Anthimos’s ‘meeting’

The self-styled «Macedonian warriors» have girded their loins for the fight but for the moment their message, coming mainly from the Thessaloniki Diocese, does not appear to be getting through to the majority of the population in northern Greece. The people there are certainly sensitive over the name issue but have been persuaded that hot tempers will do nothing to help the current critical phase of the talks. That stance is not only due to the unwillingness of the political parties, apart from LAOS, to consent to holding rallies. Experience has shown, particularly after the impressive protests of 1992, that the outcome is rarely encouraging, as it is now clear to nearly everyone that they harmed rather than helped the efforts of the then government in its tug of war with Skopje. Moreover, the participation of over a million people in those rallies has raised the bar too high. In trying to repeat the exercise, the organizers will have to consider the repercussions a poor turnout will have on the government’s marathon talks. Of course that does not seem to concern those in Thessaloniki who are currently engaged in organizing rallies, led by Bishop Anthimos who has been making incendiary speeches and encouraging the faithful and patriots to take part in Wednesday’s meeting at the city’s Palais de Sport. The official organizer of the meeting (the word «rally» is not being used to avoid comparisons with the 1992 event) is the Macedonian Struggle Committee, consisting of groups such as «Makendos,» and Macedonian associations from the US and Canada. However it is common knowledge that it is the bishop himself who is pulling the strings. He appears to be ignoring discreet suggestions from leading politicians and intellectuals to lower his tone. The head of the Macedonian Studies Society, Nikos Mertzos, appears to believe that holding rallies is pointless and even damaging to the government’s handling of the issue. The same view is held by other prominent citizens who have shown they are nevertheless not short of patriotic sentiment. They include Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos and the region’s prefect, Panayiotis Psomiadis, who has said, «We should let the government do its job.» However, the prefect might just attend on Wednesday – as it has been called a meeting rather than a rally – since Anthimos has shown himself to be a good source of votes. Still, the ND deputies said they will obey orders to stay away from rallies. Barring surprises, they will not attend the LAOS demonstration on Thessaloniki’s waterfront.

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