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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 January 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 JANUARY 2017 23 OPINION Greek identity and the accursed child JOHN VITHOULKAS The first Greek word I remember learning was όρνιο. I never asked its exact definition but given the context of its use I narrowed its Queen’s English translation to “you, sir, changed lanes without signaling correctly and I wish to voice my displeasure”. The words I learned after this proved the Greek language to be the most enjoyable in which to call other people names. Αλήτη seemed to refer to anyone under the age of 25 outside their home without a parent. Noικοκύρης was for the man who maintained a weed-free garden and impeccable lawn. His partner was a νoικοκυρά as demonstrated by a clothesline full of washing. Προκομμένη was a term set aside for the visitor who came specifically to share a freshly-baked dish. Κουφόβραση was never used to describe someone but is a fine word that also deserves its time in the sun. One word, however, sat lower than all others in this name calling. A word so terrible it was only spoken in hushed tones and deserving of its very own sentence. Καταραμένος. This was reserved for the worst of the worst, the accursed child − the one who turned their back on their family and heritage. You may now audibly gasp. And return oxygen to your lungs. Can it be so, you ask. Could a person willingly turn their back on being Greek? Surely you are born a Greek and you stay a Greek. The Greek nation may wrong its people continuously. It may cause poverty, mass emigration and millions of πονοκέφaλους, but τι να κανούμε, we remain Greek. This is proven by the well-known thought inkblot test. Consider these moments. Charisteas' header against Portugal in the 2004 Euro final. Pyrros Dimas at any Olympics. Eleni Paparizou at Eurovision. Jennifer Aniston on the front page of Woman's Day reading about Brangelina's split. All are thoughts that make us smile. So there you have it. You're Greek. We can't help this. When we visit lands drenched in history like Θερμοπύλες, Πλάκα, and Αρεόπολη our mind wanders to those who have previously walked the same steps. Λεωνίδας. Σωκράτης. Κολοκοτρώνης. They were of us and we are of them. We feel a connection to other Greeks as well as to a central Greek spirit. It crosses oceans and it crosses centuries. Our connection is hard-wired into us by our upbringing. Thus we could never turn our backs on our heritage even if we wanted to. This is true of us and of the generations that have come before. In the Antipodes, however, we now march forward with the third, fourth and fifth generations since migration. These generations are being raised in English-speaking households. Households where there is no μελομακάρονο in sight, where the radio dial is not permanently fixed on 3XY or Rythmos, and where you do not get a reminder to call your cousin because today is Agia Sophia's, Konstantinou kai Eleni's, Agias Alexandra's, or Agiou Nicolaou. I therefore ask the question, if the concrete driveway is not washed weekly, how can these children's Greek identity be hard-wired? The answer is that it will not be hardwired. Their Greek identity will be a choice, simply an app available to download. They can choose non-Greek friends, enjoy non-Greek food and select non-Greek activities (based on what they enjoy rather than Τι θα πει η γειτονιά). They may choose the Greek identity but they may not. Each and every one will decide for themselves. This is a scary thought, and begs the question 'is the Greek identity and heritage worth choosing?'. A friend who is an impending father was troubled by this and wished to consider how to encourage his child to choose their Greek identity. I am always happy to lend an ear and advised him that the question was weighty. I prescribed a three-hour session at Melissa with two cakes and two coffees. In the fashion of Hercule Poirot (has there ever been a better French name?) we solved the issue in 43 minutes. We decided it was all the fault of choice. A YouTube playlist permanently looping Αστερίξ (Greek audio), Καραγκιόζης and Κωνσταντίνος και Ελένη on all household devices would remove choice and ensure the child grew up in a proper Greek environment and had a hard-wired Greek identity. Unfortunately, this solution did not pass the wife test. The νoικοκυρές made clear our folly. The television was firmly set to The Bachelor and we proceeded καραγκιόζηless. With the non-development of hard-wired Greeks, our task to promote our culture is far more complex. We must now actually consider the youth of the third generation and why they would choose to be Greek. “Because you are” seems the simple answer to tell them, but this could be interpreted as mean- ing “because you have hit the DNA jackpot and should be eternally grateful”. Unless Saki Rouva is the one saying this it may possibly be considered with some scepticism by the youth. Further to this we would like to make it very clear that under no circumstances should the follow-up comment be “and by the way you really must marry that προκομμένo Greek boy down the road. He maintains a wonderful lawn”. There are many things wrong with that sentence and most likely the youth will give up all things Greek including λούκουμαδες and visits to Rye in January. So, they cannot be hard-wired and “because you are” is not an acceptable answer. What hope for Greek identity? The Melissa session ended on this despairing note. I certainly needed inspiration, and resolved to devote my next week to visiting friends with kids to see what they thought of this issue. This would unfortunately also require me to eat cakes so as not to offend my hosts. Surely this makes me the opposite of προκομμένος but don't tell my parents! My first visit was to a friend who is a recently-arrived migrant. She washes the concrete weekly so her son is having Greek identity hardwired by a Greek electrician using Greek tools. The kid is Greek. Her views would be interesting, though, in that she is in the same position as the first migrants (aside from the advantage she had of growing up in a country not ravaged by Germany …). She explained to me that her greatest desire is for her child to be happy with his life. That she hoped for a good education as this would grant him freedom; freedom through greater opportunities and freedom beyond advertising and peer pressure. “Very good” said I, “and to be Greek.” “Not at all,” said she. “I want him to have a good life.” My second visit was to a friend who is the son of migrants. He outlined that for his child he wants education, health, happiness and a moral understanding. He wants his child to achieve these so as to fit into the family; be part of a family consciousness and be able to work together to support other members of the family. “Very good” said I, “but surely that just means you want your child to be Greek?” His response was that Greek had nothing to do with what he hoped his child would become. My third visit was to a friend who is a grandson of migrants. He outlined that his vision for his chil- dren is that they grow up to be the best they can be; to have opportunities to try things, to be educated so that they can make good personal choices, and educated so they can have a secure financial future. “And to listen to Anna Vissi,” said I. His blank face told me that Anna was no longer in her prime. My doctor recommended bed rest to help me recover from the shock of my findings, but a patient knows themselves best and I retreated to my fortress of solitude. I called my friend (the impending father) and explained to him that this was a four-tier problem. We ordered a τυρόπιτα and a σπανακόπιτα, then a κουραμπιέ and a φραππέ. The word Greek identity did not appear once in the hopes and desires my friends shared for their children. All three focused on what is best for the child. Could it be that our thinking was stuck in disco times? That what is important is the child and not the Greek identity? Maybe Greek identity shackled the first generations and was simply not important. The subsequent generations could unchain themselves and be free to walk like the χίπηδες of Fitzroy. We mulled over this thought and looked around us like a front line Persian soldier at Θερμοπύλες. The shadow of Hades blocked the light. But in the slow eating of the patrons around us enlightenment dawned. A flicker at first, but then a golden sunshine upon our Hellenic hearts. Old and young, Greek or non-Greek, shoed or hippy, all intermixed happily. Some ate μπακλαβά. Others γαλακτομπούρικο. Some tucked into a Γιαννιότικο whole while others divided it. Their hard-wiring was different but it did not matter. They were all united in their appreciation of the sweet; in this case of the Melissa chef, but metaphorically of the bountiful and rich Greek identity. The Greek identity is not one to divide. We had thought a choice had to be made between choosing Greek identity or what is best for the child. The answer was that the two are complementary. That even without Greek hard-wiring people may choose elements of Greek identity, as long as they are to their taste and sweet enough for their choosing. My friends did not reject being Greek. They wanted their children to be their best. Many things will contribute to this in multicultural Australia. The Italian culture may add how to wear a complementing jacket. The English culture may add promptness. And the Greek culture may add virtue, ethics, honour, thinking and friendship (to name a top five). So the answer, dear reader, is to highlight the glorious aspects of Greek identity and give a reason to the youth of subsequent generations to select it. Greek organisations must identify the aspects of Hellenism that deserve to be appreciated and which help to develop mind and spirit and they must organise events to promote these. These will shine to the youth of the next generations. Each youth may select a different aspect. It could be Greek poetry, Greek music, Greek art or photography. Maybe it will be a play on Greek mythology. And just maybe it will be a τυρόπιτα. But importantly, elements of Greek identity will be selected because they are too valuable to be left behind. The works of Socrates are not read only by Greeks. The deeds of Leonidas are not studied only by Greeks. They are valuable to anyone in teaching thinking and virtue. Every child should know the beauty of Cavafy. There is so much Greek identity has to offer and we should not think to keep it only for ourselves. We should teach it openly and invite all to learn and improve. Thus the Greek identity will be selected. Greece has a long history of accursed children. One of the first was Alcibiades who was progressively exiled from Athens, Sparta, Persia, and Athens again. Another was the rascal Socrates. He was sentenced to death for corrupting youth by inciting ασέβεια. Kolokotronis helped Greece win the War of Independence, but this made him popular. The dastard was consequently charged with treason and sentenced to death (reduced to jail and then pardoned). Two thousand five hundred years of accursing. Each of the above was a tragic loss for the Greek community. As a people we must stop accursing our own. We must not focus on accursing those Greek descendants who do not remain 100 per cent 'Greek' in a foreign land. We must not make them feel that this is a failure. We must become inclusive and invite Hellenes and Philhellenes alike to learn Greek culture and identity. We must select the elements of Hellenism we love and infuse them to all. At its height, the ancient Greek empire taught the known world, not to make them Greek, but to make them άνθρωπoi. Let us once again throw open the doors to our culture for the benefit of all. And in this we shall invite our own children to continue as Greeks.
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