, stating that the Cretans had: “an air of independence… a slouch akin to the Australian bushman’s…. There is a kind of dignity which comes from openly resisting tyranny, of whatever kind, and these men had it.” While Dora Birtles kissed Venizelos’ corpse, as was customary for Greeks, Birtles declined to do so, stating: “Once a thing bemuse official it loses its impressiveness, being no longer personal or spontaneous.”
Even when he is describing rapacious landlords or corrupt police officers, Birtles’ narrative is steeped in affection for the Greek people. This allows him to make interesting comments about their social practices and conventions, as is the case when he discusses the Greek male’s use of worry beads: “These kombologia have nothing to do with religion, there merely provide Greek men with something to keep their hands occupied with while sitting and talking. They would appear to be a masculine masturbation substitute.”
Birtles ends his book in December 1937 with a detailed description of Metaxas’ suppression of trade unions, the right to strike and the plight of the re-settled Asia Minor refugees who are living in parlous conditions. The tone is one of foreboding as he predicts a major crisis on the horizon, one that would eventually engulf the entire continent and ravage Greece. The fault lines he so accurately identified in his extensive interviews of peasants, poets, politicians, professionals, housewives, journalists and traders would eventually cause the Greek Civil War, the after-effects of which can still be felt today and whose precedents can be found in Birtles’ writing.
As a left-wing critique of right-wing authoritarianism in Greece, Bert Birtles’ “Exiles in the Aegean” was extremely influential for its time. Returning to Australia, Birtles joined the left-wing League for Democracy in Greece, after the war and continued his political activism, eventually being called to appear before the Petrov Commission on Espionage. Both he and his wife, who published the short story “Three Days in Averoff,” on the subject of Greek female prisoners bargaining for cigarettes remained life-long friends of Greece. Today, eighty two years after his book was published, Bert Birtles’ words emerge from the page, as relevant and as accurate with regards to the needs and the problems associated with Greek democracy, as when they were first written. They deserve further consideration, and appreciation by the Greek communities of Australia.
First published in NKEE on 27 June 2020

Saturday, June 20, 2020


As a result of George Floyd’s murder and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there have been calls to decolonize the academic fields of Classical and Byzantine Studies. For the edification of those mystified as to the connection between these seemingly arcane fields and the problem of systemic racism, it is argued that historically, these fields of study have been dominated by a western European discourse that, in the case of Classical Studies,, appropriates them from their natural context, presenting them as the foundation of “western” civilisation, asserting the primacy of that civilization and by consequence, culturally and ethnically dispossessing the modern inhabitants of the lands in which they were engendered from that lineage.

Since Gibbon, in the case of Byzantine studies, false narratives of white supremacy and western superiority have also been propagated, portraying the Greek and Syriac speakers of Byzantium especially as effete and morally corrupt, while presenting the entire history of that civilization as a debased and illegitimate form of the ancient Greek ideal that the West claims as its own. This form of Orientalism has caused an ontopathology of self-loathing and insecurity among peoples in the Empire’s successor states. In the case of the modern Greeks, it has resulted in the West colonizing our own historical narrative and denying them the opportunity of viewing the linear progression of their history within the context and unique perspective of their own native tradition.

The well-worn cliché, propagated by western classicists and parroted by thousands of Greek school teachers around the world, that “ancient Greeks were blonde and blue eyed,” (and that by inference, the darker one is, the less Greek and the less worthy one is also)” embeds a racist discourse that was completely alien to the way ancient Greeks viewed people of colour. If Classical Studies are to be indeed “de-colonised,” a good starting point would be this simple proposition: That the ancient Greeks had no concept of racial superiority based on the colour of a person’s skin and that consequently, the relationship between ancient Greeks and peoples of colour, especially in Africa, was one of enduring curiosity, admiration and fascination.

That is not to say that ancient Greeks did not notice difference in colour. Having encountered Africans during the process of setting up colonies on the North African coast, and later confronting them in the Persian army that invaded Greece (Africans were among the soldiers said to have fought at Marathon), the ancient Greeks employed a number of terms to describe them, generally referring to them as “Ethiopians,” and using various terms to describe the colour of their skin, Hesiod referring to  the physiques of the «κυανέων ἀνδρῶν» (dark-skinned men), and Aristotle, to those «τὸ τὴν χρόαν μελάνων» (those with dark skins). Archaeological evidence suggests that Greeks encountered Africans at a very early time in their history; one is portrayed on a mask found in a Bronze Age tomb in Cyprus. Homer casts Eurybates, Odyssey’s herald as an African, describing him as «οὐλοκάρηνος» (wooly-haired) and «μελανόχροος,» (dark hued), and states that Odysseus honoured him above his other comrades. As a hero, he is depicted on a shield in a 5th century vase painting. Africans appear also in depictions of worshippers of Demeter and Persephone in Acragas, suggesting that there was no colour bar to participation in ancient Greek religious rites.

Further evidence for the integration of Africans within ancient Greek society can be found in the writings of Aristotle, who mentions a woman from Elis whose child had an Ethiopian father. Plutarch makes mention of a woman whose great-grandfather was Ethiopian, not to condemn her or argue against a miscegenation of races, a purely alien concept to the ancient Greeks, but to explain why it was that she gave birth to a baby of African appearance, and noteworthy, is comedian Menander’s sympathetic treatment of Africans in his comedies, referring to them as migrants who are “far from home.” Herodes Atticus the sophist, is also recorded as having had an African pupil. In none of these writings is there expressed any prejudice against people of colour by virtue of the hue of their skin. Indeed, Atticus mourned the death of his African student and reputedly set up a statue in his memory. Menander on the other hand in one of his plays, dismisses pedigree as unimportant in measuring the value of a person: “the man whose natural bent is good, though his mother is Ethiopian, is nobly born.” His meaning here, is that it is character, not race that determines a person’s worth.

Indeed, persons of colour even appear on ancient Greek coins and were afforded places of honour. Delphus, after whom Delphi was said to have been named, was depicted as an African on some coinage (possibly because his mother was named Melanis – “the dark one”) and African legendary heroes are also depicted on the coinage of Athens, Lesbos and Phocis. In some vase-paintings, Homeric Circe is depicted as African, possibly in order to emphasise her exotic nature, as are some of Theseus’ youthful followers. A number of Africans are depicted on vases and masks, suggesting both close contact and fascination with them as people and at no stage is there any intimation that the African physical type was considered in any way ugly or inferior. While Philostratos wrote of the “charming Ethiopians with their strange colour,” Xenophanes argued that beauty is relative, stating that Africans portrayed their gods in their own image, just as Thracians did, according to their own type. The depictions of Africans in domestic ware such one portraying an Ethiopian being attacked by a crocodile, most probably an oblique reference to the Nile River, appear to be loaded with no racial connotations whatsoever. A tomb painting from a Greek cemetery near Poseidonia in southern Italy show an Ethiopian and a Greek in a boxing match, competing as equals.

In contrast to Western conceptions of Africans as primitive and thus worthy of enslavement, domination and colonization, the ancient Greeks seemed to have identified in African peoples, a venerable lineage worthy of respect. Thus, Diodorus spoke highly of the civilized people of Meroe, who lived in what is today Sudan, considering that they were the first people to worship the gods and holding Egyptian civilization to be a derivative of their own. This view is supported by some of the Homeric hymns which hold that Zeus dined with the Ethiopians, who were considered close to him. Lucian wrote that the Ethiopians were the first people to develop astrology and that they had a great reputation for wisdom.  Even Ptolemy, writing about the African tribes beyond the lands of the Ethiopians, attributes their apparent lack of civilization, not to any inherent racial characteristics, but to the fact that their homes were continuously oppressed by heat owing to the climate. There is no underlying assumption that Africans are in any way racially inferior to anyone else, let alone the Greeks themselves.

Best articulating the Greek view of cultural ascendancy, Athenian orator Isocrates,  around 380BC, in praising Athens, famously suggested that the term “Greek” not so much connoted a race, but rather a state of mind, «διάνοια» to which all those possessed of the requisite education «παιδεία» belonged. This was symptomatic of a broad inclusive view of identity that was not in any way based on skin colour. It comes in marked contrast to the efforts of western scholars to claim the Greek legacy on the basis of “whiteness,” a principle that they even applied to archaeology, “whitening” the ancient Greek sculptures that they unearthed, by scraping the remnants of their original paint from them. It follows axiomatically that the racist discourse subsisting within sections of modern Greek culture has its roots in the western imposed ontopathology  of classical cultural appropriation and the reinvention of a particular conception of Greece in the nineteenth century rather than being symptomatic of any inherent tradition stemming from ancient or Byzantine times.

Yet western whites were not the only people to attempt to appropriate Greek culture. Just after the American Civil War, Joseph Wilson, a black veteran of that conflict, published: “The Black Phalanx: A History of the Negro Soldiers of the United States in the Wars of 1775-1812, 1861-’65.” In that book, and especially by terming units of Black soldiers a “phalanx,” Wilson sought to connect them to the legacy of ancient Greek martial valour. In so doing, Wilson was hearkening back to a historic tradition much truer to fact that anything propagated by western classists.

In many ways, Greek-Australians, as kin to those modern Greeks who are considered by western narratives to be “fallen” Greeks by virtue of their Byzantine legacy and subjugation to the Ottomans, but at the same time, partaking, as Australians, in the discourse of “whiteness” deriving from an anhistoric appreciation of ancient Greek attitudes to colour, are in a unique position to appreciate the necessity of decolonizing classical studies and stressing the importance of de-coupling our ancient legacy from the promotion or perpetuation of systemic racism. To do so, is to achieve emancipation for all involved.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 20 June 2020

Saturday, June 13, 2020


It is autumn in Greek Melbourne. At least that is what one is to understand from the front cover of author and academic Dr Christos Fifis’ latest book, «Ελληνοαυστραλιανά Διηγήματα,». The iconic Arts Centre Spire looms fragmented behind a foreground of dense, russet coloured foliage. The inference is clear: Winter is coming.
Comprised of a collection of short stories, in «Ελληνοαυστραλιανά Διηγήματα,» Dr Christos Fifis continues in the tradition of Greek-Australian literatures’ founding fathers, Alekos Doukas and Giannis Lillis, providing a mosaic of disparate but thematically connected snapshots into the lives of Greek-Australian migrants, exploring not only the manner in which they acclimatized and acculturated to their new realities, but also, importantly, examining their backstory, for as a pre-eminent cultural historian, Dr Fifis is sensitive to the importance of understanding the context in which each individual was compelled to migrate to Australia, assessing the effects of various events upon their psychology, in order to analyse how these played a role, were perpetuated by or coloured the migration experience in each individual case. This emphasis on the psychology of his subjects, is characteristic of much of Dr Christos Fifis’ writings and in this collection, we are given insight into how political persecution, civil war and poverty continued to haunt migrants in Australia and still do, even to the present and how these undercurrents formed largely unspoken of fault-lines within the broader Greek-Australian migrant discourse.

There is a palpable sense of urgency about , «Ελληνοαυστραλιανά Διηγήματα,». It would possibly be incorrect to call each piece comprising the collection a ‘story.’ In the author’s sparse writing, there is no development of three dimensional characters, no portrayal of landscape, no lyricism or artistry of the word. Instead, it would be more fitting to render the word «Διηγήματα» as “narratives,” for these are mere sketches, brief summaries, a pocket compendium of lives in transition, recording impressionistically, the fleeting presence of the first generation, before their light fades forever. Throughout, Dr Christos Fifis is conscious that the people the subject of his study are lapsing into oblivion and consequently, he seeks to preserve their broad outlines for posterity. We don’t know what they looked like, we don’t get to hear their voices, but through the medium of the author, we are granted access to their pallet box of emotions, most of which are coloured by a sense that they are indeed in the autumn of their lives, and are about to fall from the Greek-Australian tree.
The brief snapshots indicate the author’s departure from the realist and plot-driven literature characterising much of the first generation of Greek-Australian writers, populated by Promethean, elemental people of action and permeated with nostalgia. Although “Greek-Australian Narratives” contains a multitude of realistic details, the focus is not on the development of a tight plot or of a coherent evolution but on a multiplicity of perspectives and on the formation of experience. The protagonists, remarkably introspective and passive, do not plausibly function as centres of a plot. While there is an array of symbolism in the work, it is rarely defined through explicit "keys" leading to moral, romantic or philosophical ideas. The significance of what is happening is often placed within the memory or in the inner contemplation of what is described. This focus on the relationship between experience, memory and writing and the radical de-emphasizing of the outward plot, suggesting a Proustian approach to time and memory could arguably only have become possible now that the first generation is contemplating its own mortality.
Thus if anything, Dr Christos Fifis’ compendium of the memories of guerilla fighters, of elderly women resisting the gentrification of Melbourne’s inner suburbs and thus ending up without a support network and alone, of children beaten up at school for being Greek, of students in Greek learning and growing into their own sexuality, of self-made businessmen decided to create Institutes of Greek language as a lasting legacy, of fading elderly members of Democritus discussing ideology over a game of cards, embodies and manifests the principle of intermittence, where existence invariably signifies a multiplicity of perspectives and multiple facets to reality as it pertains to the Greek-Australian migrant discourse. Evidently, in Dr Christos Fifis’ view, this iridescence never resolves itself completely into a single point of view. Accordingly, it is possible to project out of his compendium a series of presumptive and disconnected authors: The renderer of an expiring society, the depicter of stark reminiscence, creating his own romanticism, the ark of the past. For this is Dr Christos Fifis’ central manifesto: that his work of art can recapture the lost and thus save it from destruction, at least in our minds. The act of writing and reading the “Greek-Australian Narratives” in fact signifies, that art triumphs over the destructive power of time.
In this respect, the question must be asked: For whom does Dr Christos Fifis wish to save his dying world? He is writing in the Greek language, in a space and time in which English is fast replacing Greek as the dominant language of the Greek Australian discourse. Evidently then, he is not addressing his work to the latter generations of the Greek community, who ostensibly constitute that community’s future, unless they are proficient in Greek. Is this then a corpus of mystical lore available only available to those worthy few who attain the requisite skills to unseal its arcane secrets? If so, the author is requiring of the would be reader a good deal of linguistic and spiritual preparation.
Alternatively, the author, by choosing to preserve his reminisces of lost time in Greek, is reversing the entire migrant experience and setting it at nought by removing it from its Australian context and positing it squarely within the Hellenosphere. In this manner Dr Christos Fifis is pursuing a perspective of Greek migration and settlement to Australia as being rightfully a part of the corpus of Greek history and culture. It will be for others, not him to create an Australian context for the sum total of our sojourn here. Whether those who have not stayed in Australia will be interested enough or able to appreciate his references is something that begs for future examination. Yet that is the interesting thing about arks. They are built to withstand Deluges and they provide enough resources to provide a foundation for reconstitution after catastrophe. Given that the history of Greek migration to Australia has occurred in periodic waves that have not yet abated, the author’s conviction is both wise as it is steeped in the knowledge of Greek-Australian history that has constituted his life’s work.
The perceptive reader will find embedded within the short vignettes, known and unknown personalities of the Greek Australian community of Melbourne. In its pages, an Edenic, rural way of life, gives way to the Industrialisation of our grand metropolis of the South, with the social ramifications of gentrification, discontinuity of communication and values owing to language loss and social evolution. The book comes to an abrupt halt with the resolution of the son of one of its characters, a Greek-Cypriot who fought for the British at El Alamein, to look further into his father’s remarkable life. The injunction is clear: We are all called upon by the author to seek the hidden gems of experience embedded within our own family histories and contribute to the building of a collective ark which shall be the repository of the memory of our existence as an integrated entity. To do this, requires guidance, sensitivity and knowledge. These are the tools that Dr Christos Fifis’ humbly and reverently, sets in our hands, by means of his latest publication.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 13 June 2020

Saturday, June 06, 2020


“We’re gon’ party like its your birthday” – 50 Cent.
Recently, historian Maria Euthymiou resigned from the 2021 Commemorative Committee, tasked by the Greek government to organize the celebrations that mark the bicentenary of the Greek Revolution. She did so, citing a prevalence of «ουδετεροπατρία,» among her colleagues on the committee. As a neologism, the term is an interesting one. «Ουδέτερος» conveys connotations of neutrality and dispassion, the absence of emotional investment that allows one to assume a stance of impartiality. When it is adopted as a means of viewing one’s country (πατρίδα), however, Euthymiou appears to imply, this quality is detrimental to the proper exercise of one’s role on a Committee whose function is to commemorate two hundred years of existence.
Euthymiou’s resignation comes, not in protest at the fact that the Committee has done very little by way of actual work, nor because it appears to have largely excluded the voices and perspectives of Greeks Abroad, a strange phenomenon when it is considered that the Revolution the Committee is tasked to celebrate was conceived of, planned and funded by Greek migrants. Instead, it comes in the wake of a series of internet posts on the Committee’s official website, one claiming that the first governor of free Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias was a dictator, and another, going into great deal about the alleged sexual choices of revolutionary hero Giorgos Karaiskakis’ mother and how he felt about those. To many Greek people, the heroes of the Revolution enjoy iconic status, their personages are sacrosanct and any attempt at offering a new perspective, is tantamount to denigrating one’s country, or worse, treason.
Of course, the role of the historian is to examine all facets of a historical event or personage from a multiplicity of perspectives, no matter how inimical to prevailing ideological overlays. The heroes of the Greek revolution were after all, human, subject to the same foibles as the rest of the populace. Some of the heroes that fought valiantly and nobly against the Ottoman oppressors, also turned on each other in times of crisis, extorted money, committed what in the modern era would be considered to be war crimes and a good many of them, after the Revolution, proved to be a hindrance to the establishment of good governance and the rule of law in the newly liberated Greek kingdom and a drain on the public purse. Although sources are silent on this point, it is quite likely that some of them had quite colourful sex lives as well and an LGBTI history of the Greek Revolution is well overdue. Similarly, further research as to how the Revolution impacted upon ethno-linguistic minorities within the Greek world is also needed.
Just as the Gallipoli myth has been constantly viewed and reviewed over the course of a century, some historians emphasizing heroism and mateship, others the emergence of an Australian identity, others still, imperialism, and lately, how it relates to the genocide of the Christians of Anatolia,  so too should the Greek Revolution, a complex event with far-reaching ramifications for European and World history lend itself to similar scrutiny and debate, among historians and within the public discourse. The main protagonists in the Greek Revolution all had a different vision of the Greece they wished to create, ranging from a poly-ethnic empire such as Byzantium that preceded subjugation, a Christian version of the Ottoman Empire, to an enlightened European state. It is axiomatic that the attitudes of their modern descendants to this event would also reflect its inherent polyvalency. Consequently, the howls of derision against revising and deconstructing hallowed stereotypes is misconceived. That very process is the task of the historian. It is the hallmark of a progressive and healthy society.
However, this process of inquiry and re-assessment is not the task of the celebration organizers and it is here that the Committee has erred grievously. Its task is to organize events that will allow the nation (or at least what they consider to be the nation – we, the apodimoi seem to be absent from their definition of that loaded term), to come together and celebrate two hundred years of existence. Considering that the existence of the Greek state was imperiled for much of that time, that its sovereignty was consistently violated, that sections of its people were subject to persecution and genocide, that its security is still precarious and that a large proportion of its people have been compelled to live outside its borders, our survival in the face of adversity is no mean achievement and despite the accumulated pain and trauma, it is something definitely worth celebrating.
This need to celebrate, rather than engage in trivial polemics, is something that the 2021 Committee does not seem to appreciate and Maria Euthymiou is therefore right to coin the term «ουδετεροπατρία,» to describe the killjoy mood that seems to pervade our national party liaison, although the term: «ξενέρωτοι» lacking in vital fluids/devoid of eros, appears to be closer to the mark. One could view the bizarre and inappropriate public postings of the 2021 Committee as tantamount to inviting the family to one’s grandmother’s one hundredth birthday and placing comments on the invitation card about her sex life, lack of household management and child-rearing skills.  One is necessarily compelled to ask: Why would anyone appoint a group of historians to organize a party anyway? Is it because in Greece, everyone thinks that everyone else is a historian, which is why when they meet each other, they ask: «Τι έγινε;» Anyone that has been to any historian’s party would willingly admit that although admirable in innumerable respects, they are, generally speaking, often lacking in the requisite exuberance that will ensure that a party will, in the popular parlance “go off.”
One cannot be neutral about a party. One must be emotionally invested in its success. It is not an academic paper, a research project or a conference. Furthermore, as the Beastie Boys so eloquently show, it is a moral imperative: “You gotta fight, for your right, to party.”  It is about performance, joy and inclusiveness, elements that in modern Greece are more understood by television show hosts, actors and entertainers than stodgy academics and politicians, with their hidden agendas. That is not to say that a debate, however passionate about the quirky, the unknown, the controversial and the disputed facts of the Revolution cannot take place or even rage, concurrently in the media. In the meantime, those who can bring the people together, should be permitted and assisted to do so. After all it was Madonna that observed: “Music makes the people come together/ Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebel,” and the euphonious proletarians of the C and C Music Factory that emphasized, through a series of Socratic questions, the importance of speed, efficacy and appropriate temperature in celebration: “Y’all want this party started right? Y’ all want this party started quickly right? Y’ all want this party hot?”
Thus far, we Australian-Greeks have been afforded no place in the Helladic celebrations. The advent of the pandemic has shifted our attention away from our own local bicentennial celebrations though stakeholders are giving thought to once again arranging for a visit to our shores by the Presidential Euzones, proving the veracity of Dorothy Parker’s contention that: “If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.” Perhaps the 2021 Committee would also consider enlisting the assistance of superannuated NUGAS past presidents, with their vast experience of organizing mind-blowing celebrations at sundry Conventions and Club nights. There is a vast pool of latent talent here, ripe for exploitation.
As we brace ourselves for more dysfunction and inanity, we offer our fraternal greetings to our beleaguered, celebration-impaired Helladic brethren of the 2021 Committee, preferring a word of advice to all «ουδετεροπατρείς» wheresoever situated: In times of party-quandary, seek the oracular assistance of the divine Kesha. For in her pronouncements she has established the irrevocable fact that: “The party don’t start till I walk in,” in synchronization always with the Titaness Pink, whose cursory warning: “I’m coming up, so you better get this party started,” we would all do well to heed. We pay them due homage with the immortal words of Bill and Ted, of multifarious journeys and adventures: “Party on, Dudes!”
First published in NKEE on Saturday 6 June 2020