A while ago, when speculation was rife about Greece’s imminent ejection from the Eurozone, I suggested to a friend that in the aftermath, we should create our own zone, one in which we are the ones who make and break the rules and within which we are completely comfortable being ourselves. I dubbed this prospective new zone the Euzone: a zone of Epicurean peripatetic goodness, albeit regulated by Stoic ataraxia.
“We already have that,” my friend shrugged. “It’s called Oakleigh.”
In Greek, of course, the term euzone signifies one who is well girt, kind of like Australia, vis-a-vis the Indian Ocean. Though the term conjures up in the Modern Greek consciousness, connotations of impossibly short-skirted males, possessed of inordinately gloomy countenances, resolutely goose-stepping around self-conscious pigeons and voyeuristic tourists, it is in fact, of antique provenance, being first attested in Homer’s Iliad and used thereafter for centuries to describe a type of light infantry of unidentified equipment, probably used as a generic term to denote light infantry.
The word Euzone is, for the Modern Greek, synonymous with bravery. From the light skirmishers, mountain and border guards of King Otto’s time, the euzones participated in all of the wars that precipitated Greece’s expansion to its present borders and beyond. Operating independently on the vanguard or the flanks of the army during the Balkan Wars, they distinguished themselves for their fighting spirit suffering high casualties, especially among officers. An euzone battalion landed in Smyrna in 1919 and the euzones fought valiantly in the mountains of Epirus against the invading Italians, pushing the fascist army out of Greece and liberating northern Epirus in the process.
Adding to the lustre of the already resplendent reputation of the euzones for heroism, is the romantic sacrifice of one of its youngest but most significant members, Konstantinos Koukidis. As the invading Nazi troops entered Athens in WWII, the Germans ascended to the Acropolis and ordered the euzone Koukidis, who was guarding the flag post, to haul down the Greek flag and replace it with the swastika. The euzone hauled down the Greek flag, but refused to hand it over to the Nazis. Instead, he wrapped himself in it and fell off the Acropolis to his death.
Sadly, the noble image of the selfless eugenic euzone has been slightly sullied by the creation of the Collaborationist Security Battalions during the Nazi occupation. Sundry traitorous scum, not fit even to contemplate spelling, let alone to wear the hallowed foustanella, donned a version of the uniform and unleashed a murderous reign of terror upon their own people to please the Germans. As a result, after the war, the euzones ceased to be a fighting force, and instead, were formed into a prestigious and elite, palace and then, presidential guard.
Interestingly, though the modern euzone uniform that is so iconic and gives rise to so many stereotypes of modern Greece is modelled on the clothes worn by the fighters of the Greek Revolution, perhaps implying that in that troubled part of the world, liberty is not a constant and must always be defended, the uniform of the first euzones, in 1933 was in the unpopular Bavarian style of blue trousers, tailcoats, and shako. As light infantry, the Euzones were distinguished only by green braid and plume, and it was only in 1837, that a prototype of the skirt that has become synonymous with Greek masculinity was introduced. In homage to that ideal of manliness, which I can never hope to emulate when I wear my own foustanella at the annual Independence Day march, around the house, or at various parties, I do so demurely, below the knee.
Euzone skirts have been seen Down Under of late. Notably, the euzone visit to Sydney this year sparked howls of protest in Melbourne, as breathless fans, predominantly, but not limited to, the female of the species panted their indignation at our robust metropolis of Hellenism being left out of their itinerary. The allure of the eutrophic euzone is strong indeed, and this, despite a veteran Melbournian foustanella-wearer pointing out to his wife and I, as we eulogised about the symmetry of their bearing, proclaiming that euzones are an euphonic euphemism for eudaemonism, that: “real euzones are not six foot tall, but are grisly argumentative mountain shepherds. These guys are too clean-cut.”
Consequently, the news that the Victorian Government is co-sponsoring a visit of a smattering of euzones next year, coinciding with our community’s Greek Independence Day celebrations to the tune of $30,000 has been met largely with euphoria by our eurytopic community. Yet the announcement in itself has also raised eyebrows among some skirt disparagers: Other than their eupeptic, sugary physical form, what possible reason could our euxenitic government have for expending such a significant sum for the transportation of skirt-clad euzones to our shores, especially when various organisations of our diverse community, especially in the welfare sector, could well make use of financial assistance of such magnitude, not to mention the stunted arts sphere?
Given our enthusiastic acclamation of our government sponsoring the visit of another state’s presidential guard to our city, are the fellow citizens of our eusocial abode justified in expecting similar subsidies for imminent visits of Her Majesty’s Buckingham Palace guards, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, the Turkish Janissary Guard and of course the Holy Father in the Vatican’s Swiss Guard? Will this also extend to fully-funded virtual online visits by muscly Black Ops personnel of Call of Duty fame?
Furthermore, considering that as a community we have, over the past few decades, overseen the evolution of our Greek Independence Day March from the formulaic, regimented, militaristic, Red Square May Day Parade in miniature, into a celebration of ourselves and our presence in Australia with children dressed in a motley mix of traditional and modern garb parading haphazardly but always enthusiastically before their whooping, fist-pumping parents and giving scant regard to the largely ignored dignitaries golf-clapping politely on the sidelines, what do the euzones, who have played no part in our own festivities, have to do with us? Is there no shortage of native-born six foot Greek-Australians with great legs who can don the foustanella without us having recourse to the euzones, in the manner in which they have always done in Australia since the Second World War?
According to this point of view, the imminent visit of the euzones and our rapture at the reception of this news, seems to exemplify our cultural cringe and inability to articulate or stand by our own culture, without constant need of reaffirmation from a place of origin whose mores and culture is increasingly becoming different to that of our homes, or recourse to stereotypes created by the dominant culture in order to dictate to us how we should present ourselves to them.
As a result, it could be argued that in such cases we consequently fall victim to the populist pamperings of those who purport to preside over our polis, knowing that they need only to pander upon our insecurities of identity, in order to have us eating out of the palms of their hands.
The presence of euzones out of the eurozone is not necessary to our identity, nor does it add anything to the culture we have created and/or developed in the Antipodes, more often than not through attrition, trial and error. Nonetheless, the euzones are most welcome. We want to welcome members of an elite group that, throughout the vicissitudes of fate befalling Greece over the past two centuries, has largely remained, that rare thing: a constant, steadfast, and relatively unsullied symbol of heroism and selflessness. This is a heroism that Australian soldiers in Greece during World War II experienced firsthand and it is with the euzones that an enduring Greek-Australian bond was forged.
In these times of crisis, which have forced Greeks not only in Greece but throughout the world to reappraise their identity and the myths that uphold it, the presence of the euzones on our shores serves not only to focus on our linear kinship but also to rearticulate and give greater emphasis to those elements of our identity that could serve the basis for moving forward. Further, considering that a significant number of Greek migrants in Melbourne have served in the euzones or have family that has done so, our ties to the euzones are more than just symbolic. We have physically partaken in their legend and are entitled to do so again.
Next March then, seek me at the Shrine, resplendent in my flowing pleats, chasing, what else, a bit of ineffable and sublime, skirt.