At least 1.4 lakh Greeks gathered in the main square of Athens on Sunday to protest against its neighbouring country using the word “Macedonia” in its name.
The country is officially called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but Macedonia is also a region in Northern Greece. A majority of Greeks feel that the use of the name implies territorial claims on its own province, AP reported.
The rally comes after Greece and the Republic of Macedonia began talks mediated by the United Nations in January to settle a row that has dragged on for 25 years, The New York Times reported.
On Sunday, the demonstrators carried Greek flags and shouted “hands off Macedonia” and “Macedonia is Greece”, the BBC reported. Protestors came from across Greece in buses, and some of them were dressed as the warrior king Alexander The Great, who was believed to belong to the Macedonian region. Thousands of police officers were deployed at the square.
The protests seem to have gained traction after Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who is representing Athens in the talks, said he expected the dispute to be resolved within months, the BBC report said. Last week, Kotzias received death threats in an email, according to The New York Times.
The dispute over ‘Macedonia’
The dispute over the name began in 1991, after Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia. While most Greeks call Macedonia Skopje – the name of its Capital – officials in Skopje maintain that their country has been known as Macedonia for years.
Macedonia has also said that its people, too, can be traced back to the ancient Macedon kingdom, the BBC reported.
The left-wing government in Greece has called the subject a diplomatic obstacle. It has proposed a composite name that would include the word Macedonia, but also ensure that it is clearly differentiated from the Greek region.
Greece has used the row over the name to block Macedonia’s attempts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.