Violent protests in Greece over Macedonia deal

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Several injured in clashes between demonstrators and police in Athens during demonstrations against the ratification of the agreement which plans to change the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

The center of Athens, the capital of Greece, turned into a sea of ​​people on Sunday January 20. About 60,000 citizens waved blue and white flags to the sound of the national anthem and patriotic songs. They did so during a protest in Syntagma Square during which they demanded parliament not to ratify the agreement to name the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) North Macedonia.

The demonstration, which turned violent when a group of demonstrators tried to break through the police cordon and enter the Parliament building, was called by a nationalist platform called the Committee for the Fight the Hellenity of Macedonia, which brings together associations of citizens, but also of the Orthodox Church, the military, as well as Greeks from the diaspora.

With banners bearing slogans such as ‘Macedonia is Greek. Period’, ‘Left Fascists Hands Off Macedonia’ or ‘Referendum on Macedonia Now’, people of all ages and political leanings united in their rejection of what they see as a “betrayal” of the Greek homeland.

Protesters threw rocks, bottles, flares and Molotov cocktails at police officers and responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

A territorial claim and conflict with a long history

Many Greeks believe that the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim to the northern region of their country under that name. In June 2018, the governments of Athens and Skopje reached an agreement to give a final name to the former Yugoslav Republic and end a conflict that has lasted for more than a quarter of a century.

The agreement, signed by both governments, unlocked FYROM’s desire to join NATO and the European Union, once ratified by the Greek Parliament.

The theme evokes strong emotions among Greeks who regard Macedonia, the ancient kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great, as an integral part of their homeland and historical heritage.

“We cannot stand this deal to give away our Macedonia, our history,” Amalia Savrami, 67, told Reuters as she waved a large Greek flag in Syntagma Square in Athens.

“Macedonia is one and Greek, this is my homeland, this is where I was born and raised. Macedonia cannot be Skopje, which is a Slavic community, which before World War II s “called Vardaska. Tito changed it to Macedonia, but it is not Macedonia Macedonia is the homeland of Alexander the Great. It is us,” Fotiní Jalastara, who came expressly from Thessaloniki, told EFE. capital of the Greek region of Macedonia.

In 1991, Macedonia declared independence, averting the violence that accompanied much of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Greece had agreed that, until the name dispute was resolved, its northern neighbour, with a population of around 2 million, could be referred to internationally as FYROM, a name under which it was admitted by the United Nations in 1993.

Political divisions in Greece following the conflict with Macedonia

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose left-right coalition came to power, hailed the deal as a success. In January 2019, he won a vote of no confidence after his junior coalition partner withdrew.

The deal with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of FYROM had strained relations with the right-wing Independent Greeks party, his coalition ally, which opposed the use of Macedonia under any agreed name .

The so-called Prespa agreement, named after the lake on whose shores it was signed in June 2018, has raised eyebrows not only in Greek society – a poll indicates that 66% of the population is against the name – but also it also wreaked havoc among opposition parties and reached the point where some MPs received death threats for announcing they would support the deal.

The text of the note verbale sent by Skopje after the ratification of the agreement on January 11 specified, on the other hand, that the demonym “Macedonian” refers exclusively to nationality and not to an ethnic group – the Albanian minority of this country would not be have consented to this – and clarifies that the language is part of the South Slavic language family.

With Reuters and EFE

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