Saturday, February 18, 2017
Thursday, February 16, 2017
The revelation that the term “tsimbouki” had connontations other than a long, Ottoman smoking pipe, came to me at my first attendance at an Australian soccer match, back in the days when soccer was ethnic and reflected the dreams and aspirations of disaffected, hen-pecked migrants across all social and racial sub-strata. At some key stage in the game, a group of mullet-headed youths began to chant: «Πω, πω, πω, τι τσιμπούκι είν’ αυτό.» As they did so, their eyes gleamed with unworldy glee and they clutched at their crotches in ecstasy. I remember asking one of them whether tsimbouki was in fact, some type of migrant patois for “goal,” and my interlocutor rolled up the sleeves of his flanelette checked shirt tightly over his biceps, thrust his face uncomfortably close to mine and shouted: “It’s a τσιμπούκι ρεεεεεεεε,” before rushing off in search of a light with which to light some flares, for he had come unprepared and was completely disorganised. On the way home, my attempts to vocalise my joy at being exposed to such exhilliarating surrounds and linguistic polyvalencies, through the chanting of «Πω, πω, πω, τι τσιμπούκι είν’ αυτό,» were met by my father unceremoniously, with a backhander. I surmised that my father was secretly, an Alexandros fan after all, this being how we used to refer to a team that now identifies itself as Heidelberg United.
Somehow, after a certain age, the word tsimbouki seemed to have widespread intellegibility among the students of my school, Greek or otherwise, along with other expletives such as pousti and malaka, which in our corner of Essendon, were ingeniously conflated by the Aussie kids into the compound poustamalaka, a kind of taramasalata portmanteau that makes sense when one thinks about it. Going to school and being told that one’s mum is a poustamalaka is a heart-warming experience that shows just how multicultural the melting pot of vital fluids actually is. Incidentally, up until the ninenties, when people returning from holidays in Greece began to ape the mannerisms of the ultramarine Hellenes, malakas was an offesnsive term. Now, not only is it a term of endearment, it is a compulsory linguistic addition to the beginning of each and every sentence, if one is to establish genuine Neohellenic credentials. As one recently arrived Neohellenic friend observed not so long ago:
«Βρε μαλάκα, εσείς οι Αυστραλοέλληνες είστε κρύοι και λιγομίλητοι.»
“Yes,” I agreed. “That is because we tend to move our hands a lot less when we talk.”
“Sir, do you know Jim Boukis?”
“Jim Boukis, sir. Do you know him?”
“Didn’t he train about two years ago?”
“Ha, ha sir, I knew you would know Jim Boukis. You look like just the kind of guy who would.”
“What is he doing these days?”
Spasms of laughter ensued and this ritual was played out upon soccer trainer upon soccer trainer with the questions varying from:
“Hey Sir, do you know Mal? Mal Akas,” to do you know: “Michael O’ Tripper, Sue Benny,” or when imagination exhausted itself “Sue Vgeni,” until the time when one of the main protagonists, a boy who modelled his speech directly upon Jim Stephanidis of Acropolis Now fame asked a new blonde, haired blue eyed, Anglo-looking trainer:
“Hey sir, do you know Travis?”
“Travis? Travis who?”
“Travis Boutsas, do you know him?”
«Τον ξέρω. Θέλεις να ρωτήσω την μάνα σου πώς τον ξέρεις κι εσύ; Τράβα τώρα,» came the snarling response. We stood around speechless, for the common consensus was that Travis Boutsas was the schoolboy pièce de résistance of Grecoscatology, a work of the highest expletive genius, now deflated and rendered redundant until the next season by someone who knew exacly what we were up to. This trainer was not only Greek, he was pure evil. He pushed us hard, refusing to accept my impassioned references to the Magna Carta as pretexts for my non-participation in training and though I did not ever learn to kick a ball straight at the end of his tenure, I fantisized about kicking his own, countless times. What is worse, he adopted the use of the term Travis Boutsas as a collective noun to describe all of us.
It is for this reason, that when I graduated and obtained my first job, being mentored by a particularly sadistic Greek lawyer, that I raised my eyebrows quizically when he asked:
“Can you come here?”
“Do you know Tom Poustie?”
“Seriously? You’re going to go down this path now?”
“Answer the question. Do you know Tom Poustie?”
“No. Do you?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do. You want to see?”
Quick as a flash, he flipped his computer screen around to face me. There in front of me, an email from a colleague, who, and my chief tormentor had taken the trouble to look up his profile, was truly labouring under the applelation of: Tom Poustie. I glanced at the email and the look of sheer demonic delight on my torturer’s features. Shrugging my shoulders, I remarked:
“Βρε Tom Poustie,” as the rafters shook with my persecutor’s manical laughter.
Tsim Booky, the enigmatic taxi driver who appeared recently on the Commercial Networks, with that name, to comment upon the taxi driver’s protest against government policies must be viewed in the light of hallowed Australo-hellenic scatological tradition. The fact that he can convincingly pass himself off as an act of fellatio (which may or may not be symbolic of what he may believe to be the not-so-genuine efforts of the government to mollify his brethren and which could more likely be likensn to irrumatio instead), in multicultural Australia, proves that this man must be given his own television show or youtube channel, whereupon, tsimbouki in hand, he can comment upon the issues of the day. In this, and our continued delight in asserting our identity through smut and converting it into social protest, we ought to be immensely joyful.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
BULLEEN- YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN
First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 February 2017
Saturday, February 04, 2017
BOUGIAS OF BOURKE STREET
DOUBLE HEADED BOGEY MEN
It is in this vein that I view the latest controversial photograph that has so vexed Greek public opinion within that country, both in Greece and abroad. A group of Greek soldiers, of Albanian ethnicity, allowed themselves to be photographed in their military uniform. All of them have linked their outstretched hands in such a way, that when first viewing the photograph, I thought that the defenders of the fatherland were either very bad at affecting raper attitudes or performing the children’s song: ῾Μια ωραία πεταλούδα.᾽ However, I am reliably informed that they were in fact, forming a representation of the Albanian national symbol, the double headed eagle and it is this that has incensed and outraged the Hellenes.
Demands for the Albanian-Greeks court-martial and deportation abound. Apparently, forming the symbol of the double headed eagle is an act of treason, because it indicates that the soldiers’ loyalty is not to the country in whose army they serve. Pundits lamenting the state of Greece go further and opine that this type of heinous behaviour proves that multiculturalism in Greece does not work – that Greece must belong to the Greeks and that one cannot become a Greek, they must be born a Greek, simply because these so-called “Greeks” of diverse descent, cannot be trusted to have the best interests of Greece at heart, especially when they try to make images of avian endothermic vertebrates with their hands.
It is worthwhile wondering if the level of outrage and bile would have been any different, had the soldiers in question been of Serbian, Montenegrin, Russian or Karnatakan (in India) descent, for all those cultures use the double headed eagle as a national symbol. I would venture to say that it would not be. The real problem here, lies not, as the infuriated would have us believe, with soldiers of any race displaying an inability to cleanse themselves, by means of psychosocial colonic irrigation or otherwise, of their ethnic affiliations, this compromising their ability to serve the Greek state, but specifically with cultures or ethnicities that are perceived to be ‘enemies’ of Greece and thus, their presence within the Greek army is deemed to be a security risk and they themselves, as potential fifth columns. As such, despite the fact that they may be Greek citizens, their position in the Greek armed forces is considered untenable.
There is ample historical precedent to support such a view. The modern Albanian state was created, out of a form of Albanian nationalism that aped and was largely a reaction to Greek nationalism. Its creation compromised the right to self-determination of a large population of native Greeks in the south of that country, sparking the Northern Epirus issue, which is yet to be resolved, as successive Albanian governments pursue largely hostile policies towards the Greek minority. Further adding fuel to the conviction that Greek trained Albanians represent a fifth column, is the knowledge that most of the leaders of the Albanian independence movement were educated in Greece, specifically in Ioannina, and it was these leaders who went on to curtail the ethnic expression of the Greeks of Northern Epirus. Add to that the persistent irredentist policies of Albanian governments who have claimed as their own, territories comprising the entirety of Greek Epirus, the appalling manner in which the collaborationist Albanian government and the Cham Albanians, who were Greek citizens, firstly annexed Greek territory in Thesprotia and then proceeded to commit genocidal acts against its Greek citizens, the appropriation of Greek history in that, according to Albanian historiography, the ancient (and modern) Epirots are ethnic Albanians, and the fact that the Albanian government actively assisted Serbian Albanians to commit treason against their country of citizenship, violently rebelling against their government and creating the state of Kosovo in the process and one can begin to appreciate the roots of Greek paranoia.
Of course against these incontrovertible facts, one must balance many others: That Albanian speakers have existed within the bounds of the Greek state for at least a millennium, that Albanian speaking revolutionaries all over Greece fought as hard as any other fighter for the liberation and continued freedom of Greece, and that at least until the middle of the nineteenth century, serious consideration was given by all interested parties in the creation of a federal Greek-Albanian state. These examples however, serve only to illumine the sources of fear and suspicion where they exist. They do nothing to allay them.
It is quite plausible that many Albanians living in Greece harbour prejudices against Greeks commensurate to those harboured by Greeks against Albanians, created either by ‘history’ or by their experiences living within Greece. Some of those prejudices, related to me by them, appear eerily similar to those harboured by first generation Greek migrants against Australians. What the Australian experience should teach us however, is that petty prejudices of this nature seldom, if ever, translate to anything more serious. But then again, the Australian multi-cultural paradigm is built on a myth of its own, that of terra nullius, whereby all nations have the right to co-exist here, (as long as they acknowledge the ascendancy of the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture) because there were no competing nationalisms to contend with the ruling culture in the first place, Aboriginal cultures being conveniently effaced from the discourse. The success of the Australian multi-cultural model thus stems from the ability of the dominant culture to control and define the cultural narratives of the minorities it has permitted to settle within its sovereignty. This is markedly different from the experience of Albania, Greece and other Balkan states where nationalisms compete, collide, contend and overlap, continuously. It is of no benefit to gloss over the fact of this acrimony.
I don’t think we will ever know the motivation of the young men who assumed the butterfly position in the now infamous photograph. Were they, as I suspect merely highlighting the incongruity of men of Albanian background serving in the Greek army, given the known historical background of Greco-Albanian relations? Were they parodying competing nationalisms, or merely expressing sub-cultural solidarity with each other? Were they indeed, as many contend, setting out to insult the Greek state? It is impossible to fathom the inscrutable workings of their young minds. What is certain however, is that the ensuing hysteria, clearly is a product of a deeply felt insecurity about the changing face of Greece, where recourse to threadbare tropes of collective national self-indulgence no longer assist in any meaningful way to interpret the world around us.
No amount of wishful thinking will bring Greece to the almost ethnically homogenous state it believed itself to be, between the end of the Second World War and the downfall of the Communist bloc – itself a temporary aberration in two millennia of continuous population movement. Many of those population movements, such as those of the Avars, Slavs and Goths caused upheavals that directly threatened the security and existence of the Greek-speaking people. Yet despite the immense human cost of those almost continuous upheavals, eventually, over a long period of time, Greece was able to absorb those populations and make them their own, despite the state of insecurity it found itself in. Such a long view of history makes the hand gestures of little boys, pale into insignificance.
Ultimately, we cannot hope to know now, whether it will be government policy, or social attrition that will determine how ethnic non-Greek peoples will be accommodated as Greek citizens and what form any type of multi-culturalism, if any, will take. The social and ethnic realities of Greece do not bear any resemblance to those of western multicultural countries, created largely as a result of colonialism or de-colonisation and thus any comparison or translation of their ideologies is unhelpful. The pre-existing, though not-consistent practice, of not permitting “risky” groups such as Thracian Muslim citizens to bear arms with ammunition while serving in the Greek army suggests that the creation of distinct “classes” of citizens is a possibility, with all the implications for the bilateral relations between Greece and the target’s country of origin that these entail. This is especially so considering that over the border in Albania, the Greek minority and its politicians’ commitment to the Albanian state is called into question on a daily basis by the media and Albanian politicians, often, most crudely.
Of paramount importance therefore, is to keep ethnic and social tension from bubbling over, as the unique processes of dealing with the new social realities, resolve themselves over time. The best we can do to assist such a process is to exhort all concerned, little Albanian soldiers and Greeks alike, to keep their hands firmly in their pockets, where we can see them.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 February 2017
Saturday, January 28, 2017
ΨΩΜΙ ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑ
To tell you the truth, Ι was bored out of my mind and completely demoralized. All of a sudden, my life no longer had any purpose or any structure. When you are at school, your whole mindset concerns the future: learning new things, progressing to new tasks, adding to what you already know. As far as I knew, not being able to go to school, I had no future. Not only that, not having anything to do makes you focus almost obsessively on things you would rather forget: the frightening experiences we had in Iraq, the traumatic way we left and of course, the terrifying passage to Greece in which we almost lost our lives. I had nightmares continuously.
Nonetheless, it was only when we arrived in Australia and I finally returned to school that I realized the full extent of the damage caused by two years of scholarly inactivity in Greece. I was extremely behind in all my subjects, had forgotten a large portion of what I knew and was no longer used to the discipline of study. Not a few of my friends, in the same situation gave upon on study altogether and went looking for menial jobs. Therefore, to deny someone schooling for even a short period of time is, quite plausibly, to compromise their future altogether.”
The demented Golden Dawners who recently stormed into a school in Perama, Piraeus to disrupt a meeting being held by teachers and parents regarding the education of refugee children in that facility, would do well to cast aside their troglodytic primal urges and take heed of the stories of people like Nineveh. Though said Golden Dawners are fond of proclaiming their adherence to what they consider to be “pure” Hellenic values, it would be of benefit to point out to them, that one of the basic values that underpin Greek civilisation since the time of Homer, is that of Xenia, better known to the modern Greek as φιλοξενία, one of those terms for which, as the Ellinarades rejoice in telling us, like φιλότιμο, no exact equivalent exists in any other language.
Xenia, as ritualised guest friendship, thus embodies the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, providing a structure for the generosity and courtesy to be shown to those who are far from home. Accordingly, guests are to be provided with succour and protection, and even provided with a present when they leave. By reciprocation, a guest had to be courteous and also offer his host something by way of a gift. (Of course it was understood that the guest relationship was of temproary duration). That Xenia was central to Greek society can be evidenced that one of the greatest ancient epics, the Iliad, revolved around a violation of guest-friendship, when Paris abducted his host, Menelaus' wife, Helen. The Greeks therefore were required by duty to Zeus to avenge this transgression, which, as a violation of xenia, was an insult to Zeus' authority. Memories of Xenia could even create precedents that were a pretext for peace in such a world and transcend the generations. In the Iliad, Diomedes and Glaucus meet in No Man's Land. However, Diomedes does not want to fight another man descendant from the Gods, so he asks Glaucus about his lineage. Upon revealing his lineage, Diomedes realises they are guest-friends, as their fathers had practiced xenia with each other. They decide not to fight, but to instead trade armour to continue the ties of their guest-friendship. Similarly in the Odyssey, the Phaeacians, and in particular their princess Nausicaa stand out for their immaculate application of xenia, as Nausicaa and her maidens offered to bathe Odysseus and then led him to the palace to be fed and entertained. After sharing his story with his hosts, they even agreed to take Odysseus to his home land.
The latest Golden Dawn antics thus seem to underlie the ambiguity of the word ξένος, which, having been in use at least since times Homeric, can be interpreted to mean different things based upon context, signifying such divergent concepts as "enemy" or "stranger", a particular hostile interpretation, to host, and all the way to the hallowed "guest friend." For Golden Dawners, it seems, not only refugees but the vast majority of the population of Greece who do not support their world view seem to be classified as "ξένοι." All the more reason to afford them the courtesy prescribed by the ancients say I.
Ιn their plurality, the Golden Dawners have up until now, lived a comfortable life, in peace and relative affluence. They are in no position to appreciate, let alone comprehend the terrible psychological and physical toll of being uprooted from one's country, witnessing slaughters and losing loved ones, nor the travails of braving rapacious people-smugglers and attempting life-threatening journeys across perilous borders. They have not been sexually harassed or robbed in refugee camps, nor have they, like Nineveh, had to face the prospect of a completely pointless, paused life, owing to an inability to go to school. Instead, by begrudging young, traumatised refugees the opportunity to regain hope and meaning through some type of schooling as they wait to rebuild their shattered lives and by seeking to intimidate those who would proffer them such an opportunity, the Golden Dawners display the worst facets of Modern Greek society: exclusion, suspicion, racism and bigotry. In doing so, they directly contravene the hallowed ancestors who they supposedly hold up as their example.
The flip-side to xenia is that it is reciprocal. It creates strong emotional ties that endure. In the case of Nineveh, it created a passionate advocate for all things Greek and there are many others like her in Melbourne alone. For Nineveh, and thousands like her, her sojourn in Greece was a temporary aberration, and her family had no intention to remain in Greece. This is important to note, because Germany jhas ust announced it will be returning thousands of immigrants and refugees to their point of entry (thins being Greece) starting March this year, and Greece is already hard pressed to deal with its own social and economic issues. However, providing young refugees with dignity and compassion, in the form of the chance to learn and dream where it is possible to do so before they move on, given the limited means Greece has at its disposal, not only transforms their lives, providing them with an outlet from their daily uncertainty that could be channelled otherwise towards anti-social behaviour; it creates a relationship of friendship and gratitude that has the capacity to transform each and every refugee student into a potential ambassador for Hellenism. If this is not possible, then at least let us not intimidate them. Brutish discourtesy, as practised Golden Dawn in their 'raid', reinforces prejudices about the West within the already laboured minds of war-stricken refugees and creates lasting bitterness and enmity that benefits Greece not at all.
Ultimately, Xenia had at the heart of its philosophy, the idea that the gods walk among men and then to refuse hospitality to a god, would be the height of blasphemy. It is high time that we embraced such a humanistic and benevolent conception of mankind, affording each other the respect and mutual regard we all deserve, consigning the thuggery of the simian Graeculi who ape Hellenic attitudes without having the foggiest idea what they entail, where it belongs: The dustbin of history.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
THE QUICK GUIDE TO HELLENISM
First published in NKEE on 21 January 2017