Patching up perfection for a grateful eternity

Archaeologists and marble sculptors are working furiously on the Acropolis while the good weather lasts. It is no easy task to to reassemble the blocks of Pendelic marble on the Parthenon’s columns. The photo is of the interior eastern side of the Parthenon; under the watchful eye of the master craftsman, a marble-worker repairs a weathered section of the column. Many of the Olympic Games projects are still on the drawing board but the difficult task of restoring the ancient monuments is proceeding apace. So it is some consolation that that our visitors will have something to admire, and reason to praise the descendants of those ancient architects, sculptors and master craftsmen. Greece’s rejection of the Italian ultimatum of October 28, 1940, which plunged the country into World War II on the side of the Allies, is also celebrated as the epic triumph of the common man and not the officers who led him into battle. The view today is that the military dictator who had seized power in 1936, General Ioannis Metaxas, had been deeply ambivalent about the war and was trying to keep Greece neutral. Although a patriot, he seemed to lean toward the Fascist ideology and had set up a Christian-Fascist youth movement, persecuted the Left and democrats ruthlessly and reformed and resupplied the military. But when faced with a demand to let the Italians march into Greece, after accepting a series of smaller provocations, he was nothing but a Greek and his reply was clear. Today October 28 is known simply as Ochi Day. The Greek people, who had been neither greatly opposed nor greatly in favor of Metaxas (who was, until then, just another bump in the hugely anomalous road of Greek politics), rushed to mobilize and they swept back the Italians, deep into Albania. This was achieved with the heroism of Greek troops and the locals – men and women – who helped them. And, in a magical transformation, it was the sacrifice of the people – men and women, rich and poor, Christians and Jews, sailors and infantrymen, soldiers and civilians – who cleansed the excesses of dictatorship in the eyes of history. And this perhaps planted the seed of the disaster that befell Greece and Cyprus in 1974 when another dictatorship thought that it could purify itself by making a grab for Cyprus and uniting it with Greece. The scheme failed and gave Turkey the opportunity to occupy part of Cyprus. This dictatorship, which won none of the popular legitimacy that Metaxas achieved, remains universally reviled. Yet the military, firmly controlled by civilians since 1974, is the institution most trusted by the Greeks. It is the expression of national sacrifice and determination, not the weapon of an elite who use it against the people.

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