Even though the leftist-led government has publicly sought to downplay the significance of Sunday’s “Macedonia” demonstration in Athens, several party officials have reportedly acknowledged in private conversations that its sheer size is simply too hard to ignore.
Although estimates about the size of the demonstration varied between 120,000 and a million, it is considered one of the biggest in recent years.
Analysts have suggested the rally, which was staged to express opposition to a deal that will allow the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to use the term “Macedonia” in its name, could have a bearing on the government’s negotiations with Skopje.
However, according to statements emanating from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s office, the political fallout from the demo is manageable and will not impact Athens’s stance on the issue.
Furthermore, the premier’s office has insisted that those in attendance were significantly fewer than the “overwhelming majority of the Greek people who watched it on TV,” implying that those who did not show up gave their tacit approval of the government’s stance on the issue.
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told Euronews on Monday that the rally “wasn’t as large as organizers anticipated,” and claimed it was attended by supporters of the center-right, right and extreme-right, and the Church. Therefore, he added, it wasn’t the big deal that opposition New Democracy is making it out to be and said it won’t change the government’s stance.
But Kathimerini understands that the government’s narrative is doing very little to allay the concerns of several lawmakers as they begin to feel the heat from their constituents.
Athens has so far pursued the solution of a composite name, including the term “Macedonia,” on the condition that the tiny Balkan state does away with articles in its constitution and rhetoric that could spark irredentist claims to the northern Greek province of Macedonia.
The government has also sought to downplay the stance of junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL), which has repeatedly expressed its opposition to a deal including the term “Macedonia.” ANEL leader Panos Kammenos tweeted on Sunday that the demo expressed “the soul of the Greek people, regardless of party affiliation, that no one should disrespect.”