A massive crowd of Greeks took part in the rally that took place in Melbourne yesterday, to protest the “sellout of Macedonia”, – that is the current negotiations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to reach a compromise on the long-standing name dispute.
Organised by a grass-root organisation called ‘Macedonia is Greek – Human Rights Group’, the rally did not get the support of the official Greek community organisations, with many community leaders dismissing the event as being hastily planned; Peter Jasonides, President of the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria distanced himself and the organisation from the “faceless” rally, calling for a more organised approach, which will be decided democratically, within the official community channels.
According to the organisers, however, the official numbers provided by Police estimated attendance at 4,000 to 5,000 people.
Some even reprimanded the organisers for their decision to meet at the Shrine of Remembrance for fear of violent incidents that might risk future use of the location for the Greek national holiday, a privilege long-enjoyed by the Greek community.
From there, protesters peacefully marched towards the Greek Consulate. The rally was peaceful with the exception of a few people (presumably FYROM nationals) who shouted anti-Greek slogans, but they were promptly removed by the police. Other than that, one could see many families, children dressed in traditional costumes and banners reading slogans against the use of the term ‘Macedonia’ by Greece’s northern neighbour.
MASSIVE TURNOUT IN THESSALONIKI
A few hours later in Thessaloniki, at least 20 times as many rallied on the city’s seafront, around the landmark White Tower and the statue of Alexander the Great.
Police estimated the size of the crowds at the rally at 90,000, however protest leaders claim that the actual number was far larger with more than 400,000 arriving from all over Greece, along with 1,300 coaches (police estimated the number of coaches at 284).
Some protesters were dressed in traditional costumes, other in army uniforms, some had their faces painted blue and white. All the opposition local MPs were present, as well as several other local lawmakers and officials of the regional government and members of the clergy.
Despite Archbishop Ieronymos having reportedly told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that “national unity is needed … (not) protests and shouts”, the local bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki was instrumental in organising the event, and being the first to address the massive crowd.
“Macedonia is Greece and Greece is Macedonia,” he said, deeming the impressive turnout as “an assertion of national faith.”
Apart from him, no public official was among the five keynote speakers. The best-known speaker was Fragoulis Frangos, a former chief of the Greek Army, who briefly served as Minister of Defence in the interim provisional government before the 2015 elections and is said to be harbouring political ambitions.
In his address, the retired general attacked Mayor Yannis Boutaris and business magnate George Soros, claiming that they are true employers of Mathew Nimetz, Special Envoy of United Nations for the ‘Macedonia’ name dispute.
Nimetz’s five proposals for a compromised solution, which would see a mutually accepted name for the small country, are the subject of negotiations between Greece and FYROM, with the Greek Prime Minister stating in an interview on Sunday that the term ‘Macedonia’ might be a component in the name.
His deputy PM, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos is vocally opposing this idea and all of the local MPs of his party, the far-right Independent Greeks were present at the rally. One of them, recently ousted Deputy Minister of Education, Kostas Zouraris was verbally abused and chased by protesters and had to be driven away.
It was one of the few violent incidents that took place, despite the presence of Golden Dawn supporters, sporting the Nazi party emblems and engaging in a fight with an anarchist group leading a counter-protest against Greek nationalism.