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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 11 November 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 11 NOVEMBER 2017 21 FEATURE The building that housed the Greek printing press in Vienna. PHOTO: ALEX BILLINIS second Greek printing press, where revolutionary Rigas Pheraios, the ‘first martyr’ of Greek independence, edited the Greek newspaper. All Greek publications, particularly those in the diaspora, in a very real sense descend from this press. Every time I think of a Greek newspaper, particularly those abroad, my mind returns to that building, if only for a moment. By the time of Greek independence in the 1820s, the Vienna community was at its acme, with about 5,000 members and an increasing- ly diverse socio-economic structure. The articulate and prosperous community naturally agitated for Greece's liberation from the Ottoman yoke, but at the same time they were conscious that the Austrian Empire, a bundle of nationalities under a relatively benign but nonetheless absolute autocracy, was violently opposed to, and fearful of, revolution. Austrian Greeks therefore had to walk a very thin line between joy at Greece's prospective independence and their personal safety and livelihood in the Austrian Empire. After all, the Austrians arrested Pheraios and handed him to the Turks, who strangled him in Belgrade in 1798. Greek independence did not result in a large repatriation of Austrian Greeks. A few returned but the impoverished little kingdom could offer nothing in comparison to the vast Austrian Empire. The inexorable tide of assimilation began to absorb the Greeks into Austria's ethnic goulash, and other Greek Austrians began to move to Britain or France, where the economies were more dynamic than Austria. A trickle of new immigrants arrived through the years, which, along with the efforts of the long-established members, kept the community intact. The two World Wars increased pressure on the Greeks to assimilate, particularly during the barbaric Nazi era, but the religious community survived. Postwar, Austria had none of the mass immigration of Greek Gastarbeiter guestworkers like in neighbouring Germany, but a fair number of Greeks did go to Austria, particularly for study, and afterwards they often stayed in the country. This includes a current deputy mayor of Vienna, Greek-born Maria Vassilakou, a member of the Austrian Green Party. Like Austria itself, the Greek Community of Vienna is a shadow of its former size, but still prosperous and elegant. Like the Greek towns of America, today's Viennese Greeks rarely live in the area, but some do have businesses there, and the church and community centre, as always, functions as the community's centre of gravity. The community witnessed, and participated in, key events in the history of Hellenism. For those of us who are diaspora Greeks in America or Australia, the remarkable survival of such long established communities should be a source of pride and hope that our communities, too, will pass the test of time. * Alexander Billinis has spent a decade in international banking in the US and Europe, most recently in London. He is particularly interested in Greece's economic and cultural position in the Balkans.
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