I have to admit, writing these lines at the start of November, that after digesting the daily reports from our national battlefield (Zuccotti Park, Oscar Grant Plaza, Austin, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Nashville, Portland…), my eyes flicker across the world map to Greece, and my heart beats a lot faster. Now there, surely we can savor the whiff of a pre-revolutionary situation!
It must be the dratted Leninist in me, even after years of therapy. Surfeited with somewhat turgid paeans to the democratic gentility of the OWSers, I clamber up to the dusty top shelf, furtively haul down Vladimir Ilich’s “April Theses” of 1917 and dip in: end the war, confiscate the big estates, immediately merge all the banks into one general national bank… The blood flows back into my cheeks, my eyes sparkle. Then, hearing my daughter’s footfall outside the library, I shove Lenin back into place, scuttle back down the ladder and pluck a copy of E.F. Schumacher, even though I’m not at all sure what is on the OWSers’ reading lists or Twitter menus.
Now take an arc of Greek history, as evoked in a photo that landed in my inbox at the end of October, featuring a group of Greek demonstrators in front of the Parthenon holding a white banner with “OXI 1940–2011” written on it in red and black letters. In Greek “OXI” means “no.” The e-mail reminded me that the “no” of 1940 was the answer, given on October 28, to the Italian ambassador relaying Mussolini’s demand that Greece open its borders to the Italian army. The “no” thus marked Greece’s entry into World War II. Annual ceremonies have officially commemorated this response to Fascism.
But this year, the e-mail reported, “the official parades were taken over by the people,” who chased away the government representatives and in most cities organized their own parades.
In Salonika, “the President of the Republic left in protest,” and for the first time in the postwar history of Greece the military parade was abandoned. A 5-year-old child sat in the president’s chair, “and the schools and people paraded before him!” In Athens, “where nobody was able to approach the Education Ministress and the parade went on ‘as usual’ under Draconian police measures,” some schoolchildren “paraded waving black handkerchiefs before her, while others turned their faces away as soon as they approached her.”
On the morning of October 28, a group of artists, authors and academics smuggled a big OXI sign onto the Acropolis, “wrapped up around the body of an excellent theater actress under a very large coat. And we managed to demonstrate for more than half-an-hour on the Acropolis itself!” The group could do this because “all policemen were at the parades’ battlegrounds at Syntagma and everywhere in Attiki [district] and none managed to climb Acropolis in time.”