Montreal’s Hellenics mark 83 years since Greece said ‘Ohi’ to fascism

The WWII Axis powers first ran into serious resistance in 1940 in Greece

Patriotic Greeks from all over Montreal joined elected officials from across the region along with leaders from the Hellenic community for a ceremony on Oct. 29 at the Greek Community Centre in Côte des Neiges marking the 83rd anniversary of the historic day during World War II when Greece rejected its occupation by Axis forces.

Each year, Ohi Day is celebrated throughout Greece, Cyprus and Greek communities around the world to commemorate the refusal by Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas when presented on Oct. 28, 1940 with an ultimatum made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

A straightforward ‘no’

The ultimatum was presented to Metaxas by the Italian ambassador to Greece. It demanded that Greece allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain strategic locations, or otherwise face war. The name for the day comes from Metaxas’ straightforward reply. “No,” he is reputed to have said curtly, following which he added, “Then it is war.”

In response, Italian troops stationed in Albania, which was an Italian protectorate, attacked the Greek border, marking the beginning of Greece’s involvement in World War II. On the morning of Oct. 28, Greeks took to the streets, irrespective of political affiliation, shouting “Ohi.” Since 1942, it has been a national celebration marked annually.

Saying ‘ohi’ to fascists

Dignitaries who attended this year’s event organized by the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal included the Consul General in Montreal for Greece Katerina Varvarigou, Vimy Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis, Saint-Laurent Liberal MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos, Park Extension city councillor Mary Deros, Laval city councillors Aglaia Revelakis and Vasilios Karidogiannis and local Greek community leaders.

In interviews with Newsfirst Multimedia, some of the dignitaries who attended shared their thoughts on the significance of Ohi Day. “In 1940, the Greeks said ohi to fascism,” said Revelakis, suggesting that Greeks at that time fundamentally rejected the war-mongering tenets of fascist extremism and chose to fight back in order to preserve their freedom.

“It’s very important that people understand that united we are strong and that this is the way we can have peace in the world,” she added. Councillor Karidogiannis agreed that resistance to fascism remains one of the most important lessons to be learned from Ohi Day. “It’s still very relevant today,” he said.

Vigilance still needed

“The fight against fascism and nazism and all sorts of extremes is still ongoing on a worldwide scale. But, you know, surprisingly also even on a very local scale within Laval there are extremist elements here and there causing trouble in our community and this must be fought because it tends to spread very easily if not taken care of at the start.

“So, it’s very important that we celebrate Ohi Day every year and remember how and why it happened, why we continue to celebrate it so that we can pass on the message to future generations in order to fight extremisms of all sorts,” said Karidogiannis.

‘Heroes fight like Greeks’

Councillor Deros said Ohi Day should serve to remind us all, regardless of whether we have Hellenic roots or not, that when Greece faced such a great threat “there were strong individuals who said no, they didn’t want to give in, and they were willing to fight so that we could have the freedom that we have today.”

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, who once said “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks,” Deros continued, “they weren’t afraid to die, but they went out for their beliefs. They believed in their freedom and democracy and they fought hard for it and won.”

Lambropoulos said, “It’s a day that I believe needs to continue to be celebrated year after year. It’s especially important because Greece stood up to the nazis and fought in order to stand up for their values when a lot of other countries did not put up such a fight. It’s a day to be proud to be Greek and to honour the heroes who fought in that war.”