Greeks hit streets for name of ‘Macedonia’
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of northern Greece’s biggest city Thessaloniki on Jan. 22, police said, in a long-running row between Athens and Skopje over the use of the name Macedonia.
Athens argues that the name Macedonia suggests that Skopje has territorial claims to the northern Greek region of the same name, of which Thessaloniki is the capital.
The region was the center of Alexander the Great’s ancient kingdom, a source of Greek pride.
Police said more than 90,000 demonstrators had joined the protest in Thessaloniki, organized by hardline clerics, far-right leaders and Greek diaspora groups.
Protest leaders said at least 400,000 people had turned up.
“We estimate there were at least 400,000 people. It is impressive,” rally organiser Anastasios Porgialidis told AFP. Some minor scuffles erupted between the protesters and anarchists who had organized a counter-demonstration, prompting police to intervene with tear gas.
The rally drew members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party who had gathered around the statue of Alexander the Great along with local clergy.
Representatives from the main opposition party, New Democracy, were also present despite a tacit order from its liberal-minded leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis to boycott the protests.
On Jan. 21 after the rally, however, Mitsotakis hailed the “impressive turnout that proves the particularly great sensitivity of society to the issue.”
Cretans in traditional costumes who travelled from the southern island with their horses, as well as people from northern Greece wearing costumes from the Macedonian wars era a century ago, crowded at the White Tower on the Thessaloniki waterfront from early in the morning.
Greece and Macedonia returned to the United Nations last week hoping to reach a compromise that could end the 27-year dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name.