Does Hellenism in Australia have a future?

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By Anastasios M. Tamis*

It is not a national swagger and certainly not an exaggeration of national conceit to note that Greeks claim their cultural survival in the Diaspora with greater determination than any other people in the world. Greeks have a timeless experience in the Diaspora of almost three thousand years.

Since the end of the 8th century, our ancestors systematically cultivated the consistent exodus of the Klerouhoi and their colonisation in new areas of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In their new colonies, the Greeks maintained their cultural identity, their ethnicity through their language, religion and traditions. Scattered in seas, thousands of kilometers away, without special mechanisms of coherence or interaction between them, they managed for thousands of years to maintain their cultural character and in many places the expatriates even exceeded their metropolises in prosperity.

If now, the Greeks with the three-thousand-year experience of survival and preservation of their ethnolinguistic and cultural physiognomy fail in the modern Diaspora to retain their identity and slip into assimilation and eradication of their Greekness, what hope do all other peoples have of survival?

This is a tyrannical question that was formally asked at a social linguistics conference by renowned linguist and University of Adelaide educator George Smoltz. “If you Greeks don’t teach us to endure in Australia and preserve our cultural identity, there is no hope!!” he said in a monumental conference intervention.

We must first win this bet at the level of predisposition, which is to want to preserve our identity. We need first to form a psychological “susceptibility,” an inclination and a physical mood. This psychological and natural disposition in favour of the Greek cultural physiognomy, with all that this entails, must be cultivated in our own space, in our immediate environment, in our family, in our friends, in the outer environment. We do not need to expect assistance, help and impetus from our leaders, communal and ecclesiastical. We do not need to ask what the “Patris”, the Greek metropolis, the national centre has done. My view is that they did much, perhaps much more than other states with a tradition of expatriation, including the homelands of Italian, Irish and Slavic states, did for their Diasporas.

It is time to recognise that the responsibility of preserving ethnolinguistic identity lies primarily with us. This is an individual and not a collective task. Within a Greek family, not everyone shows the same passion, the same mood towards the preservation of identity. One of the parents may show extreme interest, while the other may be completely indifferent. One of the children of the family learns Greek. He/she listens to the Greek songs; he/she is a lover of Greek music; he/she is interested in what is Greek. Of his other siblings, others may have a love for “Greece,” but failed to devote time and effort, while some other siblings have completely cut themselves off from everything Greek. Yet they were all born to the same parents and lived in the same family environment.

The survival of Greek identity in the family environment depends on the mother. She, the mother, holds the solution to the problem of preserving identity. Much less, if at all, the father. That is why we are talking about a “mother” tongue, not a “father” tongue. The mother will bring the child into the wagon of Greek identity, seeking proficiency in its language and culture. The father has the role of supplier, “My bearer,” cried the widows in front of the remains of their husbands. That is why we speak of “paternal” property, but “maternal” language.

Therefore, the most powerful factor for the preservation of the Greek cultural character in the Diaspora is the psychological, the emotional and has to do with the individual. It is not a collective effort. The collective effort, i.e., the responsibility of the family, the homeland, the so-called “community”, the nation can exploit, magnify, expand and shape clearer ways and methods, more complete, to help the psychological predisposition of the INDIVIDUAL. However, they can in no case have long-lasting effects if this individual predisposition is lacking. Predisposition is conquered, controlled, addicted when the person is still an infant. From the day he is born. The way his mother implants his/her love for language and culture will be decisive in the future. And if we still miss infancy, then the persistence of the mother and the operation of the preschool are the most important factors in learning a language.

Are there any pre-school schools and child mind centers in Australia and the Greek Diaspora that are purely monolingual, i.e., use exclusively the Greek language? Have our Orthodox Church and our historical Communities organised such Greek monolingual kindergartens and preschool classes for children from 12 months to six years old, to learn song, music, image, sound, sound only in Greek? Are there kindergartens from the Church and the Community where busy parents can leave their babies in the morning to pick them up in the evening, where the Greek language and other forms of Greek culture are already the cultural food for their children? In a global Greek Diaspora of 4-5 million expatriate Greeks, it is a question of whether such schools exist. They certainly do not go beyond the fingers of one palm!

I assure my readers that after 15 years of thorough research on the Greek-language education of Greeks abroad through the Education of Greeks Abroad, developed by the great pedagogue Professor Michalis Damanakis, under the responsibility of the Ministry of National Education of Greece (1997-2010), up to ten bilingual preschool programs were found all over the world, but only three language development programs with a strictly Greek-language curriculum!

Our Church and the Communities show remarkable interest in the elderly and needy, investing in the past, building nursing homes and nursing refuges. Some youth centers spring up with ephemeral duration; we take care of the oral history of the first immigrants, honoring their contribution (but also to create tendencies of dependence of the people on our univocal power), we celebrate costly birthday anniversaries. How many Greek-language preschool programs and purely Greek-speaking kindergartens do we have in Australia? What is the responsibility of those in power for this poverty? How can we justify, through our luxurious buildings and impressive schools, that we did not take care to preserve the Greek identity in Australia, from the early age when our language and culture should function? What kind of “Diaspora” will we offer to the generations that follow? Will the Greek Community that will emerge in twenty years be able to have Greek-speaking members? How many will there be the “Hellenes” and how many the Cavafian Poseidonians?

*Professor Anastasios M. Tamis taught at Universities in Australia and abroad, was the creator and founding director of the Dardalis Archives of the Hellenic Diaspora and is currently the President of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies (AIMS).

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