The following is a letter that Mode of Life sent off to various Greek Australian newspapers and news websites in response to questions regarding whether diasporan Greeks should have the vote in Greek elections. Of course there are similar discussions amongst other Orthodox Christian communities within Australia where the debate of whether Serbs, Bulgarians and so forth should have a say in the elections of the countries of their origins. Consequently, the following thoughts that focus on the Greek Australian community (specifically in the state of Victoria), hold equal relevance for other Orthodox Christian communities who are at times divided between their focus and loyalties to the “homeland of origin” and the cultivation of their communities within their “adopted homeland”.
Some years ago, Archbishop Stylianos came under immense criticism for expressing his personal objection to diasporan Greeks becoming involved in Greece’s political processes. In the said article, he pointed out that diasporan Greeks did not reside in Greece, nor live under the circumstances to which Greek public policy sought to address. Subsequently he felt that diasporan Greeks would compromise the right of Greeks within Greece to determine their own future and hold them to ransom with what they perceived Greece should do, even though they would not have to live with the consequences of policy decisions.
Accordingly, he cited that this preoccupation with Greek politics, took attention away from local community concerns, and that diasporan Greeks would fail to recognise and take an active role within the socio-political and economic spheres of their adopted homeland. Thus he alluded to the need to stop focusing on Greece, and focus on building up local Greek communities, and cultivate the institutions and forums that will serve it and offer centres of discourse.
In another article, he cited that the best way for local Greek communities to progress, was to avoid being entangled, governed and divided by Greece’s political environment, to which he noted, had historically played a prominent negative role and obstacle in the development of Australia’s Greek communities. In any case, he cited that by “building up” local diasporan communities we could better help Greece by serving as an advocate or supporter in times of need, as well as provide a welcoming home for prospective Greek migrants. Of course these views are echoed by many other Greek-Australians, including our erudite Dean Kalimniou, who has commented on the differences in living conditions of Greeks in Greece and those in the diaspora, as well as the gradual disappearance of our community associations which are now expending their assets upon countless barbecues and panegyria. The same assets, which are necessary for developing the resources and networks that will ensure the diaspora’s future.
Interestingly, the Archdiocese, in much smaller Greek-Australian communities like Sydney, Cairns, Canberra or Perth, has been able to implement and offer a diverse programme of services, with less difficulty than occurs in Melbourne. In Sydney alone, there are 8 aged care facilities, 3 support facilities for children with special needs, welfare centres in a number of suburbs as well as in regional towns, numerous kindergartens, drug and alcohol counselling, schools and so forth. Many of these institutions have been recognised by both state and federal authorities who have bestowed awards and grants for the high standards of service offered to the community.
Without doubt, part of this success stems from the dedication and volunteerism of Greeks (clergy and lay) in service to fellow diasporan members. Yet this success is also due to the fact that the archdiocese is one of the few Greek-Australian “institutions” which has a national presence and scope, together with a vision that accompanies it. However this vision has not always been positive or successful in its implementation in places like Melbourne.
And it is here that we confront the disappointing results of the influential legacy of bringing Greek politics into the diasporan context, as was the case of post-World War II migration with its right and left wing divides, and the disputes between secular groups, businessmen and the Church. It is lamentable that despite the size and resources at the disposal of Melbourne’s Greeks, we have failed to overcome our juvenile ideological rhetoric in order to effect cooperation and provide sufficient support to our community needs, as compared to the achievements of smaller communities. We could easily establish more schools, welfare centres and care/support facilities within Melbourne, as well as in Geelong and regional areas, but where are they? And why is it that in other communities, the Church and Greek associations are able to engage each other maturely and sensibly by working together, while in Melbourne and Adelaide we have constant problems?
Thankfully the present GOCMV, like the Archdiocese, also recognises the need for a programme for the future of Greek-Australians in Victoria. But the lack of support or continual attack of both, has a counterproductive result for our paroikia; particularly for the Church which struggles to offer the same sort of quality services that it offers elsewhere in Australia, to all without distinction, which is the greatest loss for Melbourne and Adelaide Greeks. Yet Greek associations also need to assume their share of responsibility by focusing upon our diasporan context, and making serious and practical efforts for our future, not grand gestures, glendia, or “provincial” politics. Maybe it is time that the GOCMV absorbs these associations and use them as suburban bases to expand its scope, instead of being confined to Lonsdale street and Bulleen?
Mode of Life