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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 25 March 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 25 MARCH 2017 25 GREECE Greek Jewish community hails citizenship decision Hellenic lawmakers decided to allow the descendants of Holocaust survivors, many of whom live in Israel, to apply for Greek citizenship In 2011 Greece recognised the right of Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust to gain back the nationality they had lost if they had left the country. In January the Jewish community in Thessaloniki finally got the goahead to build a Holocaust museum - partly funded by Germany - to commemorate the more than 50,000 members of the Greek Jewish community that lived in the city before the Nazi occupation. Last week a new parliamentary amendment was passed granting relatives of those survivors, many of whom live in Israel the right to apply for Greek citizenship. "This is a moral victory," and a "fresh step forward in the recognition of the history of the Holocaust and of Greek Jews," president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities David Saltiel told AFP. Last Thursday's vote has since become a political controversy with Greek opposition New Democracy (ND) party abstaining from the the procedure while Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which happens to be the fourth biggest party in parliament, voted against the legislation. My Big Fat Greek Week: happy hour politics NIKOS FOTAKIS PHOTO: REUTERS • To say that Jeroen Dijsselbloem has not many fans in Greece, would be the definition of understatement. • The head of the Eurogroup represents everything that Greek people can’t quite relate to. The Calvinist dogma of total depravity and limited atonement, which stands at the core of austerity, as championed by the Eurogroup doesn’t sit well with Greeks. Which is why many cheered when Yanis Varoufakis publicly humiliated the Dutch finance minister, in a now seemingly distant incident that made such noise, in 2015. • Not everyone cheered, of course. • There are those who took the Eurogroup head’s side, cheering ‘Hang in, Jeroen’ (it sounds much better in Greek, the alliteration making it almost poetic, like a hothead sports fan’s chanting). • These people - let’s call them ‘extreme centrists’ - went on to agree with Mr Dijsselbloem’s now infamous statement to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in which he said: “During the crisis of the euro, the countries of the north have shown solidarity with the countries affected by the crisis. As a Social Democrat, I attribute exceptional importance to solidarity. [But] you also have ob- ligations. You can not spend all the money on drinks and women and then ask for help.” • “He’s right”, the extreme centrist Greek chorus chanted, themselves perpetuating the stereotype of the greedy, lazy Greek bludgers. “What’s wrong with what he said? Isn’t it true that our farmers spent subsidies on bouzoukia and Bulgarian strippers?” • Well, is it? • The question is absolutely valid. The stories are out there. Anecdotes of farmers relying on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy partying all night, spending extravagant sums on callgirls, creating a demand that practically turned rural Greece to a fertile ground for trafficking from the Balkans. • But a valid question calls for an equally valid, serious answer based on facts, not anecdotes. • Under his capacity as head of the head of the Eurozone’s finance ministers, he is in a position to back up his statement with facts. What’s more important, he has the obligation to know exactly how much the EU has spent on each member country, as part of the various funding programs, and exactly how these funds have been used by memberstates. • Of course, each member-state, for its part, should also be in a position to know exactly what happened. • So, if we’re about to go on dismiss- ing countries, professions, parts of the population, economy sectors, let’s talk numbers. If we’re not able to do this, then we reduce public discourse to inconsequential banter, of the kind usually heard in Greek cafeterias and - especially - taxis. • And this is why Dijsselbloem’s remark is unacceptable: because his role as Eurogroup head is to rise above this ‘happy hour’ banter and keep a level of professionalism and ethical conduct that goes with the title. He should be careful when speaking in public. • And let’s not start with the amount of sexism he managed to cram into this careless, irresponsible aphorism. Spending money “on women”? What kind of ignorant anger and misogyny lurks behind this statement? • As for those echoing his remarks in Greece, they are just sad excuses for citizens. • Worst of all, they have bought into the total depravity and limited atonement notion that sees Greeks as a people comprised of sinners who should pay for their sins. • This is what happens when theology is mixed with politics and economy. • But then again, what is the belief in austerity, ‘structural reforms’ and ‘the invisible hand of the market’ if not pure religion? one's guess. Further, how knowing that the word 'physiognomy' is of Greek origin or that the word algebra is of Arabic origin or that indeed the word penguin is of Welsh origin, provides sufficient motivation for one to learn any of those languages is a mystery. A corollary to “mine is in yours,' is the "if you are good in yours, you can better appreciate mine," argument, most recently articulated by our august prime minister. According to this argument, being a Greek speaker can somehow improve your English, because it is assumed that being a Greek speaker from, let's say Doncaster, means that Greek-derived words such as Haliaeetus pelagicus, (Sea Eagle), or Glycyrrhiza glabra (liquorice) are always at the tip of your tongue. Consequently, could we not invert the PM's argument, propounding that a good knowledge of English assists in learning Greek, for one is more likely to come across Greek-derived words in their daily English discourse and can then transfer them accordingly? I did so, when studying ancient Greek and attempting to master the polytonic accent system. Remembering which Greekderived words were transliterated into English with an h, such as haematoma, hysteria, history, etc allowed me to know which vowels to accent with a voiceless glottal fricative (δασεία). The argument thus becomes circular, and leads us nowhere. My personal favourite is the: "Greek is an official language of the European Union and/or an important language of trade," argument which though in use for a while, has been tacitly dropped from the discourse, as has the "Greek will help you with your career" argument. It appears that the missionaries believe that in the current socioeconomic climate, this argument no longer has much currency, if you will pardon the pun. The truth is none of us really need convincing about the merits of the Greek language. As a people obsessed more than others about their identity, we all come from a background where the importance of retaining the Greek language, as a means of retaining the Greek identity, was stressed. And herein lies the rub. That was a value stressed and imposed by the first generation. It is not always a value that was actually adopted or passed on to the latter generations. When I see friends accosting mothers as they wait to pick up their children from Greek school with phrases such as: "Why are you torturing your children?" or when I speak to couples who are both fluent in Greek but admit that they choose not to speak to their children in Greek because they believe that their offspring spending time on Greek will somehow diminish their standing among their peers or their educational and career prospects (and it cannot be doubted that Greek Australian parents may be being told by English-speaking educators that acquiring a second or third language "slows" a child down, which would be an interesting piece of advice, given that the people who give it are not linguists and may be invariably monolingual), I can only conclude that the downturn in Greek language fluency is not simply one of attrition, but rather one of psychology. For deep-seated psychological reasons, people are choosing to reject the Greek language both as a medium of daily use and as an expression of an identity. And whereas within previous generations the choice to reject was made democratically, i.e. by those who could, but chose not to, retain the language, now this choice is made undemocratically, by parents in advance for their children. In other words, in order to allay our own prejudices, desires for social acceptance and progress, we are often depriving our children of linguistic choices, with all that this entails. The Greek language in Australia is not about superiority, advantage, or for that matter multicultural ghettoisation. Put simply, it is a matter of life: the medium in which a significant number of people in Australia communicate and negotiate the world around them. It is a medium that embraces the vast gamut of literary, political, and other endeavours of a people that have made a difference to the world. It forms the backstory but also the foreground for our own presence in Australia and a looking glass by which we can see ourselves for who we really are. It is a key, via translation, to the entire European corpus of literature that may not be taught in Anglo-centric schools. It is, in a word: vital to our existence and consciously depriving it from our children, is what will, at least for a generation or two, create the ersatz human beings that poet Dina Amanatidou so decries. In the novel Mortal Remains Margaret Yorke admirably reinforces this view of vitality and this March, the month of speaking Greek, we ought to take heed, for this truly is a struggle of life and death: "Soon the two men were chattering away sounding excited, they could only be discussing trivialities yet their voices, their gestures might lead the observer to suppose they were arguing about life and death. Such was the Greek manner of conversation." Jim Morrison’s gravestone at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
18 March 2017
1 April 2017