Tuesday, 28 October 2008

No Day

Today, October 28, the Greeks celebrate when at the beginning of the Second World War in 1940 their leader and dictator Ioannis Metaxas said 'No' to Mussolini, who wanted to invade Greece. Greece was presented with an ultimatum: they could let in the enemy troops so that they could occupy strategic posisions, or they could have war.

Metaxas said a short and concise 'Ochi' to this ultimatum, and Greece was at war. Contrary to everyone's expectations, the Greeks threw out the Italians, who appeared much stronger in manpower and materials, back to Albania from where they attacked the Greek state, even before the time of the ultimatum had expired.

This day is now known as Ochi Day and is celebrated each year by the proud Greeks, who although later they were occupied by the Germans, are still proud of the fact that they were the first to dare to say 'no' to the advancing Germans and their allies.

The day is celebrated with military parades, but also the schoolchildren are drilled to parade around. Usually, the best pupil in the classroom leads and holds the flag. A few years ago, there was a scandal which was covered by all the national media, because at one school the best pupil was an Albanian boy who was, because of his nationality, not allowed to be first and hold the Greek flag.

The emotions of that time have cooled down and today along with the soldiers there will be the schoolchildren parading in the streets for 'Ochi Day'. And I'm sure that no child is allowed to say 'Ochi' to this event.

The Greeks may celebrate their sturdiness from decades ago, today they are not so very tough anymore. In addition to the many strikes, so common in Greece, there are few Greeks who think it really is time that their entire political system got kicked out. While years ago the then ruling Socialist PASOK party was accused of having corrupt politicians, it is now the turn of the ruling party Nea Democratia, which apparently has just as many corrupt politicians at the top as its predecessor. Strangely enough, only a few Greeks dare to say 'Ochi' to the two largest parties in the country.

The church also regularly plays a leading role in deep scandals, such as the current Vatopedi scandal that already caused three ministers to resign. But as far as I know no monk has been expelled from his monastery. And no Greek dares to say 'Ochi' to the power of the church.

If I were a Greek, I would often cry 'Ochi'. Against disinterested state officials who make a mess of medical centres and hospitals, against doctors who don't work unless bribed, against the hopelessly outdated administration system controlled by lazy officials, who send you everywhere except to the right place, against Greeks who treat animals like rubbish, or use their entire environment including public roads as a rubbish dump. And so on.

Instead of having soldiers and children parading through the streets, this day the Greek population should unite against their government, just as they did on 28 October 1942 when during the German occupation they cried a loud 'OCHI'.

Lesvos is far from the capital and its political intrigues. We don't suffer much from the strikes, except when schools are closed or banks and shops, as was the case last week. It's difficult to keep track of who is striking and when. Last week tourists were also hit by a strike. Going home they had to travel through Turkey. But at least they made it home.

However fun the name 'Ochi Day' is, the day itself didn't impress me. Especially when you think about all those things that really matter, against which you should say: 'Ochi'.

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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