Greeks Protest to Defend Right to the Name ‘Macedonia’

The Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis sought to tap into that patriotism in a speech on Sunday outside the Parliament building in Syntagma Square. “There is only one Macedonia,” he told the crowd. “It was, is and will always be Greek.”

The home of the 92-year-old composer, widely revered for his resistance to the military dictatorship in Greece of 1967 to 1974, was defaced on Saturday, apparently by vandals protesting his planned participation at the rally.

The demonstrators on Sunday came from around the country, many arriving in the capital aboard hundreds of buses, or from the islands by ferry. Some wore traditional clothing, while others dressed as Alexander the Great, the ancient Greek warrior king whose realm was centered in the northern Greek region of Macedonia. Right-wing politicians and representatives of the Greek Orthodox clergy joined them in a sea of Greek flags.

Thousands of police officers were deployed to keep the peace, and the organizers also asked army veterans and reserves to prevent infiltration by anarchists staging a separate rally. In the afternoon, a small crowd of anarchists threw stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas, but the unrest was brief and isolated.


A small crowd of anarchists threw stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas, but the unrest was brief and isolated.

Yorgos Karahalis/Associated Press

Last month, Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, drew around 100,000 people to a protest on the issue of use of the Macedonian name. Both demonstrations were a far cry, however, from one held in 1992, a year after the Balkan state broke away from Yugoslavia and named itself Macedonia. On that day, a million Greeks packed the streets of Thessaloniki.

The breakaway country joined the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Since then, however, dozens of countries have routinely referred to the nation as Macedonia.

Negotiations between Athens and Skopje have become strained. After the United Nations’ special envoy in the dispute, Matthew Nimetz, indicated last week that Athens did not appear to be “denying the identity of the Macedonian people,” he received an angry call from Mr. Kotzias, the Greek foreign minister.

“I clearly and sternly stressed that it is not within his competence to talk about what Athens’ policy is, much less to describe it incorrectly,” Mr. Kotzias said in a statement on Saturday.

The talks have also contributed to a rift in Greece’s governing coalition, with the leftist prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, saying it is “not unreasonable” for the word Macedonia to be used in a compound name for the country. His coalition partner, Panos Kammenos, who leads the right-wing Independent Greeks party and who is defense minister, has insisted that the word Macedonia must not be part of the neighbor’s name. The powerful Greek Orthodox Church also opposes allowing the neighbor rights to the word.

Even if the two nations were to reach a compromise, Macedonian officials have indicated that they would like to submit the deal to a popular vote by means of a referendum. Should that be the case, Greece would come under domestic pressure to do the same, most likely producing a deadlock.

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