The Politicization of Ethnic Affairs

By Victor Bivell

This is the text of the speech delivered at the Macedonian demonstration in Sydney on June 12, 1994

Macedonians have lived in Australia since 1893, over 100 years. We have always been peaceful and hardworking citizens. And we have always been known as Macedonian. We want to remain as Macedonians. We will not change our name.

The "slav" prefix is rejected by all Macedonians everywhere. The Government does not have the right to change our inherited identity. The Greek lobby does not have the right to change our identity.

This directive is one of the most irresponsible and arrogant acts by an Australian government in many years. It is unprecedented, outrageous, dictatorial, and inhumane.

The Labor Government caved in to the aggressive Greek lobby for only one reason: Greek votes. Labor did not care about right and wrong. Labor did not care about the underdog. Labor did not care about ethnic peace in this country. Labor's only concerns were firebombs, Greek demonstrations, and Greek votes.

We say: Shame, Labor, Shame.

The key players in this scandal are the three most important ethnic affairs ministers in the country. Senator Nick Bolkus, Federal Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, who is of Greek descent, Michael Photios, NSW Minister for Ethnic Affairs, who is of Greek descent, and Jeff Kennett, Victorian Minister for Ethnic Affairs, who has unashamedly supported the Greek position.

This is a disgrace. We do not want Greek ministers. We want Australian ministers.

Senator Bolkus has tried to blame the Macedonians for the unrest this prefix has caused. Don't kid yourself Senator Bolkus. If you want to know the reason for all this unrest, take a good look in the mirror, look at your own directive, look at your own behaviour, look at how you have brought disgrace to ethnic affairs in this country.

Senator Bolkus has cynically tried to turn this unrest to his own advantage. In the media and elswhere, he has tried to paint the Macedonians as the aggressors. This is because he cannot accept the truth, he cannot accept the message that the real issues are his own racist directive, and his own conflict of interest as a minister of Greek origin.

The Macedonians of Wollongong told Senator Bolkus how they feel. Did he listen? No. Senator Bolkus had a chance to be a real statesman and withdraw the prefix. Instead he ignored the message and implemented the directive. He irresponsibly and shamelessly escalated the situation.

The truth is obvious. Senator Bolkus cares more for Greek votes than ethnic peace in this country.

Michael Photios is also guilty. Only hours after the Australian Government recognized Macedonia, he issued a press release saying the Greek Community had been "betrayed". And he kept claiming betrayal, even while firebombs were destroying Macedonian property and terrorizing Macedonian people.

The only betrayal, Mr Photios, was by you. You betrayed your duty as an Ethnic Affairs minister, and you betrayed your duty to keep the peace in Australia.

But there is more. Mr Photios recommended that the NSW Government adopt the "slav" prefix. He issued this statement only one day after the announcement of the prefix and after all Australia knew that the Macedonians had rejected the prefix.

Mr Photios did this to win Greek votes, and to further Greek national goals in Australia. Like Senator Bolkus, Mr Photio is a disgrace to his portfolio.

The third guilty party is Mr Kennett. Like Mr Photios, he has politicized ethnic affairs to win Greek votes. Most of the firebombing has been in Victoria. But did Mr Kennett care? Instead of trying to make peace between the communities, he went off to Greece to win more votes. Mr Kennett may not be a Greek, but he is certainly a fool.

Bolkus, Photios and Kennett have abused their portfolios. They have disturbed the ethnic harmony in this country. They have brought disgrace on their governments and on Australia.

We say: Resign Senator Bolkus. Resign Mr Photios. Resign Mr Kennett.

These ministers support institutionalized bullying in Australia. They support the persecution of Macedonians by Greeks. They have encouraged Greek nationalism, and the Greeks have responded.

The impetus to introduce this prefix is coming from Greek members of the Australian community. Not just from Senator Bolkus. Not just from Mr Photios. It is also coming from the NSW Ethnic Communities' Council, which has around 13 Greek members out of 26 on the management committee. It is coming from the Canterbury Council in Sydney, which has a number of Greek councillors. It is coming from the Greek lobby, from Greek letter writers, and wherever there are Greeks who have the disease of extreme nationalism.

This is a very dangerous development for Australia. Yet the people who should be stopping this, the ethnic affairs ministers, are themselves the chief Greeks.

Macedonians are angry, and we have a right to be angry. And we will maintain our rage until this prefix is withdrawn. This prefix holds nothing but trouble for Australia. We cannot allow foolish politicians to ruin this free country. Australia should be a refuge from political persecution; not a political prison. This is a just cause.

Macedonians around Australia are united. We will fight for our name, and for an equal, non-racist Australia. We will not give up until we win.