The desire to forge even stronger bonds with Greece was the message that a Greek Australian delegation sent during its visit to Athens.
President of the Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) Bill Papastergiadis, who led the delegation, proposed a series of initiatives that could strengthen the bond between the Greek diaspora in Australia and Greece.
Melbourne is home to one of the largest Greek diaspora communities in the world as well as being the city with the largest Greek-speaking population outside Greece.
In an exclusive interview with the Greek Reporter, Papastergiadis said that he was encouraged as the Greek government and political parties show a renewed interest in the problems facing the Greek Australian community.
He added that at his meetings with Greek politicians, including the President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and leader of the Opposition, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, he was “encouraged by the knowledge Greek politicians have about Greek Australian issues.”
Papastergiadis briefed Tsipras on the educational and cultural programs of the GCM, and on issues concerning the Greek community in general.
“We discussed our cultural program and the festivals organized by the GCM and the Prime Minister was interested in coming to the Lonsdale Street Greek Festival,” said Papastergiadis. “He was amazed by the success of the festival and he could not believe that it attracts so many people.”
At his meeting with Greek ministers and officials, Papastergiadis raised several issues that could help the Australian diaspora come even closer to Greece.
He said that he raised the issue of reintroducing student camps for Greek Australian youngsters in Greece.
“It would be introduced with little cost for the government as the transportation would be paid by the Greek Australian community”, Papastergiadis said.
Throughout Greece there are dozens of camps that could accommodate Greek Australian youngsters when they remain unoccupied.
Papastergiadis said that Greek government was receptive to the idea and it promised to introduce a camp programme for Greek Australians in 2018.
“The kids will learn the language and be embedded to Greek culture,” Papastergiadis said. “In the future, they will also become tourists in Greece,” he added.
In the interview, the GCM President revealed that Athens promised to examine the options for restarting the satellite transmissions of public television ERT, which have stopped a few years ago.
“ERT is a very important link between Greek Australians and Greece,” Papastergiadis said. “That’s how most people get informed about developments…When the transmissions were cut it was a big loss for the community,” he added.
Papastergiadis also raised the issue for voting at general elections. The Greek government “listened carefully, but they did not commit,” he said.
He also revealed that the Melbourne community offered office space to house a branch of the Greek National Tourism Organization (EOT).
“Australians spend the most per capita of any tourists visiting Greece. There is clearly a need to tap into the tourist appeal of Greece and promote Greece among Australians,” Papastergiadis said.
He added that a big international conference on Greek tourism will be held in Melbourne at the end of the year.
Finally, in his discussions with Greek officials he discussed the prospect of opening the archives of the Greek National Library to the Greek Australian Community.