Alors, c’est la guerre! October 28, «Anniversary of the No»
«Ochi Day» (Greek: Επέτειος του «’Οχι» Epeteios tou «Ochi», Anniversary of the «No») is celebrated throughout Greece, Cyprus and the Greek communities around the world on 28 October each year.
«Ochi Day» commemorates the rejection by Greek prime minister of the ultimatum made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 October 1940, the Hellenic counterattack against the invading Italian forces at the mountains of Pindus during the Greco-Italian War, and the Greek Resistance during the Axis occupation.
For the first time the anniversary was celebrated officially in 1944 with a military parade. Every year, this day, is held in Thessaloniki a military parade which coincides with the celebration of the liberation of the city in the First Balkan War and the memory of the patron saint of Thessaloniki, St. Demetrius.
In Athens and other cities all over Greece are taking place student parades and public and private buildings fly the Greek flag.
There are also taking place celebrations and tributes of memory, with particular reference to the «Songstress of Victory» Sofia Vempo, who with its patriotic songs encouraged Greek soldiers and conveyed the excitement of advancing the Greek forces in Northern Epirus.
The «OCHI» history
In his ultimatum to the Greek Prime Minister, Il Duce demanded that Greece allow the Italian army free passage to enter and occupy strategic sites in Greece unopposed. The motivation behind Mussolini’s ultimatum was to impress his ally Adolf Hitler, by securing what was thought would be an easy victory. But when Italian Ambassador Emanuele Grazzi presented the demands at dawn, ironically after a party at the German embassy in Athens, it was clear that Greece was destined to enter WWII with Metaxas’ unwavering refusal.
Grazzi in his memoirs, released in 1945, described the scene as, «’I have been ordered Mr. Prime Minister by you’ and I gave him the letter. I watched the emotion in his hands and in his eyes. With a firm voice and looking at me in the eyes, Metaxas told me, ‘Alors, c’est la guerre!’ (Then it is war! in french as this was the language of diplomacy and international relations). I replied that this could be avoided. He replied ‘NO’. I added that if the General Papagos… Metaxas interrupted me and said ‘NO’ ! I gave a deep bow, leaving with the deeper respect, this elder, who preferred to be sacrificed instead of enslaved».
This brief phrase, «Alors, c’est la guerre», was quickly transmuted into the laconic ‘Ochi’, the Greek for no, by the citizens of Athens and on the morning of October 28, the people, regardless of political affiliation, took to the streets, shouting ‘OchI’.
The resistance against Mussolini’s troops and the subsequent German invasion was legendary. When the first Italian prisoners were led into Athens, Greek citizens did not know whether to laugh or cry. «I feel sorry for them» an old woman said. «They are not warriors. They should carry mandolins instead of rifles».
Greece’s participation in the war, daring to take a forceful and determined stand against the spreading fascism in Europe, was so much more impressive than many of the surrounding countries who gave in relatively quickly and with a much smaller ‘cost’, that it inspired a lot of admiration around the world. At Menton, on the French-Italian border, a French wag put up a sign that advised, «This is French territory; Greeks, don’t pursue the Italians past this point».
The cost was enormous for Greece, economically, structurally and more importantly in terms of casualties (Greek population in 1939: 7.000.0000, total war deaths 563.000, 8% of Greek population).
Salutes to the heroism of the Greek people was given among others by
– Sir Winston Churchill – Prime Minister United Kingdom: «Until now we used to say that the Greeks fight like heroes. Now we shall say: The heroes fight like Greeks.» (From a speech he delivered from the BBC in the first days of the Greco-Italian war)
– Georgy Constantinovich Zhoukov – Field Marshal of the Soviet Army: «If the Russian people managed to raise resistance at the doors of Moscow to halt and reverse the German torrent, they owe it to the Greek People, who delayed the German divisions during the time they could bring us to our knees.» (Quote from his memoirs on WWII)
– and 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.»