The 28th of October is a public holiday in Greece, known as Ochi Day. It commemorates the day in 1940 when Mussolini’s ambassador gave an ultimatum to Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas: allow Italian troops to occupy regions of Greece or face war. The reply was, “Alors, c’est la guerre” or, in the popular version, “Ochi” (No) — a reply which brought Greece into the Second World War on the side of the Allies.
The following Greco-Italian war lasted five months and did not go as Mussolini planned. The Hellenic Army repelled the invasion and went on the offensive, occupying large areas of Albania (then under Italian control) and tying down hundreds of thousands of Italian troops. The stalemate forced Hitler to intervene, diverting large numbers of troops to the invasion of Greece. British troops came to Greece’s aid, but the Allied forces were massively outnumbered and outgunned, and mainland Greece fell in late April 1941, starting a long and painful occupation.
Greeks are proud of their role in resisting the Axis forces. Their initial victory over the Italians was the first successful Allied campaign of the war, and it is arguable that the subsequent diversion of German troops to the Battle of Greece significantly altered the course of the war, delaying the start of Hitler’s Russian offensive and thus contributing to the German defeat at the Battle of Moscow.
Since 1942 Ochi day has been celebrated by Greeks with parades and displays of national pride. With the current crisis, the day has also become a focus for protests against the austerity measures imposed by Greece’s EU partners and the IMF. This year the mood seemed more subdued, or perhaps dejected. We spent the day with friends at a local children’s playground. The lines below reflect my own mood that day.
It’s easy to self-dramatize
Living in country that’s so tried of saying no
It’s started saying yes
To hopelessness and hate.
But right now I’m aware of nothing but
Children’s happy shouts,
And sunlight through small green leaves.