Close to 100,000 Greeks rallied in Thessaloniki on Sunday, calling on the Tsipras government to not compromise on the name Macedonia for its northern province.
Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic that shares the same name have been feuding over who gets to use it since Macedonia became independent Yugoslavia in 1991.
Some of the protesters wore costumes from the period when Macedonia was ruled by the ancient Greek King Alexander the Great.
They say allowing the neighboring country to use the name Macedonia insults Greek history and implies a claim on Greek territory.
Sunday’s march was largely peaceful. But police quickly intervened when scuffles broke out between far-right extremists and anarchists who held up banners denouncing nationalism.
Greece has blocked Macedonian efforts to join the European Union and NATO because of the name dispute.
But United Nations negotiator Matthew Nimetz said last week he is “very hopeful” a settlement is near.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tells the Ethnos newspaper “If there is an opportunity for a solution, it would be a national stupidity not to make good use of it.”
The country of Macedonia is officially known at the U.N. as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM for short.
Sputnik News radio program ‘Trendstorm’ with Andrew Korybko, examined the issue of FYROM’s use of the name ‘Macedonia’, which has long been an obstacle to its membership in NATO and the EU, and might finally be resolved this year as Skopje and Athens signaled their desire to end the stalemate as soon as possible.
Journalist Marija Kotovska and Alex Christoforou from The Duran, joined the debate on Trendstorm.
The name issue has many historical nuances that incite impassioned responses from both sides, but the geopolitical relevance of all of this to the present day is that the two countries are now very serious about resolving this dispute and consequently paving the way for Macedonia’s accelerated membership into NATO and the EU, provided of course that they can surmount this major obstacle. Macedonia’s new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has vowed to implement a solution in the near future, and while Greece is more than happy to see its northern neighbor seriously consider a compromise name and essentially disown its entire identity, some nationalist voices are insistent that the word “Macedonia” not be used at all. It’s already going to be a gargantuan task for Zaev to convince his electorate to approve of any other name besides the existing constitutional one of the Republic of Macedonia in any presumably forthcoming referendum, so potentially setting the prerequisite that this word can’t be used will probably make it impossible for him to push ahead with this by any democratic measures.
Nevertheless, Greece is increasingly insistent that this be the case, thus inadvertently throwing a monkey wrench into the US’ plans to speedily incorporate Macedonia — or whatever else it might be legally called by the time everything is said and done — into the two blocs. While the tiny landlocked country might in and of itself not appear too important to outside observers, it represents the latest step in NATO and the EU’s efforts to expand into the final continental frontier of the Balkans.