Greek president faces protest over Macedonia deal
About 250 protesters gathered in Greece’s second-largest city to condemn the ratification of the Prespes accord to normalise relations with neighbouring Macedonia.
Tear gas was used at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall which was hosting Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos (pictured) yesterday (Sunday) at a Holocaust Remembrance Day concert.
They claimed Pavlopoulos had done too little to oppose the agreement with Skopje to adopt the name “North Macedonia” in exchange for Greece lifting objections to Nato and European Union membership.
But the Greek constitution affords little leeway to the largely ceremonial president to intervene in parliamentary matters.
Earlier, protesters tried to break through police lines around the building but were pushed back. Officers used tear gas.
Activists later arrived wearing masks and erected a barricade, which included a discarded Christmas tree.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev paid tribute to the courage of Greek MPs after their vote to approve the renaming of his country to settle the 28-year dispute. “We all know very well that it wasn’t easy,” he said after the 300-seat Greek parliament narrowly approved the measure.
“But it was more than necessary, absolutely necessary, for the two countries and for the two peoples,” he said. The name change was only ratified by 153 Greek MPs and polling suggests it remains unpopular with most Greek voters.
Feelings run especially high in Greece’s northern province of Macedonia, where perception is that the neighbour to the north not only wants to steal Greece’s ancient heritage but may well harbour territorial ambitions on Greek land.
The deal is also unpopular in what is soon to become North Macedonia.
Macedonia’s parliamentarians approved the name change on January 11, again by a narrow margin. A total of 81 MPs in the 120-seat assembly backed the name change in a vote that required a two-thirds majority. The Prespes accord will take effect once Greece officially informs Skopje of the result of Friday’s vote.
Since 1991, Athens had objected to its neighbour being called Macedonia because Greece has a northern province of the same name and says using the name could amount to territorial ambitions. In ancient times Macedonia was the site of Alexander the Great’s empire, a source of intense pride in Greece.
To make the UN-sponsored agreement final, Greece must now ratify a protocol approving Macedonia’s Nato membership, which is expected to take place next month.
Macedonia would become North Macedonia in about two weeks, a foreign ministry source in Skopje said.
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Picture credit: Wikimedia