Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 15 December 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 15 DECEMBER 2018 25 OPINION too great and I would either choose the wrong words, or stumble over them, as they forced themselves out of my mouth, hence my reticence at conversing. After all, I was 'home', and did not want to do anything or say anything that would call my belonging to that home, into question. Lovingly rubbing his stomach, he looked me up and down: "Well you could pass as a Greek," he offered. "I mean, except for the funny way you speak. But your friend, absolutely not. And forgive me for saying so, but what is it about Australia that makes you all so socially inept? None of you know how to behave, or to carry on a proper conversation. You are not so bad. Your friend, however, is a prime example. We all speak English. Why can't he learn Greek? And then he calls himself a Greek. Everything about him is ersatz." Again, Cavafy's words pervaded my thoughts: "He was neither a profound thinker nor anything else— just a piddling, laughable man. He assumed a Greek name, dressed like the Greeks, learned to behave more or less like a Greek; and all the time he was terrified he would spoil his reasonably good image by coming out with barbaric howlers in Greek and the Alexandrians, in their usual way, would make fun of him, vile people that they are." Ari observed us, leaning back on his chair, his arm now draped around that of his effusive admirer with the majesty and self-assuredness of a western Libyan prince of old. It was not Ari, the archetypical Libyan prince that Cavafy was lampooning in his poem. Was he instead, drawing my attention to the disconnect between the way the Alexandrians thought of themselves and how they related to the Prince? After all, is it ever possible for a person who is foreign to deceive those who already belong to the cultural discourse in which he seeks entry and validation? How can the Alexandrians, on the one hand, consider the foreign prince who is making an effort to be a 'Greek', "a profound thinker," and on the other "just a piddling, laughable man…coming out with barbaric howlers in Greek," for their derision? «Έχς ζήσ' αβδά συ πουτές;» I asked the belly-stroker, without thinking. "What?" he winced. «Έχεις ζήσει εκεί ποτέ σου;» I rephrased the question in modern Greek, incensed that despite being on my guard, I had allowed myself to bring forth such an idiomatic howler. "No, and why should I? I am Greek and my country is Greece. I won't abandon her in her time of need, like so many others who now want to return and call themselves Greek." "This was why he limited himself to a few words, terribly careful of his syntax and pronunciation; and he was driven almost out of his mind, having so much talk bottled up inside him." Cavafy's last lines juxtapose the way the Alexandrians viewed the prince of Libya with the viewpoint of the poem's narrator. In the stanzas before, it became evident that more than exposing the irony of employing pretence to belong to a group that won't have you as a member, and as a result, deprive you of your voice, the poem serves to highlight the arrogance of a cultural group that holds itself out to be superior. Now, in his final stanza, the agitation is completely internal, focusing on the tensions within the narrator's own narrative. His own understanding of the Prince's motives is filled with self-doubt and unconsciously and he begins to emulate the arrogance of the Alexandrians he so derides. In phase such as "he was driven almost out of his mind," and "and all the time he was terrified," we come to understand that he is not objective and that these phrases, rather than merely providing insight into the Prince's pretentiousness at the hypocrisy involved in cultural appropriation, mirror instead, the narrator's anxiety and empathy at his own need to respond in an appropriate way to his own cultural paradigm. It was not Ari who was the Prince. It was Constantine. Ari and the object of his affection stood up. "We're gonna call it a night, mate," he slurred, his arm coiled around her waist. Catch up tomorrow? Late?" The Belly-Rubber shot me a look of horror and also rose: «Λέω να την κάνω κι εγώ.» Pointing to the food on the table, he asked: «Όλα αυτά πληρωμένα έτσι;» I replied in the affirmative. «Τα λέμε. Όλα τα καλά,» he propelled his considerable bulk onto the street. «Κι πάντα πλήθια,» I called back, employing the old ancestral wishes for abundance my people use in Australia. "What?" he called back. "You're Greek, look it up," I responded. Flexing my shoulders, I draped my jacket around them like a royal cloak, and strode off into the night, every bit a prince of western Libya, my imaginary linguistic retinue, clearing the road before me. Beam me up, Scotty! PHOTO: UNSPLASH/ RAWPIXEL GEORGE KAPNIAS In 1991, the Soviet communist system finally imploded under the weight of its own repression. Despite vast natural boun- ty, the Soviet system was so corrupt and for decades economically impotent, that the Soviet Union was, at times, forced to import grains to keep its population fed. In fact, apart from the Bubonic Plague which wiped out a third of Europe's population in the late 1300s, there haven't been too many scourges on humanity that rank alongside Soviet Communism. In modern history, the Soviet Communist system is virtually without peer, particularly under 'uncle Joe' Stalin. Outright persecution over decades amounted to tens of millions (yes millions) of deaths. Torment, abuse, brutality and tyranny were society's daily psomotiri (routine). Stalin's 'batting average' is in fact so impressive, like Bradman, it's daylight to second. No mean feat when you consider in second place is the Spanish flu, ahead of the perennial bogeyman - Adolf. In the West, throughout my youth, we were constantly fed the line of the threat to 'world order' and our safety in Australia from the red tyranny - a red tyranny that was at war with itself and struggled to put food on the table. Whilst behind the Iron Curtain outright abuses and oppression against humanity were overt, the enlightened West had developed a far more sophisticated system of control. Look at me, look at me. I've got two words for you - fear and debt. Humans have proven to be an incredibly resilient and innovative species, hence our numbers – approaching eight billion! And yet, in cossetted societies such as our own, it's remarkable how susceptible we are to a little daily fearmongering. Divided up into our own little lunchboxes, peddling on the wheels of aspirational attainment, individually we can be a vulnerable lot. It is said that the most dangerous man in society is the one who has nothing to lose. In order to avert such dangers, we are all offered the chance to 'buy in' to society. We call it opportunity – thus our busy lives. Keep them busy, fearful and distracted. Whereas once it was the red peril, as soon as communism collapsed, Saddam miraculously appeared on the scene – hitherto an American ally - with his menacing Republican Guard and sneaky (but non-existent) WMDs. In more recent times, it has manifested into new forms of xenophobia - the Asian invasion, Muslims, even African youth gangs! In fact, any form of downward envy will do just fine. It is regrettable that in 2018, our nation's leaders – ably abetted by sections of the media – continue to resort to the well tested formula of inciting people's worst instincts. Despite the Australian Ministry of Propaganda's best efforts to incite divisiveness, Australian citizens have shown themselves to be resolute in the face of such fearmongering. Australia is a remarkably tolerant, open and equitable society with a kaleidoscope of cultures and creeds that have been welcomed from all parts of the world and that live in almost complete harmony. We also seem to overlook that we enjoy the incredible privilege of living in the most prosperous era in Australian history – in fact, in human history. We are also the wealthiest country per capita in the world and are living longer and healthier lives. The proof is indeed, in the pudding. And yet, listening to AM shock jocks, you would think the opposite and our federal Liberal parliamentarians seem to simply reinforce these messages. The tail does wag the dog. I for example, employ 60 staff and drivers that emanate from all parts of the world – every continent is represented. We are Greek, Italian, Slovakian, Croatian, Lebanese, Turkish, Pakistani, Indian, Afghan, Persian, Argentinian, Peruvian, Irish, English, Ghanaian, Eritrean and many more. And yet, we are all Australian. We work harmoniously and are equally respectful of Friday midday prayers and Sunday church services. At coffee time, we eat eachother's cakes and delight in the colour we each bring to the table. We call ourselves the United Nations of Southern Cross. My children's friends are from every corner of the globe and as parents, we happily look after each-other's children. This, I believe is Australians' lived daily experience. So for our politicians to continue to wheel out the fear card and preach social division is unbecoming. In fact it is downright un-Australian. I look forward to a time when our Prime Minister will talk to us about our remarkable status as a nation and all that we (the citizens and the institutions that serve our nation) have achieved. A Prime Minister who talks about an openhearted Australia, a generous independently minded Australia, confident in its place in the world and proud of the Australian 'model'. So when Scott Morrison tours outback Queensland to shore up 'the base' at the expense of representing our great nation on the international stage and taking this wonderful message to the world, I cringe with despair. Last week, our Prime Minister plunged to new depths of depravity when he gamed parliament to deny the last ten children that are being held in off shore detention 'prisons' basic medical care because… wait for it… they somehow, are a threat to our national security! Eλεος! (Mercy!) As a proud Australian, who is equally proud of my Greek background and just as proud of all Australians that hail from all corners of the globe, I find it deeply offensive that our Federal Government seems to think that basic ανθρωπια (humanity) is an optional and disposable extra. May's federal election can't come soon enough so that we can dispatch Mr Morrison and this science fiction movie to furthest reaches of the galaxy. Mr Morrison, planet Pluto looks nice. * George Kapnias is Managing Director of Southern Cross HQLC Pty Ltd, a hire car operator service.
08 December 2018
22 December 2018