October 28th, “Oxi Day” (‘Oxi’ meaning “no”) is celebrated and commemorated by Greek communities the world over for the historic stand the nation of Greece made against Italian dictator Mussolini’s fascist invasion of that country during the Second World War in 1940. The Greek’s stand, which frustrated Italy’s military progress, eventually caused Mussolini’s ally Adolf Hitler to send his legions in relief and in solidarity to secure the eventual conquest and occupation of Greece during the war. However, Hitler’s move into Greece caused a costly calendar delay in “Operation Barbarossa”, his planned invasion of the Soviet Union. The consequence of that delay being a crucial loss of weeks of warmer weather with German troops at the gates of Moscow. Without the Greek stand against Mussolini, the war may have turned out very differently.
Winston Churchill once famously said “until now we used to say that the Greeks fight like heroes. Now we shall say: “Heroes fight like Greeks.” The comment also echoes the heroic stand against Persian invaders at Thermopylae in 480 BC, an event which allowed our entire Western culture to flourish.
Today, we have much to be thankful for when we celebrate Oxi Day, and what it means for all of us, what it has bequeathed, and what it gives to us still.
Often, we forget that history is not the past, it is of the past — the past is its’ nature — but history is about the present, what forms us and what makes us who we are, and where we have been also tells us where we are going.
“Oxi Day” is about a moment of reflection. It is also about showing deference and acknowledging a community that has given and brought so much to the labour movement in Ontario. The principles of fair wages and fair work; safe work; equality and equal pay; non-discrimination and open dialogue; democratic freedoms that ensure that all have a voice; these are features of our culture and value-set that were also bequeathed to us from Greece.
According to scholar H.D. F. Kitto, the ancient Greeks perfected every literary form except the novel. Today, the story of Oxi Day is far from over. It is still being written and the freedom it represents still needs to be defended. Perhaps we need to be reminded of what the nation of Greece in 1940 sacrificed for Oxi Day now more than ever.