Mass Protest in Thessaloniki: The Day After

Our national poet [Dionysios Solomos] once said, “Nestle Hellas inside your soul—and you will feel within yourself a yearn for every form of grandeur.” This grandeur manifested itself strongly during the massive rally in Thessaloniki last Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of Greek people, not only from Macedonia but also from every other corner of Greece, followed the poet’s prompting. Their impressive turnout sent clear messages in every direction. Not only did they pay the due tribute to the heroes and heroines who fought and fell for the cause of liberating our Macedonia and keeping it free, not only did they declare to the utmost corners of the world that the Greeks do not want the name of Skopje to include the word “Macedonia,” but at the same time they gave a resounding slap in the face of ND [New Democracy, the major opposition party], Archbishop Ieronymos, and Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki (although he’d had a change of heart in the meantime), who had urged ND voters and all citizens in general to stay away from the protest.

Moreover, the Greeks demonstrated that they had embraced in their hearts and, consequently, obeyed one more command—that of our wise ancestor [Socrates] urging us to hold our homeland “in higher esteem.” Unlike some politicians and their cronies, the protesters made plain that they themselves were indeed “men of understanding.”

The echo of the rally has died away, though. Reality is forcing us to accept that the state of affairs is now different. The government and the rest of the political spectrum are obliged to act accordingly—with the only exception of Golden Dawn, of course, whose views have always been clear on the name issue.

First of all, it has become perfectly evident that the popular will is in full disagreement with the inert and even treacherous attitude of both the present Greek government and the previous ones, and the attitude of most political parties, which accept a compound name. The will of the people gives the Greek government an important weapon to use in order to exert more pressure not only on Skopje but also on the U.S. (given that the U.S. has been pushing our neighbours to join NATO as soon as possible for reasons analysed already). It is worth noting that American politicians attach great importance to public opinion and they highly respect it. The Greek government must therefore declare that it cannot possibly negotiate without taking into account the popular will, cannot act in a way that would harm our national interests.

It must point out to the U.S. that Skopje should be requested to remove all irredentist articles from their country’s constitution and proceed to the negotiations with a new name proposal that will not include the term “Macedonia.” What this is going to be is not a concern of ours. We are not going to become Skopje’s “godparent” and propose a specific name ourselves. Let t h e m decide, and we will accept a name that does not allude to Macedonia in any way.

Furthermore, we should ask the U.S. government to give Mr Nimetz a “talking-to.” With the negotiations still going on, he had the audacity to provoke us and call the Skopjans “Macedonian” in an attempt to present us with a fait accompli or maybe put us under pressure, implying that this was the American point of view!

The Greek side should also call special attention to the fact that if it accepted a compound name, the angry reaction of the Greek people would throw our country into turmoil. The Greeks are not indifferent to our national issues as some of our politicians may have hinted. On the contrary, they are a very conscientious and dedicated nation. To cede the name of Macedonia would be considered an act of high treason. If the objection from the U.S. side is that, at present, the country at risk to be destabilised is Skopje, our answer should be that this is likely to happen because of the local ethnic Albanians, whom the Americans could easily “discipline”. By the same token and in order to avoid a diplomatic defeat, the only thing that the Greek government has to do is to use the right to veto, and deprive Skopje of any Atlantic and European prospect.

To prevent a negative outcome, the Greek side must declare that we are running out of patience and tolerance. Now it is Skopje’s turn to be pressured so as to show a spirit of pragmatism and accord. In the meantime, we can stand by and wait—and of course we should not accept to be compelled to speed up the process in order to have entered into an agreement by July this year when the NATO summit is due, aspiring to trumpet the accession of Skopje. Such a serious issue cannot be dealt with in a few months’ time and, much less, in disregard of the standpoint adopted by the overwhelming majority of the Greeks.

In conclusion, the diplomatic manoeuvres of the current Greek government could be sufficient; if they are carried out skilfully, they will solve the problem in a way that will serve our best interests. Our ancient ancestors would say, “Wait for the right time.” The opportunity has been provided by the Greek people themselves in the most unambiguous and emphatic way. We must not ignore them—and certainly not disappoint them.

Georgios Epitideios
Retired Army Lieutenant General
Member of the European Parliament
for the Popular Association “Golden Dawn”