“Cruel are the times when we are traitors, and do not know ourselves.” Macduff, in the Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
Apparently, Professor Anastasios Tamis is a traitor. If you believe social media, he is also scum and a few other choice expletives also apply to him. The reason for this invective is that he caused to be published on behalf of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies (AIMS), a carefully nuanced position on the naming dispute. That position, to paraphrase, opposed the inclusion of the word Macedonia in any name for FYROM, but went on to state that if the word was to be used, it should be clear that it is used in geographical, not ethnological terms, and should be preceded by an untranslatable Slavic prefix, so no confusion with ancient Macedonia could ensue.
The fact that from the eighties, Professor Tamis, through AIMS, has been at the forefront of Australian research with regard to the history of Macedonia, has organised international conference pertaining to aspects of that history and was at the forefront of articulating a cogent Greek-Australian position on the naming dispute in the nineties is irrelevant to those possessed of few spelling skills but vast stores of righteous anger. Because Professor Tamis does not write in slogans, because he does not think in aphorisms of the Orwellian: “Four legs good, two legs bad” nature, because a lifetime of research into the issue grant him a unique understanding not only of the history but also the constantly changing international and domestic political context in which the naming dispute has evolved, because he does not jump up and down to wave a Greek flag, thereby to “prove” his patriotism, he is branded a traitor by contemptible keyboard warriors, the vast majority of whom have not even bothered to read, let along consider and understand his position.
These keyboard myrmidons are mostly absent from the life of the organized Greek community. One does not generally see them joining the diminishing ranks of those who annually protest the continuing Turkish occupation of Cyprus. They are nowhere to be seen during fundraisers for aged-care or cultural events. Instead, they lead a parallel existence of their own, more Greek than any other possible Greeks, emerging from the meandric fringes of their reality, comprised of putrescent facebook pages existing only to pander to the most repellent forms of racial intolerance and rabid jingoism, to hurl invectives and impugn the loyalty of those who they do not know, or comprehend. When their paroxysm of patriotism is over, having successfully maligned, defamed and in some cases, threatened their quarry with physical harm, they retreat again to the outmost regions of cyberspace, virtually patted on the back by their hyper-patriot peers, for “outing” another subversive element, during their own two minute hate.
If one is to believe the members of our community who howled in derision when respected academic Dr Christos Fifis rose to address those present at the recent meeting at the Pan-Macedonian Association, he too is a traitor. Further, as one incensed patriot told me, wiping flecks of foam from his mouth as he did so, most academics hate Greece and are traitors, so this should be unsurprising. Dr Christos Fifis, a well respected academic who has devoted his life to teaching the Greek language, literature and history to younger members of the community and has spent countless hours trawling through Greek community archives in order to articulate a particularly Greek-Australian perspective towards our communal history, is a traitor because in his opinion closer ties between Greece and FYROM would benefit both countries and considering that the last letter in the word FYROM stands for Macedonia, stubbornly resisting a compromise solution should be viewed from the perspective that since the nineties, via tactical error, Greece has permitted FYROM to use a name that includes the contentions term. Dr Fifis was not permitted to expound his position. The howls and cat-calls from a crowd that heard one sentence, determined that it was nothing like the slogans it has taught itself to digest and regurgitate, became so intense, that Dr Fifis was compelled to bow before the might of the ochlocracy and exit the room, leaving his opinion only semi-articulated.
Semi-articulation of opinion is no loss to an ochlos that is not interested in listening to any viewpoint that does not reinforce its own narrow prejudices. After over one hundred years in this country, we are still unable to relate to each other as humans, let alone kin. At the first given opportunity, a difference, not even of opinion, but of nuance, can cause friendships to rupture, and basic human respect to evaporate. When one ventures, or is seen to venture to make an utterance that does not accord with the Party line, then, in our community, sadly, this gives us the right to treat our interlocutors with complete contempt, absolving us of any obligation to have regard to their dignity. Once one splutters but a syllable in the wrong direction, their previous service to the community notwithstanding, this apparently allows us to denigrate them in the worst possible terms and cast them out of the fold. We may all love Greece, but it appears that we are experiencing an inordinate difficulty in loving Greeks.
The fact that our community has not evolved sufficiently to allow debate and criticism places all of us in peril. For it is in the clash of ideas and beliefs upon the anvil of human interaction, that plans are formed, defined and a sense of unity and commonality of purpose emerges that binds our community together. Parroting slogans in order to establish patriotic credentials is not tantamount to love of people or country. It is through doubt, questioning, analysis, criticism and planning that the best ways forward emerge. This however, requires humility, mutual respect and love and foremost, a mutual acceptance of the fact that all of us generally have the best of intentions when it comes to our community and our place of origin, that there are, painful as it may appear to some, no traitors, only people with differing viewpoints. Sometimes, those viewpoints may be challenging to our sensibilities, but we would do well to consider them, especially when they emanate from personages who know much more about the issue at hand, than we do. We need to learn how to listen. We need to learn to respect and give due consideration to those who have devoted their lives to our community. We need to understand that governance by slogan and invective stifles progress and creativity.
There is a much with regard to the Macedonian name dispute that our community, fixated solely upon appearing patriotic, is leaving unsaid and is not discussing or preparing for. What plan of action exists vis a vis Australian government policy, should the Greek government capitulate/compromise? So far, we have asked the Australian government (successfully) to adopt whatever stance Greece does on the naming dispute. If Greece capitulates, will we, as a community follow? Will we differentiate ourselves from Greece? If so, in what way? Has a draft policy been drafted? Have preparatory consultations been made in the appropriate areas? If the Australian government decides to respect Greece’s position and not follow the recommendations of the Greek-Australian community, how will we deal with this? Given that in the past, during particularly sensitive times, acts of vandalism and violence were targeted against both the Greek-Australian and Skopjan-Australian communities, what steps is our community taking to minimise such occurrences? What consultations, if any, are envisaged with that community, or counselling provided given that many Greek-Australians have intermarried with Skopjan-Australians and times like these cause strain upon family relationships? What public relations plan exists to counter the likely negative criticism from the usual intolerant sections of the mainstream media, when as a united community, we pursue our protest against the Greek government’s possible compromise on the naming dispute with vigour on 4 March? What plan of action exists once the 4 March protest is concluded?
None of these pertinent questions have been discussed, let alone raised for consideration, within a community for whom planning is often an alien concept and that appears not able to see beyond the staging of a rally as an end and the rooting out of imaginary traitors from its dysfunctional midst. Crowing patriotism is easy and absolves us of the responsibility of actually undertaking the constant hard work that is necessary to achieve a desirable outcome on both the domestic and international level. And when our lack of planning, consensus and foresight will cause us stumble, we can always, as we invariably do, blame the traitors in our midst.