Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Athens Portraits: The Spirit of "Ochi"

The air has cooled, the first rains have rinsed summer’s dust from the city streets, and leaves are starting to change colour… but it’s another thing that really signals the start of autumn for many Athenians.

When every balcony sports the blue and white national flag it can mean one of two things – either Greece has made it to the Final of a major athletic event, or one of the country’s two National Days is around the corner.

This Thursday, just like every autumn, Greeks celebrate a famous refusal. It is one of the few countries to have a National Holiday celebrating a famous "Ochi!" (“No!”) - the blunt refusal was Prime Minister Metaxa’s reply on 28 October 1940 when Mussolini asked him to hand the country over.

Seventy years later, the spirit of that “Ochi!” is marked by a military parade in the city centre - and with less hardware (but more flesh) on display in every neighbourhood.

At local parades, pride of place goes to the dwindling band of Resistance veterans who march proudly, with medals on their chests and tears in their eyes, to the strains of the National Anthem. They’re the ones who knew what that famous act of defiance was all about, and they lived through its consequences.

It’s less certain that its significance is clear to the bands of schoolchildren that follow.

Preening High School girls in tight minis and blouses showing plenty of heaving teen cleavage, and their slouching male classmates with their hands in pockets and feet in brand-name trainers, have been taught the history of the day, but few seem to understand the sacrifice it involved.

And yet, there is no escaping the patriotic flavor of the day. Even the few Greeks that don’t turn out to see their local parade will have a flag hanging from their balcony. TV schedules are dominated by live coverage of the parades and endless patriotic movies celebrating their national belligerence.

“Ochi Day” reminds Greeks how they united to survive as a nation a life-time ago – and perhaps that’s a spirit they need now more than ever.


  1. This "Ochi" should be followed today by our politicians. Its a nice way of remembrance and thanks for the post.

  2. Really enjoyed that post, and just had a good nosey through your blog and love it!

    Impressed you took photos of your sons cooking efforts too.

  3. Like your description of the 'preening' high school girls. Good post.

  4. You're right, very few countries can have a "no" day. That's brilliant and I can only imagine the pride those veterans must feel.

    (I live in France and I'm desperately trying to stifle my laughter as my French husband looks over my shoulder!)