Opinion: Macedonia Issue Energizing Austerity-Hit Greeks



A Greek girl waves a flag amid thousands of protesters at a rally on the Macedonia issue in Thessaloniki, Greece, Jan. 2018 (file photo)

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks from all walks of life are expected to throng the center of Athens, right outside the country’s parliament building, on Sunday for a rally on Macedonia.

The Athens protest is a follow-up to the Thessaloniki rally earlier this month where at least 100,000 people (organizers say the number approached half a million) expressed their anger at the Greek government’s intention to accept the term ‘Macedonia’ be used by the former Yugoslav republic to Greece’s north.

Analysts say that despite the fact no mainstream political party has endorsed the Athens rally, organizers expect a massive crowd to descend on the capital from every corner of Greece.

Speaking to Greek media, one organizer said all coaches available for hire in northern Greece had been booked out by local groups.

Politicians have been surprised by the resilience of Greeks in opposing a solution after 27 years of diplomatic stalemate.

Even the Orthodox Church, a powerful body in Greek society, has refrained from outwardly endorsing rallies on the name dispute.

Anger

The name Macedonia is still sacred for a large number of Greeks. However, as analysts point out, the controversy is an opportunity for many Greeks to take to the streets and vent anger at what is happening to their country.

After years of austerity, few see any real hope for the future. The leftist SYRIZA party came to power in 2015 promising to reverse austerity, but instead it signed off on a punishing third bailout and made spectacular U-turns on many of its other promises.

No wonder that among the huge crowd in Thessaloniki were ordinary middle-class people who had lost their jobs, their homes. Women holding their babies, expressing their frustration for a bleak future ahead seemed to have little to do with who uses the word ‘Macedonia’.

Of course, nationalists and extreme right-wingers, such as Golden Dawn, will also join the rally in an attempt to take advantage of popular discontent.

But it would be wrong to assume they control this evolving mass movement.

The Greek government and opposition parties will be watching events in Syntagma Square very carefully this coming Sunday as negotiations with Skopje intensify over the name dispute.


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