On 23 February the Sydney University Greek Society (SUGS) hosted an interesting forum with the Greek Consul-General, Mr Ioannis Mallikourtis, and Professor Vrasidas Karalis, who holds the Sir Nicholas Laurantos Chair in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Sydney, on the current priorities of Greek foreign policy and other issues of interest to the Greek-Australian diaspora.
It is significant that in 2023 SUGS celebrates its 65th anniversary and it was only fitting that the Greek Consul General returned to the Sydney University campus, as it turns out, for the third time in one week to attend functions celebrating our common Greek heritage.
Having only taken up his consular appointment in September 2022, Mr Mallikourtis expressed his admiration for the Greeks who came to Australia - many literally with nothing - but who have maintained through successive generations their Hellenic culture and heritage, holding a “thin line” and ensuring that they were and still are proud Australians of Greek heritage.
On the foreign policy front, the Greek Consul-General noted that, as one commentator had observed, Greece and Türkiye (formerly known as Turkey) are the “prisoners of geography” and that the dynamics of Greece’s relationship with its neighbour has changed, even if only temporarily, following the recent disastrous earthquake and the aid which Greece immediately dispatched to assist in the recovery operations.
Mr Mallikourtis stressed that the countries need to coexist. For the moment, it is as though there has been a “time-out” - to borrow a sporting phrase - in Greek-Turkish relations and it presents a window of opportunity for trying to reset the relationship and to manage difficult issues through dialogue and not conflict.
The relationship with the US has also been enhanced as we saw with the recent visit of the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken.
The issue of the current state of play with the Parthenon Sculptures was also raised during the discussion. The Greek Consul-General noted that the reported negotiations have been held at a highly confidential level and it remains to be seen whether substantive progress will be achieved in this perennial cultural property dispute.
Finally, the Greek Consul-General touched upon one of the themes about which he is very passionate: the survival of the Greek language in the diaspora. The language is overarching and if you lose the language over two or three generations you run the risk of losing your Greek identity.
Our Greek identity is more valuable if there is a synergy, as Professor Karalis interpolated, between language and culture. Both speakers encouraged the rise of competent bilingualism and Mr Mallikourtis urged the students in the room, many of whom are studying Greek at university, to use whatever Greek words they have in their vocabulary and not to be overawed or embarrassed to speak the language.
The discussion was well-received and the audience – comprising mostly students – gained a valuable insight into the foreign policy objectives of the Greek State through its articulate representative in Sydney.
The President of SUGS, Kosta Plegas, moved a vote of thanks for both speakers in what was a very interesting discussion.
The SUGS 65th Anniversary Ball is taking place on Friday 10, March 2023. The Greek students of Sydney University deserve our support.
George Vardas is the Arts and Culture Editor and a proud alumni of the University of Sydney