Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Greek government in general had been very uncomfortable since a major rally against the use of the word ‘Macedonia’ in the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was announced.
Cabinet members and lawmakers paraded in front of the media, calling the scheduled rally in Thessaloniki an irresponsible act, detrimental to the solution of a problem which has endured for over 25 years.
In fact the prime minister even used Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos to tell Greeks that the rally was of no use. Instead of calling political leaders to discuss the issue of the FYROM name negotiations, Tsipras invited the Archbishop to Maximos Mansion; after the meeting Ieronymos told the media that what Greece needs now is not a demonstration but “unity” and “national solidarity”.
For a prime minister who claims he serves the will of the people, ignoring polls that say 68 percent of Greeks oppose the use of ‘Macedonia’ in FYROM’s name is an insolent blow against them. It is hypocritical of him to accuse those who oppose the proposed FYROM names as nationalists when at the same time he accepts the nationalist acts of Skopje that claim parts of Greek history as their own.
The national broadcaster ERT blatantly ignored the demonstration, obediently following the Maximos Mansion line. In the evening news the rally was shown as if it was just another routine daily news story. Even ERT 3, the channel that presents news from Thessaloniki and northern Greece exclusively, was showing a documentary about butterflies during the time of the massive demonstration.
Thessaloniki police at 1 p.m. announced that there were 90,000 people at the rally. But how can you speak of attendance at 1 p.m. when the rally was scheduled for 2 p.m. and in such cases people arrive much later than the scheduled time.
Protesters speak of 500,000, which might be exaggerated but it closer to the true number than 90,000. Nevertheless, the hundreds of thousands who arrived in Thessaloniki from all parts of Greece to demonstrate cannot be overlooked.
Government-friendly media labeled protesters as “extreme rightists”, “nationalists”, “fascists”, “Christian fundamentalists” and so on. The fact that Golden Dawn participated in the rally was used to label every single participant as one of the above descriptions.
The main organizer of the rally, retired army general Fragkoulis Fragkos, was accused of trying to form a new nationalist party by the government-friendly Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper, following the SYRIZA line that whoever is not a party voter is a deplorable neoliberal fascist, or a person worth ridiculing at best.
They also attacked the main opposition New Democracy, accusing leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis of trying to “fish voters from the Golden Dawn pool”. Government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos rushed to call Mitsotakis “unreliable, irresponsible and populist” for saying that the rally was a demonstration of “the indignation of Greek citizens towards a government that acts secretly and, with its acts and omissions, shows that it is incapable of serving national interests”.
The main reason the government feared Sunday’s rally was that it was also a demonstration of the distress Greeks feel for the ruthless taxation and continuous degradation of their lives by the Tsipras administration.
Overall it was a defeat, for Tsipras and the Archbishop who indirectly tried to sabotage the protest rally. Now at Maximos Mansion they have to worry about the new demonstration scheduled in Athens for Feb. 4.