The word ‘Ochi’ simply means ‘No’. It is the word Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas used in 1940 to Mussolini’s spokesperson when asked if Axis forces could use Greek territory to gain access to areas of Europe not already occupied by Hitler and Mussolini. Metaxas stalwartly said ‘No!’
Prime Minister Metaxas had deliberately done his best to keep Greece neutral in the early months of World War II, but the ultimatum tipped any chance of allegiance and Greece became allied with Great Britain.
Prior to this, Metaxas may have decided to go either way. Personally, he had links with Germany based on his early education. He had also resisted Greece becoming involved with World War I and had refused to support the Allies in the Dardanelles Campaign.
The ultimatum changed everything and Greece turned out to be a strong force against the Germans and Italians, facilitating the Allies’ regaining of Albania.
This ultimatum, which was presented to Metaxas by the Italian ambassador to Greece, Emanuele Grazzi (fr), shortly after 03:00 am on 28 October 1940, who had just come from a party in the German embassy in Athens, demanded Greece to allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unspecified “strategic locations” or otherwise face war. It was allegedly answered with a single laconic word: όχι (No!). However, his actual reply was, “Alors, c’est la guerre!” (Then it is war!).
In response to Metaxas’s refusal, Italian troops stationed in Albania, then an Italian protectorate, attacked the Greek border at 05:30 am—the beginning of Greece’s participation in World War II (see Greco-Italian War and the Battle of Greece).
On the morning of 28 October, the Greek population took to the streets, irrespective of political affiliation, shouting ‘ohi’. From 1942, it was celebrated as Ohi Day, first mostly among the members of the resistance and after the war by all the Greeks.
Cities and towns across Cyprus and Greece celebrate Ochi Day on October the 28th with military parades and a public holiday that close down most centres. In Nicosia, Cyprus, school students and veterans march in a parade and carry banners and the flags of Cyprus and Greece. Political speeches are made and the day is focused on celebrating the heroes of the nation.
Cyprus particularly considers the day as one to not only remember the bravery of the people who walked in the past, but to focus on the future and to believe that their people can have strong and independent freedom and prosperity.