The Power of OXI.

0607 oslo greece italy NYC 040

I feel a bit forced to write this as no commentator has, to my knowledge, done so. But I feel that it sheds some light on the outcome of the Greek referendum, on the question asked, and possibly the way forward from here.

What has not been set out is the meaning of voting Oxi in that referendum, and to know that, a little knowledge of the history is required.

In April 1939, the Italians occupied Albania, and began a campaign of harassment on the disputed border between North Epirus (Albanian) and South Epirus (Greek.) When war broke out in September, Mussolini attempted to provoke Greece into abandoning its neutral position. First, he had the Greek warship Elli torpedoed in harbour at Tinos, and when this was unsuccessful, he accused the Greeks of violating the Albanian border in Epirus.

On 28th October, 1939, the Greek dictator Metaxas received an ultimatum from Mussolini: to allow Italian troops access to unspecified strategic sites in Greek Epirus or face war. Metaxas replied in diplomatic French: “Alors, c’est la guerre” (“…so, it is war then”).

However, the apocryphal version was that he simply replied in one short word: “Oxi.” And so the power of Oxi was born.

After an heroic mountain warfare campaign in the winter of 1939-40, and continuing resistance the following year, Greece finally fell under the occupation of the Italian-German-Bulgarian Axis in the early summer of 1941. Like every other country and territory that suffered that occupation, Greece endured humiliation, genocide (of its Jews in the greatest Sephardic city in the world, Thessalonica), starvation and destruction.

However, the diaspora throughout the world remembered Metaxas and his defiant Oxi, and made a point of celebrating 28th October as a day of Greek pride and defiance each year. With the defeat of fascism and the end of the occupation, and even through the Civil War that followed, Oxi Day became the national holiday of resistance that it remains today.

Oxi has for that reason acquired a national status that is almost talismanic, and possibly beyond the understanding of most outsiders. The nearest equivalent in the UK is the Ulster Orangemen’s attachment to ‘No Surrender!’

So when commentators point out that the referendum question of 5th July was nonsensical, they may have missed the point. It is true (as they say) that the question was both incomprehensible (half Greek, half English, over-complex) and irrelevant (the proposal to which it referred had already expired), and that the notice and campaign time was hopelessly short (a few days rather than the weeks of months usually allowed). However, the question set by Alex Tsipras and Syriza did offer the Greek people the chance to relive a historical highlight when their ancestors said no to fascism and to the threat outside domination.

For the result of the referendum, this may have had two impacts.

First, it made it far more likely that Oxi would succeed than either political commentators or opinion pollsters anticipated.

Secondly, even many of those who might have voted Yes on less emotional grounds may have felt unable to vote against Oxi, and would have therefore stayed at home. This might account for the surprisingly low turnout (62.5% – in contrast to Scotland’s 84.6% in September 2014.)

As the week since the referendum has proceeded, it has also become clear that the Oxi vote did not strengthen the hand of the Syriza government in dealing with its creditors and Eurozone governments and EU institutions. So it may appear to the outsider to have been pointless. However, in the light of the above history and the power of Oxi, the referendum may have had a different historical purpose.

Quite simply, it gave the Greek people the chance to say No, meaning a chance to stand up and a chance to be proud of themselves as a people and as a country. And in doing so, it might just have made the continuing  austerity measures (which were inevitable whatever the outcome) just that bit more bearable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s