OXI Day: The day that the Greeks said ‘No!’

28th of October or, as known in Greece,  OXI day.

OXI day commemorates the anniversary when former Greek military general and Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas said ‘NO’ to Benito Mussolini. The story goes that in 1940 Benito Mussolini gave an ultimatum to Ioannis Metaxas to allow Italian forces to occupy strategic locations in Greece or otherwise be enemies. The motivation behind Mussolini’s ultimatum was to impress his fellow ally Adolf Hitler, by securing what was thought would be an easy victory and expanding his fascist regime. However, it was clear where Greece stood in WWII w312203_233468646713259_181025121_nhen they delivered the infamous ‘no’ to the Italians. An hour and a half later of Metaxas’ answer, the Italians stationed in Albania, then an Italian protectorate attacked the Greek border. That was the start of the Greco-Italian war and the Greek nation was officially at war!

One of the more well known salutes to the heroism of the Greek people was given by the US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who summed it all up beautifully…

“On the 28th of October 1940 Greece was given a deadline of three hours to decide on war or peace but even if a three day or three week or three year were given, the response would have been the same. The Greeks taught dignity throughout the centuries. 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.”

Franklin D Roosevelt, US President 1933 – 1945

On this day, the Greeks stand and honour the men and women who stood against the Italians and the fascists in WWII. No one believed that Greece would survive the attack. As a small country, Greece faithfully and courageously met her obligations to her allies with heroism and self-sacrifice. Many lives were lost and Greece suffered greatly, much more that other countries that were on the victorious Allied side, as one puts it. This is why world leaders today recognise the contribution of Greece and their bravery. Churchill once said ”Today we shall say that the Greeks fight like heroes, but from now on we shall say that heroes fight like the Greeks.” Today, we honour those who fell by a ceremony filled with poetry, songs and stories from that dark time. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe schoolchildren put on their local uniform and march at 11 am to honour and show their respect to our ancestors.  The day is filled with celebrations, food and drink, as well as traditional Greek dancing. When the children parade (or march if you will), people wave their Greek flags and applaud them. The military marches as well and there is even a marching band. Coming from Mykonos, I had to wear the traditional Mykonian dress, which can be seen  (sort of) in the picture. The top 6 students would go first and one of them would carry the Greek flag. Then following would be the rest of the school. Depending on your age, you wear different uniforms; the last-year-students (age 18) wore the traditional Mykonian dress (or other local dress- depending where you are), whereas anyone else below the age of 18 will wear a blue-white outfit. Before the parade starts, we have a little service at our local church and then the local officials, including the Mayor, pay their respects to the dead by placing a leaf-laurel at a memorial stone, which commemorates the dead. The parade lasts about 10-15 minutes and then we dance our traditional Greek dances. When I was young, I never appreciated these traditions, but now that I understand the history and the significance, I can say that I am proud to be part Greek and happy that I was involved in these traditions as well as others while I was growing up. It is something different and as far as I know, no other country does this every year on one specific day. For many, OXI day is more than an anniversary commemorated with parades of schoolchildren, military grandstanding and flag waving. It is a day to remember Hellenic values, passion and ‘filotimo’, and the courageous words and deeds of ancestors who fought for this land with flesh and blood. This year marks the 74th anniversary of OXI day.

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Mykonos 2014 — picture taken from http://www.mykonospress.gr

More reading on OXI day:  http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/oxi-day.html pictures of me and my friends were taken in 2009 and we are wearing the traditional Mykonian ‘dress’ — K.J.Koukas  

The Island – Victoria Hislop [Review]

The Island by Victoria Hislop is a moving and dramatic tale of four generations, rent by

the island

war, illicit love, violence and leprosy, from the thirties, through the war, to the present day. The book is located in Elounda, a small fishing island in Crete which back then belonged to the municipality of Agios Nikolaos. Opposite Elounda is Spinalonga (or officially known in Greece as Kalydon), the island which was used as a leper colony.

Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sophia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decided to visit Crete, Sophia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend and promises that through her she will learn everything she wished to know. Upon arriving in Elounda, Alexis discovers that Spinalonga is right across and decides to visit the island before finding her mother’s friend. She soon finds a local old (mute) fisherman to take her over and come back for her in two hours.

After her visit to Spinalonga, Alexis finds Fotini (her mother’s friend) and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip. We are then taken back to 1939 and we are told what really happened.

As Barbara Love from the Library Journal stated ‘It would be hard to imagine a more cheerless setting for a novel than a leper colony on a remote Greek island, but the community of Spinalonga provides a remarkable backdrop for this affecting, multigenerational saga.’ Hislop’s deep research, imagination and potent love of Crete creates a convincing portrait of times on the island. Coming from Greece myself I can tell you that all the traditions, religious festivals and way of life is spot on and when reading the book, I was transported back to Greece and its many festivals celebrating a saint’s name and their namedays. Hislop manages ‘to milk the dramatic potential of each unexpected twist and broken engagement’ (The Times review).

Despite the fact that each person who was diagnosed with leprosy will eventually die, Hislop shows us that for them life remains the same and will go on until the inevitable. Even though they are ostracised (as it were) on the island of Spinalonga, they still go about their daily chores and shopping as they would before they were diagnosed. Depth and colour is added to the description of Cretan life and in particular, the vividly detailed account of life on Spinalonga. Hislop gives us a way into a leper’s life and stresses the agonies, fears, loses and troubles that someone diagnosed with leprosy faces. We always thought leprosy as a disease and want to stay well clear from it, but we never stop to think what the person with leprosy feels like and what he or she will go through. The Island shows us both sides of the disease and the lives that it will affect.

Fortress of Spinalonga Island -Crete

One of my favourite parts of the book is when Alexis was left alone on the island of Spinalonga and describes of what she found and how is felt

her dependency suddenly felt like a millstone and she resolved to pull herself together. She would embrace this period of solitude- her few hours of isolation were a mere pinprick of time compared with the life sentence of loneliness that past inhabitants of Spinalonga must have faced….

When reading this particular passive I felt sad and my heart went for the lepers. No-one knows how lonely these people felt and as Alexis walked through the village where the lepers would have lived, we see through her eyes that they lived a normal way. There was a café with chairs and tables where the inhabitants would gossip and talk about the latest tales of the world. There was a school where the children would go and gain an education. Later on in the book we found out that they had their own mayor and through him they contacted the ‘outside world’ and bargained for supplies that might have made their life easier. There was a hospital where they were treated when the symptoms of leprosy took affect. It was a small community in itself, fair enough it was secluded from the rest of the world (as people from all around Greece came to Spinalonga), they were still people and a community that went on with their daily lives. ‘The story of life on Spinalonga, the lepers’ island, is gripping and carries real emotional impact. Victoria Hislop…brings dignity and tenderness to her novel about lives blighted by leprosy’ (Telegraph).

The Island is a page-turning tale that reminds us that love and life continue in even the most extraordinary of circumstances. The book is full of wonderful descriptions, strong characters and an intimate portrait of island existence. A must-read on any person’s book list.

— K.J. Koukas