Why clerical rage over the “Macedonian question” has modern roots


THE SPECTACLE of tear gas clouds swirling through Athens on January 20th was as bewildering to many outsiders as the passions behind the huge (and mostly peaceful) protest rally which went before. More bewildering still may have been the presence among the demonstrators of so many black-robed Greek Orthodox clergy.

What prompted the trouble was an internationally brokered compromise agreement over the name of Greece’s northern neighbour, a deal which the leftist government in Athens is now struggling to squeeze through parliament. After three decades of bitter diplomatic standoff, the neighbouring country agreed last June to change its name from the Republic of Macedonia to Northern Macedonia, while the Greek side formally promised to lift its objections to anybody except itself using any version of the M-word. The renamed country also promised to remove language from its constitution which might have implied territorial claims on Greece. The issue was pressing because Greece had said that without a resolution of the name issue, it would veto its neighbour’s admission to the European Union and NATO.

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