Church backs ‘Macedonia’ rally as name talks edge forward

Church backs ‘Macedonia’ rally as name talks edge forward

As the United Nations mediator in the “Macedonia” name dispute left Athens for Skopje on Tuesday, Archbishop Ieronymos shifted stance and said that the Church of Greece will join a major rally scheduled for Sunday in Athens to protest the use of the term “Macedonia” in any agreement. 

Bishop Dorotheos of Syros, who is the vice president of the Holy Synod, is to join rally organizers on a stage in Syntagma Square on Sunday along with the bishops of Drama and Chios, it was announced on Tuesday. 

Having originally spoken out against protest rallies following talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the “Macedonia” issue, Ieronymos changed position – apparently under pressure from clerics and a large section of the public – and said the Church would support the demonstration as long as it was peaceful. 

The clerics’ presence on Sunday will underline the Holy Synod’s rejection of the use of the term “Macedonia” in any solution to the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. 

In comments in Athens on Tuesday, UN mediator Matthew Nimetz said it was “time for decision-making.” “We’ve been discussing these things for 25 years, everyone knows what the issues are,” he said. “I think there is a momentum here and we should seize the momentum.” 

“I know the [Greek] government is very sincere and energized to reach a solution to the problem,” Nimetz added, saying that he believed there was also the will for a settlement in Skopje. Sources in Skopje on Tuesday indicated that it had already shown good will and expected to see it reciprocated. 

In an interview with state television late Monday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias reiterated that Athens is seeking a composite solution to the name dispute with an important clarification. “What matters is that the word used in a composite name is not in English, but in Slavic,” he said.

He also stressed that Athens wants to see changes to FYROM’s constitution, though he recognized that it will need the support of the opposition to achieve this.

Meanwhile there are concerns about the Greek government’s junior partner Independent Greeks (ANEL) which is maintaining a different stance to that being followed by Kotzias. 

The differentiated stance of ANEL has fueled speculation about it quitting the government but ANEL leader Panos Kammenos has insisted this will not happen. 

Separately, former socialist prime minister Costas Simitis said a solution was “a precondition for Greece’s prosperity” and called for a “serious and responsible negotiation” without resorting to populism.

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