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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 3 June 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 3 JUNE 2017 25 OPINION tity formation, the first floor of the Chinese Museum is currently dedicated to tracing the experiences of those Chinese who enlisted and fought for Australia in the First World War, while also providing an insight into their lives and integration within a war-scarred broader community at war's end. A cavernous basement, painstakingly adorned with dioramas and reconstructions of Chinese homes and temples evokes memories of another seminal moment in Victorian identity mythology: the Gold Rush. On the top floor, a carefully curated selection of ephemera, including copies of old Chinese Australian newspapers, Chinese local football jumpers, old function tickets and concert programmes, or invitations to debutante balls, increasingly in English, attest to a community in transition, enthusiastically adopting and absorbing pastimes and attitudes of their host culture, without this necessarily signifying a diminution of their own. A host of traditional Chinese instruments forms an exhibit outlining one of the manners in which the Chinese Australian community entertained itself. Yet one of those instruments invariably makes me gasp, for it forms part of my own personal history. It is a yangqing, the exact equivalent of the Greek santouri, and it was used in the resplendently opulent Chung On Chinese nightclub in Moonee Ponds, the area in which I was raised, right up until its recent closure. As I look at it, I muse whether in years to come, a violin played by Hector Cosmas, a guitar strummed by Kostas Tsikaderis or the clarinet sounded by Haralambos Fakos will also become equivalent museum pieces, a dusty footnote in the history of our own revels, with a special space devoted to heart-strings snapped at Kinisi, owing to over-tuning. Along with reproductions of contemporary articles and cartoons bearing testament to the acute racial intolerance displayed by the mainstream culture towards Chinese Australians for much of the community's history, and its political implications, such as engendering the White Australia Policy, the various Chinese Australian ephemera are tastefully displayed in order to subtly underline the fact that the Chinese-Australian community is inextricably woven within the fabric of Australian society. This is a powerful multicultural message and an example to other Australian ethnic groups, including our own. The artful and understated manner in which the Chinese Museum articulates its community's relationship to the broader national narrative should facilitate our own understanding that our history as GreekAustralians is not simply that of the Greece, though this undeniably forms our backstory and continues to influence the manner in which we express our identity. Instead, our history was shaped in this country and thus should not be glossed over, allowed to be effaced or over-ridden by a necessity to showcase the glories of the mother culture due to a cultural cringe, or buried in sundry "archives," dotted around our city haphazardly. Instead, the entirety of our sojourn, which in longevity at least, and arguably in complexity as well, is comparable to that of the Chinese, ought to be interpreted, threaded into a narrative of our own and displayed for all to enjoy. Granted, if one was to critique the Chinese Museum, it could be pertinent to observe that the voices of the more recently arrived migrants and the way they have changed or shaped the Chinese community largely remain unheard. Instead, what the visitor sees appears to be the Cantonese-dominated experience of acculturation that predates the arrival of the, by now majority, Mandarin speakers. Perhaps it is felt that more time is needed to contextualise their experience, or being relatively recent arrivals, there are other priorities. Compared with the Chinese, whose blanket ethnonym covers a fast array of diverse linguistic and cultural traditions, not all of which are mutually intelligible, thus rendering the faithful portrayal of the multiplicity of constituent groups difficult, Greeks in Australia are, in relative terms, culturally and linguistically homogenous. The task of highlighting for posterity our own unique cultural and social achievements (such as assisting in the worldwide revival of rebetika, instituting multiculturalism, being at forefront of the struggle for class and gender equality, and crafting a community that tends to its members welfare) should not prove difficult. Yet the more we shy away from public interpretations and exhibitions of that history, the less incentive is provided for the members of our community to preserve and cherish it. As a result, memories, ephemera, and artefacts attesting to our presence in this country are tragically lost on a daily basis, simply because their owners cannot find a use of them. Already, despite the best efforts of Australian and community historians alike, there is generally no thread of continuity that links the generations of our community over the course of a century and beyond. The often extremely different experiences of those generations thus generally exist without the popular consciousness, creating an ahistorical conception of a community that struggles to identify its already deeply embedded cultural roots in this country and instead is psychologically and culturally dependent on a Greece whose modern culture and mores have diverged from those of the Antipodeans. If we cannot identify and articulate our own local traditions then the foundations of our community are shaky indeed. Similarly, if we do not control the manner in which our narrative intertwines with that of the mainstream, there is less opportunity for that mainstream to appreciate our contribution to it, and consider it to be truly Australian. In this fashion, via lack of exhibition and willingness to communicate a coherent conception of that which our culture means, save in the form of street festivals, we condemn ourselves perennially to the margins of the national discourse and ultimately to oblivion. Surely, in this important task, the Chinese Museum can provide valuable parallels and insights that are sorely needed. I shocked the lady in the rickety lift with the broad Australian accent, when I started to speak Chinese to her two daughters on the way up to the third floor of the Museum. Unlike her Chinese accent, which was permeated with the nasal sounds of Australia, her offspring's accents sounded native. As she explained, her daughters, having been brought up as fluent Chinese speakers, an opportunity she herself did not have in a different time, felt the need to educate their mother about the history of their people. Stepping into the Chinese Museum however, her China-oriented daughters, entered into an almost unknown world of an Australian experience that, were it not for the existence of the Chinese Museum, would have been consigned to oblivion. Here then, was cross-generational Sinification, Australian acculturation and re-sinification, all taking place in a historical Melburnian warehouse, with dragons lurking in the basement. "What language are you?" the attendant asked, as I took my leave. "I'm Greek," I responded, in Chinese. Without batting an eyelid, he quoted a Chinese proverb: "Small as it is, the sparrow has all the vital organs." I affected to have absolutely no idea what he meant. Letter bombs and flaming arguments My big fat Greek week NIKOS FOTAKIS We all are a bit different on Facebook than we are in real life. Which partly explains the appeal and success of social media. Hidden behind the relative safety of our device and the suggestive imagery of our selected avatar/profile pic, we gain confidence to engage in heated debate on . . . pretty much everything. And when it comes to the Greek public sphere, the term 'heated' debate is an understatement. 'Scorching' would be more like it. Imagine the 'return' button on your keyboard being attached to a flame-throwing device. If Greek Facebook was an actual place, it would have been burnt down now. First, Greeks started debating over a song; a 'one-shot' music video showing emerging singer-songwriter Marina Satti deliver her traditional Greek music-infused r'n'b hit Mantissa, which became viral, much to the horror of some people doubting her talent and the song's merit. Some said that she bought the five million views her video has on YouTube. Who says that? Well, for one, the same kind of people who dismiss Cannes Film Festival - the biggest of its kind - for giving the best screen award to Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, for The Killing of the Sacred Deer. These are people who were cheering for those who booed the film, during its screening to the press. So, it is no wonder that some cheered when former Greek PM Lucas Papademos was injured by a parcel bomb which exploded in his car. The former governor of the Bank of Greece and former vice president of The European Central Bank was called to form a provisional government to oversee the details of the first bailout program of the Greek economy. Many in Greece still believe that this coalition government did not have the mandate to do such a thing. Even seasoned journalists went out on Facebook to express their support to this act of violence, and claiming that other politicians and bankers should be on the receiving end of such explosive correspondence. Would they have said the same, had Papademos been killed by the bomb? Who knows. This debate came to a halting end by the actual death of another Greek PM, one validated by the voters. Konstantinos Mitsotakis, 99, former leader of Nea Dimokratia, died on Monday, surrounded by his extended family. During his lifetime, Mitsotakis was one of the most controversial politicians in modern history, but you'd be forgiven for thinking the opposite, judging by the eulogies that dominated the public sphere this week. Respecting and honouring the memory of the deceased is a long-time Greek tradition, but Greeks this week started exaggerating the late PM’s legacy, whitewashing all the controversial elements of his political career. A relative of Eleutherios Venizelos, the Mitsotakis name is synonymous with nepotism, having two children serving as MPs and ministers and a grandson serving as the regional governor of central Greece. But Greeks are used to nepotism, after having three of the Papandreou dynasty and two of the Karamanlis clan serving as PMs. Having elevated the recently deceased politician to the status of a champion of democracy, some found the nerve, during their time of mourning, to call for Greeks to go on and turn the statesman's funeral to a public demonstration, to a pro-democracy rally, like that which took place at the Nobel Laureate George Seferis' funeral, during the dictatorship. This call to arms, of course, happened on Facebook. What actually happened in the funeral was the dethroned former King of Greece bursting into tears for his faithful friend (who had helped him oust the elected PM in 1965, effectively paving the way for the 1967 junta), among a group of hardcore ND voters and the country's elite, including five PMs. One of them was even booed. Which undermined all previous talk about civility, nobility, and statemanship. Nea Dimokratia issued a statement condemning the booing of Alexis Tsipras, though it should have come as no surprise. The only place where people are more hostile to the Greek MP than a gathering of Mitsotakis' supporters is the Eurogroup. Still, this kind of tension, hatred, and toxic rhetoric spewing back and forth, garnished with lies and half truths and embellishments and revisions of history, is exhausting. It is no wonder Greeks have no energy left to rebuild the country.
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10 June 2017