The Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu, and Gary Singer, Deputy Mayor of Melbourne, have unwittingly ignited ethnic tension in Melbourne after they attended a controversial Greek community rally in Melbourne’s Federation square this past Sunday sponsored by the Victorian Multicultural Commission, a State government body.
Mr Baillieu who was on stage with Mr Singer, and Mr John Pandazopoulos, a former Labor state Minister, all cheered and clapped after the MC of the event shouted in Greek “Ellas, Ellas, Makedhonia,” which in English is translated to mean Greece, Greece, is Macedonia.”
Members of the crowd carried balloons in Blue and Gold carrying the slogan” Macedonia is Greece.”
Members of Victoria’s Macedonian community have now claimed that Mr Baillieu and Mr Singer have taken sides in a long running historical dispute from the Balkans.
The highly influential and largest circulation Macedonian community newspaper, The Australian Macedonian Weekly, has placed an embarrassing front page photo of Red Ted Baillieu with the headline:
“ON SUNDAY IN MELBOURNE– THE GREEKS WAVED THE BANNER ‘MACEDONIA IS GREECE.’ — with a big picture of Mr Baillieu.
(Vo nedeleta vo melburn – grcite mavtaa Makedonija e Grcka)
Tensions have traditionally run hot over the issue of Macedonia, as Greece refuses to recognise the existence of The Republic of Macedonia, which declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. In recent times, the United States, Canada, Russia and many other nations have recognised the existence of Macedonia and a separate Macedonian ethnic group. Australia, in order to calm Greek opposition, refers to Macedonia as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), a term also temporarily used by the United Nations.
The Greek argument is the term Macedonia belongs to Greece. Melbourne’s large Greek and Macedonian communities have been involved in violent disputes at demonstrations and soccer matches over the issue in the past.
The Kennett Liberal Government made a controversial political decision in the 1990s to support the larger and more politically savvy Greek community in the dispute. This led Kennett to re-name Melbourne’s Macedonian community as Slav-Macedonian in response to Greek pressure. But a Supreme Court Challenge by the Macedonian community led the Kennett government to drop the term.
Tensions have been lying dormant but critics are asking is it wise for the Opposition Leader to revisit Kennett style divide and rule ethnic politicking?