Today marks the anniversary of “Oxi Day”. Eighty-one years ago, Ioannis Metaxas was given an ultimatum by the Italian Ambassador to Greece demanding that Metaxas allow for the occupation of strategic areas of Greece or face invasion. Metaxas’ rejection of the Italian ultimatum brought Greece into World War II and ushered one of the darkest chapters in contemporary Greek history. Greeks of all political persuasions came together to fight the Italian forces; this form of unity stood as one of the singular moments by the Greeks facing adversity since independence.
There has been much debate about the “Oxi” that was or was not said by Metaxas. While his daughter recounted that Metaxas indeed said the word “Oxi”, in his diary, Metaxas states that his response to Emanuele Grazzi was “Alors, c’est la guerre.” Newspaper headlines in Greece ran the word “Oxi” and shaped how this day has been remembered.
In Kathimerini’s editorial page, Costas Iordanidis pointed out the discomfort that many Greeks have with this celebration. He states that:
“When Ioannis Metaxas rejected an ultimatum by Benito Mussolini’s Italy on this day in 1940, he did not have any democratic legitimacy, he had not been elected by the people of this country to speak for them. He was a dictator. Nevertheless, he expressed the sentiment of all Greeks – from every political camp – who earned the world’s admiration with their resistance against Italy at the border with Albania.
I note this without any sense of admiration or acknowledgment of some kind of superiority of dictatorial regimes against democracy, but simply to underscore that there are certain moments in history when everything hangs on a single decision. These are the moments when madness has taken over and they demand that convention is swept aside and the rules of judging political systems are broken. These are also the moments that make heroes out of otherwise insecure, selfish and insignificant individuals. All it takes is being the right person, in the right moment, at the right time. And Ioannis Metaxas was such a person. This is a fact despite the desire of some who want to erase the role of certain people in the shaping of history.”
Ioannes Metaxas was a dictator who imposed his rule on the Greek people. Metaxas also understood the perils and consequences for Greece entering the war. He attempted to avoid it at all costs, but on 28 October 1940 he had no choice but to stand up to the Italians and fight. His decision was correct and should be remembered as such.