The "fascist"

I met the "hero" of this story (whom I call "the fascist"), a Greek emigrant to Australia, upon entering his home village in the Prespa region--not far from the borders with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. A rain storm had altered my travel plans and rewarded me with a "winter view" of Prespa at the same time. The village's only restaurant (kafenion) looked closed, with chairs and tables turned upside down ... when I heard a voice behind me: "hello!" (in English, of course: a backpacker in Greece is, by definition, a foreigner). I thought that the man who came out of the restaurant to greet me was interested in renting rooms, and so I explained that I was there just for (Greek) lunch, planning to catch the afternoon bus to Florina. The man's response was "why don't you eat here then" and he immediately set up a table and two chairs: obviously, he was interested in having some conversation! (Later on, it would occur to me that the same curiosity that pushed him outside of the restaurant sent him to the other end of the world--an exaggeration, I guess.)

As the weather was improving quickly, more tables and local people started to surround me, already being "treated to an ouzo" (which involves more than drinking, in case you don't know) by the "fascist". There were several questions and topics of discussion, the dominant one being Albanian "immigrants"--many of them Greek nationals from the so called Northern Epirus: there was a police station across the street from the restaurant, where illegal workers from Albania were being interrogated before their "deportation" to their country. (They say that Albanians return to Greece faster than the policemen who take them to the border!) While an armed paramilitary man was vehemently opposed to the Albanians' presence in Greece, the village priest seemed to be in favor, making a reference to all that cattle illegally imported from Albania and all those rural Greek men who got married to Albanian women. ("Kai toca mocxaria pou fagame? Kai toca pallnkaria pou pavtreutikav?")

The "fascist" did not seem to care that much about the Albanians. His mind was in the "Macedonian question", and it had been there long before most Greeks started to worry about it; for, he is deeply aware of the region's history (his grandfather fought for the unification of Macedonia with Greece) and, at the same time, he happens to live in Perth, a major center of "Macedonian" propaganda in Australia. So, when he got up at an early 80's meeting of Perth's Greek community to express an opinion, a "moderate" employee of the Greek consulate attempted to silence him by branding him "a fascist"; while that consular officer apologized after a while, the "fascist" remembers the incident vividly, and I in turn remember him under this rather unusual nickname.

The "fascist" is a Greek patriot in the most uncompromising sense of the term. He was eager to tell me about the demonstrations in Australia, where Greeks from five generations declared their opposition to the use of the term "Macedonia" by the former Yugoslav republic, demonstrations that were joined "even by people about whom we always had our doubts". (An obvious reference to bilingual Greeks from Northwestern Macedonia, whom certain circles want to brand "Macedonians"; in fact, according to those circles, ALL Australian immigrants from Greek Macedonia should be classified as "Macedonians" by the Australian government--speaking of minority rights!) The "fascist" was also interested in demonstrations elsewhere: he had listened to the live broadcasting of the Spring 1992 Greek marching in front of the White House, for example. At a higher level, he had arranged for the coming and lecturing in Perth of a member of the Greek Parliament from Thessaloniki, among other things.

I felt that the "local" dialect ("evtopika") of Northwestern Macedonia (as it often was, and still is, locally called--instead of "Slavic" or "Bulgarian" or "Macedonian") is a source of minor embarrassment for the "fascist", even when it is not elevated to a distinct nationality. He was quick to point out to me that, during the years of the Macedonian struggle, the ones who suffered the most from the comitatzis were the Slavophones/Bulgarophones of Greek conscience--precisely because the comitatzis could not accept them as non-Bulgarians, I suppose. Further, the "fascist" went on to reveal that, after all, he speaks that dialect, too! I was delighted to meet a speaker of "Macedonian" who would not only define himself as a Greek, but could even be perceived as a Greek chauvinist, as well (even if unfairly so), when a big surprise came ... the "fascist" had learned "Macedonian" in Australia!! He quickly explained to me that he did so in order to be able to communicate with his co-workers in the Perth factory where fate has dumped him: half of his colleagues are "Macedonians" with a very poor knowledge of English ...

In that Perth factory, the "fascist" is fighting his own uphill battle, trying to convince his "Macedonian" colleagues of the futility of those theories that attempt to present them as direct descendants and heirs of Alexander the Great. He has limited flexibility in that direction, but he is imaginative: he proves for them, for example, that Cyril and Methodius came after Alexander by comparing them and him chronologically to Jesus Christ ... well, that's THEIR level ... In a way, and within that Perth factory, the "fascist" belongs to an oppressed and forgotten minority, not unlikely the Greeks at the hands of the Skopje government ... of whose fate he is certainly aware ... especially those former communist rebels who refused to change their Greek names and have been sent to the Albanian-dominated regions (such as Tetovo) for punishment (why did I have to hear about them from the "fascist" instead of reading their story in the Greek press?) ... will things change now that the Skopje government is "democratic"?

Later in the afternoon,I was delighted to find out that the "fascist" and his wife, an Australian born Greek, were going to ride the bus with me to Florina. During the trip, he continued to inform me on the history of the region. In particular, he showed to me the monastery where Greek rebels kept Pavlos Melas' head, detached from his body in order to conceal his death from the Turks--only to have that death made known to everybody from Athens newspapers a couple of days later ... I sensed some bitterness toward the "central government" in his words at that point ... the same bitterness became more obvious when he spoke, just in passing, about the abandonment of his region ... that sent him to the Perth factory, stuck between the shark-infested Indian Ocean and the unfriendly Australian interior ... forgotten by those who also forgot to deal with the "Macedonian question" on time ... those who called him a "fascist" when "he raised his voice in the wilderness" ...

(Memories from a trip through Northwestern Greece, July 1992)

[Posted on soc.culture.greek in May 1993]

"Do not ask what your country has done for you, ask what you have done for your country" (JFK)

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