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Ochi Day in Greece

Don't you hate it when you go out to a restaurant and in walks some big-shot, maybe an unpopular government minister, or a mafia type guy, or some businessman with a target painted on his back, with his entourage of pals and hanger-ons, and they take a table near you and sit down and order, and then the bodyguards come inside to hang out too! I mean I hate to nit-pick but a bodyguard is supposed to be outside so if there is trouble they can stop it before it walks in the door. If the last line of defense is standing next to a nearby table then that means I could be in the middle of a gunfight when all I want to do is have a nice peaceful meal. I can understand that often some endangered species might have a friendly relationship with the men who are supposed to protect him. I mean guys are guys and deep down we are all pals. But you have to have some consideration for the other customers, many of whom have never been in a fire-fight in a restaurant before. Bodyguards should not be in the restaurant unless you have more than enough to leave a few on the street as well.

OK. I got this out of my system.

Ochi Day, GreeceOctober 28th is Ochi day. It celebrates the day that the Italians under Mussolini sent an ultimatum demanding that Greece allow Italian troops to occupy the country. This was at the beginning of the Second World War when everything seemed to be going right for the fascists and nothing for the Allies. Actually at the time Greece was led by Metaxas who was himself something of a fascist, or at least a dictator and Mussolini's demand was an insult to someone who thought he might like to join the gang or at least not bothered by it. It's like if you wanted to be in some social club and they said that you could not be an actual member but they will let you lay on the floor while they walk on your back and spit on you. It was obvious that Metaxa was not going to be allowed to join the Axis whether he wanted to or not and there was no way Greece was going to allow the Italians to occupy their country. So he said Ochi which if you have been practicing your Greek you know means no or in this case no f**king way! The country mobilized and marched up to the border and kicked their Italian butts all the way back to Albania and halfway back to Italy. It was a catastrophe for the Italians and the Nazis and it was an inspiration for the rest of the world that showed them for the first time that the Axis were not invincible. Hitler was forced to come to the rescue of his pal and use German soldiers to attack and occupy Greece. This delayed his invasion of Russia, which led to being bogged down in Stalingrad in the harsh Russian winter where his army was decimated and eventually lost the war. Its kind of an important day, not just for Greece but for the whole world, though Greece is the only country that celebrates it.

Ochi Day, Greece 1940When I first moved to Greece there were still places where the word Ochi was spelled out by stone walls on the hills and mountainsides. It used to be the day when the tanks came down our street in Goudi into central Athens and Greece's military might was on display. But this Ochi Day the tanks and missles were up in Thessaloniki while we in Athens had parades of marching school children. Which leads me to my two questions. With all the money that Greece spends on defense why is it that there are not enough soldiers tanks and missiles to go around? And the second question, is it fair for a country that spends so little on education to make the children march in a parade as if they are the well-cared-for fruits of this society? High school students have been on strike half this semester. University students demonstrate downtown regularly. Schools are falling apart and the educational system is probably the worst in Europe. They parade these children around as a matter of pride but it seems kind of hypocritical to me.

For most of the Greeks Ochi Day is like having an extra Sunday. They go to tavernas by the sea, sit in parks, go out to eat in the countryside or right in the neighborhood. There is little talk of heroism and defiance in the face of an aggressor just like people at the beach in America don't talk about World War Two on Memorial Day or the workers on Labor Day. We just eat our hot-dogs and hamburgers and celebrate being with our families and friends. But you have to wonder about the young men who left their families, friends and jobs to protect Greece from an invader in 1940 and what would happen if the same situation were to happen now. Would the young men of Greece drop everything and risk their lives to stop an invasion or would they just shrug their shoulders and hope that whatever happens it has to be better than the way things are now? I think that's a problem for the Greek government. In the minds of the Greek people the members of the government are so hopelessly corrupt, that most would think twice about dusting off the old family carbine and marching to the border. A government that loses the trust of the people can't expect the people to defend it. And a government at war with its own people should not be surprised if an invasion seems more like a rescue for some.

Not that such a scenario is even possible these days. I mean who is going to invade Greece? FYROM? It would not take a mass-mobilization to stop that invasion unless they came with the Americans and in that case you may as well surrender rather than waste lives and equipment. Turkey? They have their own problems without worrying about trying to occupy this crazy place. But an invasion does not have to mean soldiers marching across the border and jet fighters flashing across the sky. It could be an invasion of ideas, like the anarchists, or gangsta rap, destructive graffiti, drug addiction, or apathy. If a government can't help make things better, especially for the young people, (and actually make things worse), then the people will do whatever it takes to make themselves feel better, whether it is getting high, hijacking a peaceful demonstration so they can battle with the police, or spending all day in the cafe complaining and then going home to spend all night watching bad TV. A country that alienates its youth, that offers them little opportunity really has no future. An invasion of western culture, including its ugliest aspects, may seem like a rescue mission when life appears hopeless.

For more on Ochi Day see LEST WE FORGET: The Heroism of the Greeks in World War Two from my History of Greece.

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