Greek protesters oppose Macedonia name deal
Protesters chanting “Macedonia is Greek” have clashed with police outside Greece’s parliament as tens of thousands rallied against the deal to recognise the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as “North Macedonia”.
At least 25 police officers were injured as demonstrators threw rocks, flares, firebombs and paint, as the police fired tear gas.
Some protesters scaled a fence and tried to run up the parliamentary steps but were chased away.
“Macedonia is one and it is Greek,” said Andreas Androutsos, a young engineer. “What the government is doing is fascistic. It is trying to pass an agreement that so many of us are against. Macedonia belongs to the Greek people, it doesn’t belong to any political party.”
Greek MPs are expected to debate this week on whether to ratify the deal and with a vote due by Friday.
Once passed, the renamed Balkan nation can begin accession talks with Nato and the European Union, which Greece has blocked because of the dispute.
Several polling surveys suggest around 70 per cent of Greeks oppose the agreement with Skopje.
Speakers at the protest included former conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a member of the Mount Athos monastic community and a former Greek-US member of New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, Chris Spiro.
“Millions of Greeks are, and will continue to be, against the Prespes agreement,” tweeted Samaras, a nationalist whose career was first built around the dispute. “Whatever provocation they come up with, however much tear gas they spray, people will remain unbowed for Macedonia.”
Organisers had hoped to attract around 600,000 protesters to pressure the government into holding a referendum on the deal but turnout fell far short, according to the police. Of the 3,000 buses lined up to travel to the capital, mostly from northern Greece, only 326 were recorded passing through tolls on national highways.
Macedonia’s parliament has already narrowly voted to approve the name change to North Macedonia, amid parallel protests by nationalists in Skopje.
The prime ministers of Macedonia and Greece agreed in June to end a decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name, which some in Greek nationalists say could see future territorial claims on its larger border province of the same name.
The Prespes agreement was intended to resolve a row that began with the dissolution of Yugoslavia almost 30 years ago.
In northern Greece, farmers temporarily blocked the highway leading to the Macedonian border in solidarity with the Athens protest.
The Greek protesters say any use of the name “Macedonia” is a usurpation of ancient Greek heritage and implies claims on Greece territory.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s office said it blamed “extremist elements and members of [far-right] Golden Dawn” for the violence on Sunday.
Athens has seen repeated political violence in recent years. Picture credit: Wikimedia