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Why Helen Zahos is not 'writing Greeks on old shoes'

Unquestionably, Helen Zahos' work speaks for itself. She has not the need to justify herself or refer to the sterling work she has done for Greeks within Greece in order to legitimise her choice to make an awe-inspiring and selfless contribution to the lives of refugees. There is no need to emphasise, in these dark times of xenophobia and discrimination, the importance of basic human acts to cement our common bond

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Helen Zahos in Iraq. Photo: NK Archive/supplied

22 September 2017

"Next time you decide to come to my island, I will cut your legs off …" "I wouldn't spit on her if she was on fire! Σκύλα!» … «H μαλάκω…»"

These are typical comments unloaded upon social media by some, judging from the tone of their abuse, rather piqued neo-Hellenes. Reading them, one would plausibly form the opinion that they are directed at some disreputable character, one whose nefarious deeds and purposes have rightfully warranted receiving disapprobation in the most strident of tones.

Except that the recipient of this abuse just happens to be Helen Zahos, the Gold Coast nurse who, moved by the plight of the masses displaced by the various conflicts in the Middle East, travelled to Greece to provide those arriving there with assistance. Helen Zahos, a 2016 recipient of the Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's prestigious Community Service Award and a nominee for the 2017 International Hellenic Women's Award, also travelled to the Middle East, notably to Iraq, to gauge the situation on the ground and gain a full appreciation of the trials and travails associated with war and its ancillary demographic dislocation.

As a people, we generally tend to laud and applaud those who not only accomplish great things, but also are seen to accomplish great things, especially if they are appreciated by others, for this reinforces our own myths about the nature of the "Hellenic character." What we often perceive when we look in the mirror, is thus our image, distorted by the lens and conditioned by the prism of self-created stereotype, with a good dose of wishful thinking thrown in. The Greek is thus inventive and ingenious like Odysseus. The Greek is courageous and invincible like Alexander. The Greek is generous, welcoming and compassionate like the Homeric heroes. And if Facebook is to be believed, the Greek is as gorgeous as Jennifer Aniston and as proud to be Greek as Tom Hanks …

Entire social media pages have sprouted of late, whose sole purpose seems to be to extol the superior attributes of the modern Greek, without criticism or analysis, the emphasis being on instilling 'Greek Pride' or a feeling of 'One Greece' as a panacea to all the evils that bedevil or are seen to beleaguer the Greek people.

In a bizarre adaption of The Secret all that the postulant to Hellenic greatness has to do, is to believe that Greece and the Greeks are better than everyone else to ensure that this is so.

To gain full use of such pages, it is incumbent upon the postulant to establish their Hellenic credentials not only by mindlessly praising everything that is Greek, but also by emphatically denigrating everything that is not. Furthermore, there is no room for any of the banter or persiflage that usually accompanies social media posts here. Instead, a rite of antiphons of heated and uncompromising invective must be performed, akin to the Orwellian 'Two Minutes Hate' as practised in 1984 directed to all of those who, in the guiding minds of the administrators, are unHellenic or display disturbing unHellenic tendencies. This is because, as everyone knows, Hellenism is under threat. Its enemies, who would destroy it, are omnipresent and they are legion. Of course, the reason for their malevolence lies in their inability to accept that our superiority is a proprietary right belonging to us alone. Consequently, the extinguishment of our existence is considered a condition precedent for a redistribution of brilliance. Sundry uber-Hellenic social media page administrators are thus tasked with the high and noble pursuit of safeguarding the race from harm and miscegenation.

Recently on one of the aforementioned pages, the unsuspecting populace at large was subjected to a meme, posted by the administrator, which read as follows: 'Makedonia is Hellas. So F*** of Slavs!!' Graced by more likes than could be counted, (for it is by these mandated signs of approbation that one affirms their Hellenism), the meme was also accompanied by the explanatory caption: 'I am sick of their lies. I am sick of their propaganda! I am sick of their pseudo and fictitious history! I am sick to death of these maniac brain washed goat herders who are countryless! You are Slavic whether you like it or not, there's no choice........MAKEDONIA IS GREEK AND ALWAYS WILL BE! LEAVE HELLAS ALONE!'

This time around I intruded upon the mandated two minutes hate, commenting: "This is racist and ignorant, even for your standards. I remind you that using the terms 'Slavs' refers to the largest Indo-European ethno-linguistic group in Europe, which comprises some 360 million people, including Russians, Ukrainians, Belarussians, Poles, Sorbs, Czechs, Slovakians, Slovenians, Serbs, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Croatians, Rusyns, Lemkos, Bulgarians, and of course the Skopjans. And it is with the Skopjians that we have an issue, not anyone else. In fact, Serbs have historically been our allies and we constantly look to Russia for help. So when you whinge about being sick of the falsification of history, learn some facts because it is the clumsy and unintelligent way in which you blunder around trying to articulate an argument that loses us the battle time and time again - a mode of behaviour which, eerily resembles the tactics of the people you so deride."

The result of my heretical intrusion? Instant excommunication, accompanied by group vitriol from a multitude possessed of surprisingly scant spelling skills but a great deal of herd mentality when it comes to those who question the wisdom (and syntax) of their administor's words.

Helen Zahos, on the other hand, being of a considerate and tactful disposition, did not intrude upon anyone's two minutes hate. Her only crime, was to have her philanthropy written about by the Greek City Times. An uber-Hellenic administrator of a typical 'I'm more Hellene than you' social media page saw fit, unsolicited, to post the article on their page with the comment, translated from Greek: "Ok, Helen…so you've assisted the illegal immigrants. What did you do for the Greeks? Tell us, we are listening. The Greeks, our brothers who have gone hungry for years now. The kids who beg on the streets. Have you gone there in the past six years to help them? We held our family first and then everyone else. This is not philotimo. It's unfair!" The post concludes grandiloquently: «Γτ τους Έλληνες τους έγραψες στα παλιά σου τα παπούτσια, άχρηστη!»"

What followed was the barrage of the aforementioned abuse from sundry uber-Hellenes, including such examples of verbal excrement as these: "Sorry, but I'm not praising this imbecile,…where the Hell was she when our Homeless Greeks passed the worst winter on the streets…" and "Helping your own people doesn't get you on the news…helping the current fashionable minority does."

For Helen Zahos, who has courted no publicity and has merely sought to follow her own humanitarian and philanthropic convictions, inadvertent exposure to this base bile has been a harrowing experience especially considering her tireless work in improving the health of those in her ancestral homeland. It is common knowledge that she has devoted a good deal of time both in her village and the local hospital in Katerini to improving health outcomes. She has assisted the local rescue volunteer group to obtain a defibrillator and facilitated first aid courses in her village. She has also devoted a couple of weeks during one of her holidays at the peak of the financial crisis to volunteer at a clinic for pensioners and the underprivileged, who could not afford medication or medical treatment.

Unquestionably, Helen Zahos' work speaks for itself. She has not the need to justify herself or refer to the sterling work she has done for Greeks within Greece in order to legitimise her choice to make an awe-inspiring and selfless contribution to the lives of refugees. There is no need to emphasise, in these dark times of xenophobia and discrimination, the importance of basic human acts to cement our common bond. It is significant, however, to point out that none of her keyboard-warrior detractors, ensconced slovenly before their screens, therefrom to dispense bile and slander upon people of initiative and moral integrity, seem to be able to advance even a tenth of Helen Zahos' curriculum vitae as a means of establishing a basis for which to express themselves in such a vile manner about her choices. Yet this is symptomatic of another of the uber-Hellene's attributes: prone to volubly declaring their love for all things Hellenic and abrogating to themselves the right to determine other's life choices for them, they are markedly absent from community and other cultural or charitable endeavours. Needless to say, none of the detractors in question appear to have sacrificed any of their time to travel to their beloved homeland in order to assist the people for whom such love they proclaim.

It is trite to mention that in times of crisis, the true measure of a person or nation's character is revealed. In our own crisis-ridden times, it is the raw polarities of the Hellene that are exposed. At one pole, the nuanced, compassionate, life-affirming, cosmopolitan, inclusive and positive outlook of Helen Zahos, actively assisting Greeks and non-Greeks alike and, literally poles apart, the frigid, seething paranoia of the passively aggressive incompetent, the bigoted, the hateful and the negative. We ignore either pole at our peril for both subsist within our dialectic. It is only by examining those undesirable accretions to our 'character' such that it is, identifying them and divesting ourselves of their pernicious effects that we can aspire to any form of the greatness the smug and the unexamined believe they are already possessed of, online or otherwise. Recording their puerile writings on our old shoes, as the Greek expression literally goes, is perhaps, the most fitting fate for them.

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