We may as well say whose is this book, not just the song, as some of the best Greek-Australian writers have come together for a new book edited and produced by the multi-talented Eleni Elefterias Kostakidis.

Eleni has written and composed dozens of songs, written six books including the highly acclaimed, Η γιαγία μου είναι μουσικός My grandma is a musician, performed concerts and composed music for years, yet this is a passion project she is perhaps the proudest of.

The starting point was before COVID, well before it was published this year.

I recall one day when lawyer, writer and historian Costa Vertzayias and I were giving a lecture at Randwick Library when Eleni turned up to convince us to contribute a chapter each to the project. Her enthusiasm and commitment to the project inspired her fellow writers to join the project.

And for those of us in and around the Balkan region, we always seem to have an overlap of culture, food, beautiful landscapes, religion and of course music!

As Eleni explains: “One night at a Turkish restaurant, a number of friends, each from a different Balkan country are enjoying a meal. The band plays a known tune and the singer sings in Turkish. Then the discussion gets heated as they each claim that song belongs to their country. This tune has travelled all over the Balkans and has even made it to the USA. The Serbians claim it as Serbian, the Greeks as Greek, the Albanians and Albanian, the Turks as Turkish and the Bulgarians as Bulgarian and so on.”

“The documentary film director Adela Peeva decides to investigate the authenticity and origin of this song. She travels around the Balkans with her crew filming and interviewing people about the song.”

The filmmaker finds that at some places people are willing to go to war over ownership of the song.

A can of worms is opened very carefully by Adela as she explores the song uncovering nationalism – what is mine cannot be yours- when perceptions of identity and culture are challenged.

Eleni further explains: “When I came across this documentary earlier this century, the ridiculousness of all the arguing over a tune made me want to analyse the film and song further. I decided to write about it and ask a number of other academics and friends to also write something either about the film itself, the music or the Balkans and shared culture. Though I compiled the book and chose the contributors it would not have been possible without the help of Dr Alfred Vincent in particular, who also took great interest in the tune and project.”

The support of Dr Vincent is always a high point for many Greek cultural projects. His support of the Greek language in Sydney and his tireless work for the Greek Festival Cultural Committee as part of the Greek Festival is legendary. His mind is always at work. I myself recall visiting his home a couple of times, presenting Dr Vincent some of my books. In no time he had given me tips, advice, feedback and words of wisdom. Knowing that he is involved in this project, is one of the great honours for any Greek writer.

What makes this “Balkan” book different is that it isn’t about the wars, it does not focus on military history as most books published in Australia are. It is a book about the intricacies of identity, culture and the roots of nationalism. Eleni invited experts in their fields to write chapters for the book in addition to Dr Vincent and herself: the charismatic Professor Vrasidas Karalis, Dr Helen Vatsikopoulos, Dr Michael Karadjis, Professor Marian Tutui, Jorge Sotirios, Costa Vertzayias, Professor Nicholas Doumanis, George Michelakakis and the wannabe Brasilian-Greek, me.

‘Whose is this Song?’ book cover. Photo: Supplied

The book is history in the making, as this lineup is one to behold! It will be presented at a pre-launch event at the Greek Australian Writers’ Festival as part of the Greek Festival of Sydney and will be held at the UTS School of Journalism and Communications, organised by Dr Helen Vatsikopoulos. A panel discussion will be held, which will include Dr Alfred Vincent, Dr Vatsikopoulos, Dr Michael Karatjis and Eleni, facilitated by ABC Journalist Dr Phil Kafkaloudes.

The book project has been partially funded by AHEPA NSW and the La Boîte Performance Space and supported by many friends and relatives. The support of groups such as AHEPA NSW and the Greek Festival of Sydney for Greek writers and in particular the Chair, Nia Karteris, is appreciated by all writers.

Eleni dedicates the book to her parents.

“Both had heritage from Asia Minor, born in Greece and grew up in Macedonia, Greece, a Balkan nation,” she says.

The book is dedicated to them as they endured a lot during those difficult war years in Macedonia. After researching for this book now I know why they left Greece and threw a black rock behind them never to return”.

The book will be on sale at the event or through the Bilingual Bookshop via Katerina Vetsikas 0410324328.

WHOSE is this SONG? Is out now and will be presented on May 19, 10am as part of the Greek Australian Writers Festival, at UTS School of Journalism and Communications, among a range of other great book titles to be discussed and exhibited at the event.

*Billy Cotsis is the author of The Aegean Seven Take Back The Stolen Marbles