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Bemoaning the future of Modern Greek

A Neos Kosmos reader bemoans the state of Modern Greek

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30 March 2010

A few weeks ago I wrote a letter bemoaning the downward spiral of the Greek Language in Australia.

As many of us were aware growing up in the 1970's, if you spoke Greek in public you were liable to get yourself verbally or even physically abused.

To those of us who lived outside the relative safety of the inner suburbs with its majority ethnic composition.

It often made you wish to lose the ability to speak the language.

Here is the contradiction. In today's era, no-one would dare attack any of us (at least physically) for speaking a second language.

So, the fear factor, one of the major reasons for our parents not speaking to us, does not even exist anymore.

However it appears that fear factor has been replaced by the 'lack of need' factor in our current social and economic climate.

Whilst the aforementioned fear factor may not exist anymore, the Cultural Cringe attached to it still exists.

The example I use is of a family of educated Greek born parents whose children do not speak Greek.

Upon asking a mutual acquaintance 'why is this so?', she responded, completely without irony, 'because they are educated'.

Now, these days of course, you can understand that the 'acquiring' of a new language is a sign of intellectual advancement on the individual's part, no matter what era we live in, but it astounds me that 'losing' a language can be still seen as a positive.

The 1980's began the onset of two divergent aspects of Greek life in Australia.

Due to various reasons (market de-regulation; Greek-Australian acceptance by the mainstream, etc) this era ignited the increasing wealth that the Greeks accumulated, that has manifested itself in Greeks now leading the 'Richest Australians' list but at the same time we have sacrificed much of our Hellenism.

We transitioned from a communal society (eg. many of our parents were in unionised jobs) where we made decisions to assist the majority of Melbourne Greeks, to an individualistic society where we all started our own businesses and looked for the best education/health/suburb etc for our children.

Although I am sounding critical of the 'wealth accumulators', I want to say that at least one of them gave the Greek community of Melbourne an immense gift.
The Stamoulis family gave us our own radio station 3XY!
Yet do any of the younger generation listen to it?

It offers a great variety of Greek music and whilst we may not always understand all the complex issues as they are spoken in Greek, it provides a welcome relief to the mainstream western-anglo Australian fluff heard on most other station's.

But amongst my social circle (and we're 40, so god help the younger generation) I do not think anyone listens at all!

Anecdotal evdience also suggests that there are parents using Greek school as a babysitter, not really caring if their child is learning Greek.

And what do we make of the Greek parent who admonished the teacher for addressing the parents child's name in Greek rather than English?! Dear oh dear.
And I have seen the future.

It exists in Perth.
Much of the population there is at least a generation older (many are Kastellorizian immigrant's and descendant's from the 1900's up to the 1940's) and, understandably, the Greek culture is not so prevalent. For instance, there are very few Greek restaurants or cafes.

It is a warning to us here in the Eastern states.

Whatever happens folks, with Greece enduring its current economic crisis, we may be on our own from this point onwards as far as help from the homeland.

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Dear Gentlemen, I don't wish to over simplify the reasons why Greek in general is in decline in Australia but we need to ask ourselves is it possible to maintain our identity whilst in a foreign country? I believe after a few generations people do truly become a part of their surroundings and this is no more obvious then the rampant race mixing we see today in Australia. This all has an effect on the community and indeed the long term outcome of young people raised in such an environment. Up to a few years ago I never considered myself truly Greek sure my parents where but culturally I was at a loss. Only after intense research into our ancient culture did I find the pride and thirst to know more about who I am. I have concluded that if you truly wish to remain Greek you must be immersed in it. Its time Greek Australians considered moving back home or assisting there children to move back to Greece. I know Greece has many problems and this is the reason why so many of our parents generation never went back once they had made there money. Greece greatest assets is its expats and if we don't come home then we will be lost forever in time and all our hard work will go to hands of the Xeni.
Over the past couple of months I have received considerable praise for my various letters on this very topic, the issue of Modern Greek language education. I come from a family very well known in the community. My uncle Heracles Kenos opened the first zaharoplasteo in Victoria, in Richmond, before he went on to found Kenman kandy. I know that many thousands of readers still visit every year. My uncle Nick kenos is exceptionally well known in the wine industry. And I could go on. But no matter what my many relations have achieved over the years, what does it mean if the next generation is divorced from their ethnicity? Thankfully that is not the case here and I am proud of my cousins whose children are learning Modern Greek just as each of my children did, and far better than their father. I am also very thankful to my wife's fabulous uncle, Vlassis Mavraganis who with his wife Nelly has given so much to language education and through that door way, to culture, in this state. But now I want to get nasty! How many parents have used the excuse over the years "oh my son's soccer practice interferes with Greek school":? Or "my daughter's piano lessons clash with modern Greek"? How many of you take your kids not just to one of the fabulous Hellenic restaurants in Melbourne, such as the awesome Philhellene in Moonee Ponds, but to Greek dances, to family picnics, to Greek movies, to Greek concerts? How many of you ever watch SBS Greek news? Or listen to Greek on the radio? Or talk Greek at home? Now I will not claim to be perfect here but at least I am trying to achieve something for my family and the next generation, and the one after and the one after that. My late godfather was one of the three men who, with Dimitrios Gogos, founded this paper. But so what if the paper eventually dies because people stop learning and thus reading Greek? I read Neos Kosmos both in print and on line. it is a must read if I care at all about my community. As a local government councillor it is also a sensational way of learning what is happening in the community across the state. Better than the gossip one hears at Church. The future of our community is in our hands, yours and mine. Sit on your hands and the community will stop to breathe. So what are you going to do?
To answer your question what am I going to do? My wife and I are undertaking Greek lessons and Greek dancing so we can set the example for our children. Indeed we also seek to network in the community via these avenues. My life's ambition is to change the situation in Greece so that you and me and future generations can return home to our rightful land.
Marios Krotkas if you change the "situation in Greece" your icon will be in more Churches than Saint George forever. Your ambition alone may be enough to open the gates of Heaven for all your ancestors. I used to pray and ask God to deliver us from the wilderness and return us to the holy land of Ella’s, with tears in my eyes. I now pray that my body may be delivered deep into the earth of Ella’s never again to be separated for eternity. I lied to myself that I fell in love with my wife when she was 19 because she was beautiful, and, could climb the highest trees to sit with me to look at the far sky and mountains, that hid Ella’s beyond the far horizon. Taking turns to drink from a bottle of wine she would laugh with delight, and, her pale blue eyes sparkled when I described the different places of Ella’s I could see. I really fell in love with her fine Greek, and, the fact she tolerated my imperfect Greek when I read her every Greek poem ever written including Sappho and Homer. May your journey into Greek give you as much pleasure as it has to the whole World. "Your destination is to arrive there; but do not hurry your journey in the least. Better that it may last for many years"

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