European Rivalries Show Up Down Under

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE open-air Queen Victoria market in Melbourne on a Sunday morning is a mini-United Nations. Women swathed in veils push bag-laden strollers while Asian, Central European, and Latin merchants shout prices to lure customers.

Melbourne is one of the most multicultural cities in a country that prides itself for its successful integration of people from all over. But some ``new Australians'' have kept, along with their old customs and languages, ancient ethnic rivalries. European nationalism has cropped up in far-off Australia. Greek and Macedonian churches, parliamentary offices, and community centers have been firebombed here in the last two months; violence between ethnic spectators marred a soccer game recently.

``We're appealing to all groups to ensure that there is calm and that we obviously condemn any violence,'' says Victor Rebikoff, chairman of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia.

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Police have not linked the incidents to either ethnic group, and in fact speculate it might be some third parties. But the incidents started soon after Australia recognized the newly named Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Feb. 15.

THE large Greek community here is unhappy that the former Yugoslavian republic will share the name ``Macedonia'' with a province in Greece.

Greek community leaders say Prime Minister Paul Keating let them down by first promising not to recognize the country until certain conditions were met, but then going ahead anyway. The government has rejected allegations that it breached its own conditions for the recognition of FYROM.

After weeks of clashes and demonstrations that seemed to have caught the government by surprise, high-level meetings were held with both sides. The Greeks were invited March 10; and on March 14, a Slav-Macedonian delegation met with the government, when they were informed that the term used by the government for those from FYROM would now be Slav-Macedonians. The delegation protested, saying they want to be called Macedonians.

Foreign Minister Gareth Evans released a statement March 14 laying out the government's position and appealing for calm.

Australia is not used to ethnic strife. Mr. Rebikoff says the recent incidents are the first since the Gulf war, when tensions stirred between Jews and Muslims.

Angelo Pateris, owner of a real estate agency that was vandalized and spokesman for the Macedonian Organization Coordinating Council of Australia, says the incidents will harm the process of multiculturalism. ``Middle Australia does not like ethnic conflict because they say, `They're bringing problems to our land,' '' he says.

But the country has an official policy of multiculturalism and a strong web of organizations at the private level devoted to fostering communication. ``One shouldn't misconstrue that just because we have a few incidents that the fabric of cultural diversity is in any way breaking up,'' Rebikoff says.

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