World View: Hundreds of Thousands in Athens Protest Macedonia Name Compromise

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  • Hundreds of thousands in Athens, Greece, protest Macedonia name compromise
  • Officials go from optimism to pessimism over solving Macedonia issue

Hundreds of thousands in Athens, Greece, protest Macedonia name compromise

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks rallied in Athens on Sunday (Sky News)

Chances to resolve a major European dispute dimmed considerably on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of Greeks crowded into Syntagma Square in the center of Athens on Sunday to protest any name change that contains the word “Macedonia.” Crowd size estimates varied from 140,000 to one million.

The dispute is between Greece and the country just north of Greece known as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM), or informally (outside of Greece) as just “Republic of Macedonia.”

Greece has vetoed attempts by Macedonia to join either NATO or the EU because many Greeks consider “Macedonia” to be pure Greek name, and they oppose another other country using it as part of their own name. They are especially infuriated by Macedonia’s claims that Alexander the Great was Macedonian. They claim that he was Greek because at that time the Kingdom of Macedon was part of Greece.

The proposed compromises involve adding a modifier, such as “Republic of New Macedonia,” or “Republic of Upper Macedonia.” In the past, right-wing nationalistic governments in both Greece and Macedonia were refusing to accept any compromise. However, it has been hoped that a compromise will be reached this year because the governing parties in both countries are left-wing.

In Athens, the protests were led by 93-year-old composer Mikis Theodorakis, who wrote the score for “Zorba the Greek.” He has always been on the far left, but on Sunday he was supporting the far right in opposing any compromise on the Macedonia name. On Saturday, self-described Anarchists spray-painted red paint all over his home, but on Sunday he said, “I am calm and ready.” Kathimerini (Athens) and Greek Reporter and BBC and Meta (Macedonia)

Officials go from optimism to pessimism over solving Macedonia issue

The statue of Alexander the Great in Freedom Square in the heart of Skopje, Macedonia's capital city, infuriates the Greeks
The statue of Alexander the Great in Freedom Square in the heart of Skopje, Macedonia’s capital city, infuriates the Greeks

There has been growing hope expressed by officials in NATO and the European Union, in Macedonia and even among some officials in Greece, that finally this decades-old struggle might finally be resolved.

However, Sunday’s huge anti-compromise rally in Athens is going to make compromise difficult. Opinion polls show that a majority of Greeks oppose the use of “Macedonia” in any compromise solution. About 300,000 people turned out at a demonstration on Jan. 21 in Thessaloniki, capital of Greece’s Macedonia region. Even members of Greece’s parliament who would like to adopt a compromise know that they will have to face angry voters in the next election.

Some Greek officials are saying that there are very real reasons for concern in agreeing to allow “Macedonia” to be part of FYROM’s new name. These concerns stem from FYROM’s constitution.

Article 3 of the FYROM constitution says that the country “has no territorial claims against neighboring countries,” but also states that the country’s borders could change in accordance with “the principle of free will and in agreement with internationally accepted rules.”

Article 49 raises the greatest concerns:

The republic is interested in the regime and the rights of all persons belonging to the Macedonian people in neighboring countries, as well as Macedonian expats, by assisting in their cultural development and and promoting bonds between them.

Greek officials are concerned that when the lawyers take over at some future time, then these articles could be used to claim that any Greeks living in Greece’s Macedonian provinces are under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Macedonia.

Any compromise agreement would have to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries by a 2/3 majority. If there is no ratification, then each country would have to hold a referendum. There has been a lot of optimism that this problem will be solved this year, but Sunday’s huge rally in Athens must at least turn some of that optimism to pessimism. Balkan EU and Greek Reporter (24-Jan) and Greek Reporter (16-Jan)

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Greece, Athens, Macedonia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, Alexander the Great, Kingdom of Macedon, Mikis Theodorakis, Zorba the Greek
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