A prominent Melbourne academic is researching the impact of memories of WWII in Greece and the Civil War on Greek-Australians.

Speaking at the Australian Macedonian Advisory Council (AMAC) forum last Monday, Professor Joy Damousi, head of the School of Historical Studies at Melbourne University said that the experiences of migrants who grew up in Greece during the war years of the 1940s is the topic of her next book.

She highlighted the need to “put on the map” the experiences of migrants who lived through the trauma of invasion, a war of resistance followed by internecine conflict.
“There are intergenerational effects of the memories the Greek migrants brought to Australia but also the community and the wider society, said Professor Damousi.

“How they [migrants] relate to their children, what memories they recount and how their experiences shape their identity and that of the second and third generation are important elements of the history of the Greek community, Australia but also Greece” she said.

Professor Damousi is an award-winning historian whose parents migrated from Florina in the 1950s, in the years following one of the most turbulent periods in Greek history.

She said that in Greece the study of that period has been “polarised” as it focuses on the actions of the two sides. “The actual everyday experiences of the people have not been researched” Professor Damousi said.

During her recent fieldwork in Greece she spoke to survivors of WWII and the Civil War. She found “emotional and challenging” the interviews with mothers whose children were removed from their families. Around 22,000 children were taken into bordering communist nations by Greek left-wing rebels during the Civil War. T

here is bitter argument as to whether these children were forcibly removed, or handed over by their parents in order to save them from the horrors of war.

 “Some of those children migrated to Australia and it’s important to tell their story,” said the professor.

Mr Dean Kalymnios, secretary of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia, another guest speaker at the forum, focused on the Greek lobby’s “ineffectiveness” to influence public opinion on the question of Macedonia.

He underscored the need for “generational change” in the Greek community, describing the Greek community today as “fragmented and insular.” Mr Kalymniou’s said, “[t]he first generation likes to destroy what they don’t control” and went on to criticise them for playing “political chess” with community organisations.  

The forum broke out into disorder when members of the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria exchanged verbal fire with members of AMAC over their position on the question FYROM’s claim to the name Macedonia.

The heated exchange did not last long, but exposed an emerging divide between AMAC and Pan-Macedonian organisations over the FYROM naming issue. There were about 40 people at the forum where, among guest speakers, AMAC representatives talked about the organisation’s media monitoring and responses to media representations of FYROM as ‘Macedonia’.

James Papadopoulos, from AMAC said that they are a new organisation and “taking small steps, of which this forum is just one small step.”