I got inspired by the recent celebration of Hellenic Education day on February the 9th and the 64th anniversary of the historic newspaper of Neos Kosmos to write a few words on the issue of Hellenic studies and the reinforcement of the ties between Greece and Greek Diaspora.
Even though technology and especially the Internet seems that, on a personal level has neutralised a big part of the distance that parts countries, the need for specific programs, communal initiatives, and collective movements to bring our communities closer, remains strong between the Greek state and the Greek – Australian community.
That need was depicted in the positive outcome of the La Trobe Hellenic Studies Program where, despite the initial decision to close due to lack of funds, the initiatives taken up primarily by the Australian Greek community, aided by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and urged by a relevant question of Parliamentary Scrutiny to the Ministry, signed by me and 27 more colleagues, MPs of SYRIZA, on 25 November made the continuation of the program possible. I do not need to argue on the significance that programs like the one in La Trobe hold: they underline the contribution of the Greek language in the vocabulary and lingo of science, arts, philosophy. Our common language forms the main element of cultural identity and social bond of those that speak it: first generation migrants that moved abroad several years ago, second and third generation Greeks of the Diaspora that wish to learn their ancestral language, new migrants of the “Brain Drain” wave, who left home during the last decade alone or with their families in search of a better and safer future in Australia and elsewhere.
For the above reasons and after taking into consideration the different needs that the diversity of the different lingual origins of different migratory flows form, I strongly believe that the Hellenic Studies in general need targeted support: with programs like the one in La Trobe but also through the general upgrade in quality of the Hellenic Education in Diaspora so that it can respond to the individual and specific needs of the students of Greek origin abroad, as well as the non- Greek origin students who wish to get acquainted with the Greek language and culture.
In that frame, the gradual increase of the Ministry of Education’s budget is imperative, to cover the expenses of school units abroad, the additional wages that teachers that work abroad receive, the moving expenses of the Greek teachers and their families abroad, etc. it is also important that the Ministry offer initiatives and motives for more and better educated teachers for the schools abroad (for example the ability of a teacher to keep its initial post back in Greece after opting for a temporary position abroad for a few years was a liberating legal step for teachers that considered applying for work in a Hellenic teaching program (Law 4647/2018). Seminars are also necessary for teachers that will work in Primary and Secondary education abroad, as well as constant support of the schools and Greek language departments there with educational material, books, etc.
Are the above sufficient to cater to the needs of the Hellenic Studies abroad? Certainly not, but they are the initial necessary elements for the steps that will follow. Much more is needed, i.e. exchange student visits and summer camps for Greek learning students, programs initiated by Greek Universities, and there are many more ideas, but allow me to focus and insist on the necessity of cultural dialogue and exchange: our music, traditional and modern can work as a catalyst in the emotion, bridging memories and nurturing the soul and so is the ancient and modern Greek theatre. Regarding the exhibitions of Greek ancient artefacts hosted abroad like the one of the Benaki Museum that is planned to be established in Australia, we in SYRIZA are not by all means against, but insist on the antiquities leaving Greece for fewer years (and maybe them being replaced by another Greek collection), as was determined by the previous law.
The acquaintance of the Diaspora Greeks with the Greek culture needs to be more thorough and this can be achieved through the contemporary artists, painters, sculptors, our dancing tradition, the Greek modern dancing, the very important contemporary Greek film makers, the establishment of more libraries so people abroad can get in touch with Greek writers and poets, and of course, vice versa: contemporary artists in Greek Diaspora can commence a dialogue with the audience back in Greece, a dialogue all can benefit from. The list can go on, the general idea being the reciprocity between Greece and the Diaspora artists and audiences in a mutually beneficial manner on one hand, and a perpetual celebration of Greek culture and civilisation on the other: if there is one main characteristic that defines Greek culture is the diversity that is based on the glorious past but also evolves into the future by adapting and embodying modern and foreign influences and ideas.
I feel that flexibility and diversity are basic elements which allow the ecumenicity of the Greek culture and civilisation to persevere in present times. The element we are most proud of, the fact that they cannot be put in a single mould, they are continually shifting and embracing the different, the new, allowing osmosis and even pursuing it. That cultural pluralism cannot sustain itself in its entirety without the Diaspora input. That is why we need to give to the Hellenic Studies the significance and attention it deserves.
*Rallia Christidou is a popular Greek singer and SYRIZA MP