Over 140,000 Greeks gathered in the Greek capital of Athens on Sunday to defend their right to the name “Macedonia.” This is part of the decades-old dispute caused by the inclusion of the word “Macedonia” in the name of the former Yugoslav republic.
Hundreds of thousands rallied near the parliament in Athens. Both parties have agreed to negotiate for the name, and this negotiation has been mediated by the United Nations. This dispute has frustrated the aspirations of Macedonia to join NATO and the European Union.
“Here are the borders. This is Macedonia … Macedonia is Greek, no one can take this name, no one can use it,” said Rania Mainou, a protester, while pointing on a map.
A 25-year old dispute over a name
According to the authorities, the rally in Athens was bigger than most of the numerous demonstration organized in the country since it signed the first international bailout program, back in 2010. Though there were a lot of people, it was significantly less than the million people the organizers of the rally expected. During the demonstration, people waved blue and white Greek flags, and they sang the national anthem. They also held banners reading “Hand off Macedonia.”
Greek claims that the use of the name “Macedonia” by its neighbor suggests a territorial claim to the Greek northern region which has that name and whose capital is Thessaloniki. Many protests have taken place in this city to manifest the disagreement.
“I‘m here for Macedonia. Macedonia is ours, it’s part of Greece. We won’t let them take it from us,” said 72-year old Persefoni Platsouri clutching a Greek flag.
This dispute is essential for the crisis-hit country since they give a high value to their history and heritage. They say that they consider Macedonia, the ancient kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great, to be a fundamental element of their homeland.
Among the speakers of today’s rally, there was the famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who said that even their economic crisis couldn’t make Greeks forget their history. The 93-year-old composer was a symbol of resistance against the military junta that ruled between 1967 and 1974.
“If we give in, we are leaving the doors wide open for a tragic historical lie to come through and stay forever,” said the leftist composer.
A negotiated solution between the States
Last month, Greece and the ex-Yugoslav nation of Macedonia started talks assisted by the United Nations. However, the disputes back to 1991, when the former Republic of Yugoslavia disintegrated.
If the dispute is not solved, Macedonia won’t be able to enter organizations such as the EU and NATO. It was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 with the provisional name of “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” because of Greece’s objection. Most countries refer to this state as merely Macedonia. Last week, Greece’s foreign minister Nikos Kotzias said that Greece is preparing proposals to achieve a settlement with the neighboring country.
This dispute has degraded the relations between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party and his small coalition ally, a right-wing party. Tsipras’ coalition controls 154 seats in the 300-seat parliament.
The opposition, which includes Greece’s conservative party has criticized the prime minister for the negotiating tactics.