ATHENS – Organizers of a Feb. 4 protest demanding the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA not give away the name Macedonia in a new composite name for Greece’s Balkan neighbor the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are hoping to draw a million people.
The rally was forced to move from the traditional spot in Syntagma Square outside Parliament to the more difficult to reach port of Piraeus as the government, with its coalition partner the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) opposed to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ plans to give away Macedonia’s name.
A Jan. 21 protest in Thessaloniki – a city FYROM says belongs to its country along with the real Macedonia that abuts FYROM – drew from 90,000 to 500,000 people depending on whose estimates are believed.
Tsipras, whose party is anti-nationalist and has elements who don’t believe in borders between countries, said since 140 of the world’s 195 countries already recognize FYROM as Macedonia that Greece should, even though FYROM’s Constitution still claims Greek lands.
Stergios Kalogiros, a senior organizer of the Feb. 4 rally, told The Associated Press that he was optimistic it would draw huge crowds after it won endorsements this week from powerful religious and local government organizations.
“To get attendance to reach seven figures is achievable,” he said. But the Church of Greece, which the government linked to the ultra-extreme Golden Dawn party accused of neo-Nazi methodology which also is opposed to the name giveaway, said it wouldn’t support protests but hasn’t said if it continues to also want the name Macedonia off the table in talks.
An organization representing Greek Orthodox clergy endorsed the Athens rally this week, while the Church’s leadership dropped its objections to Bishops’ attendance without saying whether it still is opposed to protests.
“Local government associations are backing the rally and say they will help mayors around the country bus people to the rally. And the church has essentially given the event its blessing,” Kalogiros said.
It will be a challenge because while Syntagma Square is in the middle of the capital and can even be reached on foot, public transportation systems to Pireaus can’t handle huge numbers and the port isn’t each to reach in vehicles even on normal Sundays.
Greece says its neighbor’s name implies a territorial claim on its own province of Macedonia and its ancient heritage. But both governments say they are ready to end the 27-year deadlock before the summer, adding a modifier like “new” or “north” to the new name but that Macedonia would be kept regardless.
The proposals have triggered protests in both countries, with critics on both sides viewing the possible deal as a national humiliation.
The two countries have been feuding over that since a Greek government 26 years ago under New Democracy gave the name away when its northern Balkan neighbor broke away from the collapsing Yugoslavia.
That was supposed to be a temporary solution until a permanent name could be agreed but they’ve been squabbling ever since. United Nations Special Envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has failed to find an answer for more than two decades, resumed talks between the countries after a three-year break.
Greece has vetoed FYROM’s hopes of getting into NATO and the European Union but Tsipras said he wants to lift that if FYROM ends irredentist claims although Greece hasn’t received any guarantees. Both organizations are having critical meetings this year and pressure is on from the the United States to get FYROM into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)