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Thessaloniki rally (1): Political Background

Featured Thessaloniki rally (1): Political Background

The rally that took place in Thessaloniki on Sunday, against the use of the word Macedonia in the name being discussed for FYROM, came as a shock to the government, as well as opposition parties, and even the Church of Greece, mostly because of participation by perhaps hundreds of theousands of citizens, despite no party involvement.

 

The rally gathered far more citizens than had been expected, by political pundits, posing questions of political strategy as well as tactics on the FYROM name issue, which has been pending for 28 years and which the Greek government has tried to "resolve" within the last weeks.

 Political background

The rally was called by forces outside the official political spectrum and most of the mainstream media, in response to efforts by the government to wrap up the FYROM name issue, using some form of adjective in conjunction with the “geographical term” Macedonia, ahead of NATO review in the summer over FYROM's joining the alliance.

For days before the rally, the pro-government media and members of SYRIZA, the senior partner in the governing coalition had been deriding the rally and trying to thwart participation by claiming that those behind the organizing of the rally was the work of religiously fanatical, extreme right-wing, fascist, or even marginal individuals.

In an effort to mitigate the Church's influence in mobilizing people Prime Minister Tsipras met with current Archbishop Ieronymos II. The Church had had tremendous influence, under the late Archbishop Christodoulos, in similar rallies in 1992.

This drew the ire of the opposition as the meeting took place after Tsipras' meeting with his FYROM counterpart, but before he briefed them on the meeting.

Not only did the PM not brief opposition leaders, he did not even brief the President of the Republic. Instead the Archbishop visited the President after his meeting with Tsipras, one believes, to brief him. Ieronymos also went public, after his meeting with Tsipras, against demonstrations and rallies, something which Tsipras felt would dissuade various hierarchs that had expressed public opposition to the use of “Macedonia” from encouraging parishes to participate.

On the other side of the coin, Independent Greeks (ANEL), a right wing party with nationalist tones, and the junior partner in the governing coalition, had taken a resolute stance against any use of the term Macedonia in FYROM's name. This as can easily be imagined threatens the stability of the government and could prove its undoing if it came to a vote in parliament.

 

Since Tsipras and the government have been keeping quiet about what they have been discussing with FYROM, opposition parties were hesitant to take a resolute stance either in favor or against the use of Macedonia in the name. Instead, they centered criticism on the “secret diplomacy” being waged by the government, and the behind-the-scenes dealings with the church. 

Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party, under Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has tried to impress a liberal visage on his right wing party, and in doing so has also tried to distance himself from dealings with anything that could be used as an excuse by detractors to the left of the party to accuse it of nationalism, reaction to change, and ties with the country's more authoritarian past. 

At the same time, a coalition of centrist/centrist-left parties under the temporary umbrella called “Movement for Change” (KINA), although cautious to make statements, is in principle aligned with SYRIZA's efforts to find a solution that will include the term “Macedonia.” The umbrella party, in large part stems from PASOK, which under the leadership of the emblematic and extremely popular Andreas Papandreou had categorically refused any use of the term Macedonia. 

In the efforts to distance themselves from its PASOK past, which many feel was responsible for the condition of Greece's economy, the leaders of the components of KINA have espoused what they believe are “enlightened liberal, progressive European ideas,” in essence turning their backs on the more traditional, patriotic components of the electorate that had supported PASOK, through two decades of rule. 

The small Centrist Union party, headed by Vasilis Leventis, from the very beginning were vehemently against the use of the term Macedonia, and openly supported the rally. 

The Communist Party (KKE) had from the beginning taken a more patriotic and clear stance, despite distancing itself from the rally. Despite having advocated the formation of a separate “Macedonian state” during the Greek Civil War, and for some time afterward, the KKE has stressed that a guarantee of mutual borders, and an end to the neighboring state's irredentist claims, before any resolution to the name issue, urging much caution at the same time. 

As could be expected, extreme right-wing/neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (GD) was also outspoken against government designs, and in favor of the rally. However, their support, counted against the participation of many who saw the party (currently on trial for being a criminal organization) as besmirching the patriotic principles behind the rally.

For ND and KINA staying on the fence, whether keeping quiet, or denouncing the rally in Thessaloniki, there were also intraparty, as well as tactical political considerations. They can hardly afford to distance more traditional, patriotic voters. At the same time, they would very much like to see the governing coalition crumble, if there is to be a vote on sanctioning the government's efforts at resolving the issue, or sanctioning a possible name resolution. This would open the doors for premature elections and the fall of SYRIZA from the government.