Just a couple of months after his last visit to Greece, during which Bill Papastergiadis had meetings with some key members of the Greek government, the president of the Greek Community of Melbourne was back in Athens − and this time, he met with the head of the Greek state. President of the Hellenic democracy Prokopis Pavlopoulos made time on a Saturday afternoon to welcome Mr Papastergiadis, along with the GCM secretary, Costas Markos, to the presidential residency.
During this meeting, the president appeared to be well-informed about the Greek Community of Melbourne.
“We are well aware that it has enormous influence with the Australian government,” he stated. “This is important as it allows the organisation to play a lead role in key social and political matters. Your relationship and influence with government, I believe, is unique in the global Greek diaspora.”
The president urged Mr Papastergiadis and Mr Markos to use the influence of the community, and press for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, an issue dear to his heart.
On his part, Mr Markos filled in the president on the key issues that the Greek Community of Melbourne sought to pursue, not least among them the entitlement to vote for Greek citizens abroad, to which the president responded: “I believe strongly on this issue. I pushed for a law to be passed in parliament, eight years ago. I will raise this issue with the government.”
Mr Markos then referred to the issue of the tourist working visa agreement and the fact that it had not yet been implemented by the Greek government. The president also promised to raise that issue directly with the responsible minister.
Other key issues discussed were cultural exchanges and education retreats and programs for children and teachers.
Mr Papastergiadis remarked how taken aback he was by the president’s knowledge of the organisation and also of himself.
“The president knew all about my legal career and our organisation,” said Mr Papastergiadis. “He is a very warm and intelligent person. A very insightful individual.”
During the meeting, the Greek president told the head of the GCM: “I have followed your legal career, as I am a lawyer myself, and I am impressed that you have been recognised as one of the top lawyers in Australia and that you are the managing partner of a major firm.” He stated this fact as proof that Australia “affords people of all backgrounds great opportunities”, something that “cannot happen in many other countries”.
The meeting concluded with the president expressing his interest in visiting Australia in 2017, and further expanding his ties with the community.
He also mentioned the Greek Centre, saying “we feel proud of the new Cultural Centre that the GCM built. It is a beacon for all Greeks no matter where they reside. This was not an easy achievement. Everyone knows how difficult it was to build a 15-storey centre”.
The president went on to say: “However, what we are equally impressed with is the unity that the organisation has achieved in Victoria and Australia. This is important to us in Greece. We respect this immensely. Unity is something that Greeks often have difficulty achieving.”