27 September 2008

The 15th annual Greek-Serbian Orthodox and Cultural Friendship Day was once again, as expected, a total success for both the Greek and Serbian communities of Sydney, taking place on Sunday 21 September 2008, on the day of the vernal equinox, the start of spring in the southern hemisphere. Hundreds of Greeks and Serbs as well as other Orthodox peoples and non-Orthodox Christians attended Sunday’s event, characterised as one of the most successful days in the history of this event. The initiative relies on the Serbian Orthodox Church-School Community of “St Archdeacon Stefan”, Rooty Hill in western Sydney and has been so since its conception as an idea back in the 1990’s.

Its purpose was to demonstrate the Serbian community’s expression of appreciation towards Greece, Cyprus, the Greek Diaspora and the Greek community of Australia for their invaluable assistance and humanitarian aid towards the Serbian nation during the tragic events in the former Yugoslavia back in the early to mid 90’s. The multifaceted Greek aid continued unabated even during the US-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and in particular Serbia, as Serbia resisted her dismemberment, something that the west was trying to achieve during the break up of the once strong Balkan and south-eastern European country of Yugoslavia. Even today, many Serbian children are hosted for a short time in summer or winter by Greek families all over Greece, from Macedonia region in the north to Crete in the south. It is also noteworthy that thousands of Serbian citizens make Greece as their first summer holiday destination the last few years and most of them holiday in Halkidiki peninsula of Macedonia whilst Belgrade and the rest of Serbia have a strong presence of Greek financial companies and offices with millions of euros investments in the country as well as a strong presence of tertiary students in Belgrade’s institutions.

The 15th annual Greek-Serbian Orthodox and Cultural Friendship Day commenced with the Christian Orthodox liturgy led by Serbian father Srboljub Miletic at the Orthodox Church which reminds visitors of a Greek countryside Orthodox chapel. By midday, the congregation and other guests made their way into the Parish Centre, next door for the sumptuous luncheon with cevapcina shopska salata, cake delights and other very palatable foods.

The national anthems of Australia, Greece and Serbia were sung by all guests accordingly and then father Srboljub blessed once again the cultural program that was to follow. Dimitrios Kametopoulos and Sonja Stankovic, both secondary teachers, took stage as the Masters of Ceremonies for the day for the Greek/English languages and the Serbian language respectively, although both exchanged in a humorous manner various phrases in Serbian and Greek to everyone’s entertainment.

Mr Ilija Glisic, the Vice President of the Serbian Orthodox Church-School Community “St Archdeacon Stefan”, Rooty Hill, was introduced by the Masters of Ceremonies to welcome everyone on behalf of the Serbian community. In his speech, he stressed the importance of the strong religious, historical, geographical, political and cultural bonds between the Serbian and Greek nations and of course the Serbian and Greek communities of Sydney and Australia. He characteristically said that it was the Hellenes around the world, in Greece, Cyprus and the vast Diaspora that aided the Serbian nation and the orphaned children in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina during the tragic war in the Balkans. This culminated with the continued humanitarian efforts by the Hellenes during the late 90’s during the devastating bombing of Belgrade, Nis, Kragujevac and other Serbian cities and villages by the US-led NATO military airplanes. The appreciation felt by the Serbian nation and diaspora towards the Greeks is omnipresent and will always exist, emphasised Mr Glisic. He then thanked the co-organisers Dimitrios Kametopoulos and Ljubica Ridley for their tireless efforts in the organisation and coordination for the last 15 years of this important event in the communities’ calendar.

The cultural program opened with the Serbian dancing group “Ratsko” performing the well-known “Zorba the Greek” dance, as a sign of welcoming to the Greeks present on the day. That was applauded continually. The cultural program continued with more Serbian dancing groups from many local community organisations performing traditional dances from various parts of Serbia, including the regions of Shumadia, south-east Serbia, Vojvodina, Kosovo and other areas. Representing the Greek community, a great number of performances took place and were all applauded with equal enthusiasm. The many Greek community dancing groups performed traditional Greek songs and music from Macedonia and Thrace regions, from Thessaly and Roumely regions, from the Peloponnese, Crete island and the other Aegean islands as well as Cyprus, Asia Minor and Pontos areas. The traditional songs were intertwined as well with modern Greek ‘zeibekika’ and ‘tsiftetelia’. During the pauses between the performing Greek and Serbian dancing groups, Dimitrios Kametopoulos would make very brief historical references to the common ties and bonds between Greece and Serbia from the Byzantine times to the modern times, noting their importance for the two nations and communities.

The following Greek groups performed in order of appearance. The first group was the ‘Sophia Haskas Greek Dancing School” who received unstoppable applauses with their traditional and modern Greek dance program. Next performance was the “Greek Dancing School ‘The Pontians’ ”of Panayiotis Kouvelis from Marrickville who took the audience on a trip to the Anatolian areas of Asia Minor, Cappadocia and Pontos. Panayiotis, the choreographer, played also the Macedonian ‘Gaida’ live accompanied with the Pontian ‘lyra’ and a drum at one dance bracket exciting the audience. Traditional Cypriot dances were performed by the “Cyprus Community Club of NSW Dancing School” in Stanmore and people were transported to that part of the Mediterranean and in particular to the beautiful island of Cyprus. Following, were the “Fotia” (‘Fire’) Greek Dancing School of Irene Lantis whose Dancing school is supported by the Cyprus Hellene Club at Brighton Le Sands. With their performances of a modern Greek program, people were already eager to participate and dance on stage with them! The last two groups that “swept the audiences off their feet” were Joanna Tsakiridis’ “Greek-Australian Dancing School” and Nelly Kordakis’ and Harry Klavdiou’s “Seismos” (‘Earthquake’) Greek Dancing School. Both concluded the official part of the cultural performances and had everyone by then too excited to remain seated.

Ms Ljubica Ridley, on behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church-School Community of “St Archdeacon Stefan”, Rooty Hill, presented all dancing groups, Greek and Serbian an icon of the Church as a token of thanks for their participation on the day. The rest of the afternoon was filled with lots of music, Serbian and Greek and an opportunity for the young and old to be involved in the dancing on stage, all mixed together. The next Greek-Serbian Orthodox and Cultural Friendship Day for 2009 was announced to be in mid to late September next year. That will be the 16th year and some further additions are scheduled to be included in the program, namely the possibility of the involvement of the Russian Orthodox and Romanian Orthodox communities in Sydney and their dancing groups.

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