In an indication of the intensified opposition in northern Greece to the country’s recent name deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of the Macedonia (FYROM), protesters on Friday heckled Shipping Minister Panayiotis Kouroublis in Serres.
Kouroublis, who was visiting the northern city to mark the 105th anniversary of its liberation from occupying Turks, was jeered by a group of protesters as he was laying a wreath at a monument in the city’s main square.
The protest did not appear to be an organized one, with lone demonstrators calling Kouroublis a traitor over the compromise on FYROM’s name.
In comments shortly after the incident, Kouroublis defended the accord, saying, “It gives us a lot of things that we have been asking for all these years,” and claiming that it makes Greece “a dominant force in the Balkans.”
“We all love our country and I believe that this patriotism involves the notion of peaceful coexistence with all nations,” he added.
The incident in Serres came just days after protests against the Macedonia name deal in Thessaloniki turned violent.
Many MPs in northern Greece appear to be avoiding public appearances for fear of running into criticism over the accord from the people.
For instance, Deputy Minister for Macedonia-Thrace Maria Kollia-Tsaroucha, who is an MP with junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) in Serres, did not attend Friday’s event marking the city’s liberation from the Turks, prompting the government to dispatch Kouroublis, who does not hail from the region of Macedonia, to cover her absence.
The protests against the name deal are not restricted to the country’s north. On Thursday evening, a group of demonstrators heckled government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos outside a SYRIZA event in Paiania, eastern Attica.
Despite strong public opposition, Greek government officials have insisted that the accord will pass through Parliament. It must also gain formal approve in FYROM though, and there is opposition there too.
FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has put on a brave face following a decision by European Union foreign ministers to postpone accession talks until next summer.
Yesterday Zaev met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said the country could start membership talks with the alliance once the name deal is formally approved.
Zaev, for his part, appealed to citizens of his country to back the accord in a referendum expected in September. “We should join forces and say ‘yes’ to our future,” he said.