THESSALONIKI — About 250 nationalist protesters angry that Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos didn’t take a stand in the deal that the ruling anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA made to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) derided him and “traitor politicians” as some public officials left a concert hall after an International Holocaust Remembrance Day performance.
The event was in Greece’s second-largest city and major port in the Greek province of Macedonia, whose name was given away in renaming FYROM as North Macedonia despite the objections of some two-thirds of Greeks who surveys said didn’t want the deal.
The protest outside the Thessaloniki Concert Hall was timed to coincide with Pavlopoulos’ attendance at the concert. A few were seen making Nazi salutes while singing Greece’s national anthem.
Pavlopoulos is from the major rival New Democracy which opposed the agreement but the position of Greece’s Presidency is generally seen as not being partisan although the President does speak out on major issues from time to time.
Pavlopoulos was whisked from the concert venue to a side road, as far as possible from the crowd. Earlier, protesters tried to break through police lines around the building but were pushed back. Some later threw rocks at police officers and attacked a squad on motorcycles with sticks.
Police used tear gas and stun grenades to push back the small, but determined crowd. One person was arrested and four were detained, police said.
The name deal is especially sensitive in Thessaloniki, which successive FYROM governments claimed – along with the real Macedonia – before agreeing to change the country’s Constitution to remove irredentist claims, as required by the agreement.
After the country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991 was allowed by a New Democracy government under then-Premier Constantinos Mitsotakis in what was supposed to be a temporary acronym began making claims on Greek territories, Greece used its veto as a member of NATO and the European Union to keep FYROM out of both.
That was lifted under the agreement that also allows residents of North Macedonia to call themselves Macedonians and have a Macedonian language, culture and identity. Prime Minister and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras got it through the Parliament with the votes of eight defectors from rival parties after his former junior coalition partner, the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who quit in objection.
During a speech after the concert, Pavlopoulos expressed horror at damage inflicted Friday at a Thessaloniki University campus monument that marks the site of a former Jewish cemetery.
He described the smashing of the monument an “inhuman, barbaric defiling” and called for Europe-wide vigilance against a resurgence of Nazism. Pavlopoulos promised a Holocaust museum in the city would be finished by 2020.
In June, during a protest of the then newly signed name deal between Greece and FYROM, a group of protesters threw paint at a Holocaust memorial in Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki had a considerable Jewish community until World War II. In 1943, about 55,000 Jews were deported to extermination camps, mostly Auschwitz, and fewer than 5,000 survived.
Many of those who returned found their former homes occupied by Greek families and a state doing little to help with property restoration.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)