Muslim Times(Web Desk) -Thousands of people in Greece have rallied in the main cities of the country to protest against an imminent deal with neighboring Macedonia, which they believe disregards their reservation about a decades-old name dispute with Skopje.
Protesters staged separate rallies in about 23 cities across Greece on Wednesday, holding banners that read “Macedonia is Greece,” and “Respect history.”
Macedonia and Greece have been holding talks to resolve a 27-year-old dispute over the use by the former Yugoslav republic of the name Macedonia, which Athens says implies a territorial claim because its northern province has the same name.
Greece’s left-wing government has proposed agreeing to a composite name for its neighbor that would include the word Macedonia but ensure a clear differentiation from the Greek province.
Last week, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said negotiations with Greece to resolve the long-running row over the name were in “the final stages.”
The Wednesday protests in Greece were organized by a committee backed by the Greek diaspora, clerics, and local officials, with the main rally held in Pella City, the historical capital of the ancient Macedonian kingdom and the birthplace of Alexander the Great.
The Greek protesters said the use of the name “Macedonia” by Skopje would be unacceptable and that a referendum had to be held to address the concerns of the Greek people about the matter.
“We don’t wish to be responsible for baptizing the country next door,” said Mihalis Patsikas, an organizer of rallies in the northern Greek province of Macedonia. “But they’re claiming our name, Macedonia, and any name containing that term is unacceptable. Is someone threatening us? Let our government tell us. We the people will face that threat. We won’t give in. Greeks have always fought back.”
Athens believes that a compromise could include a compound name with a geographical or chronological qualifier, and would have to be the only name used for the neighboring country domestically and internationally.
After months of negotiations, the list of names has narrowed down to “New Macedonia,” “Northern Macedonia,” and “Upper Macedonia.”
Several protest rallies have been staged in Greece and Macedonia in recent months against the compromise solution.
On Saturday, thousands of supporters of Macedonia’s biggest opposition party took to the streets of the capital, Skopje, to protest against plans to change their country’s name.
The Macedonian protesters — estimated to be around 20,000 — said their government had yielded by discussing a possible new name for the country with neighboring Greece.
The name row has hampered Macedonia’s hopes of joining the European Union (EU) and NATO, as Greece has the power to veto its membership bid.