Australia's siege mentality viewed from Greece


Anti Golden Dawn poster poster sighted at a Northcote, Vic. bus stopI left Australia decades ago. Migration was not my idea, but I had it easy, practically speaking, in the Peloponnese: I was not fleeing for my life, I had a family and a house to go to, and there were no threats of death, rape, or imprisonment. Nor were there threats of starvation or poverty. I was the wife of a Greek, and so my rights were acknowledged and my papers in order. I got a job, and my children were always with me.

But still, it was hard, so hard that to this day, putting dreamers and pleasure-seekers aside, I cannot understand the whole process of migration. Still less can I understand official attitudes towards it, for it seems to me that very few people leave their homes and their home countries unless circumstances drive them to it. Circumstances involving desperation, like the Irish potato famine, the Highland Clearances, and the failure of tin in Cornwall that had such an influence on 19th century patterns of migration to Australia.

As I write, the Euro elections have been over for a week, and the results are still being digested and debated. During the campaigns and the counting, it became evident quite early that immigration was the issue, even more of an issue than the state of the economy in the various harried nations of Europe.

And worry about immigration seems to be the main contributing factor to the continuing rise of the right-wing parties across the Continent. Here in Greece, for example, the neo-Nazi and racist Golden Dawn polled a disturbing 9 per cent, and has won seats in the European Parliament for the first time.

And what of Australia? Quite frankly, I'm baffled, so baffled that visiting Antipodeans take me to task. 'Get over it, Gillian. The Australia you grew up in and thought you knew has gone forever.'

So it would seem. But it also seems to me that it was a more tolerant country way back then. My parents had friends who were known as DPs, Displaced Persons, and when I started high school Hungarian children were starting to arrive, so that I was repeating the experience my father had had in the 1930s, when Jewish students were enrolling at his school. And there was no fuss.

But I'm not alone in my bemusement. Last week a friend of mine, herself an immigrant, wrote a stinging letter to ALP Senators. She pointed out that asylum seekers are not breaking any law, and went on to ask what had happened to the decency that the Labor government had shown to refugees such as her parents, who had been fleeing fascism in Europe just prior to the outbreak of World War Two.

My friend was a mere baby then, but there was never any prospect of internment for her family. And Australia was accepting far more refugees than it does now. I'm anxious to know whether she has had any replies.

Comparisons may be odious; nevertheless, they are often instructive. Conservative estimates suggest that Greece, which has a population of just over 11 million, is currently home to 500,000 'illegals'. Australia's 'problem' is minute when put against Greece's, or against that of a country like Pakistan, which is trying, and doubtless failing, to cope with a refugee population of about 2 million. It seems that the poorer countries are bearing, as usual, the greatest burden.

I consulted another friend, also a vintage child immigrant, wondering about the change, about the development of Australia's siege mentality, which is being neatly manipulated and fuelled by politicians of every stripe. At least as far as I can observe. Why the change? I wanted to know. 'Then,' she said, 'immigrants were usually white and of Christian or Jewish extraction. Things are different now.'

She doesn't like things being different, and neither do I. What remains the same is that we are all human, and we all bleed in exactly the same way. So what has happened to The Golden Rule?

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website.

Pictured: Poster sighted at a Northcote, Vic. bus stop

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Greece, Golden Dawn, migration



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Existing comments

Thank you for keeping the issue before us, Gillian. It would be nice to forget because it is so shaming .... Actually I think it's worse than you say, almost as if when we disregard one group's humanity, we go on to do the same to many others: refugees = illegals; unemployed = undeserving rorters; gay people = not like us, so different rules for them and so on.

Russell | 03 June 2014  

Golden Dawn not welcome in Australia? Too bad we're already here and little do you know, there's more of us then you think.

Vangeli | 03 June 2014  

Thank you Gillian for calling us back to our better selves, Brian.

B. V. Cotter | 04 June 2014  

An excellent article to which I found Vangeli's comment rather "off". I wonder whether he was being serious. If so that is a worry. The sort of free society we still enjoy took hundreds of years to develop. There is also a civilised way of discussing differences and coming to a common agreement or right to differ. I fear, as far as discussion on asylum seekers goes, our national discourse has been hopelessly degraded. Sometimes those opposing the current bipartisan approach, as such it is, are as guilty as the politicians. This needs to change. I think we need to discover the common humanity within ourselves and others. Thank you Gillian for reminding us that it has always existed. There is much about the old Australia that was excellent. We need to remember and build on that.

Edward Fido | 04 June 2014  

I fear there may be more people like Vangeli. I have just looked at the Lowe Institute's latest Poll. We are so fortunate in Australia and are, sadly, not prepared to share.

Mary | 04 June 2014  

Thank you Gillian. Your friend should not bother waiting to hear anything from the Labor Party. My letters were rewarded with a reply of platitudes, repeating the importance of the policies both parties pursue. There is no doubt in my mind that the reason for the rejection of these asylum seekers is xenophobia on the basis of race and religion - both stemming from fear. The internet and social media are awash with false information about asylum seekers and one could work full time just proving the information to be false. It is worrying what is happening in Europe in regards to the rise of far right politics, but this is also happening here. It takes a different guise, but if you read some of the documents online,there is no doubt about the politics of their authors.

Vivienne | 04 June 2014  

Thanks for the article. It's a barren time here. Turning back the boats has widespread support, despite the brutality of our response to asylum seekers. Insularity swerving near racism, and sometimes right into it, is popular. And this in a country that depends for its trade on Asia. We are in a bubble.

Robert Smith | 04 June 2014  

Gillian, let me assure you that your geographic distance from Australia is no impediment to understanding Australia's siege mentality. I have lived over 65 years in Australia, the land of my birth, and I don't understand it either. On the presence of Golden Dawn in Australia, as raised by Vangeli in an earlier comment, I certainly hope not; but I am aware that at least one anti-Islam group is seeking registration as a political party and Q Society, self-billed as “Australia’s leading Islam-critical movement”, sponsored a speaking tour by Geert Wilders, who leads the ultra-nationalist Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. This morning I heard on ABC's Radio National results of the latest Lowie Institute survey of the Australian public on questions about international relations, the category which includes asylum seekers arriving in boats. Approximately 60% of those surveyed support the bi-partisan hard line of off-shore detention for processing, and 70% support the Coalition Government's 'tow-back' of boats to Indonesia. Given that many boat people are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, it is reasonable to infer that the present focus of our siege mentality is based on paranoia about Islam and the ever-present preference to exclude significant numbers of non-Europeans.

Ian Fraser | 04 June 2014  

The siege mentality of Australia is the result of the divide and rule policy of capitalism and the garbage popular mainstream media. Most Australian people are ignorant about the reasons that people seek asylum; most of these people are financially affluent but they also have very low standards of morality and ethical behaviour. Australian politicians and media celebrities are totally devoid of charity and humanitarianism.

Mark Doyle | 04 June 2014  

Yes, I too am horrified by the way we treat asylum seekers. However it is ingenuous not to look more closely as why there is such broad acceptance. It has nothing to do with difference as Asian people are generally very well accepted and assimilated. It has more to do with behaviour and I commend the following: Catherine Marshall's article "Kidnapped Nigerian girls put lie to Western freedom, Eureka Street 11 May 2014. 'Global support' for sharia locally by Mark Schliebs in The Australian, January 09, 2014 (a bid for sharia law in Perth) The plight of the young mother who gave birth in prison,with execution in 2 years, crime: being Christian. These are not isolated cases, why isn’t there more condemnation of this behaviour? This is why people fear Islam and the virtual silence from the broader Islamic world who fail to speak out about appalling behaviour. We rescue a few and leave the vast majority in their abject misery, without much thought at all. Nobody is looking at a big picture solution to the root cause of why people need to leave their family, friends and country.

Jane | 04 June 2014  

Most of our immigrants are classed as "skilled migrants", besides our increasing unemployment problems, the dismantling of affordable tertiary education, and budget cuts! The rest are family reunions, and there are hoards of categories of temporary migrants allowed to work in Australia - despite the crisis in youth unemployment and the explosion in housing prices. Less than 5% of our "migrants" are needy - asylum seekers and humanitarian! The majority of migrants coming to Australia already have homes, and are not being forced to leave. When you say "immigration", it's about inflating our housing bubble - not humanitarian!

VivKay | 04 June 2014  

Gillian: :"What ever has happened to the Golden Rule?" We have spent too much time basking in the fruits of being in possession of the greatest per-capital amount of territory and natural resources in the world. Being so isolated and insular ,we became so accustomed to it that we came to regard it as a God-given inalienable right, and thought that we would never have to share it, no matter how desperate and deserving others might be. Added to that, Politicians, anxious for votes, and Media Moguls, hungry for sales, pander to our selfish instincts and manipulate public perception to make us feel threatened.

Robert Liddy | 04 June 2014  

Thank you Gillian Bouras for your important article which has evoked some really worthwhile comments in response. I feel now that Australia is sleepwalking into a different, harsher kind of nation. , I don;t think it's just that I am getting older and grumpier, Such fine essays and letters confirm that I am not alone in these views. (See also Catherine Marshall and Denise Coghlan today on sending asylum-seekers to Cambodia).. .I think more and more that Australia has profoundly lost its ethical way. It is no longer the compassionate country In which I grew up and made my public service career.

tony kevin | 04 June 2014  

As always, Gillian, thank you for your clear and sensitive article. You are not the only one to be baffled. I am also ashamed of the Australian government's attitude to asylum seekers.Do please keep writing and speaking out.

Maryrose Dennehy | 04 June 2014  

Jane states that brutality by militant Islamists “is why people fear Islam” and refers to the “virtual silence from the broader Islamic world who fail to speak out...” I refer Jane to PeaceNext, ( the official social network for the Parliament of the World's Religions as an accessible source for staying informed about the work of Muslims who confront militants, maintain good relations with non-Muslims and build new bridges where relationships have yet to be developed. In a quick survey of collected items from 2012 to 2014, I selected the following: 1.With the aim of “combating religious extremism”, imams from Libya, Tunisia and Guinea-Conakry will soon follow their peers from Mali and receive training in Morocco, well-known for its “open, convivial and tolerant Islam.” 2.American Muslim leaders and organizations rushed … to condemn the attacks on American diplomatic outposts in Libya and Egypt, issuing news releases and giving interviews that seemed aimed as much at an American audience as at Muslims overseas. 3.The Muslim Jewish Conference in Sarajevo in July 2013 saw young men and women from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt, European Muslims, along with Jews from all over the world, discussing conflicts, hate speech, gender relations and religious practice.

Ian Fraser | 04 June 2014  

Gillian I totally agree with your sentiment but not the argument that Australia was less racist years ago. It wasn't better years ago, that's just old age nostalgia. Each generation has allowed migrants, some more in numbers than others but most of those who ventured to come here have experienced the cold face of discrimination. What saddens me is that many of our post WW2 immigrants are virulently anti-immigration now. How can you turn away from those forced from their country when you yourself faced the same tragedy years ago? I don't understand but also don't harbour nostalgia for the past. I grew up in Wollongong where I saw much racism against the migrants working in the steelworks after the War and remember stickers on cars imploring Vietnamese refugees in the 1970's to get back on the boats and go home.

Diane | 05 June 2014  

Australia has changed a considerable amount since the post war period of immigration, and even since the Vietnamese "boat people" era when they were largely welcomed. We've had soaring population growth, (economic migration), and now there's considerable pressure on public services and transport in our cities. We've had a slash to Federal funding, and welfare and pensions have been gouged. There is little public housing available, and homelessness is a growing problem. Unemployment is growing, along with costs of living. Australia doesn't have the resources and amenities of the past to have open arms to all the displaced people who would like to come here.

Tony B | 10 June 2014  

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