Saturday, August 26, 2017


Recent debate over whether Parliament should legislate to ensure mandatory reporting for crimes such as child abuse revealed to priests during confession has centered around the two main Christian sects in this country: the Catholic and Anglican Church. Nonetheless, the perspective of the Orthodox Church, the second largest Christian denomination in the world and arguably the most venerable, has of yet, not achieved any prominence in the public discourse.

 The debate has its origins in the revelations of terrible abuses transpiring primarily within the Catholic Church, the implication being that 1. abusers, mainly priests, could obtain ‘forgiveness’ by confessing their crimes, 2. They could do so with impunity, knowing that their confessor could not reveal their confession to anyone, 3. As a result, having been ‘absolved’ of their crimes spiritually, they feel free to commit the same crime again, knowing they will once more receive ‘absolution.’
Such a view of confession, where one merely needs to confess their sins in order to obtain absolution of them, a type of “automatic forgiveness” is alien to the thinking of the Orthodox Church, whose main perspective is that of God’s love for Humanity and in which forgiveness is a process that has to be worked through. In the rite of confession, emphasis is therefore placed upon the need for the penitent to make a full and frank accounting of their transgressions. It is then incumbent upon the confessor-priest to work with the penitent to make them understand why the acts they have confessed to are wrong, and ensure that the penitent truly repents those actions and if necessary, work with the penitent to ensure those actions are not repeated again. In those cases, the priest calls upon God to confer absolution stating: “May God Who pardoned David through Nathan the Prophet when he confessed his sins, Peter who wept bitterly for his denial, the Harlot weeping at His feet, the Publican and the Prodigal; May our same Merciful God forgive you all things, through me a sinner, both in this world and in the world to come, and set you uncondemned before His terrible Judgment Seat.”

Central to the rite of confession is its secrecy. Only the priest can be a witness of the confession before God. The reason for this is that in the Orthodox tradition, it is held that one cannot expect a sincere and complete confession if the penitent has doubts regarding the practice of confidentiality. Consequently, betrayal of the secrecy of confession will lead to canonical punishment of the priest. Thus, the Byzantine Nomocanon states, in Canon 120:
"A spiritual father, if he reveals to anyone a sin of one who had confessed receives a penance: he shall be suspended [from serving] for three years, being able to receive Communion only once a month, and must do 100 prostrations every day."

In like manner, Saint John Climacus views confession as an inviolable communication between man and God: "At no time do we find God revealing the sins which have been confessed to Him, lest by making these public knowledge, He should impede those who would confess and so make them incurably sick."

Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite also exhorts the Spiritual Father to keep confessions confidential, stating:
"Nothing else remains after confession, Spiritual Father, except to keep the sins you hear a secret, and to never reveal them, either by word, or by letter, or by a bodily gesture, or by any other sign, even if you are in danger of death, for that which the wise Sirach says applies to you: "Have you heard a word? Let it die with you" meaning, if you heard a secret word, let the word also die along with you, and do not tell it to either a friend of yours or an enemy of yours, for as long as you live.”
The emphasis here is on providing a confidential environment wherein a transgressor can be healed and rehabilitated spiritually, a process that can be compromised if their crimes are made public knowledge and subject to the judgment of the populace at large, especially when they don’t have a stake in the trangressor’s rehabilitation.

Yet what if, for argument’s sake, a person confesses to their priest, that they are abusing children? Can an Orthodox priest break the seal of confession in order to report them to the authorities, thus protecting the children in question from further harm? Some Orthodox priests in Australia, noting how few of their parishioners participate in the rite of confession, feel that this eventuality is so remote as to render the question purely academic, yet are concerned at the implications of any legislation, causing conflict with the canons of the Church.

Father George Morelli, an Orthodox priest in America who has written widely on the subject of confession recognizes the difficult position mandatory reporting places on priests. He states: “The priest must act out of love and the purity and clarity of his heart, for both the victim or potential victim and the abuser. If the abuser comes to the priest, the priest must attempt to convince the abuser to accept the fact that they have as serious problem and must seek the help that is needed. This may involve emergency hospitalization or perhaps incarceration.”Regardless of this, the common consensus is that the contents of a confession cannot be revealed. In this circumstance, Orthodox priests, are still under a duty to protect victims from harm in any way they can and this gives rise to complexities and ambiguities in the manner in which the inviolability of confession is balanced with the duty to protect others from such harm.

Some priests try to skirt the issue by discerning what the transgressor is about to confess and informing the alleged abuser that they cannot hear their confession at that time. The ensuing discussion would therefore not be a confession and thus not under the seal.

Father George Morelli comments: “If someone slipped by my "intuitive anticipation" and disclosed abuse in Holy Confession, I would withhold absolution and tell the person they are "without absolution" until they report the abuse to the authorities. As a follow up, since the Seal of Confession still holds, I would try and contact the abused and, without violating the confession, do all I can do to protect and guide him to safety.”

This of course gives rise to further difficulties of nuance. How much and what information provided to the abused and/or their parents is substantive enough to protect them from harm and yet still does not constitute a violation of the seal of confession? Is it enough to intimate a belief that they are in danger of being abused, without revealing the identity of the abuser? If through the provision of vague information, the person who the priest contacts is able to logically deduce the identity of the abuser, is this a violation of the seal of confession? These questions are all moot at Canon Law. Furthermore, what if all the priest’s efforts are ineffective at protecting the victim from harm? Additionally, what happens in a person confesses to a crime of abuse and then returns to confess of a repeat of the crime, again and again?

Ultimately, Father George Morelli views a priest’s close relationship with his parishioners as paramount in being able to discern problems of this nature, prior to confession:
“If abuse is anticipated, it is actually easier for a priest-licensed mental health practitioner to treat because the disclosure rules can be cited up front before a "session" or a communication begins. I want to be perfectly clear however, that once Holy Confession has begun, no law…can contravene the Seal -even to the imprisonment or death of the priest.”

Some Orthodox priests, concerned that strict adherence to the Canons fails to protect the vulnerable, have argued around the issue by stating that the imposition of a penance is an intrinsic part of the rite of Confession. Consequently, if an abuser confesses his abuse, the priest imposes upon him as penance, the obligation to go to the authorities and turn himself in. If he does not do so, then the rite of Confession has not been fully performed and therefore the Seal does not hold, allowing the priest to report him to the authorities. From a canonical point of view, though motivated by the best intentions, this approach is problematic, because it scholastically pre-supposes that the penitent’s completion of the act of penance completes the rite. Instead, in the Orthodox tradition the completion of penance, though of intrinsic importance to the healing of the sinner, is left up to his own conscience and does not invalidate the rite which gave rise to it.

An articulation of the Orthodox perspective on confession and the difficulties Orthodox priests face in reconciling any mandatory reporting laws with Church Canons is of vital importance if legislators are to assess the effectiveness of the implementation of such laws across the board and will assist in the drafting of laws that will not only respect millennia old religious rites but also will, in collaboration with the churches that hold to the seal of confession, develop sound strategies for the protection of victims of child abuse. In this public process, the voice of the Orthodox and other churches, must be heard and seriously considered.

"Acquire the spirit of peace in the heart and a thousand souls will be saved around you," wrote St. Seraphim of Sarov. A Church that through the rite of confession, aspires to bring peace to the abuser and abused, allowing both, through love and in the case of the perpetrator, self-examination, to be healed, offers such a process of reconciliation and rehabilitation that is often beyond the punitive organs of the state. Nonetheless, in addressing the important issue of mandatory reporting, such a perspective must be reconciled with the importance of protecting the most vulnerable members of our society, from harm.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 26 August 2017

Saturday, August 19, 2017


My most favoured pastime, during the years I took the tram into university, was playing ‘Spot the Greek.’ This was a game of my own invention, whose sole aim was to identify which of my fellow passengers was Greek. Spiky haired, sideburns Greek, who would rush into the tram sporting a harried, perpetually persecuted visage, was an easy guess, simply because after ten minutes, he would invariably receive a telephone call from a woman with a high pitched voice. Her end of the conversation was garbled, but his responses, delivered at the top of his voice, resonated throughout the carriage:
“Yes, mum.”
“Alright mum.”
“Mum, alright, είπα.”
“I will mum.”
“Mum, I’ve got my μπλούζα.”
“I’m not going to κρυώσει.”
“Seriously mum.”
Upon the conclusion of this discourse, he would roll his eyes, reach into his backpack, remove from within it what appeared to be an impossibly long, lovingly hand-knitted jumper and proceed to wear it, all the while exclaiming “Mothers!” as he tried, unsuccessfully, to tuck its various folds above his pant-line.
I applied the sobriquet “Greek ferret” to Spiky haired, sideburns Greek, because his bizarre daily conversations with his mother (“no mum, I’m not going to χύσει the φασολάδα,” “no mum, I’ve got the κουτάλι in my τσέπη, wrapped”) – which I am convinced was actually code for a high-level international arms deal) elicited barely concealed smirks from other passengers that I had marked tentatively as Greek but was unsure, until their mirth betrayed them.
The Greek ferret was thus the reason for me being able to ascertain the Hellenic provenance of Bouffant hair man, whose uncanny resemblance to Robert De Niro threw me off for a few months. Bouffant hair man has been a constant presence in my life, though I have never exchanged words with him. I have witnessed him, as a single man: studiously attend to the grooming of the vegetation of his ample nostrils, on days when the tram seemed barely able to drag itself into the city and then as an attached man, being chased by the clearly excited object of his affection on to the tram, and observed his profile as he exchanged long, lingering glances with her waiting at the stop, as the tram slowly but dramatically, pulled away, film-noir style, causing all the ladies in the carriage to sigh. I see him around my local area still, his hair as bouffant and luxurious as it ever was that many decades ago, whereas mine has paled and wasted away, with usually a child or two in tow. I offer him the smile that only veterans who have traversed the weary road of life in tandem can give one another but I am met with a look of chilled steel indifference. I am convinced he thinks I am weird. I am also convinced his ancestors derive from Peloponnesus.
Though the Greek ferret was good, he was not an infallible method for catching all Greeks. Take Greek Amazon woman, for instance. Impossibly tall and svelte, impeccably dressed in non-ethnic specific clothes and possessed of hair so long, black and lustrous that it rendered the verses of the Song of Songs: “Your hair is like flock of goats bounding down Mount Gilead” completely redundant, her ethnic provenance remained an enigma for many months. It was her eyes, which were of a speckled grey hue that caused confusion. Though there is, as I considered at the time, historic precedent for grey-eyed Greeks, after all, my grandmother was one, as was the goddess Athena, these were the serene, self-confident, at complete ease and peace with the world eyes of a confident beautiful woman, and they betrayed none of the inner turmoil of the stereotypical Greek. As a result, I remained irresolute in my judgment until I determined that something about her mouth was slightly over-proportioned, this causing me to adjudicate in favour of a Greek derivation.
In this case my judgment was tested in the final court of appeal for ‘Spot the Greek’ – Good Friday in my local Orthodox church, when invariably all my hard cases could be identified out the front, holding candles and looking for their relatives. Sure enough, there she was, Grey-eyed GreekAmazon woman, to the left of the Epitaphios, immaculately dressed in dolorous shades, gazing serenely at the crowd milling around her, her eyebrows creasing not once into a frown as her personage was buffeted by the frantic peregrinations of the shorter parishioners.
Our eyes met and her slightly over-proportioned mouth widened into a beaming smile. Walking towards me she asked with manifest delight:
“Hey are you Greek?”
“Ha! You’re the guy from the tram yeah?”
“I am he.”
“I’ve been wondering whether you are Greek or not for months now.”
“Yeah, I play this game where I look at everyone on the tram and try to guess whether they are Greek or not.”
“No way, so do I! I’ve been wondering whether you are Greek for months as well. I am pleased that I got it right.”
“Well actually, I’m Italian. I’m married to a Greek.”
“For what? The fact I’m Italian, or the fact I’m married to a Greek?”……
We forged a tacit agreement then and there that we would continue to play our game, having devised an intricate point scoring arrangement. Some of our targets were dead easy. Consider the hirsute (a decade before the invention of the hipster) Ελληνάρες, who in the company of a girl self-identifying as Παρθένα, (pronounced Par-theyna) and wearing probably the last “Greeks do it better” t-shirt before they became extinct, strode onto the tram on our evening commute, singing: «Ο αετός πεθαίνει στον αέρα,» their arms outstretched as they executed faux zeimbekiko moves. I wanted to take them by the hand and point them in the general direction of Oakleigh, for they seemed lost, but this was against the rules of the game. Instead, I looked on, as Partheyna attached herself to the powerful forearm of hirsute Greek No 1.
“Oh my Gowd Γιάννη,” she gurgled, exaggerating every single syllable in staccato fashion, “your μπράτσα are huuuge ρε.”
“It’s not the size of the μπράτσο, it’s how you κουνήσει it Partheyna,” hirsute Greek No 2, riposted.
“Oh my Gowd that’s like so funny,” Partheyna guffawed. “But that’s π…τσο, not μπράτσο isn’t it?”
An orgy of mutual groping, thinly disguised as friendly wrestling ensued.
Some cases were not so obvious. Take chatty Aussie tram lady for example. Possessed of mousy blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles, she would be constantly on the phone, throughout the duration of her tram ride, punctuating her discourse with Australian diminutives and expressions of affection such as “darl” and “girlie.” Something about her fell within my radar however, and for a few weeks I scanned her speech of evidence of an unaspirated t, or a voiceless alveolar retracted sibilant s, for sure signs of a suppressed Greekness. Having identified none of these, I resigned myself to scoring zero points, when, totally unexpectedly, I chanced upon her at a function organized by the brotherhood whence I derive my paternal ancestry.
“Oh, no way!” she chortled.
“I could say the same thing about you,” I responded.
“I’ve been wondering whether you’re Greek for ages, and here you are. And not only are you Greek but also from the same place as I,” she laughed.
“What can I say, we come in all shapes and sizes. If I hadn’t seen you here, I would never have guessed you were a Greek though.”
“Yeah, I had a hard time picking you out too. You don’t really look the type. But I figured it out in the end.”
“So what gave me away?” I had to ask.
“Two things. Firstly, every time you sit down, you let out a long sigh like this: «ουυυυφ». Then when you get up to leave, you make another sound «ωωωωωωχ». That was my first clue. But the second clue was the real giveaway.”
“Do tell…”
“Well do you remember, it would have been last year, when you were busted by the inspector for not validating your ticket? As he walked away, you whispered under your breath: «Τη φάρα σου…» It was almost inaudible, but I was sitting behind you. And that’s how I knew.”
I rode a tram into town for the first time in many years a few weeks ago. Lost in a reverie of games once played, I barely noticed someone tugging on my arm.
«Συγγνώμη, Έλληνας είστε; Μήπως ξέρετε σε ποια στάσάση να κατέβω για το νοσοκομείο;» a young woman asked. Based on the clothes she was wearing, and of course the fact she was speaking in Greek without prefacing each word by “um” which is a unique Greek Australian identifier, I formed the impression she was a recent arrival to these shores.
«Πώς με καταλάβατε;» I asked, enthralled at how quickly my game had manifestly been adopted among the newly arrived migrant classes. In that split second, my thoughts turned to international play-offs, syndicates and global trophies.
«Μα από τον Νέο Κόσμο που κρατάτε στα χέρια σας. Δεν ήθελε και πολύ σκέψη,» came the simple reply.
Game, Set, Match.

First published in NKEE on 19 August 2017

Saturday, August 12, 2017


“What are you doing with that hose?” I asked. “It has just rained. There is no need to water anything.”
I should have known then that something was wrong. By way of response, my wife turned to look at me, eyebrows raised. At that moment, time dragged itself to a halt. As if caught within a hiccupping freeze frame, I observed her, in increasing horror, frame by terrible frame, turn inexorably towards me and point the garden hose in my direction.
For reasons that I confess I do not comprehend, I am not a fan of water at the best of times. Heraclitus may have opined that “water makes the soul go moist” believing that it is death to fire to become water, considering that souls are made out of fire - in common with the λόγος, which is why we are all here in the first place. I, on the other hand, having been assured by means of my triple immersion in water, of the immortality of my own soul regardless of prevailing weather conditions, merely do not enjoy the sensation of being wet, which is not only why I howled in indignation at my baptism, but also consider the wet trauma of that event to be my earliest memory, dripping down my consciousness ever since.
Seconds later, the torrent reached me, penetrating every weave in my clothes and discharging its wetness upon me. It was the middle of Winter and it was inordinately cold. In rage at my saturated violation, I strode forth, whipped the garden hose out of my laughing wife’s hands and proceeded to douse her vigorously. Yet she met my aqueous assault with continued laughter, once more assuming custody of the hose and subjecting me to saturation again.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked suddenly, as she perceived my face turning a shade of porphyry that would have been considered lèse-majesté in polite Byzantine society: “Don’t you guys celebrate Nusardel? I thought you did.”
I responded with the growl of a deranged Greek water sprite that has been disturbed in its slumber by yet another Hollywood portrayal of Greek mythological characters as leather-clad Vikings. But then again, as Bob Marley opined, prior to his conversion to Ethiopian Orthodoxy: "Some people feel the rain, others just get wet."
Around about the month of July, the Assyrian people celebrate Nusardel, a water festival. During this time, it pleases them to walk around the neighbourhoods of their natural habitat, bearing buckets and splashing each other with water. In other urban areas, family picnics are organised so that the like-minded may congregate and drench each other to their hearts’ content. Religious sources ascribe the practice of Nusardel to an event in the life of the Apostle Thomas, who, it is said, passed through Urmiya, an important homeland of the Assyrian people in Iran, on his way to India. Such was the power of Christianity in that town that many came to be baptized by the Apostle, who performed the rite by splashing water on the crowd and spawning as a result, an exponential number of re-enactments.
Nusardel occurs on the seventh Sunday after Ascension, so that it falls, depending on when Easter falls, generally in midsummer in the Northern Hemisphere. Scholars tend to agree that it is a ritual that in pre-Christian times, must have been connected with the summer solstice, perhaps linked to the concept of the resurrection of plants and trees by the ancient Assyrian god of the underworld, Tammuz or Dumuzi, who sprinkles water on sown fields and gardens to hasten their growth. As such, the Assyrian kings of antiquity would traditionally sprinkle holy water on people and crops during the hot summer months as a blessing. 
Also around about the same time, the Armenian people celebrate Vardavar, a water festival, where they too go around splashing each other, celebrating the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. The festival is generally celebrated 14 weeks after Easter, so that it too, like its Armenian counterpart falls in the Northern Hemisphere’s midsummer.
The festival of Vardavar also dates back to pagan times. It is traditionally associated with the goddess Astghik, who was for the ancient Armenians, the goddess of water, beauty, love and fertility. The festivities associated with this religious observance of Astghik were named “Vartavar” because Armenians offered her roses as a celebration and in Armenian, “vart” means "rose" and var means "rise." While we, situated in the West consider a sunrise romantic, nothing can be more calculated to make one swoon that a rose-rise, coupled with a ritual drenching. In this, the Armenians truly can be said to be the architects of fecundity.
Armenian organized and collective splashing assumes means more technologically advanced than their Assyrian brethren. In California, where large expatriate communities of them thrive, it is not unknown for the more enterprising among them to hire fire trucks and turn their hoses upon a gleeful populace, in celebration of Vardavar. It is at times like these, that even though the theory is that Armenians are our closest linguistic relatives, that I am not counted among them.
Sadly, and as valiantly as I tried, I could not justify my paroxysm of fury, on the basis of being violated by precedents unknown. For as it turns out, our own people do not exist independently of water sprinkling proclivities. Thus, I was incensed to learn that traditionally in Kastellorizo, and on the Asia Minor coast of Lycia prior to 1922, in preparation for the feast of St Elias (20 July so largely contemporaneous with the Armenian and Assyrian water festivals), a protracted amount of reciprocal drenching would take place. For days before St Elias' feast, local children would roam the streets, dragging each other into the sea, or drenching each other with buckets while yelling: «Τ᾽άϊ Λιά!» Scholars speculate that the custom, known in modern Greek as «μπουγέλωμα,» enacted on Kastellorizo even now, is a remnant of a pagan rain-making ritual, considering that Saint Elias, at least in the popular consciousness, was widely held to have power over rain.
The knowledge that our aquatic customs are equally enshrined in hallowed antiquity, in my spouse’s casuistic argument, (for whom Nusardel is a reminder of better, kinder, more peaceful times before she was forced to leave her homeland) precludes me from exhibiting any symptoms of apoplexy. At the root of all these festivals are pagan rain-making or fertility rituals and it is amazing that they are celebrated, with differing justifications, at roughly the same time by the three native cultures of Anatolia. Nonetheless, as I towel off and attend to making myself a garlic tea, for my inadvertent participation in Nusardel and «του Άϊ λιος» has resulted in a rather severe case of the flu, I marvel at how tied to place and time many of our customs are, and how disjointed and strange they appear when removed from their original context and aped in the Antipodes. Just as we can never hope to truly appreciate the aesthetics of the resurrection of nature accompanying the resurrection of Christ, unless we spend a springtime Easter in Greece, or relish in the carnality of a Spring Mardi Gras, amidst the lushness of an awakening landscape, at a time when our own is darkening and becoming ever more frigid, the idea of drenching each other in the middle of Winter, when rain is plentiful, and water translates to pain, is inexplicable as it is untenable. And herein, lies the paradox, of our Antipodean existence.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 12 August 2017

Saturday, August 05, 2017


“So, if there was a war between Greece and Australia, who would you fight for?” my freckled classmate asked.
“No one,” I responded.
“Come on, you would have to fight for someone. Who would you fight for?” he pressed.
“No one. I am against war. I would refuse to fight on the grounds that I am a pacifist,” I qualified.
“Well,” my grade six teacher cut in, “who would you support?”
“What do you mean by support?” I asked.
“Well, who you barrack for?” my grade school teacher enquired.
“It depends,” I answered.
“On what?” my freckled classmate questioned.
“On who is right,” I rejoined.
“So you wouldn’t fight for Greece?” my teacher took over.
“You wouldn’t support Greece?” he continued.
“Depends on the situation.”
“Say if Greece invaded Australia?”
“Is that even possible?” I asked.
“Well just say it happened. Would you support Greece.”
“What if Australia invaded Greece. Would you support Australia?” my freckled friend continued the cross-examination.
“No, because then Australia would be an aggressor,” I replied.
“Garbage. You need to choose one. Who do you support. Greece or Australia?” my friend spat exasperatedly.
“You’re just a poustamalaka,” he retorted, walking away. It’s either one or the other. And we all know who you really support.”
My teacher stifled a snigger.
Rendered breathless by the artful playground conflation of the Greek terms for homosexual and onanist into a beautiful Australian compound word, it took me a while to process my grade six social studies discussion. When finally each word was distilled, I was puzzled at both my classmates’ and teacher’s insistence that I ‘choose a side,’ albeit supposedly hypothetical, or indeed their assumption that my decision making processes, such as they were in grade six, were determined solely by my ethnic background. The inference was clear, by virtue of that background, I was at least potentially, a subversive element whose loyalty to Australia could be questioned.
In their seminal Greek language study, “From Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000” University Philosophy Lecturer George Vassilacopoulos and Tina Nicolacopoulou postulate that despite the veneer of formal equality characterizing race relations in this country, there lurks within the substratum, a fundamental concept of the ‘perpetual foreigner.’ Whereas Australian law is founded upon respect for proprietary rights and the individual, when it comes to foreigners, these tend to be lumped together as a ‘group’ by those who obtain legitimisation of their rule and presence in this country by conferring upon such foreigners, citizenship and residency rights. Nonetheless, these foreigners are not automatically subsumed into the liberal democratic individualist paradigm. They remain a distinct ‘group,’ which is expected to provide appropriate declarations and exhibitions of loyalty to the ruling culture, or face the fear of being labelled suspect.

Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou point to various examples of such an attitude being applied to the early pre-Second World War Greek community. They point to Greek newspapers being closely monitored by ASIO, Greek-Australian citizens being compensated as foreign nationals in various race riots and Greeks being interned as politically suspect in camps prior to Greece’s entry into the First World War on the side of the Allies, regardless of their citizenship status. They especially point to the Lord Mayor of Melbourne’s speech at the opening of the first Greek Orthodox Church in Melbourne as exemplifying the official attitude towards ‘foreigners.’. The Lord Mayor in that instance praised the Greek community not for establishing itself under difficult circumstances or retaining their culture but for being among the most hard-working and law-abiding, proving that they are a trustworthy, loyal and obedient ‘group.’

Despite the advent of multiculturalism which attempted to alter the paradigm of Australian society as Anglo-Celtic ruled but tolerant of other foreign groups, to a mosaic or melting pot depending upon various interpretations, the archetypal model seems to have remained the same. Try as they might, ethnic communities have not ever been able to be accepted either in the popular consciousness or the ruling classes as ‘Australian,’ a term, that everywhere outside bureaucrat speak, refers to Anglo-Celts. (Even the native inhabitants of this country don’t seem to qualify as Australians in the public discourse. Increasingly, they are referred to as “First Peoples,” quite possibly so as not to be confused with ‘real Australians’…) Instead, they have been constantly called upon to prove their loyalist credentials at every turn. This phenomenon, Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou term as the plight of the ‘eternal subversives.’
The latest controversy over dual citizenship and/or the entitlement of Australian Federal members of Parliament to the citizenship of another country by virtue of their ethnic origin, something that is currently proscribed by the Constitution of Australia, is a case in point.  Section 44(i) states that “any person who is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power” cannot enter Parliament. Second-generation Australians can be affected: many nations, such as Greece recognise as citizens not just their native-born who migrated to Australia, but potentially, those migrants’ children and grandchildren as well.
It is worth mentioning that ethnic community skepticism currently revolves around a belief that the political sphere and the media have only just discovered the relevant clause in the Constitution and have only just determined to enforce it. However, as early as 1992, Swiss-born John Delacretaz, a naturalized Australian since 1960 was ruled by the High Court as ineligible to stand for the Federal Seat of Wills and told he would have to renounce all connection to Switzerland if he wished to stand again. In response, he wrote a letter to the High Court renouncing his Australian citizenship. Similarly, Bill Kardamitsis, who ran for the same seat, was also found ineligible to run, by virtue of his Greek birth. Further, long serving Labor Federal Member of Parliament Andrew Theophanous’s eligibility to hold his seat was also placed under scrutiny, until it was discovered that he had emigrated to Australia while Cyprus was still a British colony and therefore his position was safe.
That section 44(i) has always been considered to be problematic can be evidenced by the fact that in the 1980s the Senate standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs recommended that the provision be abolished and replaced with a statutory requirement that candidates make a declaration about whether they held dual citizenship and what steps they had taken to renounce it. It was the committee’s belief that a candidate that did not want to undergo such a procedure should not be automatically barred from office, but rather, that ordinary voters should decide at the polls.  Nonetheless, any change to the Constitution, requires a referendum and apart from naming and shaming potential subversives, the public discourse does not seem to be overwhelmingly clamouring for such a referendum at this stage.
Considering that migrants and the children of migrants appear to be currently enshrined in the Constitution as eternal subversives, it is not surprising that ethnic members of Parliament are scurrying to prove their “Aussie” credentials. Responding to questions about her eligibility to enter Parliament by virtue of her Greek ethnic origin, Australian-born Julia Banks scrambled to assure her interlocutors that she is a “true blue” Australian. Nick Xenophon went further, claiming that he neither had Cypriot citizenship, nor never wanted it. It is to these sad lengths then, that the constitutionally enshrined concept of the migrant (or descendant of the migrant) as the eternal subversive, compels politicians to go. It is not enough to require them to choose, in a larger extrapolation of my own classroom experience, forcing them to renounce a citizenship most of them didn’t even know they had, on the grounds of legality. They must also be further compelled to make humiliating and ridiculous affirmations of loyalty, uncalled for from other politicians, for in these increasingly nebulous times, any foreign connotation or hint at a foreign tie, makes one automatically a potential subversive element. For someone like Julia Banks, who has in the past spoken about her ordeal of enduring racial slurs in the course of her previous employment, the experience must be harrowing indeed.
The irony of our predicament of course, is that while our Constitution bars entry to Federal Parliament, to people who have or are entitled to dual citizenship, our Head of State was born overseas, and is also the head of state of another fifteen countries, without this incongruity raising any eyebrow, constitutional or paranoid whatsoever. Yet what if there was ever a war between the UK and Australia? Which side would be chosen? Perhaps George Washington has the answer…. In the meantime, let us hasten to assure each other that we are dinky di, you beaut, as we, possessed of the Greek passports that allow us cue-free entry to summers in Mykonos, subvert the system from within…..until the inevitable Greco-Australian war that is.

First published in NKEE on Saturday, 5 August 2017