Greece and North Macedonia may well have ‘bridged’ their differences politically following the Prespes Agreement effective as of 12 February 2019, however dissent continues Down Under.
The most recent clash came following the announcement of the program for the Dimitria, 35th Sister Cities Festival that kicked off on Saturday and culminates with a big Queen Street fiesta on 24 November that aims to build bridges between Melbourne and Thessaloniki.
Despite the historical significance and innocuous nature of the multicultural event, Slavic groups known as the ‘World Macedonian Congress of Australia’, the ‘Macedonian Community Council of Melbourne and Victoria’ and the ‘World Aegean Macedonian Congress’ sent an open letter to Neos Kosmos, titled “Response to Neos Kosmos on Racism’.
The groups stated “disgust” at what they claimed was “cultural misappropriation with the unacknowledged and inappropriate adoption of Macedonian customs, Macedonian music and Macedonian traditional costumes of the Macedonian people”. The three groups condemned the festival, labelling it a “brazen act of attempted cultural genocide” following the “illegal” Prespes Agreement. They point to an “expansionist agenda” of the Greek government and referred to the festival as an attempt to “mislead the Australian public about its historically condemned acts of ethnic cleansing and genocidal territorial acquisitions “.
The long letter particularly objects the inclusion of songs that it claims are Greek translations of Slavic folk songs. “The bastardised version of Macedonian heritage is being served up to uninformed local Greeks and the Australian public at the hands of the Athenian government for political gains, rather than expression or understanding of true Macedonian culture,” states the letter sent by the three groups.
The White Tower President Pavlos Mavroudis, an organiser of the Dimitria festival, told Neos Kosmos that he does not like to criticise other nationalities within Australian society. “But I will not ever allow anyone to condemn us of stealing history, dance, costumes, music and who knows what else,” Mr Mavroudis said. “A country such as ours with 4000 years of history does not need to steal anything from other countries. For centuries we have only given and that is all we have learnt from our ancestors – to give.”
Greek groups in Melbourne representing the interests of Macedonia point to the latest incident as yet another manifestation of extreme views. Mr Andrew Ballis, the president of the Pan Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria, says, “The Skopjian contention is a cheap attempt (which is all they can do) as no real, impartial (not in their pocket) academic has ever questioned the Hellenism of Macedonia.”
Mr Ballis calls on the three groups to show reason. “We would like to call on them to keep the internal politics of their homeland out of Australia, and stop trying desperately to undermine multiculturalism, racial tolerance and community harmony,” he said.