At 3 a.m. on the morning of October 28th, 1940, during the World War Two, Emanuele Grazzi, the Italian ambassador to Greece, delivered an ultimatum from Prime Minister Benito Mussolini to Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas. Mussolini demanded that Metaxas allow the Italian army free passage to enter and occupy strategic sites in (neutral) Greece unopposed. Faced with this demand, Metaxas delivered an unequivocal response in French, the diplomatic language of the day, “Alors, c’est la guerre.” This brief phrase, “Then, it is war,” was quickly transmuted into the laconic “Oxi,” the Greek for no, by the citizens of Athens. (Source).
(I remember Aunt Sofia, who was born on the island of Andros, pronounced it ‘oy-chee’, with the ‘ch’ sounded gutturally from the back of the mouth.)
Italy’s invasion of Greece, launched from Italian-controlled Albania, was a fiasco: six divisions of the Italian Army…encountered unexpectedly tenacious resistance by the Hellenic Army and had to contend with the mountainous and muddy terrain on the Albanian–Greek border. By mid-November, the Greeks had stopped the Italian invasion just inside Greek territory. As the British bombers and fighter aircraft struck Italy’s forces and bases, the Greeks… counter-attacked with the bulk of their army to push the Italians back into Albania …in January 1941. The defeat of the Italian invasion and the Greek counter-offensive of 1940 have been called the “first Axis setback of the entire war” by Mark Mazower, the Greeks “surprising everyone with the tenacity of their resistance”. (Source)
Greek communities around the world will celebrate Oxi! Day on October 28, eighty-one years after Greece became an Ally against Nazi Germany during World War Two. She suffered terribly but emerged from the war as the only Eastern European country able to resist becoming a Soviet Satellite.