Tens of thousands of Greeks gathered in Thessaloniki on Sunday to protest against the use of the name “Macedonia” in a solution to a dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Earlier in the day the Bishop of Thessaloniki Anthimos called on Greeks to join the rally which comes amid a new United Nations-buffered push for a solution on the name spat.
The rally drew around 90,000 people, according to police estimates. It was attended by politicians, members of Greek diaspora groups and some hard-line clerics. MPs of the extreme-right Golden Dawn also joined the protest.
Cretans in traditional costumes who travelled to the northern city for the protest, some with their horses, stood out in the crowd.
Some representatives of conservative New Democracy were also present despite indications by ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis that they should shun the event.
The rally, which started at 2 p.m. was mostly peaceful. But, shortly after 3 p.m. near central Thessaloniki, a group of protesters holding Greek and Macedonian flags approached a counter-rally by anarchists.
Some 50 anarchists responded to the overture but were pushed back by riot police. A brief exchange followed with anarchists throwing stones and the police firing with tear gas.
Although the turnout was larger than expected, with police estimates putting it at 90,000, the crowd was much smaller than a rally in 1992, when a similar name push got under way, and around one million people took to the streets.
The 1992 rally was backed by the Greek Orthodox Church which, however, distanced itself from Sunday’s demonstration, as a whole.
Last week Archbishop Ieronymos Prime Minister told Alexis Tsipras that “national unity is needed…not protests and cries.”
Tsipras, who is expected to meet with his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev in Davos next week, said in an interview published on Sunday that “it is not unreasonable to have the term ‘Macedonia’ included in a compound name, with either a geographical or a chronological qualifier, for all uses, to make absolutely clear that nobody claims other people’s land or history,” Tsipras was quoted as saying Ethnos newspaper.
Tsipras's junior coalition partner Panos Kammenos has insisted that the word “Macedonia” cannot be part of a solution to the name dispute.