Greece to hold massive demonstration over Macedonia dispute


ATHENS: Organisers in Greece are vowing to hold a massive demonstration in Athens on February 4 to urge the government not to compromise on the name dispute with neighbouring Macedonia.

Rally spokesman Michalis Patsikas told reporters that “it will be majestic. This has never happened before.”

“It will send a very strong message both inside and outside Greece,” said Patsikas, who added he expected up to 1 million people to converge near the capital’s Syntagma Square for the demonstration.

Greece has been embroiled in a longstanding dispute with its Balkan neighbour over its use of the name “Macedonia.”

The dispute broke out after Macedonia, for decades a part of the former Yugoslavia, gained independence in 1991.

Greece argues the neighbour’s name implies claims on its own province of Macedonia and wants it changed. The Macedonian government denies the charge.

Leaders of the two countries have said progress has been made in settling the dispute, with indications that any agreement could include Macedonia adding “Upper,” “New,” or “North” to its name.

UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz on February 1 voiced optimism that the Balkan neighbours could end the dispute this year, despite vehement opposition from nationalist parties in both countries.

The Athens protest would be the second major demonstration in the capital recent weeks. It is being organized and funded by Greek diaspora groups, backed by retired officer associations, Greek Macedonian cultural unions, church groups, and others.

Outside the capital, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Thessaloniki on January 21 in the first major protest over the name dispute, with police saying 90,000 people attended but organizers putting the number at 400,000.

“[Turnout] will be at least triple that of Thessaloniki. There are no tickets left for people to come from Thessaloniki and Crete,” Patsikas said.

The government has said the protests will not affect its efforts to solve the dispute.

“Not having a solution undermines our national interest,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said recently.

Based on Greece’s objections to the use of the name, Macedonia in 1993 joined the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).