From the outset one thing must be made abundantly clear: anyone visiting from the motherland should be welcomed with open arms by our community and treated to our famous Greek-Melburnian hospitality, including not but limited to the compulsory foray to Oakleigh, so that they can establish for themselves that we too have the capacity for souvlaki production in this country, the desultory and melancholy pilgrimage to Lonsdale Street, there to be regaled with tales of what once was and the extended road trip to the Twelve Apostles in the hope that this will impress, given that there is a dearth of remotely interesting geographical features in Greece.

When the evzones arrive on 21 April, I will take it that they are arriving to celebrate my daughter’s birthday and not the Junta’s seizure of power in Greece in 1967 and I will welcome them with enthusiasm, gusto a great deal of conviviality. Our boys in skirts after all, are burdened with the sacred task of protecting the President of the Greek Republic. Nobody, apart from the coterie of ladies that are responsible for donning drapery and lighting the Olympic Flame with the use of a parabolic mirror are more important in the hierarchy of living significant Greeks, not even Despina Vandi.

Leaving aside the question as to who will guard the President while they are sojourning in our antipodean climes, a number of questions arise as to the suitability and appropriateness of the Evzones’ most welcome visit to our shores.

Ostensibly, the Evzones will be here to participate in the Anzac Day celebrations. This means that they will participate in a march to the Shrine of Remembrance a mere month after we learned that the Greek community’s annual National Day march will be henceforth excluded from the same Shrine. Of course, those responsible for organising the visit to coincide with the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Greek Revolution only to have this disrupted by COVID, were not to know then, just how poignantly timed the visit would turn out to be, coming to hammer as it were, the final nail in the coffin of a fifty-year old Greek-Australian institution.

Before we laud ourselves on the inclusion of the Presidential Guard in the Anzac Parade, let us consider two more things:

(a) That the Guard represents the Hellenic Republic, not the Greeks of Australia who have been written out of the Anzac narrative and

(b) That the year before, another guest’s visit was also planned to coincide with the Anzac Day celebrations, that of Turkish President Erdogan, no doubt to pay homage to the many Greeks conscripted into the Ottoman Army who died at Gallipoli and the 15,000 Greeks who were ethnically cleansed from the peninsula when it was fortified against Allied attack. We can all thus be rightfully proud of the fact that while COVID thwarted the leader of Turkey, nothing can keep our boys from being treated as eye candy and causing Facebook to crash under the weight of the selfies that the Greeks of Melbourne will upload on that august network. I for one, will deliberately seek out the one wearing the Cretan traditional costume, with the hopes of keeping him hostage here until May, where he can be trundled out and used as a gargoyle during the commemorative events for the Battle of Crete™.

We love our evzones but it appears that every time there is an election, or every time we as a community experience a disappointment, the prospect of their visit is hailed as a consolation prize. The fact that our community possesses fine Greek-Australians and a multitude of costumes of their own that they would be more than willing to wear at official events and at a miniscule fraction of the cost, seems to escape everyone. The fact that the participation of such locals would ground the Greek identity into its Australian context, in keeping with a true multicultural ethos escapes us. Instead, after almost two centuries in this country, we are supposed to identify with and be identified by a group of men wearing exotic clothing, thus retaining our role within the power paradigm of the dominant culture, of a quaint and distinct ethnic minority with easily defined and identifiable stereotypical features.

In a community whose organisations spend a good deal of time celebrating women, holding forums and other discussions about the necessity of breaking down stereotypes, opposing gender discrimination and bias busting, it appears strange that the fact that the evzones are all men, that women are excluded from their ranks and that they thus embody prejudice in its most blatant form does not occupy our minds at all. Somehow, when it comes to the hunky men in the foustanella, our critical faculties are suspended and we forget that they owe their position not only to their prowess but also to them conforming to a predetermined stereotype as to a desired size and shape, again embodying forms of discrimination that are no longer acceptable to the country in which we reside.

We learn that $100,000 is being set aside to finance the visit of the Evzones to Melbourne. Presumably, they will draw their Greek salaries while on tour. In the meantime, no funds exist for young Greek-Australians to travel to Greece as they used to, on government-subsidized tours that result in children, previously disconnected from their heritage, into passionate Hellenes. Similarly, while we have funds for evzones, we seem to lack funds to invest in proper programmes for bilingual education at the pre-school level, exactly the level in which our community is largely failing its children, in an era of steep language decline. At a time when our organisations are withering away and we are realising that the vast majority of Greek-Australia is totally disengaged and/or estranged from the organised community and Greece, are repetitive visits of this nature really a priority?

Sadly, as a community, we seem more focused on hosting or participating in events that are designed to be eye-catching rather than carefully crafted to ensure creativity, longevity and relevance. Our evzones will arrive upon our shores They will be cheered and applauded, with myself being one of their most vociferous admirers. They will be photographed, lionised, wined and dined. And then they will go, having left nothing tangible on which we, whose identity has been grafted upon the vine of the broader Australian social fabric, can build, nothing with which our children can identify themselves with, nothing novel or creative that can be identified as having evolved organically out of our unique sense of being. Nothing would be more poignant, nothing more moving, than to see the Greek-Australian grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fought for Greece in the wars in which Greece and Australia were allies, proudly marching in national costume, alongside the Anglo-Celtic veterans and their descendants, of the same wars. Yet we are excluded both by the official Australian and the official Greek narrative, supplanted instead by our compatriots from the motherland who are considered more authentic, thus rendering more acute our cultural cringe and our sense of illegitimacy. This in turn inhibits our capacity for novel and creative self-expression and articulation of our own image, causing us to resort to the same stultifying clichés constructed by the dominant cultures of both of our homelands, in order to perpetuate our subservience to their discourse.

All members of our community should have a say in which are the most appropriate ways to manifest our identity in the 21st century. Such manifestations, while having regard to our histories, which are far from homogeneous, also need to appropriately reflect the remarkable diversity and multi-faceted nature of the Greek-Australians, giving voice to a multiplicity of class, gender, linguistic and cultural narratives. The evzones, for all their appeal, do the opposite. They serve to silence such diverse narratives and instead, propagate a centralised, homogenised perspective that glosses over the historical experience of the Greeks in Australia, and indeed, of their ancestors in Greece.

It remains to be seen how often the powers that be will purport to bring the evzones over to our shores every time there is a whiff of dissent before we grow disinterested. My guess is that this day will never come. It says much for the tenuousness of our roots in this country and our consciousness of exile that the arrival of the evzones is greeted (myself included) with universal joy. Instead, I would predict that over the years, rather than us grow weary of them, that the evzones will grow weary of us objectifying them and will stop coming.

And then, faced with the prospect of no longer being able to conceive of any original content with which to celebrate ourselves, we will lament in the style of Cavafy: Because night has fallen and the evzones haven’t come. / And some of our men just in from the border say / there are no evzones any longer. / Now what’s going to happen to us without evzones? / Those people were a kind of solution.