Australia is not Greece

by Victor Bivell

This is the text of the speech delivered at the Macedonian demonstration outside Parliment House, Canberra on June 1, 1994

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this important subject.

We are here today because in 1912 the Greek army marched into half of Macedonia and took over the towns and villages of our parents and grandparents.

In 1920 Greece signed the Treaty of Sevres and promised to guarantee the rights of all minorities, including the Macedonians, within its new territories.

Australian was a signatory to that treaty, signed by three times Labor prime minister, Andrew Fisher.

Did Australia protect the rights of these minorities? The answer is no. Instead our parents and grandparents fled in terror from the Greek genocide.

Labor let the Macedonians down in 1920, and it has let us down in 1994.

The "slav" prefix, introduced by the Government at the behest of the Greek lobby, is completely and utterly rejected by all Macedonians around Australia.

This so called "compromise solution" was a compromise between the Australian Labor Party and the Greek lobby. The Macedonians were not invited to the table, and we will never accept this deal. We will not wear this Greek chain.

Two months ago we asked for a goodwill gesture: the withdrawal of the directive. That goodwill gesture has not been given.

Instead, the Federal Minister for Ethnic Affairs, who is of Greek descent, has pushed ahead to introduce the directive. The NSW Minister for Ethnic Affairs, who is of Greek descent, has pushed ahead with its introduction. The Victorian Minister for Ethnic Affairs, who is also the Premier, has openly supported the Greek position. If we are a multicultural country, why are the top positions in the ethnic bureaucracy dominated by one ethnic group?

This prefix holds no benefits for Australia. Only trouble. Yet Labor and Liberal, both, have sacrificed ethnic peace for the promise of a few Greek votes.

The Labor Party does not have the courage to say no to the Greek lobby, the Coalition does not have the courage to stand up to the Greek lobby, let all Australia see how parliament itself is afraid of the Greek vote, and let all Australia see that so far only the Macedonians have that courage.

We have asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the following question in parliament "On what basis did the Government choose to announce its decision without allowing for public debate, discussion or consultation."

This was the answer we received: "The decision to issue an operational directive on administrative matters does not require public debate, discussion or consultation."

We have news for you, Mr Evans. We are not an "operational directive" nor an "administrative matter". We are the public. And we are here. And we want to talk about it, now.

To these ministers we say: we will not allow such arrogance to go unchecked.

You are taking away our name: that makes you thieves; you are trying to give us a new name that is offensive: that makes you offensive; you have done this without consulting our people: that makes you dictators; and you have destroyed ethnic harmony in this country: that makes you fools.

To the prime minister we say: examine the quality of your ministers' advice. You said you would govern for all Australians, but you have not governed for the Macedonians, nor for the principle of ethnic equality.

You have made a peaceful people angry, but it is not too late.

Withdraw this directive and show us that you govern for all Australians, not just for the Labor Party, and not just for the Greek lobby. Prove to us that the Labor Party is not a Trojan Horse.

Finally, to the Greek community of Australia we say: Macedonians and Greeks have lived in peace in Australia for 100 years.

Suddenly, our property is destroyed and our people are terrorized.

Do not turn Australia into another Greece. In the past 12 months, every major international human rights body in the world has criticized Greece for its denial of human rights to the Macedonians in Greece. The latest, from Human Rights Watch in New York, is only 6 weeks old. Its title? Denying Ethnic Identity: The Macedonians of Greece. How appropriate for Australia.

Greece is a member of the European Union, but you do not understand what union is. Recognize the many minorities in Greece, including the Macedonians. Give these people the freedom to speak and learn their own language, to have their own schools, to have their own churches, to have their own newspapers and freedom of expression. Give these people the freedom to have their own identity.

Do not import Greece's monoculturalism into Australia, but export Australia's multiculturalism into Greece. Reject extreme nationalism and show us a new face of Greek internationalism. That is the only way forward for everyone.