Greeks rally in Athens over Macedonia name row
ATHENS (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Greeks rallied outside parliament in Athens on Sunday to protest against the use of the term Macedonia in any settlement the government pursues with the ex-Yugoslav Republic to end a decades-old name row.
The two countries have agreed to step up negotiations, mediated by the United Nations, this year to settle the dispute, which has frustrated the aspirations of Greece’s small northern neighbor to join NATO and the European Union.
Thoroughfares in central Athens turned into a sea of people waving blue and white Greek flags in what locals said was the largest gathering in decades, easily outdoing rallies against austerity foisted by lenders on the crisis-hit country.
Greece objects to Macedonia’s name because it has its own region called Macedonia, and argues that its neighbor’s use of the name, along with contentious articles in its constitution, imply territorial claims over Greek land.
Protesters hoisted a giant Greek flag over the demonstration with a crane on Sunday. They held banners reading “Hands off Macedonia!” and chanted the national anthem.
“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.
The case evokes strong emotions among Greeks who consider Macedonia, the ancient kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great, to be an integral part of their homeland and heritage.
Talks also reopened at a sensitive time for a country which is struggling to emerge from its worst debt crisis in decades and to regain sovereignty over economic policy-making after years of austerity mandated by international lenders.
Among Sunday’s speakers was world-renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who said the eight-year economic crisis had not wiped Greece’s history from people’s memories.
“If we give in, we are leaving the doors wide open for a tragic historical lie to come through and stay forever,” the 93-year old leftist, a symbol of resistance against the 1967-1974 military junta, told a cheering crowd.
Talks between the two countries have been inconclusive since the Balkan state broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991.