ATHENS – Even as the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA dismissed a massive rally against its plans to give away the name Macedonia to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in a new composite, party officials were reportedly nonetheless anxious the sheer size could be a problem as it has already plummeted after reneging on anti-austerity promises.
While organizers said the Feb. 4 turnout in Syntagma Square across from the Parliament hit the million-mark, Greek police and the party’s minister in charge of citizen protection said it was just 140,000 while some news organizations put it at 100,000.
But even the lesser estimates were said to be causing jitters in SYRIZA especially since its junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal. Jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos is opposed to giving away the name Macedonia.
A Jan. 21 protest in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city and port which, along with the real Macedonia – an ancient Greek province – and other Greeks lands have been claimed by FYROM, drew from 90,000 to 500,000, depending on whose estimates were believed.
It wasn’t clear whether the protests would alter SYRIZA’s plans to let FYROM keep the name Macedonia, along with a qualifier such as Upper, Northern or New in its new name and end a 26-year-feud over a permanent designation for all uses by Greece’s Balkan neighbor.
But Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office insisted there will be no change and that Greece will give away the name even though it could continue, as it has, to bar FYROM from NATO and European Union hopes unless another name were agreed without using Macedonia.
Tsipras’ office – he doesn’t give news conferences nor talk to reporters directly – added in its statement that the numbers who attended the rally were significantly fewer than the “overwhelming majority of the Greek people who watched it on TV,” implying those who stayed away were in favor of the name giveaway because they didn’t go.
The state-run ERT did not show the live rally in Thessaloniki amid charges SYRIZA was trying to control dissent and prevent Greeks from seeing it despite coverage from other news sources.
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, the driving force behind the name giveaway by the anti-nationalist SYRIZA, told told Euronews the rally “wasn’t as large as organizers anticipated,” and claimed it was attended by supporters of the center-right, right and extreme-right, and the Church and no big deal.
But Kathimerini said some of SYRIZA’s Members of Parliament, who have gone along with Tsipras’ orders to go against party principles in imposing more austerity and bowing to international creditors who are its ideological enemies, were feeling the heat from constituents who want them to bow on this one.