In an interview with Avgi Sunday newspaper (29.1.2018, Our history cannot be stollen) Mayor of Thessaloniki Yiannis Boutaris talks about the recent demonstration in Thessaloniki, its slogans, Macedonia as a geographical region, FYROM and the possible resolution of the country's name issue*:
“There is only one, single, Greek Macedonia” was the predominant slogan at the demonstration in Thessaloniki (21.1.2018) and most likely at the upcoming one in Athens. How would you characterize it?
It is an utterly aggressive slogan
Why would that be?
For the reason that Macedonia is a geographical region which begins in southwestern Bulgaria and ends up in southeastern Albania and in the Aegean; it stretches from Mount Olympus as far as Nis (Serbia) and as far as Skopje (FYROM). Thus, if we who have about 50% of this geographical region assert that “Macedonia is one and it is Greek” then we are essentially laying claim to the land belonging not only to FYROM but to our other two neighbouring countries as well. It is as if we are disputing existing borders, sending our neighbours the message that “we are reclaiming these lands you’ve taken away from us”.
Has it troubled you that the demonstration in Thessaloniki, which was organized by specific extreme circles, was so massive?
No, it hasn’t; it makes me sad though that the picture it conveyed is reminiscent of theocratic authoritarian regimes, the only places where clerics partake in the development of foreign policy. We witnessed a retired general, essentially a caricature of Papadopoulos (leader of the military coup-d’etat and regime that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974) in ostensibly national-patriotic frenzy, a clerical crowd fantasizing of becoming national resistance heroes and various other moronic shenanigans (where some came dressed as fighters of the Macedonian struggle, some sported ancient Greek warrior helmets, others wore Pontian-Greek costumes, whilst some came on horseback etc).
It was a national-patriotic fiesta, in which it is wrongly said that only grass roots were involved: Apostolos Tzitzikostas (Governor of the region of Central Macedonia), Stavros Kalafatis (New Democracy MP for Thessaloniki) and a number of mayors are not exactly grass roots. And what was this whole festival about? Do any of them believe that our country's borders are actually at risk from FYROM?
They say it’s in defense of our history...
But history cannot be stolen, and that is evident in that the roughly 130 or 140 countries which have recognized FYROM as "Macedonia" have not espoused the ahistorical pretensions to being descendants of Alexander the Great as claimed by Gruevski. Moreover, the Slavs descended to the area around mid 5th century; what business would they have with Alexander the Great who was born in 356 BC? This propaganda is foolish which is why it has not been espoused by anyone around the world. You do not defend history like this, with demonstrations, but with academic papers, scientific conferences, international promotion etc.
Are those partaking in gatherings involving extreme nationalism blameless?
Yes they are. Because since 1992, aided by the wrong policy of (then Foreign Minister) Antonis Samaras who espoused the slogan "Macedonia is one and Greek", the matter simply festered. And the political leaderships from then till now, instead of earnestly and resolutely informing the people about this issue and its various aspects, led them into thinking that our borders are under threat from Skopje.
There was a lot of misinformation beyond that concerning the Macedonian issue. Pardon me, but who inside and outside Greece doubts that the Macedonia we are living in is Greek? Does any person or politician seriously believe that Skopje will attack us?
We were all informed of the names proposed by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz for the resolution of the issue. Do you consider any of these as a possible commonly accepted solution?
For me the proper name is "New Macedonia". This is because "Upper Macedonia" or "Northern Macedonia" do not indicate that this is a new country. FYROM is a new country, inhabited mainly by Slavs and Albanians, and what it is after, in my opinion, is identity. Let us not forget that the Slavic element is of Bulgarian origin. Tito, the former longtime leader of Yugoslavia, is responsible for this mess as he tried to make them see themselves as "Macedonians" and not Bulgarians, in order to serve his own geopolitical interests.
As far as their language is concerned, I would like to point out that Captain Kottta, one of the great figures of the Macedonian struggle, was known to speak Slavic rather than Greek. I grew up hearing elderly folk saying "the Bulgarian villages below speak Macedonian". That was the perception in the 1950s, and I grew up with that in a region which had settled borders by then.
Do you think the timing is right for the resolution of the name issue?
In my opinion, the only person who can solve this problem is PM Tsipras and he can go down in history with that. I hope for a resolution, but I cannot anticipate the conclusion to this negotiation.
*Τranslation: Magda Hatzopoulos
Read more about FYROM's name issue via the Hellenic Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website