Friday, January 23, 2009

Pulp Fiction - The "Macedonians" in Victoria

'book´ "The Macedonians in Victoria" published in October 2007 by our very own Victorian Multicultural Commission, provides an example of the quandary a ´multicultural´ organization can find itself in, when caused to ´adjudicate´ not only between two opposing forms of nationalism among ethnic minorities but when members of those minorities, in this case, those purporting to be ´Macedonians´ appear to abuse the goodwill and benign interest of the authorities in promoting ethnic harmony, by misapplying their resources towards indulging in polemics that may cause inter-ethnic strife.

While it is trite that two opposing views exist within the broader community as to the ´Macedonian identity´, it is of concern that the authors of the book seem to have placed the unwitting Victorian Multicultural Commission in a position where it could be seen as unilaterally having ´taken sides´ upon the Macedonian issue, something that is not the case. This is particularly unfortunate, given that the publication appears to be full of inflammatory comments and unsubstantiated statements whose aim appears to be to discredit the Greek State, Greek-Australians and especially those of Macedonian background. We can only be assuaged by remarks made by responsible persons within the Commission that they were unaware of the inclusion of such comments in the book and certainly do not endorse them.

In particular the following is to be noted:

a) Authorship

One of the co-authors of the book, Robert Najdovski, is eighteen years old. While it is unclear to what extent, if any, he is responsible for any of the research or text in the book, the sponsorship of a supposed "scholarly" work by an academically unqualified secondary student places the Victorian Multicultural Commission in a compromised posititon.

b) Offensive and Racist Front Cover

The front cover of the book is offensive to many nationalities who have traditionally resided in the geographical region of Macedonia. It depicts a map that presents Northern Greece, eastern Bulgaria and western Albania as forming a political entity entitled ´Macedonia´, something that is not the case. The implication appears to be that these lands somehow belong together or should form a single entity.

This irredentist attitude is further displayed in the illustrations adorning the top of the front cover. The authors have sought fit to include two landmarks of the city of Thessaloniki, the White Tower and the Church of Saint Sophia, thereby implying that the said city, which is the second largest city in Greece, should belong to their ´homeland.´ It is to be noted in passing that in a recent message to the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia, from Premier John Brumby, he links Melbourne´s Dimitria Festival, a celebration of the patron Saint of Thessaloniki, with "the traditions and culture of Macedonian Hellenism." Finally of course, the ubiquitous Star of Vergina is displayed rising from the left (Bulgarian) shoulder of ´Macedonia´, a historic logo that is actually owned by the Greek State, and which has been discarded by the FYROM government as a national symbol in favour of a sun reminiscent of that appearing on the Japanese Imperial war flag.

c) Title and Content

The book seems not to examine in any detail, "The Macedonians in Victoria". Instead a good deal of space is taken up in chapters such as "The Macedonians in Albania", "The Formation of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia in 1944", and polemical chapters such as "Our country is Macedonia" (p149), "We are Macedonians" (p 175) and "The prejudice of Jeff Kennett" (p 181). Essentially, this appears to be a book with an explicit political purpose: to promote the arguments of those members of the community who culturally and ethnically identify with the FYROM and to assert a particularly narrow racially exclusive conception of such an identity. Thus, while the book is entitled "The Macedonians in Victoria", the book excludes the history of Greek, Albanian, Turkish, Romany, Serbian, Bulgarian and Vlach-speaking Macedonians who live in Victoria.As such, it discriminates against Macedonians who do not fit the authors´ ethnic stereotyping, on the basis of their race.

On many occasions, in their attempt to foist racial homogeneity upon the racially diverse Victorians of "Macedonian" origin, the authors seem to make questionable claims such as that in the 1930´s 90% of the Macedonian population in Australia came from ´Aegean Macedonia´ (p 54). This is misleading because it does not address the issue of whether or not that population actually had a Greek consciousness, which we would argue, is the case. In effect, the authors seem to deny to many Greek-Victorians, the right to identify with their own Macedonian heritage, which heritage cannot be determined on racially exclusivist lines.

d) Offensive and irredentist use of the term ´Aegean Macedonia´.

It is common knowledge that various nationalist extremists who culturally and ethnically identify with FYROM refer to the Greek province of Macedonia as ´Aegean Macedonia´, and display it on their maps as terra irredenta to be redeemed, as the authors have done. The authors liberally employ this term, making offensive irredentist statements such as "The Macedonians from Aegean Macedonia did not succeed in liberating themselves either in the Second World War or during the Civil War of Greece…" (p 38). Again, at page 141, the authors state that "…Aegean Macedonia... is still within Greek political borders…" and also refer to it as "the Greek ruled part of Macedonia" (p 42). Here the authors are clearly stating that Greek Macedonia and its inhabitants should belong to the entity with which they culturally identify. Further, on page 79, they include a photograph of one Risto Altin, also known as Christos Altis, who they state has devoted "his life…to Macedonia´s liberation." This appears to be a highly improper misuse of the Victorian Multicultural Commission´s funds

As if this were not enough, on page 39, in order to grant legitimacy to their irredentist argument, they statethat "Macedonian remains the language spoken of (sic)… Aegean Macedonia." This is incorrect. The overwhelming majority of the population of the Greek province of Macedonia speaks Greek. The authors then impugn the right of the inhabitants of the Greek province of Macedonia to live in their homes stating: "After the Greek Civil War, Macedonians were driven out of the Aegean part of Macedonia and they were ´replaced´ by people of other than Macedonian origin." (p 44) This oblique attempt to allege ethnic cleansing is both unhistorical and mischievous. Further, it has nothing to do with the life of ethnic minorities in Victoria, which Diatribe is informed, formed the subject of the authors´ application for a grant to publish the book.

The publication of a book through State funds, that does not respect the sovereignty of nations and calls for the revision of borders, especially when this is based upon fallacious evidence, sets a dangerous precedent that threatens to disrupt the social cohesion, ethnic harmony, mutual respect and co-existence of racially diverse, multicultural Victoria.

e) Racism directed against Greeks

The book is replete with disparaging references towards the Greeks, both of Greece and Australia. The following of many such inclusions within the book, appear to attempt to portray the Greeks as implacable enemies of the authors´ compatriots:

i) The inclusion of a photo of protesters bearing a placard that reads "I´m not scared of Greeks, raciest (sic) vampires".

ii) Statements such as "Greeks and Macedonians were always at odds" (p 147)

iii) Quoting from a speech referring to the Greek community in Australia, where the following is said: "Unfortunately our suppressors have advantages even here" (p 154).

iv) Constant references to "the power of the Greek vote" (p 168) and "the Greek lobby", implying that Greek-Australians are able to subvert the Australian political system. The convening of a conference by the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies is thus referred to as "a provocation of the Greek lobby" (p 138). Further, they make the extra-ordinary claim: "A Greek representative of the Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia admitted that Jeff Kennett´s support might have been related to vote-grabbing. He also confirmed that that is what politics is about." (p 183). This is particularly hurtful and offensive, as it is reminiscent of and parallels anti-Semitic accusations of Jewish political influence. As if to drive the analogy further, the authors also accuse "the Greek lobby of starting the fire at Saint Nicholas," (p 88) in the same manner that the Nazi´s blamed the burning of the Reichstag upon the Jews. Of course, such comments are defamatory as the arsonists in this and other cases are unknown.

v) The country of Greece is portrayed as a violent oppressor. Thus there are references to: "Greece´s lies and misrepresentations" (p 155), "ethnic Macedonians in Greece had been subjected to the most extreme measures of forced assimilation" (p 107) as well as Greece allegedly meting out the following punishments for "speaking Macedonian… forced eating of salted fish… imprisonment, the drinking of castor oil… piercing the tongue with a needle, cutting off part of the ears" (p 43) Further, the unsubstantiated claim that "5,000 Macedonians were imprisoned for using Macedonian" (p 43) and that "Greece was not very happy with the reunion of the children refugees as they told the world the truth about what happened…" (p 130) appears to be part of a calculated attempt to discredit Greeks and Greece in the eyes of the uninformed reader, with unreal, unfounded, unsubstantiated and imaginative tirades.Again one wonders what these references have to do with the title of the book "The Macedonians in Victoria."

e) General Racism and Sexism

Of particular concern are the apparently latent assertions of ´Macedonian´ cultural superiority and racial stereotyping as they occur within the book, even where the book makes some sort of attempt to sketch the life of only one specific section of the Macedonian community, chosen arbitrarily along racial lines. For example, the authors lament the fact that "the children, through the schools become more Australianised" (p 69). They also make gross racial generalisations as follows: "Unlike their English-speaking counterpart who can live in a rented flat, Macedonians prefer to get a loan from the bank and buy their own houses" (p 69) Such racial stereotyping verges on the ridiculous when the authors state that "it is not very common for Macedonians to buy businesses as … there is no Macedonian ´tradition of involvement in business. The Macedonian´s expectations include a house with a large garden in which they can grow vegetables and plant fruit trees." (p 69). The Macedonian Greek community is comprised of many members who are successful businessmen. The authors´ assertion is fallacious.

Sexist references also abound within the book. The authors are particularly demeaning when referring to the place of women in Macedonian society. According to the author: "The majority of Macedonian women support the old traditions, saying that the family ´where the hen sings´ is not a family" ( p 67). It is highly offensive to refer to women as ´hens´ and thus discount the equal position of women in society. In particular, unsubstantiated and unreferenced comments such as "The daughters are brought up under strict supervision and are expected to perform their domestic duties, leaving the running of their private lives to the greater ´wisdom´ of their male relatives" and "It is seen as a waste of time and money for a girl to go to university because, when she marries, her education would be wasted. Worse still, higher education may lessen the girl´s chances of making a good marriage…" (p 67) are unscholarly, fallacious and present a biased view of "Macedonian" women. Within the Macedonian Greek community, there are countless examples of emancipated, educated women who play a leading role within their families, profession and society in general. Such generalised observations as are made by the authors present an idealised, incorrectly static and thoroughly sexist view of "Macedonian" society.

The Pan-Macedonian Federation of Australia, (and the Australian Macedonian Advisory Council), and indeed the entire Greek community is right to be greatly incensed and also bemused at the publication of this amateurish polemic. It does not delineate the history of the "Macedonians" in Victoria but appears to use this title as a vehicle and/or cover to advance contentious and racist arguments about the "Macedonian" identity and to indulge in polemics with the Greek-Australian community.The Greek community respects diversity of culture and perspective and applauds the valuable work of the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

The Greek community is also mature enough to understand that on such sensitive issues, given that the parameters of multiculturalism are not defined by us, due care should be taken not to recklessly offend other ethnicities. For, it is in the tolerance and respect for other cultures, regardless of any historical or political differences, that true multiculturalism lies. As proponents of this principle, we are proud to call ourselves Australians and would hate to think that a small, self-interested section of society would so blatantly attempt to disrupt our ethnic cohesion and commitment to tolerance, by enlisting the support of our own Victorian Multicultural Commission to this end, under false pretexts. Meanwhile, let us be secure in the knowledge that such printed material purporting to be history satisfies the jaded cravings of the few and is seldom read or considered by the many, however well received by the recyclers it may be.

by Dean Kalimniou

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