Australia's Pontians in Turmoil

Australia's Pontian Greeks have been aboard an unstable ship for quite a number of years now. In the past, and in recent times, their leaders have squabbled over a number of issues, in many cases quite publicly. As a result, certain factions have developed which threaten to destabilize an already unsettled environment.

Two breakaway federations have already formed over the last seven years which is indicative of the precarious environment they're in. And there's no indication that Pontians are reconciling their differences.

Pontian clubs in Australia have slowly but steadily been losing their relevance in the land down-under. Youth participation at Pontian clubs has been dwindling and club functions are not as well attended as in the past. Differences of opinion between individuals at the helm of Australia's Pontian clubs and federations have now reached a critical point. And it's the leaders of these Pontian clubs and federations who are to blame, not the average Pontian.

Australia's Pontian clubs have had some bitter rivalries over the decades. However, unlike a rivalry in sport, Pontian leaders in Australia have found a need to form new federations to resolve their differences. This has come to the fore in 2018 with the recent announcement that another breakaway federation has formed. Australia now has three Pontian federations.
Up until 2011, there was only one Pontian federation in Australia. The Federation of Pontian Associations of Australia (or the Pontian Federation of Australia as it's more commonly known) was formed in 1989 for the purpose of uniting Australia's Pontian clubs. But instead of being a uniting force, it's been anything but. Australia's Pontian Federation became the breeding ground for hatreds to come to the fore and for the seeds of division to be sowed and propagated. The creation of the first breakaway federation in 2011 was therefore no surprise. But the beginning of the division started well before that.

One of the ongoing feuds between Australia's Pontian clubs and one which has partly contributed to the formation of the first breakaway federation in 2011, and the third Pontian federation in 2018, is the ongoing feud between Pontiaki Estia and Pontiaki Kinotita (the Pontian Community of Melbourne and Victoria), both Melbourne clubs. The events surrounding the feud between Estia and Kinotita are documented in quite some detail in Makis Kasapidis' book titled Argonauts in the Antipodes of the South. Those at the helm of some of Sydney's Pontian clubs have formed allegiances with either side, as have other Pontian clubs in Australia.
Pontiaki Estia and Pontiaki Kinotita were once a single entity. But a bitter dispute over the location of the club's first premises purchased in the outer west Melbourne suburb of Keilor in 1982, led to a faction disassociating itself from the club and subsequently forming a new club. The split made sense, since the people who broke away, did so because they lived so far from Keilor. This happened three decades ago.

There is some indication in the Kasapidis book that the feud came about as a result of regional/tribal differences; Pontiaki Estia founding members hailing originally from Matsuka in the historic region of Pontus in Turkey, whereas the faction that broke away was largely from the Kars region. Either way, the split turned into a major event. Pontiaki Estia felt offended by the move, and bitterness developed. It became an us versus them affair. The Estia vs Kinotita rivalry was born. Egos had been created on both sides and they grew over time. The bitter rivalry had begun, and remains to this day. 

The rivalry between them had become so fierce, that at one stage the youth emulated the rivalry of those at the helm of their clubs. At a dinner dance in 2005, a small group of youth from one of these two clubs, well connected to their club's hierarchy, violently assaulted a youth from the other club. So bad was the assault that the youth required hospital admission. This poor behavior by some Pontian youth was a continuation of the climate formed by the generation before them.

For some reason, successive generations of Pontians have failed to advance to any great degree in terms of respect for one another. This lack of decorum has led to the gradual demise of Pontian clubs and the federation by extension. Their leaders should lead by example, but that's not been the case. 

Such bitter division has not just been a Melbourne thing. Sydney's Pontians have been just as divisive. The Sydney Pontian club Xeniteas began with controversy and division. At one stage, members of the club split into two groups and the factions became known as Xeniteas 1 and Xeniteas 2. Kasapidis also documents this rivalry in his book.

Both groups laid claim to the club's assets, so the irreconcilable difference was taken to the High Court of Australia. The funny thing was (yes it was funny), they both lost. The judge ordered the club be wound up and the assets be donated to a N.S.W Childrens Hospital and other charities. After both sides spent considerable funds to take the issue to court, they left with nothing but clipped wings, bruised egos, and big holes in their pockets.

Nepotism has been another issue that has stifled progress at some Pontian clubs. Instead of a club committee being comprised of a cross section of the club's members, some 'groups' within Pontian clubs form cliques for the sole purpose of taking over the running of the entire club. This has been one of the most disconcerting aspects for many in the Australian Pontian community. In Melbourne, a certain Pontian club has been run by one family for almost the past two decades. The clan, involving brothers and their cousins have been rotating the presidency, secretarial and treasury roles unopposed. It's behavior like this which has turned people away from the Pontian scene altogether.

With the news in 2018 that a third Pontian Federation has formed, Australia's Pontians are now at a cross-roads faced with even more drama and very likely, more division.

While initially, Australia's Pontians hated one another at club level, they are now creating political entities as a way to disassociate themselves from one another, and hate each other further. While hatreds and differences in the past were solved by boycotting each others' events or staging events on the same day as their rivals (sabotage), they are now being solved by the creation of breakaway federations.

So where to from here?

Pontians need to get back to basics. The abolishing of all federations is probably not a bad start. Since federations are now being inaugurated willy-nilly over minor squabbles, it's time for Pontians to abolish them. 

The original federation worked on a round-robin system. A different club was given the national presidency each year. There was no character or educational requisite for someone to be president of a Pontian club and subsequently to become president of the federation. Many past club presidents, and even some today, are first generation Greeks who brought with them, not only a strong work ethic, but also questionable and sometimes dodgy money management skills and the tendency for poor verbal communication.

The inability of Pontian clubs to promote their youth into any leadership roles has also hurt them dearly. Youth at Pontian clubs are paraded in Pontian costumes to dance to the public's enjoyment for the purpose of advancing their cultural awareness. But indirectly, and more to the point, they are used for the taking of photos to showcase (to the Greek community primarily), the purpose and the need for the club.

Most youth stay at their clubs a handful of years before moving on, never to return in any formal capacity. Some leave as a result of the internal hatreds and divisions present at club and federation level. There is no path for the youth to be instated into club committees or leadership roles and they are not encouraged to do so either. Not that any of them would want to join committees where first generation Greeks possessing very old-fashioned and backward views are present. Pontian youth aren't trusted to take on any leadership roles because of the presence of narrow-minded and egocentric first generation (and sometimes second generation) Greeks who refuse to step aside from their leadership roles at their clubs and the federation alike. 

Pontians in Australia have had to put up with poor behavior by not only their leaders but also certain individuals in their communities for far too long. It is not the fault of the average Aussie Pontian that bitter hatreds have erupted between their club leaders, leading to the current mess. Their leaders are not leading by example. They are behaving poorly. Three federations? Who would have thought.
Australia's Pontians are now in a position where they must decide where to from here? Should they stay aboard a sinking ship while the captain is behaving so unethically? Or should they jump?

One would seriously argue, that jumping may not be a bad option.


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