Saturday, November 05, 2011

OXI 2011

The day of OXI, commemorating the brave refusal of Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas to allow the Italian army to occupy strategic parts of Greece has a special place in the hearts of the Greek people for two reasons. Firstly, various historical parallels can be drawn from this singular act of defiance against superior forces, throughout Greek history, stemming from the Persian Wars, where various Greek city states held out against Persian expansionism, Byzantium, where an increasingly beleaguered and impoverished Empire managed, after its sack by the Crusaders in 1204 to hold out against the ravages of sundry Latins, Turks and Bulgars, struggling on until the final death blow in 1453. There are also parallels to be drawn from the Souliotes, and a multitude of battles in the Greek revolution, the fall of Mesolongi, the battle of Alamana, to name but a few. What all these events have in common is that they are touted as instances where a few heroic Greeks united to defy an aggressive foe. The qualities that are emphasized, are defiance, self-sacrifice and most importantly unity, which, it is widely held, are the catalysts for the Greek's success.
Of course, disunity and strife underlying each event are glossed over and silenced. Little is made, for example, of the fact that the Macedonians were allies of the Persians during the Persian Wars, or that the Latins were actually invited to Constantinople by claimants to the Byzantine throne. Similarly, not much is made of the internecine strife between fighters, accompanying and greatly jeopardizing the Greek War of Independence, that cost the life of Odysseus Androutsos, among many and almost took that of the great Theodoros Kolokotronis. Viewed through this more realistic prism, what should be celebrated, is not our prowess per se, but the fact that the main protagonists managed to achieve a successful or at least heroic outcome, despite their shortcomings. In short, these achievements mark the triumph of transcendence of self.
OXI is slightly different to most of the events that it is paralleled with, for the resistance against unprovoked aggression truly galvanised a nation and stood witness to countless acts of self-sacrifice, especially in Crete where it is widely held that the redoubtable Cretan resistance delayed Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union by one critical month. The emerging "EPOS of 1940" as it is termed in Greek, was thus not a myth but a fact. What is also a fact is that the unity of Greece, (even the Greek Communist Party dropped its early stance against joining the Allies in an 'imperialist' war, only to advocate the dismembering of Greece and the creation of an independent communist 'Macedonian' State, only to condemn that later), was subsequently compromised, as leftist and rightist guerilla groups receded to the mountains in order to wait until the occupiers had left, whereupon they descended from the hideouts and began to kill each other, and much of the population, during the course of a brutal civil war, whose after-effects are still felt in the poisoned political culture of Greece today.
If ground-breaking historian Marina Hill is to believed, the Communist Party in Greece was probably correct in its original assessment. For there is enough evidence to make plausible the hypothesis that Britain deliberately stationed its troops in Greece, a country of no strategic value to the Axis powers, in order to goad them into invading. The reason why? The illusory as it turned out hope, that Turkey, seeing an expansionist power invading its neighbour, would be sufficiently unnerved as to enter the war on the side of the Allies. In other words, over four hundred thousand Greeks were consigned to death, starvation, torture and devastation, as pawns of a wider chess game. Viewed in this light, the sacrifice of the Greek people is even more poignant and their betrayal, absolutely sickening.
The Athenian Greeks of 2011 will have commemorated OXI Day, in a city that has been wracked by street-fighting, vandalism and violence reminiscent of the Dekemvriana, the early stages of the Greek Civil War. To them, the ideals of self-sacrifice, of unity and of stoicism in favour of a greater cause, that of the 'nation,' will certainly ring hollow. As was the case during the Dekemvriana, many will feel that the current political regime has been denuded of any legitimacy it purports to have and certainly, the pertinent question will be asked, as to whether there is anything to be gained from adhering, or paying lip-service to such ideals, when the country's leaders do not, and have, in fact, brought the country to the brink of disaster.
Indeed, if internet postings and discussions are anything to go by, the population of Greece lays the blame for Greece's calamities squarely on the shoulders of its leaders. One posting, is particularly telling: "The people are not to blame. Our leaders are traitors." Such a viewpoint is inextricably linked to a popularly held wish: that somehow a charismatic leader will emerge, who will unite the squabbling Greeks and re-set Greece upon the path of greatness. That pious hope, is a most damaging one. Certainly we have seen Greek political culture historically coalesce around such messianic leaders as Venizelos, Metaxas, Karamanlis and Andreas Papandreou, all of whom have in some way fallen short of the mark and who are or have been the objects of as much derision as admiration. Following false messiahs is not the way to the Promised Land.
Ultimately, what the Greek people must learn is that in a western parliamentary 'democracy,' they have as much stake in the running of the country as those who they elect. Given this, they cannot divest themselves of the responsibility of ensuring the integrity of the system, even when that does not suit their personal interests. Instead of immaturely foisting all responsibilities upon politicians, who can be used as vehicles for rorting the system or circumventing regulations, and then as scapegoats when things go sour, it is time that the Greek people adopted a more critical approach to their political culture, demanding openness, fairness and impartiality. In order to achieve that, they will have to wean themselves off the teat of junkets, bribes and corruption, and demand accountability, no matter how long, inconvenient or prejudicial to their interests this may be in the short term.
The OXI of 2011, is not an OXI δεν πληρώνουμε, but rather the necessary self-sacrifice required of ordinary, frustrated and aggrieved citizens, in order to place their country on the footing it should have been on, to begin with. It is not fair that they should be called upon to make such a sacrifice and both those are responsible for the misgovernment of Greece, as well as those who are now destroying public property in the name of democracy must not be tolerated but brought to account. Greek citizens must know that they now hold the Greek State in their hands, if only they can be inspired by the heroism of their predecessors and learn cautionary tales from their shortcomings.
What emerged from the after-math of the OXI of 1940 was a self-hating, hideously traumatized and polarized Greek nation whose fault lines still exist today, in large measure due to the exploitation of political prejudices by politicians of all sides of the spectrum. It is to the Greek people to decide whether they shall take up the struggle against sloth, irresponsibility, political immaturity and self-interest in their own popular OXI, and carve a revolutionary path towards modern responsible statehood, or whether they will continue to throw tantrums and destroy their capital, preserving in their fit of pique, the divisions and discord that have brought their nation to financial and moral bankruptcy. If their petulant and immature booing of the Geek head of State Karolos Papoulias at the 28th October military parade is anything to go by, they still have a long way to go.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 5 November 2011