The Week In Review

March 25 and October 28 are the two national holidays in which we hold military parades and decorate the country with flags. We celebrate our country’s history and declare that we are serious about maintaining peace in the present and protecting our sovereignty in the future. Although tanks rumble down the center of Athens and Thessaloniki and warplanes roar above, what we celebrate across Greece is not the military but the civilians who have done this country proud. Wars define nations. They establish borders and create identity. In Greece, among the scores of victories and defeats that we can roll off our tongues, the two dates that we have chosen to remember above all others are those of 1821 and 1940. Today the ideas they raise are as pertinent as ever. The war of independence which we have come to celebrate on March 25 was an uprising of the Greeks and many Albanians living in much of what is now Greece after four centuries of Ottoman rule. Obviously, there was no ready army to fight for the Greeks. The guerrilla bands were drawn up from rogues and peasants and joined by notables from the Greek diaspora. It was, in short, an army of civilians. But it was more notably the civilians who were the army: From the rich merchants and captains who chose to throw in their lot with the rebels even if their wealth and lives would be jeopardized, to the peasant women who bore the brunt of retaliation, with their lives, the sacrifice of their men and children, their slavery. (It is wrong that in these annual parades the only women we see are the civil servants in uniform. There should be a division of old women in black leading the parade and bringing up the end, to honor them and to bring home the reality of every war and the truth that freedom depends on real and lasting sacrifice.) Our celebration of March 25 is a celebration of the nation’s will to free itself, in other words, it is the work of the people themselves who are now more easily represented by the conventional military parade. The details of history (such as the foreign intervention that was decisive in beating the Turks but left a deep and lasting complex on the national psyche) have no place in parades. 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. At times of peace, such as the one Greece has enjoyed since 1974, passionate debate takes the place of war. In this way, the two national holidays become the prism through which we see our world. At times of heightened tension with Turkey or general uncertainty in the world, the parades make us think of the very real mission of our tanks and planes and troops. At times like those, we think of the flag and the need to keep it high wherever our interests lie. It is at times when we are completely at peace in the world when we care more about who carries the flag. But even the debate that has broken out in many parts of Greece twice a year for the last two years, as to whether foreign-born children will have the honor, is a vital indication of the huge role that immigrants are playing in Greece, how they are being assimilated and how the country will change because of all this. We are in a peaceful campaign whose outcome will determine the future of the country in a less dramatic way but surely as greatly as 1821 and 1940 did. And it is at a time like this, with peace at home and turmoil abroad, that we have the luxury of looking seriously at our allies and our place in the world. If we look beyond the streets with their ritual demonstrations, we will see that America is fighting a war that is as important as any that it has fought before. In fact, it is as important and as necessary as any war fought by any nation. But this time America is strengthened by the fact that the overwhelming majority of its citizens see this as a war that is not only justified but is also of direct importance to each one of them. They have suffered huge civilian losses and the enemy is still out there – and among them. The Americans, however, are handicapped by the fact that this is a guerrilla war that, for the first time, will be waged across the globe. It cannot be contained. It also means that it will be a miracle if it has any results to show for its massive efforts, while at the same time it cannot avoid inflicting harm on civilians in Afghanistan or wherever the fight might take it. At this point in the campaign, when the outcome of no war can be judged, it is up to the civilians of the world to decide on which side they will grant legitimacy. It is a decision that each must make and make it known. We might wish things were otherwise but seldom are wars chosen by those who have to fight them. And the only way to end this war is to win it. On Gavdos there is a small electricity station serving two settlements. A ferryboat connects the island with Crete twice a week, weather permitting. The school has one teacher and two pupils, while the fully-equipped health center has two doctors. If the transport problem is not solved, I’m afraid that Gavdos will be unpopulated in 10 years time, says Kirintanis.

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