The Multiculturalism of Fear

By Jacob T. Levy | Go to book overview

8 Ethnic Symbolism and Official Apologies 1

The Stakes of Symbolism

In the early part of 1994, Australia was rocked by violence between its Greek and Macedonian communities. Prior to the 1993 election Prime Minister Paul Keating promised leaders of the 300,000 strong Greek Australian community that his government would not recognize the new Macedonian state until its dispute with Greece over its name and national symbols was resolved. In early 1994 Keating's Labor government did recognize 'The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia' following a general international movement toward recognition. Protests from Greek Australians were immediate, and egged on by the Liberal premier of Victoria, the state with the largest Greek population. In an attempt to soothe Greek feelings, the government announced that the 75,000 Macedonians in Australia would henceforth be officially known as 'Slav-Macedonians.' It even attempted (unsuccessfully) to get state-funded radio and television news networks to adopt the name change.

The recognition of Macedonia and the subsequent renaming of Macedonians were followed by tens of thousands of protesters in the streets, and by firebombings of churches, community centers, and private homes and business on both sides. Those involved in a fight at an ethnically charged soccer game in Melbourne threw bricks at each other. A Victoria state senator's office was bombed; bottles were thrown at the federal Immigration Minister.

No one was killed by this conflict, the intense stage of which lasted some two and a half months. Still, the dispute turned remarkably vicious by Australian standards. Cultural organizations in both communities received government funding as part of official multiculturalism. Both Greeks and Macedonians had lived in Australia for decades. No

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