Greek furious that the anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA - over the objections of its own coalition partner - is bent on letting the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) keep the name Macedonia in a new composite were set to march across the country in 23 rallies the night of June 6 in protest.
Two massive rallies in February in Athens and Thessaloniki were ignored by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who said he wants to solve a 26-year-long dispute between the countries to settle on a permanent name for FYROM.
A New Democracy government in 1992 allowed the new country breaking away from the collapsing Yugoslavia to call itself FYROM and use the name Macedonia - an abutting ancient Greek province - in what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement.
But after successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands - including the realk Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki - Greece used a veto to bar FYROM from getting into NATO and its European Union hopes.
Tsipras said he wants to lift that barrier too although his junior partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, objected and said it would never agree to giving the name Macedonia away - but wouldn’t stand in the way of a deal, allowing them to have it both ways.
It seemed like a deal was in the works before FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev, who had made concessions such as removing the name of Alexander the Great from his country’s international airport and major highway, and taking down a statue of the Greek conqueror, said he wouldn’t change the Constitution to remove irredentist claims on Greek lands and that FYROM would continue to call itself Macedonia - the name recognized by 140 countries - even if a deal adds a qualifier such as Upper, Northern or New.
Despite that obstacle, it appeared the two sides were gradually closing on a deal, said Kathimerini, despite protests in FYROM by hardline nationalists and in Greece for June 6, set for Macedonia, Pella, Kavala, Drama, Serres, Kilkis, Polykastro, Lagada, Nea Moudania, Edessa, Florina, Kastoria, Kozani, Ptolemaida, Katerini, Veria and Siatista. Demonstrations will also be held in Larissa, Thiva, Ioannina, Rhodes, Hania, Corfu and Halkida.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos defended the “sacred right” of citizens to protest and to express their opposition to government policy. “From thereon in, there is a national line, which we are serving,” he said, without explaining what he meant.
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias earlier though said it was in the “national interest” for Greece to give away the name Macedonia even though it could keep its veto over NATO and the EU to force another answer.
With several Bishops due to appear at rallies, Archbishop Ieronymos reiterated the Church’s opposition to the name giveaway but, like Kammenos, said he wouldn’t stand in the way if that’s what the government decides.
“It is not easy for us to lend the name Macedonia, to give it,” he said. “However these issues cannot be addressed with rallies, with cries,” he said, adding it’s up to Parliament.
HOLD THE PHONE
Zaev on June 5 said he expected to talk on the phone with Tsipras within a few days, although he said that before and it didn’t happen.
“Let’s not go into details. It is only a matter of days. After I have spoken with my counterpart, the public will be informed,” Zaev was quoted as saying, with the leaders of both countries keeping the talks secret although he said any prospective deal would be put to a referendum which Tsipras barred after surveys showed 68 percent of Greeks opposed.
Major rival New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis - whose father, the late Premier Constantinos Mitsotakis was in power when the name Macedonia was given away - said the government should present a united front but still hasn’t said whether he agrees to letting FYROM keep Macedonia’s name.
He called Tsipras “dangerous for the country’s interests” and said Kotzias “appears to defend the arguments of our neighbor more than the self-evident claims of our country.” He said FYROM must change its Constitution including references to a “Macedonian” ethnicity and language.
A number of names have circulated for FYROM’s new identity, with Zaev’s junior coalition partner party suggesting Krusevo, Modern Macedonia or European Macedonia as compromise suggestions. Media in FYROM said Zaev was under intense pressure from the US to reach a deal with America keen on adding the country to NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.
American lawyer Matthew Nimetz, the UN’s envoy, has failed for two decades to find an answer but this year resumed talks after a three-year break in a push to end the dilemma and open the door for FYROM to get into NATO and the EU.
SYRIZA may be ready to further compromise and let FYROM keep its proclamation of a Macedonia language and call itself Macedonia domestically just to settle it so Tsipras can claim he found the answer, Kathimerini indicated.