After numerous visits and campaigning for the democratic right of Greek Australians to have a say in Greek elections, Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) President Bill Papastergiadis must feel a little like Sisyphus now that the watered down legislation has been voted through with the support of 288 Greek lawmakers.
On the one hand, Mr Papastergiadis says it is a “momentus day for Greece and the Greek diaspora”.
“Decades of dispute have finally been resolved, granting a democratic right to Greek citizens,” Mr Papastergiadis told Neos Kosmos. “A country which was the birthplace of democracy finally allows Greece to embrace all citizens globally.”
However, though Greeks abroad can finally vote from their place of residence, the fine print in the legislation means that this will make it hard for them to actually have a say in practice. And so begins the real wrangle in a paradoxical bill that gives Greeks the right to vote from their place of residence, but will still require them to cover distances of travel to select points. They will need to have Greek tax file numbers and have lived in Greece for two years over a 35 year period, and can only vote if there are another 39 voters eligible to cast their ballots in their districts.
“The sad reality is that the decision will unfortunately empower only a fraction of its citizens,” Mr Papastergiadis said. “It does not unify the diaspora in the way we had hoped it would, and will not lead to the necessary change that Greece requires.”
Mr Papastergiadis laments that Greeks abroad were not given the opportunity to participate in the debate. “The very people that this legislative change applies to were not given a chance to discuss it,” he said.
The positive development, however, is that a precedent has been set. “The vote will clearly affect the way that Greece sees the diaspora and its citizens globally, though it won’t empower the diaspora to the extent we had hoped,” he said.
“Limitations in exercising this democratic right are significant and not in line with best practices that over 116 countries globally have adopted,” he said. “What it does do is create two tiers of citizens which cannot be a positive development for Greece.”
Mr Papastergiadis has already written to the government and opposition parties setting the GCM’s concerns with the legislation and voicing his disappointment about the vote as well as the recent announcement of the 31 renowned Greeks and Philhellenes of the diaspora to make up the Greece 2021 Committee to celebrate 200 years since the Greek Revolution of 1821 without any representatives from Oceania.
He has still to receive a response.