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March 14, 2002 Greek culture thriving in Canada, says speaker



by Anna Bratulic

There’s more to modern Greek culture than souvlaki. That was the feeling expressed by the audience at the second in an annual lecture series organized by Concordia’s Hellenic Studies Unit.

Some in the audience, which included Liberal MNA Christos Sirros and consul-general of Greece in Montreal Ioannis Papadopoulos, wondered aloud whether Greek culture in Canada had dwindled to a few quaint, ethnically-tinged activities such as eating souvlaki or attending popular bouzouki nights.

The lecture, “Social Changes and the Prospects of Hellenism in Canada,” was given by Dr. Peter Chimbos, professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario. He outlined the chances for survival of the culture and institutions that Greek immigrants brought with them or established when they first settled here over 100 years ago.

Adaptability to change

Chimbos’s reflections on the subject were not as bleak as some would expect, he said. Even though second- and third-generation members of ethnic groups lose a certain tie to the mother country, Canada’s Greek community, as well as other ethnic groups who are in the same boat, has managed to retain its identity very well. There are an estimated 80,000 people of Greek descent in Montreal alone. Concordia claims 1,500 among its student population.

“Ethnic groups are affected by social and democratic changes in society, but at the same time are capable of revealing both adaptability and resistance to change,” Chimbos said. “Furthermore, members of ethnic groups can experience upward social mobility without being assimilated, without losing their ethnic identity, contradicting the assimilation theorists who claim that if you are to climb up in the social structure, you are to assimilate first.”

The biggest threat to the survival of Hellenism in Canada, he said, is a combination of several factors including a steady decline in Greek immigrants to Canada, inter-marriage, and a de-emphasis on the philosophy of multiculturalism. Teaching younger-generation Greek Canadians to speak their native tongue at an early age can be a very potent anti-assimilation force.

Concordia is doing its part to preserve Hellenism in Canada by increasing the number of Greek-based courses offered at the university and by trying to extend academic cooperation with universities in Athens. Rector Frederick Lowy is planning to visit Athens in May to do just that.

The coordinator of the Hellenic Studies Unit, Communication Studies Professor Nikos Metallinos, said that right now Concordia is working with McGill and the Université de Montréal to set up the Montreal Interuniversity Centre for Neo-Hellenic Studies, which would offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Hellenic studies. Funding is coming from a variety of public and private sources, including the government of Greece, which has donated $500,000.

“What I’m trying to do is establish a strong basis of Hellenic-related subjects in our university in order to meet the demands of the Interuniversity Centre,” Metallinos said. Again this year, the Hellenic Studies Unit plans to offer a summer class in Greece.

As well as Professor Metallinos, the Hellenic Studies Unit’s advisory committee comprises Paris Arnopoulos (professor emeritus, Political Science), Andreas K. Athienitis and Ted Stathopoulos (both from the Centre for Building Studies), Stylianos Perrakis (Finance), Georgios Vatistas (Mechanical Engineering) and Christos Katsafadis (president, Hellenic Students Association).

The next lecture in the 2002 Hellenic Studies Unit lecture series is “Greece and the Balkans,” by Dr. Thanos Veremis of Tufts University, on April 26 at 7 p.m. in Room H-767. For more information, contact Professor Nikos Metallinos at 848-2536.