Macedonians and the Political Mainstream
by Victor Bivell
This is the text of the speech delivered to the public meeting on
Human Rights for Macedonian Australians held in Wollongong on June 6,
Thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight.
There is no doubt that the Macedonian identity in Australia is now
under attack in exactly the same way that it has been under attack in
Greece since the partition of Macedonia in 1913.
Before 1913, our parents and grandparents referred to themselves simply
as Macedonian. Since the partition, those Macedonians who suddenly found
themselves in Greece have been called Bulgarians, Bulgarophones, bi-lingual
Greeks, Yugoslav sympathizers, Slavophones, Slav Macedonians, Skopjians,
and even "non-existent". This name changing, this inability
to call a Macedonian a Macedonian, has been an important part of the
Greek Government's ongoing policy of genocide through ethnic cleansing,
denationalization, and assimilation.
Among the many tragedies is the fact that for the past 80 years, the
rest of the world has known very little about the real events in Greece.
Fortunately, this is now changing. In the past 12 months, for example,
all of the world's major international human rights bodies have published
reports that are highly critical of the way Greece denies basic human
rights to the Macedonian minority.
These bodies include: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the
British Section of the International Society for Human Rights, the Danish
Helsinki Committee, and the US State Department. A growing list of influential
publications such as the Times, The Economist and The Independent have
also written on the subject. The latest report from Human Rights Watch,
published in April, is called Denying Ethnic Identity: The Macedonians
It is events such as these that are helping Europe to see through the
deliberate veil of Greek secrecy. Unfortunately, the level of awareness
in Australia is far less, and this may help explain why we suddenly
find ourselves fighting the same battle that our fellow Macedonians
in Greece have been fighting for decades.
There is evidence that the Greek lobby in Australia has been trying
to initiate the use of the 'Slav' prefix in Australia since at least
However the first real advance came on March 10 when the Greek lobby
met with the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Ethnic Affairs Minister
and sewed up the "slav prefix" deal. The Labor Government
caved in on this for no reason other than the promise it would retain
the Greek vote. The attempt to change generations of inherited identity
with the stroke of a bureaucratic pen is simply unprecedented. From
the outset it was clear that this is one of the most arrogant and dictatorial
acts by an Australian government in recent years.
The prefix and the way it was introduced are unanimously rejected by
all Macedonians, and all of us want to know how we can reverse this
directive as quickly as possible.
If I could briefly touch on some of our options.
* The best weapon in history is still the pen, even if it is now called
a typewriter or a computer. It is only through a continuous supply of
words, letters, articles and reports that the rest of Australia will
learn how we feel about this prefix and why it must be changed.
* Peaceful civil disobedience is also an option. The prefix applies
to country of birth and nationality data. If you tell a public servant
that you are Macedonian, he or she has been instructed to write "slav-Macedonian"
instead - you tell someone your name is Bill, and they write down Harry.
If you see this happen, or suspect it will happen, you have the right
to insist that they write "Macedonian". Senator Evans has
confirmed that public servants have the right of conscientious objection
to the prefix. Many public servants are opposed to this directive and
if we remind them that they are entitled to object, they may do so.
However, if they insist on writing "Slav", then insist that
they write nothing, or tell them to write "Slav-Greek."
* If an organization or employer, including the public service, begins
to use the prefix, it is our right to complain to that organization.
Complaints can also be taken to bodies such as the Anti-Discrimination
Board and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission.
It is worth knowing that the Greek community complains by the truck
load. While the Press Council, Broadcasting Tribunal and other bodies
receive hundreds of complaints from Greeks over the slightest incident
or phrase, they rarely receive a complaint from a Macedonian.
Only last week the Greek lobby in Perth complained to a radio station
about the local Macedonian program. What did the Macedonians do wrong?
They had read out an article from The Age newspaper. The article in
question was about the lack of human rights in Greece.
* Demonstrations are now being planned around Australia. Of course
these can be a two edged sword. There is a high level of emotion in
the Macedonian community that needs to be expressed, so it is very important
to keep all demonstrations peaceful. It's not that we don't have a right
to be angry: we do and we are. But that anger has to be expressed in
a way that it acceptable to the rest of Australia, and in a way that
does not give political free kicks to our opponents.
I can't emphasize this too much. If a demonstration is not peaceful,
it is easy to lose public support.
And as we have seen previously, the Federal Minister for Immmigration
and Ethnic Affairs, Senator Bolkus is more than able to cynically turn
a so called "incident' to his own advantage.
Instead of being perceived as the aggressor, he has now twice tried
to paint the Macedonians of Wollongong as the aggressors. Well, that's
But amid the headlines, the real point of the demonstration in Wollongong
was lost. That is: having sampled the strength of feeling and opposition,
Senator Bolkus chose not to delay or withdraw the directive, but to
push ahead with its implementation. The only conclusion that Macedonians
can draw is that Mr Bolkus has a more important agenda than maintaining
the peaceful status quo in Australia.
By implementing the directive rather than simply talking about it,
Senator Bolkus has irresponsibly and shamelessly escalated the situation.
Yet his fellow parliamentarians, the media, and others have been more
concerned with the "incidents" at the demonstration rather
than with this incredible behaviour. Senator Bolkus has used exaggeration
and sympathy to deflect attention from the fact that it is the directive
itself, sponsored by him, that is the real issue and the cause of the
emotion in the first place.
The extent to which ethnic affairs has been politicized in this country
is now appalling. Two months ago we asked for the withdrawal of the
directive as a goodwill gesture. That goodwill gesture has not been
Instead, Senator Bolkus has pushed ahead with its introduction. The
NSW Minister for Ethnic Affairs, Mr Photios, has pushed ahead with its
introduction. The Victorian Minister for Ethnic Affairs, Jeff Kennett,
who is also the Premier, has openly supported the Greek position. This
bi-partisan politicization of ethnic affairs by the ethnic affairs ministers
is a scandal. But does any one care?
We are entitled to ask: if we live in a multicultural country, why
are the top positions in the ethnic bureaucracy dominated by one ethnic
This is important because if we look at where the impetus to introduce
this prefix is coming from, we see it is coming from Greek members of
the Australian community. From the Federal Department of Immigration
and Ethnic Affairs, which is run by a Minister of Greek decent, from
the NSW Dept of Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs, which is run by a
Minister of Greek descent, from the NSW Ethnic Communities' Council,
which has some 13 Greek members out of 26 on the management committee;
and from the Canterbury Council in Sydney, which has a number of Greek
This is a very dangerous development for Australia, yet the very people
who should be resisting this, the ethnic affairs ministers, are themselves
the chief players.
The issue at the core of this sell-out is not who is right or wrong,
but who is electorally stronger, who has more votes to sell. That is
why we are now fighting the Federal Labor Government, the Federal Opposition,
the NSW Liberal Government, and the Victorian Liberal Government. Each
of these is more concerned with retaining or winning the Greek vote
than with being fair or evenhanded. This is what I call a Greek auction.
Labor and Liberal have been led to believe that whoever kicks the Macedonians
the hardest will win the Greek vote.
This is despicable. And it is for this reason that Macedonians around
Australia have begun to join the political parties and become politically
I have to say that when I heard that 300 Macedonians from Wollongong
had joined the Labor party, it was music to my ears. Apart from the
prefix itself, I think this is potentially the most significant development
for the Macedonian community in Australia in many decades.
It is true that Macedonians are proportionally under represented in
parliament, in the political parties, in local councils, semi government
bodies etc. This is our own fault, and if we are to remain in Australia,
this must change. That is why our best long term means of defence is
to join the political parties, Labor and Liberal, it doesn't matter
which one, and as soon as possible to gain our own voice in parliament.
I think that the Macedonians in Wollongong have distinguished themselves
by seeing the need for this much sooner than other Macedonian communities
I urge you to keep this up over the coming months and years. Do not
stop. If you do this well, I believe you will become a role model for
other Macedonian communities around Australia. We need at least one
politically successful Macedonian community to help wake up the other
communities - to show them how it is done, and that it can be done.
This is the only way we will have a say in the political decisions that
So to sum up I would like to say: good luck.