Rethinking the “Europeanness” of Greek-Australians

Below we reproduce with permission an email we received from Mr Dimitri Gonis




The 2010 Greek economic crisis2 and its manifestation in Australia’s social discourse has underscored, once again, the complex and multifaceted presence of Greeks in Australia.3 Now entering its second and third generations since the mass migration of the 1950s and 1960s, the 2011 Census recorded 99,937 (0.5% of total Australian population – hereafter AP) Greece-born people living in Australia with 378,270 (1.8% AP) claiming Greek ancestry, and 383,400 (1.9% AP) declared as belonging to the Greek Orthodox faith. However, informal sources estimate the Greek-Australian community to be as large as 600,000- 700,000 (Department of Immigration and Border Protection 2014; Tamis 2001, 387).4 Whether from the “custodian” site of western civilization or one of the most dynamic migrant communities, Greeks occupy a unique place in contemporary Australia. In addition to its links to Greece, and by implication, as a conduit to the European project, the Greek-Australian community’s transient, historical and spatial delineations—including its Mediterranean, Hellenic, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Orthodox lineages—renders it exceptional when discussing Australia’s European communities. By accentuating these nuances and interpreting them from a critical Eurocentric perspective, this chapter grapples with a series of epistemological questions relating to hyphenated GreekAustralia, at the centre of which is its claim to “Europeanness” as caught within the binary that divides the West from the East.5 But first we need to contextualise our definitional understanding of “Europeanness”. In understanding “Europeanness”, in terms of the ideological development of Greek nationhood, we need to treat Greek “Europeanness” as a subset of—or at least in tandem with—European Rethinking the “Europeanness” of Greek-Australians 3 “Europeanness”, rather than as a separate ontology. After all, Greece’s European ideological orientation took form 50 years prior to the formation of the modern Greek state (Liakos 2008, 204-5). However, from the very outset, Greek nation-builders found themselves, as Hugh Seton-Watson (1977, 112) reminds us, “divided between the followers of the Enlightenment and traditional Orthodoxy”. Greece’s historical and cultural demeanour may lie in the East, but with its national transfiguration it severed its Anatolian linkages that founding fathers such as Rígas Velestinlís (Feraíos) and Adamántios Koraïs viewed as an embarrassment. Paris-based Koraïs, in particular, sought Greek emancipation from the double yoke of Turkish Ottomanism and the obscurantism of the Orthodox Church (Clogg 2010, 28). Greece’s turn to Europe was, in essence, a deliberate embracing of what was then seen as modernity; its institutions and the European rendition of history and geopolitics. Greek “Europeanness” was an evolving construct grounded in eighteenth and nineteenth century European neoclassicism and romanticism which sought to resurrect an idealised rendition of ancient Hellenism through modern institutions, practices and precepts (Horrocks 2014). Such aspirations would ultimately lead in 1832 to the establishment of the Modern Greek nation-state—very much a European construct and an antidote to four centuries of Ottoman oriental subsistence. The re-constructed and nationalised “Hellene” was adulated with a reimagined likeness to its glorious ancient ancestors, as a conduit and continuer of their legacy. This in turn consigned Greeks to a role as custodians of Western (European) civilization. Throughout their history, Greeks have struggled to measure up to the “European invitation”. Convinced of belonging to the West, Greek elites sought to negate the contractions that stemmed from their Oriental and Orthodox lineages and leanings, manufacturing a more “European” “sophisticated” Greek demeanour that purged their Greek culture from all its Ottoman-Eastern vestiges. In this context, Greek Europeanness needs to be viewed as the distilling of an occidental dialectical process that sought to modernise whilst “de-orientalising”. It is within these conflictual parameters that, in both Greece and its diaspora, Modern Greek identity continues to negotiate its Europeanness. While at the very heart of this inquiry are broader ontological considerations of what it means to be a Greek-Australian, this chapter concerns itself with one particular facet: how do Greeks in Australia negotiate their Europeanness? From this core query, a set of sub-questions emerge: What nuances shape—and reshape—identity group formation in a third party setting such as Australia? How does the nexus between the 4 Chapter One original homeland and the adopted hostland impact upon notions of Europeanness amongst Greek-Australians? How has the Europeanization of Greece and Cyprus, as Greek “Metropolitan Centres” (Niotis 1999, 5), affected Greek-Australian perceptions of themselves? And, how does Europeanness (by now a metaphor for the East-West identity predicament), manifest itself for Greeks from different demographic settings (regional, urban, rural) and chronological periods of departure/settlement? These are some of the questions that we will attempt to deliberate on in our survey of the Greek-Australian community as a European diaspora. This chapter makes the case that, if Greek-Australians are to navigate/negotiate their “Europeanness” at all successfully, they will need to forge a sustained and multi-dimensional dialogue with their Anatolian/Eastern predisposition, of the kind that has so far eluded them in their one-dimensional engagement with Europe. Simply put, this will need to be a dialogue that engages not just the political, social, financial, intellectual and cultural leaders of the homeland (Greece and the Republic of Cyprus), but also their respective diasporas in ways that are mutually reinforcing. In this respect, the Greek-Australian community is geoculturally well situated. The dialogue itself will need to be multifaceted, connecting traditional identity concerns with emerging transnational cultural challenges, of which cultural hybridity is but its most striking manifestation. It will also need to reflect upon the evolving social fabric and economic structure of Europe, Asia and Australia with a view to identifying fruitful avenues of collaboration and importantly, ways of negotiating the undeniable cultural and political distance that separates them

Read more: The European Diaspora in Australia