Just this past week…
A spare heir drops the biographic dirt on his family.
A cardinal with prior child sex abuse convictions dies in the Vatican.
A state premier holds multiple press conferences to apologise for dressing like a Nazi at his 21st birthday.
And somewhere in the Mediterranean, an ex king dies.
Here are some musings on the death of the ex king, whom we can technically call Mr Glücksburg. My simplistic understanding of faraway (but not really faraway) history tells me that he was the pretender to an imaginary throne in the country of my parents’ birth. A country that Mr Glücksburg and his predecessors fled from every time the going got tough or, were exiled, assassinated and in one case, bitten by a monkey and died.
Kings have a patchy track record in post-Independence Greece—a brutal and bloody struggle for independence that the Glücksburgs were not present at or part of. They were the second lot of kings selected and installed by the European powers from the many spare heirs of the inbred royal houses of Denmark and Germany scattered around Europe. The first one, Otto, a spare Bavarian prince, ruled as the autocrat of a newly ‘liberated’ Greece for 30 years before being ousted. He was soon replaced by a Danish spare, a mere teenager, the first of the ’Greek’ Glücksburgs. This last Mr Glücksburg, Constantine, is a direct descendant, but has not been king since 1974, when the people voted against the monarchy in a referendum.
I’ve been having some connected but more personal thoughts this week. At the centre of all these is my late Mum, whose early political leanings formed my own. She lived through many of the events that eventually turned the majority of the Greek public against the monarchy.
My first memory of watching a film was sitting next to Mum in the Finos Cinema (now the Enmore Theatre). It was a black and white newsreel of the Polytechnic uprising that took place in Athens, 1973. The footage was scratchy and grainy but you could make out the tanks crushing the gates of buildings. It was a blur of sight and sound, people protesting, screaming, and I look up to see tears coming down my Mum’s cheeks.
Later she explained to me how the armed forces of the junta, who came to power in a coup in 1967, were attacking the students who had had taken over the college and were protesting. She would show me how to scribble or rip out the pro-junta logos that were in our Greek-school books—provided by the faraway state for all us wog kids learning mother tongue in the basements of Greek Orthodox churches across Australia. She also taught me to not kiss priests’ hands or sing ‘God Save The Queen’.
She would belt out Mikis Theodorakis songs in the car when we went on long drives to places like Warragamba Dam or Paradise Gardens. My Dad would invariably get the shits, so the rousing ‘power to the people’ anthems were replaced by Elvis Presley’s Flaming Star album or slow, torturous, bucolic folk songs.
Mum was a staunch pacifist. She was a child during World War II. She spent most of her adult life teaching herself to read and write so that she could express herself though poetry as well as devour history books to revisit and unpack the trauma of the Greek Civil War and subsequent famine. This war would scar her entire generation. I knew from a young age the level of poverty and crisis required to make one an immigrant, a refugee. It is a profound shame I feel when first and second generation kids of immigrants like me prefer amnesia to empathy.
For those old enough or still alive, the death of Constantine Glücksburg reopens difficult memories. We don’t mourn the powerful who had escape options, but the everyday people who suffered after every king’s or government’s decisions, actions and failures. The Balkan wars, the Asia Minor disaster, World War II, the Civil War, the rule of the Colonels, the betrayal of Cyprus—the Greek ‘House of Glücksburg’ was an active meddler in all these painful histories. Since the overthrow of the monarchy, it seems they have been replaced by political dynasties (left and right) whose elected scions are an ongoing, almost interchangeable, disappointment.
Part of me asks if I have a twisted empathy for Mr Glücksburg. Ridiculed by many as being non-Greek, he insisted that he just wanted to live as a ‘private citizen’ in the country of his birth, a country he purported to love. Was he then like the many not ethnically ‘Greek’ kids of refugees and immigrants who are denied the bare basics of citizenship such as education and health care in a systemically racist country? Hardly.
Mr Glücksburg had options. He was offered the opportunity to return to Greece with full citizenship if he provided his family surname for passport and official document purposes. He refused. To admit his surname was to admit the illegitimacy (and absurdity) of a Greek ‘royal house’. In the end, he would rather live as an ex king, than a mere citizen.
lina Kastoumis has worked as a writer, devisor and cultural producer between live, digital and screen forms for over 20 years. Over this time, lina has collaborated with cultural leaders and organisations across the Western Sydney region to deliver co-created projects with communities. lina currently works at the Australia Council for the Arts.