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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 29 October 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 29 OCTOBER 2016 25 OPINION on me nor on anyone else among its inhabitants; as we have all decided to die with our own free will and we shall not consider our lives." Some historians posit that the empire gained an additional two days of existence as the Ottoman dragomans attempted to decipher just what it was that the Emperor meant. Equally loquacious, but infinitely more poetic, was the form of OXI offered to the Turks by the hero of the Greek Revolutionary War, Athanasios Diakos. By the time of his martyrdom, Diakos was already a seasoned naysayer, legend maintaining that he responded to the amorous proposals of a Turkish officer, visiting the monastery in which he was serving, not with a simple 'no,' but rather, by the physical act of killing him. Thus, when captured and encouraged to spare himself by embracing Islam, Diakos, instead of a dry "OXI", was able to immediately offer up a negative of Palaeologian length, in perfect 15-syllable demotic form, without even flinching: "Go, get lost, you apostates and your religion. I was born a Greek, I shall die a Greek." ("Πάτε κι εσείς κ΄ η πίστις σας μουρτάτες να χαθείτε. Εγώ Γραικός γεννήθηκα, Γραικός θέλ΄ αποθάνω ...) Significantly, he chose not, in his final hour, to call himself, as is the fashion among Melburnian Greeks anxious to prove their patriotic credentials these days, a Hellene. Now, if being Greek is good enough for someone who can compose poetry in perfect metre while being roasted to his death (led to the instrument of his martyrdom, he remarked, again in metre, "Look at the time Death chose to take me, now that the branches are flowering, and the earth sends forth grass" − a powerful metaphor for the regenesis of an enslaved nation), it is certainly good enough for me. Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas' purported PHOTO: AAP VIA EPA/ALEXANDROS VLACHOS. and roast him to death, corroborating Afxentiou's assumption that they would not take a mere "no" for an answer. Byzantine OXIs, on the other hand, are incredibly long-winded, being full of sentences that self-embellish, only to break themselves upon the shores of their own classical allusions as their contrived structure irrigates the placid fountains of their syntax. Thus, when enjoined by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II to surrender Constantinople to him, the last Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI Palaeologos, deigned not to answer monolectically. Instead, where a simple OXI would have sufficed, the Emperor responded: "Giving you though the city depends neither OXI, which the Greek people commemorate in Australia every 28 October through the ritual mocking of the physical, sexual and mental prowess of Italian Australians (going so far as to make gross generalisations about the Italian race altogether, which is counterintuitive, given that Greek Australians generally consider all Italian Australians to be lapsed Greeks, as encapsulated by the maxim μία φάτσα, una razza) was, following established precedent, not monolectic. In a marked departure from hallowed tradition, it was not even Greek. Instead, when the Italian envoy presented a thoroughly disgruntled, pyjamaclad Metaxas with Mussolini's demand that Greece surrender to him, various militarily strategic positions, Metaxas chose to respond in French, with a not so resounding: "Alors, c'est la guerre." (So, it’s war.) Undoubtedly, it was the retouching of this simple statement into a brief but indomitable OXI (facilitated by the fact that the technology of the time did not permit the Italian envoy to a) video Metaxas' reaction with his phone and b) upload it onto YouTube) that galvanised an entire nation into a remarkable fight for freedom and inspired them to achieve the impossible: the repelling of the invader. In such a retouching, a powerful myth was born, one whose legacy endures to the present day. Consequently, it was the power of this myth, the myth of the grand negative, that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to subvert to his own ends, when, last year, he called the Helladites to referendum. Flipping the legacy of Constantine Palaeologus on its head, it was not the answer, but the referendum question which assumed an uncanny Byzantine form: "Should the agreement plan submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the Eurogroup of 25 June 2015, and comprised of two parts which make up their joint proposal, be accepted?" Again, in a radical break with millennia of Greek history, the suggested responses to the question neither included "oh well, it’s war" nor "come and get it", nor an admonition to prepare the barbeque, the rumour that former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis offered to submit himself to fiscal waterboarding on behalf of the Greek people, while simultaneously offering economic witticisms in metre to an ecstatic, self-lubricating Phillip Adams on Late Night Live, if only the troika would let Greece breathe, having only just recently been debunked. Instead, the Helladites (and their apodemic cousins, living moments of similar grandeur via Facebook and puerile protests in the cities of their abode) were led to think by their leader that they must partake of a Metaxas moment and vote OXI. Thus, 61 per cent of the Helladites, conflating Greece's desperate hours with those of 1940, voted for an OXI of their own. Soon after, Alexis Tsipras and his government completely ignored that OXI, signaling their adherence to the memorandum they had asked their people to reject. This marks a historic watershed in the history of Greek negatives, for it suggests that Greek negatives can be rendered non-existent through non-recognition. Consider the impact of Diakos' sacrifice if, upon having delivered his poem to his captors, excoriating them and their religion, the Turks had, instead of takeing him at his word responded, "well, you're a Muslim anyway". Quite possibly, this is the reason why the prudent Greeks of yore avoided using the term OXI in the first place, anticipating the semantic reforms of Tsipras as, arguably, did the Lord in the Gospel of Matthew when he stated: "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No', 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." In imposing his semantic progression upon the diachronic linguistics of the Greek language, is Tsipras, in rendering OXI redundant, merely adhering to a hidden clause within the bailout agreement that provides for the eradication of dissent and thought? Further, is Tsipras, in fact, the troika's Orwellian O'Brien, tasked with the elimination of all words from the Greek language that inhibit compliance with lending criteria, starting with the most potent, the most enduring, OXI? "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it … Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller …" When all is lost, salvation appears in the form of Sabaton, the Swedish heavy metal band, who in their song Coat of Arms, seek to remind the Greek people of the glories of negativity as well as the fact that while the enemies of yesteryear charged from the hills, today they charge from behind the counter, in the form of bank fees: "At dawn envoy arrives, morning of October 28th/’No day’ proven by deed/Descendants of Sparta, Athens and Crete/Look north, ready to fight/Enemies charge from the hills/To arms, facing defeat/ There's no surrender, there's no retreat." Until next time, then, OXI, and we bloody mean it. * Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne-based solicitor and journalist.
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