By Karolen Eid
ATHENS, Greece — Demonstrators gathered in front of the Hellenic Parliament on Friday to protest negotiations between the national governments of Greece and Macedonia, or what is known here by the awkward acronym of FYROM — the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The protest came in response to an accord between the two nations, set to be signed on June 17, that would change officially Macedonia’s name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia.
Hundreds of demonstrators carried Greek flags, sang anthems and chanted “Macedonia is Greek.” Vendors peddled bottles of water and “Macedonia is Greek” t-shirts. Police carried helmets and leaned on fences, observing the scene.
Many Greeks said they feared that the new name would leave the door open for Macedonia to claim territorial rights in the northern Greek province also named Macedonia. Others argued that Macedonia sought a new name that would continue to exploit ancient Greek history and culture.
“Macedonia was, is, and will be Greek,” said demonstrator Maria Tsimbouri. “[The name of] Macedonia has no connection with that country.”
Several demonstrators cited the history of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia, led by Alexander the Great, as evidence of the connection between the name Macedonia and Greek history and culture.
Tsimbouri, along with other demonstrators, accused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of appeasing Macedonia to gain financial support from the European Union in a time of economic trouble.
“They sold us out,” said Theodora Kortessa, a young protester carrying an umbrella and a history book, “They sell out Greek history so they can return economic benefits.” She predicted there would be an even bigger turnout at protests in following days.
Maria Kontogeorgakos, a demonstrator who was joined by her husband, Apostolos, and five of her 10 children, said that they had a religious duty to protect Greek territory.
“We have to do this because we have to say to God: We did something for our land,” she said. Several Greek Orthodox priests attended the demonstrations. Some waved Greek flags.
Kontogeorgakos said she recently tried to move her family to Germany, where they previously lived for three years. She blames Germany and other world powers for economic challenges facing Greece.
The atmosphere at the demonstration shifted from angry chanting to applause as members of the Presidential Guard approached the parliament building for the regular ritualistic changing of the guard. Demonstrator Eva Koukouzeli explained that, no matter how frustrated Greek citizens grow with their government, they will respect these symbols of the Greek national identity. “They are from the people,” she said, referring to the Presidential Guard members, who wear fanciful costumes featuring pleated skirts and oversized shoes with puffy black balls on the toes.
(This article was produced in conjunction with Princeton University’s Global Reporting initiative and overseen by Joe Stephens, Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton and a former investigative reporter for The Washington Post. Funding was provided by Princeton’s Ferris Seminars in journalism and the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies.)