Optimism and protests in Greece for ‘Macedonia’

Under the title ‘If there is an opportunity for a solution, it would be a national stupidity not to make good use of it’ Sunday’s edition of the Greek newspaper Ethnos conveys an interview of Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras related to Athens-Skopje name dispute. At the same time, thousands of people, carrying banners with messages ‘Macedonia was, will be Greek’; ‘The name is our soul’, took Sunday to the streets Thessaloniki to ‘defend the name’.

‘The solution would mean a mutually acceptable, compound name for overall use (erga omnes). The overall use means (the country) cannot be referred to by one name in our bilateral relations and at the United Nations, while its constitutional name will be different. In regard to the EU, NATO membership everything is clear. The neighboring country’s NATO membership or commencing of its EU accession talks will be possible only if there is a solution to the name issue,’ Tsipras says, MIA reports.

Hardline clerics, far-right leaders and Greek diaspora groups have called for the protest against the use of term ‘Macedonia’ in any solution to Athens-Skopje name dispute.

The organizers have been delivering speeches at the rally, which kicked off about 14:00h, reiterating the message that ‘Macedonia is Greek’. Some of them said that those ready to relent and give the name ‘Macedonia’ away would be labeled as national traitors. Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki was also one of the speakers at the rally.

Gathered around the statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki were members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and local clergy, AFP reported.

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.

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.

Meanwhile, a small group representing anarchist and left-wing organizations are protesting in another part of Thessaloniki against nationalism, because they say ‘The whole country is our fatherland’ and ‘No blood for names and interstate conflicts.’

However, Tsipras says he understands ‘the concerns and sensitivities’ of the Greeks of the north, commenting today’s protests in Thessaloniki. But, he says, the national interests cannot be defended with protests, but a negotiating skill, international alliances, set goals and pragmatism.

‘For the last 25 years many countries recognized our neighbor under the name Republic of Macedonia. We have been making efforts across the globe for all states to refer to the country by fyROM, namely to use the compound name that includes the term Macedonia, but it has no qualifier to prevent any attempt for usurping the geography and history. So if there is an opportunity for a solution, it would be a national stupidity not to make good use of it,’ Tsipras says.

‘If we wish for a sustainable solution, we should seek for a name, but also for a broader frame for an agreement, which will leave no room for irredentism and false historic claims. Both parties should approach the problem with common sense and wisdom. We must leave no room for confrontations between the two nations, as there is more that unite than divide them,’ Tsipras says.

He is certain that the majority of Greek lawmakers will embrace a solution to the name issue in favor of their country’s national interest.

Macedonia and Greece have a real opportunity, maybe the best one, for solving the so-called name issue, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Brian Yee says in an interview with Bloomberg TV Bulgaria.

He believes that there is a political will in both Athens and Skopje for reaching an agreement on the matter for good.

A hard work is required to that effect as this is not a simple matter for resolving, Yee says. It would have been good if the issue was settled 25 years ago, but if the two countries keep working as they do at the moment under the auspices of UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, Yee says ‘we believe a solution is absolutely possible.’

Following the new round of name talks between Macedonia and Greece, mediated by UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, the first direct meeting between the two prime ministers, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, will take place in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday (January 24).

Nimetz’s proposals for resolving name dispute as well as the course of activities of working groups, led by the two countries’ foreign ministers, Nikola Dimitrov and Nikos Kotzias are expected to be discussed at the meeting.