Growing up Greek in the USA, every October 28, I was reminded of the bravery and sacrifices of the Greek people during WWII when fighting against the Axis forces. October 28 is “Oxi Day”, an important holiday to reflect on the day in 1940 when Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas responded with a simple “Oxi” (No!), to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s demand of Greece’s unconditional surrender. The Greek resistance then claimed a shocking victory, which turned out to be a major turning point in the war. Because of this victory, Winston Churchill said, “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.”
I was fortunate to be in Thessaloniki for the holiday this year and I made it a priority to attend the annual military parade. It was my first military parade anywhere, so I was curious to see the machines and how the parade was organized. First came several organizations dressed in traditional regional clothing, followed by school groups and service personnel.
Next were military vehicles, some filled with family members of soldiers. Jeeps and trucks passed through, then tanks and heavy artillery. The sheer size of the tanks and the rumbling of the ground as they drove past was unreal. At the same time, planes and helicopters flew above and wowed the crowd.
Police and firefighters came through to a nice applause after the army vehicles had passed.
Finally, soldiers, sailors, special forces, and the military marching band finished the parade on a side street. It was a very unique experience for me and I’m glad I was able to witness the event.
However, these days, there has been a lot of controversy regarding the military parades in Greece. A lot of arguments were made on TV news programs the morning of the parade – whether the parades are necessary or not for public morale, whether they are an inconvenient burden on the taxpayers (especially in the terrible economy and period of uncertainty), whether or not Greece needs more than one military parade a year (March 25th for Greek Independence Day), and finally, whether or not there should be a parade outside of the capitol of Athens.
Outside of the news, ordinary Greek citizens made other important arguments for and against the parades. I don’t live in Greece so I don’t want to take sides one way or another, but one man I spoke to on the street made an interesting argument that really stuck with me. He said that Greeks need the parades more than ever right now, regardless of cost, due to the rise of the fascist political party Golden Dawn. He explained that we all need to be reminded what our parents and grandparents fought against during WWII, and that those sorts of racist and xenophobic viewpoints are not welcome in Greece.