Anti Hellenism In Australia

Contributed To Hellasfrappe By Ioannis Pavlos Fidanakis
Ethniki Epanastasi

Ethnic Greeks throughout the Diaspora are no strangers to racism and intolerance, based on their ethnic origins. Greek-Australians have been living with Anti-Hellenic prejudice for generations in their adopted homeland. Home to one of the largest ethnic Greek communities in the Diaspora, Australia has been the scene of Anti-Hellenic hysteria several times throughout its history. From mob violence in the 1920s and 30s to institutional racism in the 1970s and 80s, Greek-Australians have felt just how real Anti-Hellenism is.

Some of the first documented accounts of Anti-Hellenic discrimination in Australia began to appear in the early 20th century. They coincide with a general rise of Anti-Hellenic feeling that arose across the global between the 1900s and the 1930s. In the early years of the First World War, clashes broke out between returning Australian soldiers and the immigrant Greek community.  The Anglo-Australian establishment began to suspect all ethnic Greeks of harboring pro- German sympathies, based on the fact that Greece’s king, a monarch forced upon Greeks by Anglos, was the brother-in-law of the Kaiser and had remained neutral at this point in the war. As such the Anglo-Australian press began to add fuel to the flames, which would result in numerous mob acts on ethnic Greek communities. Anti-Greek riots would destroy Greek-owned shops, in places like Sydney, Perth, Kalgoorlie and Boulder. Incidents of Anglo-Australians refusing to pay for service at Greek owned business became commonplace.

The Australian Government even went as far as to flirt with the idea of sending all ethnic Greeks to internment camps, an eerie thought that sparks memories of the injustices endured by German, Japanese and Italian Americans in the Second World War. In Kalgoorlie, tensions flared so much that mob riots against ethnic Greeks even sparked demonstrations and strikes demanding that such actions be taken, which resulted in a secret government survey for such a possible outcome.  The shocking truth is confirmed in James Jupp’s book, The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins. In the book, Jupp presents the cold, hard truth.

 “In June 1916, as a precaution against Greece becoming an enemy nation, the director of the Special Intelligence Bureau in Melbourne requested the state police commissioners to conduct a survey of all Greeks in Australia, obtaining, as discreetly as possible, their names, ages, occupations, addresses and distances from the nearest capital city, as well as particulars of all Greek organizations in Australia.”

In the end, victims of anti-Greek riots would receive no compensation for the damages they suffered, setting the stage for another wave of intolerance and bigotry to engulf Australian society. In the 1930s, Kalgoorlie would be the scene of more anti-Greek violence. Although this time thanks to the International Court of Justice, victims did receive compensation for the outrages that were endured at the hands of mob violence.

As the times changed so did Anti-Hellenism in Australian society. It was this change from mob violence to institutional racism, which is best demonstrated by the ‘Greek Conspiracy’ of the 1970s. This legendary Australian case saw the arrests of 181 ethnic Greeks on conspiracy to defraud the Department of Social Security. Many of the alleged conspirators were honest pensioners that just so happened to have a Greek surname. Their experience would be a traumatic one, in which many began suffering from anxiety, and in one case even led one person to commit suicide. In the end, the case would be dismissed once it became apparent that the federal police had fabricated evidence.

This outrageous event even had a plot worthy of Hollywood. It was believed that a secret criminal network of Greeks referred to as ‘Kolpo’, where responsible in aiding ethnic Greeks to obtain sick benefits and pensions illegal from the government. The early morning raids, which saw the arrest of all 181 people was dubbed ‘Don’s Party’ after Detective Chief Inspector Don Thomas, and over the next five years charges would be dropped on all but 5 suspects. When all was said and done, it cost the Australian tax-payer $100 million and as the Australian Institute of Criminology states, ‘was arguably the longest and most expensive committal hearing in the history of the English Speaking world’.

Anti-Hellenism in Australia has even been branded with its own racial slur. A slur adopted from England and used by Anglo-Australians for Greek-Australians and other eastern Mediterranean people in a derogatory manner. Its origins are debated, and whether or not it was an acronym for either Worthy Oriental Gentleman or Worker on Government Service does not matter. Either way, the term ‘wog’ was first used towards Blacks and Asians in Britain before being adopted by Anglo-Australians for immigrants from the Mediterranean.

It was during the 1980s that the word began to undertake a transformation, when these immigrant communities, especially Greek-Australians began to embrace it as a badge of ‘pride’. Today it is used by some in a similar way as the word ‘mate’.  The evolution of this controversial word, fares a sparking resemblance to another controversial racial slang in the United States. The word, ‘nigger’, for generations, has been one of deliberate prejudice, yet to some today it has also been adopted as a badge of ‘pride’, transforming into the popular word ‘nigga’ and being used in place of words like ‘bro’. In both cases, these terms remain words of disrespect.

Sadly Anti-Hellenism has never truly left Australian society. Throughout its evolution on the continent it has remained an acceptable unnamed brand of racism till the present day. However, rather than Anglo-Australians being todays perpetrators of hate, the torch has been passed to a small minority of immigrant Australians from FYROM. This small immigrant community has brought with them a different brand of Anti-Hellenism, which seems to be tolerated by the Anglo-Australian establishment.

In 2008, vandals ransacked the offices of the Australian Pan-Macedonian Association. The perpetrators destroyed computers, files and even pictures of Alexander the Great. Although the culprits remain unknown, it is thought to be connected in some way with the new brand of Anti-Hellenism brought to Australian by the small ethnic community of FYROM.

The most recent example of the Anglo-Australian establishment allowing this new brand of bigotry was witnessed in the 2011 ruling by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The VCAT found that a 2009 newspaper article published in local FYROMian community newspaper, which degraded Greeks as ‘freaks of nature’ and ‘deranged bastardly monsters’ did not incite racial hatred. Their reasoning being that it was published in a newspaper aimed at the FYROMian community.

The Australian experience provides us with plenty of examples, which prove the existence of Anti-Hellenism. How can such a blatantly obvious form of racial hatred be allowed to continue unnamed or uncondemn in an alleged civilized Western society?  The longer we allow ourselves to pretend that Anti-Hellenism does not exist, the greater the possibility of its reappearance.

Sources:
Macedonian newspaper did not incite race hate, says VCAT
Pan-Macedonian  Association in Australia vandalized
A bad word made good
Greek-Australians: beyond the stereotypes
The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their originsEdited by James Jupp
Chapter 6: The great social security conspiracy case

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