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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 01 July 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 JULY 2017 9 NEWS FEATURE played host to a Greek migrant community, with silversmiths from northern Greece settling in the country as early as the 1750s. I should mention that my grandfather loved Greece. He first visited it as regent in 1924, where he met the president of the republic Admiral Paul Kountouriotis, and Archbishop Chrsyostom of Athens. He also saw an ancient Greek tragedy at the Herodeion and this had a profound impression on him. As emperor, he returned to Greece in 1954, where he funded the reconstruction of a hospital in Liksouri, Kefallonia, which had been damaged by the 1953 earthquake. There was [a] personal connection here, as my grandfather's personal physician, Jacob Zervos, was from there. You may also be interested to know that my grandfather was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Thessaloniki in 1965. On a personal note, I would say this: I fell in love with Greece the moment I stepped foot there. The light, the land, the friendliness of the people . . . I felt the bond between our two nations very deeply. How can I not love that country? Apart from the age-old ties we have, how could I not be eternally grateful to Greece for taking in so many Ethiopians, including members of my own family, after the Derg came to power in 1974? Greece for me will always be light and freedom. Visiting this country, and having met so many lovely Greek Australians here only further cements that love. Of course my dream is to visit Mount Athos, one which I hope I realise in the near future. I suppose one of the things we have in common is that we are both members of a diaspora. What effect have the political developments in Ethiopia since the 1974 Revolution, causing you to leave your country, had in shaping your ethnic and cultural identity? I learned that the world is a much larger place than I first thought. That there are a multiplicity of perspectives through which things can be viewed, and that respecting and celebrating difference, while at the same time focusing on those things that we have in common. In many ways, when you are away from your country, you are compelled to look at it from the outside in a way you wouldn't do had you remained. The sense of family and history also becomes extremely important, especially when you live away from home and are subject to innumerable other influences. Of course, since obtaining my Ethiopian passport ten years ago, I have been back many times. Continuity and history are manifestly important to you. The Ethiopian imperial dynasty has one of the longest lineages in the world. Yet this is a world that is constantly changing. Can the monarch still be relevant to Ethiopia? I believe that the longevity of the dynasty means that as an institution it is a part of the nation's psyche. My family traces its history to the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The monarchy can provide unity, stability, tolerance, and a rallying point for Ethiopians of diverse languages and faiths. Ultimately though, that decision belongs to the people. They will decide what is good for them. The important thing is for Ethiopia to remain alive. Do you fear that Ethiopia's existence is threatened in any way? No. Ethiopia has been through a lot over the course of the past few centuries and we have managed to survive. We are a resilient people. We need to safeguard that survival and create an Ethiopia that is peaceful, prosperous and able to afford opportunities for a good life to all its citizens. In order to do that, we need to foster the socio-economic development of the country, and heal the traumas caused by the Revolution and the Civil War. Almost half of the population of Ethiopia is Muslim. ISIS is raging in Libya, there is a porous border with Somalia where a number of Islamic militant groups operate, Boko Haram in West Africa and of course, ISIS terrorism in Egypt. Is religious fundamentalism one of the factors that you believe threatens the existence of Ethiopia? No. Both Christianity and Islam are indigenous religions of Ethiopia. As a result, they have developed side by side and have had centuries to work out an equilibrium, so you don't see religious clashes or terrorism in Ethiopia to anywhere near the extent of other countries in the broader region. Yet, five years ago, Syria was being held up as a similar example of religious tolerance . . . The difference is this; you need to give each sector of society, each faith, a stake in the country, a feeling that they are part of the country and the country is part of them. Where you persecute, fence in, or re- Malcolm Turnbull (L) with Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie strict minorities, you create a weak society and a vulnerable one. These vulnerabilities can be exploited and cause societies to implode. This is what I believe, happened in Syria. I do not believe it will happen in Ethiopia because I say, there, members of all faiths partake in all aspects of governance and have done so since imperial times. This is something my grandfather the emperor felt very strongly about. We need to work in maintaining and broadening this approach as there is increased tribalism in Ethiopia. With that in mind, how do you evaluate the political and social developments of Ethiopia since the Mengistu era? Ethiopia has changed markedly. When I left, it was a country with a population of that of Australia and now it has a population of 100 million. Ethiopia is rapidly developing and it is my opinion that there is great potential of sustainable growth as a dynamic part of a broader Indian Ocean economic market. We are still not self-sufficient in food production, and 85 per cent of the population is still involved in subsistence farming, but that situation is improving. Job creation is of vital importance. African nations need to create opportunities for their people, and not see them all leave to seek those opportunities elsewhere. Finally, we need government that is open and stable in order to secure appropriate long-term investment. There needs to be a move away from strong political personalities, towards strong institutions that will provide Ethiopia with the good governance it needs in order to attract investment. In that context, how do you view the significant Chinese investment in Ethiopia and the African region in general? I am eternally grateful for the investment of the Chinese in our infrastructure. They invested at a time when no-one else was willing to do so. However, a prudent development plan must be one of balanced diversification, where no one investor dominates. During my grandfather's time, we had investment from both the West and the Eastern bloc and that was in my opinion, appropriate. Ideal investment will create jobs for the people and create technology and skills exchange. I am convinced that diversity of investment and investors will best facilitate this. I also believe that a greater cooperation between African states will cement stability and economic development. What does it mean to you to be a Prince of the Ethiopian House? To try to be exemplary, a role model. To facilitate the creation of a strong identity and instil a sense of pride in people of African descent. Ultimately, to provide them with a sense of destiny, and equality, based on a native tradition. In this I am privileged because I have so many examples of members of my family I can draw from, over a protracted period of time. What is your most enduring memory of your grandfather the Emperor Haile Selassie? On a personal level it is this: His kindness and love of animals. He was extremely tender towards small children and kind to animals. He derived immense pleasure from his pets, and had an affinity [for] nature that I feel can only come from a true understanding of Africa. How do you view his legacy? What examples can you personally draw from such a legacy? It was one of courage, defi- nitely. My grandfather was betrayed many times during his life, yet he was tenacious and never gave up. He had an extraordinary capacity for forgiveness that I still draw upon. He constantly stood up for the underprivileged and the vulnerable. It is no small thing for the leader of an African nation to denounce the League of Nations as ineffectual, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, nor for him after the war, to challenge the world powers of the day to afford dignity to African peoples by granting their colonies independence. Collegiality and collectivism, certainly. My grandfather was a driving force behind the creation of the Organization for African Unity, whose foundation conference took place in Addis Ababa. He also believed in theological unity and sponsored the Addis Ababa conference where talks were held exploring the unity of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches. His championship of the United Nations was based on his firm belief that all nations had to band together to guarantee collective security. At his initiative, Ethiopia participated in collective security operations, including in Korea and Congo, creating a precedent as being a trustworthy African mediator that modern Ethiopia can build upon. He was not afraid to speak out for the sufferings, calling for the Vietnam War to end on several occasions. At the same time he was an outspoken proponent of African Americans' Civil Rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. As such he gave hope to millions. Finally, generosity. My grandfather was constantly involved in charitable works In 1959, my grandfather left [the home he bought and lived in while in exile] during the Second World War - Fairfield House, Bath - to the City of Bath for the use of the aged. My grandfather's legacy is thus a multifaceted but ultimately, an inspiring one, based on selflessness. He was often compelled to make difficult decisions, which he believed were for the benefit of his country, at great personal cost. I wish you all the best for the rest of your stay in Australia. I am so inspired to have been given the opportunity to visit this remarkable country and to have met so many outstanding and welcoming Australians, including members of the Greek Australian community. You are the yardstick by which the success of Australia's multicultural society is to be measured and an exemplar of the successful integration of minority groups within the broader melting pot. I wish you every success.
24 June 2017
08 July 2017