History versus Tsipras government
Greeks have always viewed the present through the lens of history.
The “Macedonia” issue is a case in point. The ancient kings, among them Alexander the Great, were born in the area that is now the region of Macedonia. Their graves and palaces are there. Greeks cannot accept that another land north of their border, with a non-Greek speaking population, should claim the same origin.
But geopolitics may disregard historical disputes.
We have all recently observed heightened interest from the EU, NATO and the US vis-a-vis the Balkans. It follows that the West’s new vision is to consider Russia a serious threat. The EU’s expansionist drive has caused the bloc to ask Balkan countries who still remain outside the EU to settle their bilateral disputes in order to join the club. The prospective deadline for entering “by 2025” has been given, and 2018 is considered “a year of great importance for the EU enlargement process in the Western Balkan countries,” according to an EU report.
Among the longest and most complex disputes is that between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Although recognized by a large number of countries as Macedonia, the country was admitted to the U.N. in 1993 as FYROM, due to Greece’s objection of the use of the name Macedonia. The issue had been gathering dust for a long time as no Greek government wants to burn its hands.
But the grand new geostrategic plans for the Balkans has brought the problem back to the table and opened new prospects for Skopje to become an important part of the new Western doctrine.
In the beginning, the secret discussions that started between Athens and Skopje in the last few weeks looked as if they had every chance of success. This could be an opportunity for a comprehensive peace pact to settle all outstanding bilateral issues. Nobody expected that the possibility for a settlement with Skopje could have provoked such a widespread reaction from the Greek people. A massive rally organized in Thessaloniki - the capital city of the Macedonia region - two weeks ago, drew hundreds of thousands, led by members of the church, nationalist groups, and any person who felt himself or herself to be Macedonian. The rally was mocked and criticized as a nationalistic phenomenon and an opportunity for conservative politicians to emerge.
But yesterday an even bigger rally in the Syntagma Square in front of the Athens parliament showed that this was something more serious. People rushed there from all corners of Greece. Young and old, holding national flags, and some even wearing old army uniforms from the Balkan wars, flooded the square and blocked the surrounding roads. These were disgruntled citizens, protesting against the EU, the US and everybody and everything that has brought their country to its current state of “open-end debt.” Macedonia was just the trigger.
Respected retired professor Kassimatis, who figures among the organizers, spoke earlier on television to explain what it was all about.
“We are not nationalists, and we are not fascists. We are here because the Macedonian issue was already signed in 2010 and agreed to by the U.S., a country that wants to interfere in the soft underbelly of Europe, the Balkans. This is a European geopolitical issue, but there are no European leaders resisting. And we will have to pay for this with part of our national identity. And we are not going to allow that.”
This is the first time in years that such a huge number of Greeks have protested against an issue relating to their identity and history.
Even if the issue is set to be exploited by a multitude of interested political players, these angry voices should be taken seriously.