Monday, December 04, 2006


“ You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Mario Cuomo.

The word «Εκλογή» exists in a romanised form in the English language as “Eclogue.” As such, it refers to a poem penned in the classical style on a pastoral subject. The word was deliberately employed for this purpose, as in its Greek form, it signifies a choice or selection and it was originally used to refer to short poems of any genre or selections from poetry books, that is before Virgil mastered the art of bucolic poetry and had his poems named Eclogues by his admirers.
Candidates for elections of any sort tend to discover a hitherto unknown connection with Virgil during their campaigns. Even the most bucolic of citizens desperate to be favoured with your choice will learn that at election time, their saliva glands secrete a unique form of honey that lubricates their tongue into such Scandinavian contortions as to put the most dexterous of Romanian gymnasts to shame. All of a sudden, they are possessed of the remarkable capacity to wax lyrical and mellifluous on a vast array of subjects, quite often, in iambic pentameters of such precision as to render even the most jaded classical scholar, redundant. Add to this a theatrical waving of arms, decisive hand-gestures and tremulous voice-modulations, to the arpeggio of B flat minor and you get my picture. Of course for slight, indistinguishable policy modulations, chromatic scales are preferred. Take this gem from the recent campaign speech of an upstanding member of the Greek community with aspirations to leading his suitably bucolic in motif flock through the green pastures of renewal signified by the Grand SAE Corral: "My fellow compatriots, (starey eyes, sweaty palms, receding hairline,) the time is now. (arched eyebrow, uniting the community in times of crisis hand-gesture.) You can either sink in the mud of the past, (ambiguous glottal trill, equivocal nose twitch) or float into a glorious future... where the rivers will flow with milk and honey (ambiguous wave, beatific smile.) Of course what he really meant to say was: “Slack-jawed simpletons of the community cowshed who hate me, this is your Supreme Overlord,” but he didn’t and that in itself is sublime poetry. As Mario Cuomo points out, once elected into the desired position, the poetic seduction stops. Instead, the shepherd’s bovine herd is urged into the corral for milking to the dictates of rather emphatic prose.
In keeping with Gerald Barzan’s maxim that: “You don’t have to fool the people all of the time, you just have to fool them enough to get elected,” the promises made during election time are often quite imaginative. That is why the conduct of the campaigns of the various warring factions vying for election to the board of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria lately, are reprehensible. For in formulating their ‘policies,’ (an Anglo-Jutic synonym for promise), they are merely aping the tactics of their role models in State Parliament and are displaying an acute lack of inventiveness in doing so. For example, one particular faction’s promise of building what was reported as a ‘Parthenon’ has obviously blatantly been lifted from the Labor Party’s pledge to revitalize Lonsdale Street. Are we to assume that having enmeshed itself or rather entrapped itself in matters ecclesiastical for most of its existence, members of the community now wish to divest themselves of the stigma of their failure, turn pagan and regulate the worship of the Olympian Gods by the building of Grecian stereotypes around their periphery in the hope that white clad pagan priests will prove more pliable than their black-robed Orthodox counterparts? It would have been much simpler for one or other of the warring factions to refer to the sign that currently adorns the façade of the GOCMV building, which reads: “Parthenon Marbles: It was time they were returned home,” and promise that if elected, they will facilitate the return of the Marbles to their homeland, that is the foyer of the GOCMV building, which, with the help of big business, will be converted into a Parthenon museum. Indeed, in order to further enhance the motif, in the budget forecast, ample provision could be made for the hiring of young nymphs to dress themselves as Caryatids and be used as load bearers for the cumulative weight of the hot air they would inevitably have to support if the whole august edifice of credibility is not to come crashing down, upon their assumption of power.
One is also incensed at the wholesale adoption and parody of purely Labor-inspired electoral promises as this implies a gross under-appreciation of the potential utilisation of the Liberal approach, thus ensuring our community’s electoral marginalisation. Take for example if you will, Ted Baillieu’s pre-election promise of free public transport to students. Surely an adept factional apparatchik could take that promise and re-forge it in a Hellenised fashion that would be in keeping with the election’s bucolic motif. Try this for size: Free donkey rides down Lonsdale Street. This would be a boon for tourism, especially given frequent stops at all Greek shops, the by-products of their ruminations could be a revenue raiser, permitting the more green-thumbed to grow fabulous ornamental creepers and super-annuated beasts no longer able to bear their burden could be either made into honorary presidents or given over to the purveyors of skewered meat, gratis. Who says that under the nouveau regime, the GOCMV will not be able to give back to the community?
If anything, this diatribe should pay homage to the Corporations Act and the Incorporated Associations Act, the two acts that between them define how most Greek-Australian community organizations and indeed elections are to be run. Unfortunately, given our glorious history, we often feel that we can take poetic license with the provisions of those heavenly-inspired tomes of legislation and disregarding them as our main point of legal reference, instead hearken back to our ancient past for clues as to how to conduct ourselves. Thus we learn with alacrity that one of the contending GOCMV factions is announcing that it will institute the ‘double-kingship’ of ancient Sparta into the running of its affairs. They are silent as to how this conforms with the provisions of Anglo-Celtic law that recognises only one monarch of the glen and the astute GOCMV member and potential voter would be well advised to research as to whether the throwing of weaker members from the peak of Mount Taygetos, or at least from the third floor of the GOCMV building is also on the cards, along with the institution of compulsory military service, the subjugation of the Messenians and really bad taste in sculpture. In making such an extravagant though elegantly inspired promise, that particular faction has played into the hands of their chief rivals, who they accuse of being possessed of oligarchic tendencies. For in response, those rivals can now throw their words back at them, stating that they are inspired by the tyrants of Athens or the kings of Macedonia, which is as decent a historical precedent as could ever be found and that oligarchy as is Hellenic as the ubiquitous frappotsigaro. Come to think of it, a publicity stunt in Oakleigh and Lonsdale Street involving apparatchiks handing out free frappotsigara (these being the form of cigarette employed only to accompany the drinking of an endless frappe) along with instructions as to their safe use may make all the difference. As for those who would reform the GOCMV Committee along the lines of the reforms suggested by Comrade Stalin at the third plenary session of the Council of the Supreme Soviet in 1932, we suggest you make up your own minds.
Perhaps the various factions that are so eager to dethrone the incumbents should heed the wise words of Robert C Byrd: “Do not run a campaign that would embarrass your mother.” The making of extravagant promises and their publication can only cause a point of reference that may prove embarrassing in the future and may also imply that which is commonly suspected among more jaded members of the GOCMV, that such honeyed words merely serve to mask a steely disposition among the hitherto dispossessed to assume the reigns of power, no matter the cost. In this regard, it is gravely disquieting that the incumbents have as yet made no promises of their own. Are we finally seeing an end to bucolic democracy?
In an increasingly fragmented and decentralized Greek-Melbournian community, interest in the GOCMV’s elections will be limited only to those misguided few who have an interest in reforming and conserving an important historical institution and to the malevolent comrades whose purpose it is to use it as a vehicle for the acting out of their own personal frustrations and applying their antiquated political viewpoints to Chairman Mao-like experiments we can ill afford. The problem is that the rhetoric employed by all sides is so guilefully similar that it is difficult to distinguish the wolves among the sheep. Indeed, it would require divine guidance to separate the goats from the said sheep and thus save our community from perdition.
As the drought continues in our paddock and the parched sheep sidle trustingly up to shepherds holding buckets in which there is promise of water and eternal life, I pray that my bucolic brethren will accept my bleating of advice, for what it is worth, as to the criteria to be employed in voting for any faction whatsoever, as received from perennial US presidential candidate Ross Perot: “Which one of the three candidates (here read factions) would you want your daughter to marry?”
As we wish all GOCMV voting members "καλή κάλπη", we leave you all with the final epilogue in the form of an eclogue by the master Virgil himself who is already privy to the GOCMV’s bucolic electoral plight: “I grudge you not the boon, but marvel more, Such wide confusion fills the country-side. See, sick at heart I drive my she-goats on…”


First published in NKEE on 4 December 2006