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AHI OXI Day Forum Examines Basis for Greece’s Interwar Decision – Making in Lead Up to War


The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosted a Virtual Speakers Forum to commemorate the 83rd anniversary of Oxi Day with guest presenter Dr. Evanthis Hatzivassiliou, professor of postwar history with the Department of History and Archeology at the University of Athens, on October 25, 2023.

Dr. Hatzivassiliou presented on the topic of “Choosing International Legality: Greece’s Road to WWII.” He examined Greece’s major decisions that determined its stance at the moment of the Italian attack on October 28, 1940. AHI President Nick Larigakis moderated the presentation.

Dr. Hatzivassiliou provided an overview of the legal framework created internationally under the establishment of the League of Nations that was based on the acceptance of the peace treaties and existing borders following World War I. He explained that after the war, Europe was divided into two groups. On the one hand there were the “conservative” states that accepted the treaties, the borders and international legality. On the other hand, there were the “revisionist” states, mostly Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Italy that sought to revise the borders, even through war. This dispute between the countries that accepted or rejected international legality was the major cleavage in interwar Europe, he explained. Following the Great Depression, the Western democracies of Britain and France proved unable to draw their red lines and stop Hitler’s aggression; they even suffered humiliations, as in the case of the Munich conference which abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler.

Dr. Hatzivassiliou proceeded to explain interwar Greece adopted the “conservative” approach of accepting the treaties and borders amid a post-World War I international legal framework due to it being a country devastated by its war with Kemalist Turkey and its eagerness to settle the large numbers of Greek refugees arriving from Turkey. Greece wanted to be left outside a future European war in which it would have little to win and much to lose, he added. The policy decision to side with the conservative forces of international legitimacy was the policy of Greece’s democratic governments until 1936 and the Metaxas dictatorship after 1936.

Dr. Hatzivassilou added that Metaxas tried to avoid giving to Mussolini a pretext to attack. However, he also carefully prepared Greece for war. When faced with the Italian ultimatum on October 28, Metaxas did not hesitate to reject it—hence the famous “Oxi.”

In sum, pivotal elements of the liberal international system to which Greece felt attached, and Athens strove to defend, even in its darkest hour, factored into Greece’s decision to fight. Greece’s decision was based on an existential choice in favor of international legality and the Western world.