Greek high school student protests and shutting down schools to protest the government’s deal to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) were likely driven by extreme-right elements most likely led by the Golden Dawn party that Education Minister Costas Gavroglou said is trying to recruit them.
Anti-nationalist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pushed the agreement to let FYROM be called North Macedonia, keeping the name of an ancient abutting Greek province and for its citizens to be called Macedonians and have a Macedonia language, culture and identity. FYROM has approved the deal but it still needs to be ratified by the Greek Parliament with Tsipras’ junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister opposed, vowing to walk out of the government if it comes to a vote.
Students at more than 210 high schools, most in and around Greece’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki, which FYROM had claimed as its’ owns, led the protests with Kathimerini saying Golden Dawn may have been behind an organized social media drive to mobilize them. The campaign included Golden Dawn-like slogans such as “Macedonia is Greek” and “Punks, traitors, politicians” aimed at its arch-political enemy, SYRIZA.
Opponents of the protests were numerous too though, with some 50 schools signing a petition to end the “nationalist takeover.” A group named Initiative to Coordinate Schools and Students in Athens urged students “not to allow fascists to find room for expression in our schools.”
The federation of secondary school teachers (OLME) also said that the protests were an attempt “to cultivate division, hate, racism and neo-fascist beliefs,” while the conservative-backed DAKE teachers’ union criticized “the criminalization and moral depreciation of patriotic events.”