On this day in 1940, Italy sent an ultimatum in the middle of the night to Greece: allow Italian forces to occupy strategic locations in Greece or otherwise face war. Italy gave Greece a couple of hours to respond. Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas officially responded, ” then, it is war,” but his sentiment, and that of Greeks nationwide was “Oxi,” no. (Say OH-hee). Before the ultimatum expired, Italian troops attacked Greece via the Albanian border. On the morning of October 28, Greeks of all political beliefs took to the streets shouting “Oxi! Oxi!” and this resistance became both the National cause and the beginning of the Greco-Italian War.
Italian troops were met with fierce Greek fighting, which surprised Mussolini as Metaxas was also a fascist; Mussolini likely assumed ideology would be on his side. The initial invasion was a bit of a disaster — Italian troops were ill prepared for the rough Greek terrain at the northern border, and by mid-November the Greeks had stopped the Italians and pushed them back into Albania. British forces joined and fought alongside Greece, and Mussolini was forced to ask for Hitler’s help. The Italian defeat and the Greek counter-offensive of 1940 have been called the “first Axis setback of the entire war” by several historians. Hitler’s Greek distraction forced him to delay Nazi plans to invade Russia which many say changed the course of the war. The Greco-Italian war lasted six months. The Greeks surrendered late that winter, Athens fell April 20, 1941, Crete in May, and the Nazis occupied Greece until October 1944.
As of 1942, October 28 has been celebrated as a national holiday; it is one of the most important still today. This week, Greek flags appeared all over Athens, and school children nationwide learned the importance of saying no while practicing songs, poems, drums and marching for ceremonies at the end of the week.
Demetri, Papou and I went to the 1st-3rd grade celebration at our school. There were videos with news clips from 1940 showing soldiers in waist deep snow, citizen parades, malnourished children during the war. Teams of kids from each grade recited poems, a choir sang various national songs and other songs were played via video. There was a fun, peppy, famous Italian song (Campagnola Bella) where the words were changed to “foolish Mussolini,” and much to my surprise and delight, they sang “We are the World” in Greek! The whole room sang along.
Friday was the school holiday so we took a road trip (more on that next post), and today we will wander the south Pelopponese in search of Oxi celebrations.