What referendum? What early elections? What 50% haircut or 100% bankruptcy? Greeks were not born two years ago. They have a long history, they fought several wars and suffered many hardships. Should they be sacrifized to save the EURO? Hm…. Enough is enough. And you know something? We are Proud to be Greeks, after all!
Here is a guest post submitted by KTG-reader and Diaspora-Greek, Michael Nevradakis on the occasion of the OXI Day celebrations. Michael is a Ph.D. Student, Department of Radio-Television-Film in Austin/Texas and Producer & Host of Austin Hellenic Radio:
Oxi Day: The present-day resonance of a simple Greek word, 71 years later
By Michael Nevradakis
Today, we are commemorating one of the most significant celebrations in Greece and in the Greek culture more broadly: “Oxi” day. “Oxi” literally translates as “no” in English, and it is celebrated on October 28th of each year.
On this day, people in Greece, Cyprus and in Greek communities around the world celebrate Greece’s rejection of the ultimatum given to Greece by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on October 28, 1940. Mussolini’s demand was for Greece to allow Axis troops to come into Greece at the beginning of World War II and to occupy certain “strategic locations” and to safely pass through on their way to North Africa, or otherwise face war. As legend goes, the Greek prime minister at the time, Ioannis Metaxas, responded to the ultimatum with a laconic response which made history: “oxi,” or no.
In response to this refusal to allow Axis troops to pass unimpeded through Greece, Mussolini’s troops, which had been stationed in Albania, attacked the Greek border that same day, signaling the start of Greece’s participation in World War II. That same morning, the Greek population took to the streets, shouting “oxi,” and beginning in 1942, it was celebrated each year on October 28th.
What often gets lost in history is the valiant battle that Greece fought and the victory that it achieved. Greece at the time was impoverished and near-bankrupt, with armed forces that were severely lacking in manpower and supplies and which was greatly outnumbered by Mussolini’s forces: 250,000 Italian troops against 150,000 Greeks, one of the largest navies in the world against a navy that consisted of a small handful of boats and submarines, 500 airplanes versus less than a dozen. Against these incredible odds, Greece chose to fight…and Greece won. The Greek army, improbably, pushed the Italians back at a time where nation after nation had fallen to the Axis forces in Europe. Greece, a huge underdog if ever there was one, took on the biggest military power in world history and won, in what was the first Allied victory of World War II—a historical fact which is, shamefully, often overlooked by historians and in popular accounts of the war.
The Greek victory, however, did not go unrecognized in 1940. The Boston Globe wrote: “Armies cannot Slay the Spirit of Greece. The Italian attack on Greece has aroused the old Greek spirit of national pride, freedom and personal courage. This spirit expressed itself in Greek philosophy, literature and arts that have been the basis of European culture…Modern Italy, with her German ally, may defeat the Greek army, but the Greek spirit is deathless.”
President Franklin Roosevelt stated “when the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom.”
As a result of Greece’s victory over the Italians, the German army, which had been counting on the Italians to easily crush any resistance in Greece, was forced to change its strategy, which was to attack Russia in the spring. Instead, the Germans were forced to invade Greece, diverting time and resources away from their original plans and delaying their invasion of Russia—a change of plans which ultimately sealed the fate of Hitler’s army.
All this, as a result of one simple Greek word: “oxi.”
Today, 71 years later, this simple word is as relevant and as timely as it has ever been. It is relevant and timely for Greece, and it is relevant and timely for the rest of the world, a world which finds itself facing tremendous economic challenges, incredible inequality, a growing democratic deficit, and increasing doubts in the political and financial institutions which have developed ever since the start of the post-war period.
Greece is a country which, throughout its history, has faced one challenge after another. While the post WWII period was a time of peace in most of Europe, Greece, which is still owed tens of billions of dollars in unpaid war reparations from Germany, has had to contend with a civil war in the late 1940s, a military junta imposed by foreign powers in the 1960s and 1970s, and today, a severe economic crisis which has also morphed into a political and social crisis. It is during this crisis that the word “oxi” has become as relevant and important as it has ever been. Millions of people in Greece have taken to the streets peacefully to say oxi, to say no. No to cutting salaries which, for most people, were already not very high, no to cutting pensions, no to cutting education and social services that in many cases were already underfunded, no to raising taxes at a time where most Greeks are already living under conditions of tremendous economic insecurity and are having increasingly difficulty making ends meet—or even affording the basics.
They are also saying no to a corrupt political system, domestically but also beyond Greece’s borders. They are saying no to the European Union and to certain powers who see in Greece a carcass to feast upon, a country to exploit and take advantage of at a time when it is in trouble. They are saying no to a European dream of unity which has become a European nightmare of neocolonialism, with European leaders openly, shamelessly and brazenly proclaiming that they will send unelected bureaucrats to Greece to make and impose decisions. They are saying no to an unelected, 21st Century dictatorship being imposed by the European Union and by the International Monetary Fund with the blessings of the Greek government.
71 years later, Greece has come full circle, except that this time, it is the people, not the prime minister, who are saying “oxi,” who are saying “no.” 71 years later, the world has come full circle as well. The word “oxi” may be a simple Greek word, but it is a word which is resonating all over the world. The protests of the indignants throughout Europe, the voices of the Occupy Wall Street protesters all throughout the United States and the world, reflect a crisis that is hardly limited to just Greece, a global crisis that, despite what the media and European politicians would have us believe, is not Greece’s fault, but which instead reflects a global system of governance and finance that is ailing, that is coming apart at the seams.
Increasingly, throughout the world, millions and millions of people are, in their own languages, saying no. They are saying no to a system which is failing, saying no to false promises of hope and change, no to corruption and war and trillions of dollars spent in dubious military operations and to bail out banks and companies that are “too big to fail” while millions of people are out of work, have had their homes foreclosed, have lost their livelihoods, remain without any form of health insurance, and face an increasing mountain of debt. They are saying no to a culture which increasingly has its priorities screwed on backwards, where the value of an individual is measured in dollars or Euros instead of by their quality as a human being.
These are not Greek problems, they are global problems, and they are problems to which a simple Greek word, uttered 71 years ago, “oxi,” is more relevant than ever before.
For me, the most unfortunate thing about this crisis, as far as Greece and the worldwide Greek community is concerned, is the amount of Greeks who are now claiming to be ashamed of their culture and ashamed of their heritage. The amount of Greeks who are abandoning their country in the vain thought that the grass is always greener elsewhere. The amount of Greeks who have begun to state that they are ashamed to be Greek. On this day, however, it is important to reflect upon the culture and the history of Greece, the contributions Greece has made to the world—and indeed, the contributions which Greece continues to make to the world to this day.
Today, more than ever before, on the eve of this important commemoration in our culture, I state that I am proud to be Greek. I call upon all Greeks to do the same.
Thank you, Michael, for the inspiration. We seem to forget the greatness of a nation under the heavy loads of international pressure and ….taxes 🙂