For Greece, ‘Oxi’ Referendum Campaign Is Resonant of Anti-Nazi Resistance

When Mussolini demanded Greece surrender, he received a one-word reply -- oxi.


On Oct. 28, 1940, an emissary of Benito Mussolini’s wartime government went to see Greece’s dictatorial leader, Ioannis Metaxas, to deliver an ultimatum: succumb to occupation by Italian troops massed on the Albanian border or face a brutal invasion. Metaxas had a one-word answeroxi, Greek for “no.”

Italian forces invaded, and humiliation followed for Mussolini’s men. Outnumbered Greek troops, assisted by British air support, bravely resisted the Italians, fighting them in the mountains and launching a counterattack that pushed into Albania. It was a brief moment of glory for the Greeks: an early, unexpected Allied land victory against Axis troops.

But it was not to last. Fearful that he had left Romanian oil fields exposed, Adolf Hitler delayed his invasion of Russia and sent his troops south to aid in the conquering of Greece and its eventual occupation. Greece’s wartime experience was a miserable one, marked by famine, hyperinflation, and left-wing guerrilla resistance to the brutal Nazi occupation.

Today, wartime history remains resonant in Greece, and the word oxi — pronounced och-heehas become shorthand for the country’s spirit of defiance. Every year on Oct. 28, Greeks mark what has become known as Oxi Day.

Nowhere is the spirit of resistance more evident than in Greece’s current government, many of whose ministers are steeped in Marxist theory and trace their political history to the leftist partisans who fought Nazi occupation from the mountains. In seeking concessions from their creditors, the Syriza government has tried to link its efforts to Greece’s painful wartime history. In his first act as prime minister, Alexis Tsipras visited a war memorial to 200 Greeks executed by the Nazis. His government has asked Germany to pay reparations for crimes committed on the Greek people. In the streets of Athens and elsewhere, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is compared to a modern-day Hitler.

And as Greece heads to the polls for a referendum Sunday on whether to accept a set of economic reforms in exchange for bailout money, Tsipras and his lieutenants are using the word oxi to urge their countrymen to reject the proposal. Tsipras hasn’t overtly linked the language he’s using to Metaxas’s act of defiance, but he doesn’t really need to. It’s a resonant word, and in the context of European financial politics, one that doesn’t really need to be explained.

Photo credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/GettyImages

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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