Following Sunday’s big rally in Thessaloniki, as expected, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos confirmed the SYRIZA-led administration’s determination to continue talks for a solution to the name row with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
After all, there is the upcoming meeting between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and UN mediator Matthew Nimetz’s visits to Athens and Skopje. It would be unreasonable for the Greek government to stop the efforts, to backpedal on its likely commitments toward the Americans and the Europeans, and to assume responsibility for the failure. Doing so would be disastrous.
However, the turnout at the rally, the makeup of the organizers and the reactions it triggered confirm – or in some cases expose – certain realities:
- The government’s effort to exploit the “Macedonia” issue for domestic purposes took a dangerous turn, a risk highlighted by the resolution that the rally organizers voted on. In the history of the Greek state, the consequences have been catastrophic whenever foreign policy has been shaped by the forces of populism.
- The Church continues to have leverage over Greek politics and in influencing people’s attitudes.
- A new factor is the use of the armies of diehard soccer fans to exert political pressure, and the controversial part played by certain club owners.
- It was again demonstrated that responsibility for the country’s defense is assigned to unsuitable persons or persons with questionable beliefs.
- The rally served as a hotbed for the birth of a new populist far-right party.
- The rally exposed the internal contradictions of New Democracy and its fear of being overtaken from further right on the political spectrum. The conservatives informally endorsed the rally before it was held, they actively participated in it, and embraced the outcome.
- The mentality of Greek society (which sadly also includes fascist elements) is changing at a very slow pace (if at all) and those who think otherwise are deluding themselves. People with a more informed and rational approach are a scant minority.
The above conclusions do not suggest that the other side, FYROM, is in the right, or that it is driven by benign intentions toward Greece. There are no such indications and any Greek administration, together with the responsible authorities and the political class in general, should take a cautious approach to negotiations in order to safeguard the country’s interests. Responsibility lies with the political officials, not the rallies organized by reckless populists.