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Transcript of Speech to the AHI Forum
On the occasion of OXI Day

By Colonel Sardellis Taxiarchis – Greek Defense Attaché

According to the Greek Mythology, in the Trofonios Oracle at Livadia, 8 meters deep under the ground, lay 2 springs; one dedicated to Lethe (that is forgetfulness) and the other to Mnimosini (that is remembrance). This allegory is timely also for modern era since the Greek people have drunk from the spring of forgetfulness and with great generosity have forgotten  the sufferings they had gone through ages from various conquerors who deprived them from breathing the air of Freedom, but at the same time they have drunk  from the spring of remembrance in order to honor the memory of the hundreds of thousands of those who gave their life for the independence and dignity of our country.

The date of 28th October 1940 represents for our country a true historic moment after the War of Independence in 1821, since this day startled  the world and filled with faith and resolve all the subjugated People in Europe and elsewhere. We celebrate today the 69th anniversary of the Historic OXI, which symbolizes the answer that prime minister Ioannis Metaxas, righteously interpreting the feelings and the morale of the Greek people, gave to the ambassador of Italy Gratsi when he knocked at his door to announce to the Greek prime minister the demand to surrender. And this is what in essence, without any time to consider, he was expecting with the request or rather the demand to let the Italian army enter the greek soil. The answer the Italian ambassador received reflected primarily the will of the greek people but it was the call of History and Selfless Duty, it was the call of Greece.

That day, and others that followed, emphatically underlined some great truths which we all the contemporary Greeks should have in our minds in order to guarantee a safe course today and for the future. Moreover, something else that those historic days underlined is that in order to succeed in our goals today we must remember the lessons learned, the mistakes and the achievements of the past. 

The facts at the political, military and operational levels are more or less known and what I want to do with todays speech is to present the Historic significance of that war. The OXI, which is related to the Greek courage and the battles fought by our forefathers throughout history, it was actually a Resistance which unveiled all the charismas of the Greek soul which can’t compromise with trite but fights for the absolute, the Utter, even if it will require sacrifices, pain, tears and blood. It was a Resistance that was sang as an Ideal and it was an Example for a general and world upheaval, thus making the Greeks a model for heroism.

The occupation of the Balkans or at least their ranking under the influence of the Axis, was one of the objectives of the 2 dictators and part of this plan was the occupation of Albania by the Italians and Hitler’s  gradual expansion in SE Europe. While Hitler had early on warned Mussolini of not hastily attempt to take any action against Greece and Yugoslavia, hoping to integrate them in t.he New World Order through diplomatic pressure, instead Mussolini was already determined to implement his attack since his desire to expand in the Balkans was going back many years.

The Greek-Italian war cannot be examined isolated or autonomously from the great war, paneuropean mainly and world of course War II. We remember the initiation of a war with the Italians which went on continuously with the war against the Germans but at the same time during the triple occupation of our country (German, Italian and Bulgarian) there was operational action inside and outside Greece, Resistance. So this war started in October 1940 but it really ended in 1945 with the liberation of the last piece of greek land, that of Crete, in April just one month before the termination of WWII.

This relentless war presented a cause entity which cannot be apportioned to various countries or regions. Besides, the Wars don’t just start out of nowhere and as all other wars, this War was the result of human action, it was a human product and it had its own reasons to happen, its own causes. “ΟΥΔΕΝΧΡΗΜΑΜΑΤΗΝΓΙΓΝΕΤΑΙ, ΑΛΛΑΠΑΝΤΑΕK ΛΟΓΟΥΤΕΚΑΙΥΠ?ΑΝΑΓΚΗΣ – That is nothing is happening in vain but because of a cause and a reason” says LEFKIPOS who was the first to express the principle of cause in everything that surrounds us.

It is true that the written history of the World is in its majority the history of wars whose causes and forms vary, since war as a product of conflicts of interests between state entities is a form of organized violence. It is also well known and internationally accepted that the prevailing School of International Relations, whose father is considered Thucydides, accepts that the responsibility for provoking a war has the international environment comprising of everything dynamically anarchic and everything that is clashing because of interests, based on the fact that in every war period the correlation of forces differentiates.

It is within this geopolitical background that the Great War started for our country on the eve of October 28th 1940. The choice of this specific date was on behalf of Italy, even though the decision was taken a few days earlier on the 15th during a meeting at Palazzo Venezia, and maybe this choice is not so irrelevant because it coincided with the course of the fascists towards Rome the same exact date- month but in 1922, and there be no doubt that the Greek territory had always been part of the visions of the new Caesar.

The great significance of OXI derives also from the overall situation in Europe which laid under German occupation. Therefore the OXI, the NO, inspired by our noble traditions and the within the spirit of MOLON LABE,  was a very difficult decision when the world had collapsed and Greece stood by herself. But this decision was not a last moment decision or an impulse as Prime Minister Metaxas confessed to the Press on October 30 1940.

It was  a decision taken long time ago (with a small indication in 1934) on the basis of his geopolitical ideas and perceptions, since he was knowledgeable of the geopolitical importance of the Greek territory, looked after the interests of his country and moreover, and this is very important, he had prejudged the outcome of the War and foresaw his country on the winning side.

Since the beginning of the 20th century the Italian hostile intentions against Greece were very clear and became evident when the destroyer ship ELLI was torpedoed in the harbor of Tinos on 15 August 1940 despite the friendship treaty that had been signed between Greece and Italy since September 1928. Greece deeply wounded by the outcome of the Asia Minor campaign in 1923 had been trying to recover, integrate 1,5 million refugees and revive its economy. From April 1939, Italy had conquered Albania and with diplomatic maneuvers was trying to cover up its expansionist intentions towards Greece.

 This situation was of deep concern not only to Greece but to Yugoslavia as well. England from its side, through the words of prime minister Chamberlain – minister of Foreign Affairs Halifax and the First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill, was providing numerous and sentimental guarantees regarding the independence and integrity of Greece which unfortunately for various reasons had never been materialized. The Army General Staff was seeking cooperation from its counterparts in England and France but the assistance provided was limited and only in the field of intelligence.

 All those meant that Greece had to prepare itself alone for a potential confrontation.  In August 1939 with the pretext of major drills the italian forces amassed near the Greek borders and therefore the Greek Army General Staff recommended to the government general mobilization of the force. This order came into action the night of August 23rd. The night before in Moscow was signed a non aggression treaty between Germany and Soviet Union which meant that the Axis would be able to act unobstructed towards West and South.

On August 29th the Italian military Attache asks from the Chief of the General Staff, General Papagos, explanations about concentrations of the Greek armed forces while he, for one more time, assures the Chief that Italy respects the territorial integrity of Greece. On September 1st Germany attacked Poland and  WWII commences. Within 20 days Poland was divided among Hitler and Stalin. The Balkan countries, feared of being part of the upcoming  events, chose either to declare their neutrality or demonstrate a “good behavior” towards the Nazi Germany. Greece one more time, realizes that its dramatic isolation is growing day by day and that she would have to lift the burden of responsibility to preserve its historic legacy and traditions.

The evolution of the war against the fascist Italy is well known and received the admiration of all the Free World then. The Italian fascism was defeated in the mountains of Northern Epirus and Albania, and our small country saved its Pride and Freedom. But couldn’t enjoy the seeds of its victory because the geopolitical and strategic needs of the Axis had to be satisfied through the greek territory as well, and since Italy didn’t succeed Germany would take over. And so it happened, because the geopolitical importance of the greek territory couldn’t be ignored from the geopolitical actors in times of crises or wars.

Greece found herself suddenly at the epicenter of interest of the world’s public opinion and ministers, statesmen, politicians, military leaders, academics and famous journalists from all the continents competed with statements and acts of admiration for Greece’s noble cause which many of them valued the same way as those of our ancient ancestors. The experts on military and geopolitical affairs at that time understood the importance of the OXI since the very first weeks and wrote for “a change in the current situation and a turning point in the evolution of the general war”.

The news about those victories and the first successes of the allies, influenced the public opinion in Europe and elsewhere and had priceless effect in the morale of the peoples. This was the first and most significant contribution of Greece in the war against the Axis in addition to the disclaimer of the invincible of the forces of the Axis. That in return resulted for the allies, in reviewing their assessments for the development and outcome of the war and countries that their alignment with the Axis was considered certain, started to be hesitant or negative to such a development, as is the example of Spain.

The great contribution of Greece to the Allied efforts had been widely acknowledged. The great British author COMPTON MACKENZIE in his book about Greece and in one of the parts of that book he expresses his admiration for the Greek Soldier and his contribution to the allied victory. He says :

“In one hill top of mountain Pindos lets built a big Temple of Doric style whose roof top will cover the bones of the Greek Unknown Soldier… The aura of the mountains surrounding the Temple shall gather in an endless parade the whole theory about heroes British, Americans, Poles, Russian, Free French, Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians and on top of this parade should be put a Greek Fighter, the most genuine son of Freedom whose scream AERAS will ever echo over the mountains and seas of the world”.

But he was not the only one. Hitler himself in a May 4th 1941 speech at the Reichstag said” For the sake of the historic truth I must state that of all the adversaries, only the Greeks confronted us. They fought with bold courage and the highest contempt for death”. The First Lord of the British Admiralty, Alexander, indicated on October 28 1941: “It is not exaggeration to say that Greece overturned the whole plans of Germany to force the postponement of the attack against Russia for six weeks. We ask ourselves in what position the Soviet Union would be in without Greece”. Fabio del Friuli, General who fought between 1940-1941: “ The Italian soldiers that participated in the Greco-Italian war had a distinctive mark because they fought against superior fighters recognized throughout the world”. Charles de Gaulle, President of France and leader of the French Resistance during WWII said during a speech in the parliament after the end of the war : ”I am unable to give the proper width of gratitude that I feel for the heroic resistance of the people and the leaders of Greece”. FDR has stated as well: “ When the most fearless men would have lost every hope, the Greek people dared with pride and disputed the invincible mechanized wild beast of the German Army”.

The genuine ideals of the free people had one more time being proven stronger of the raw and seemingly invincible violence. The date of 28th October 1940 renewed the Respect to the cradle place of the European spirit, towards Greece and this is something stated by Stalin himself “ In Romania and Bulgaria we will enter as revengers but in Greece as noble pilgrims”

Today there are few people in other countries that remember. But History doesn’t forget and the 216 days of the Battle of Greece are days sealed by History. It is our debt to give a call to the younger generations, the children and grandchildren of Greece to become participants of the Historic Memory, we have a debt with our everyday words but above all with our everyday deeds and reminding them the heroic deeds of their ancestors, to make them feel Proud that were born in Greece.

It is our debt today, in this changing and complex world that we are living today, to remind to all the people of the world the struggles of 1940 which inspired and should inspire every person who believes that Freedom is the ultimate virtue that God has granted to Humanity and that is worth of every sacrifice that we can make.     

Let us say out loud a big Thank You to the generation of 1940 for everything that they have given and inspired us because we OWE it to them.

Thank you