Sunday 20th January 2019 , for many a day of rest and recuperation, perhaps you went to see family, perhaps you stayed up until half twelve at night doing that prep due Monday the 21st January 2019. I imagine ,however, that few can boast that they were out protesting for the sake of cultural heritage in front of their capital’s governmental buildings. This was the case for over 10,000 greeks on Sunday who stood outside the governmental offices in Athens to oppose a deal with the country of Macedonia (formerly a part of Yugoslavia before declaring independence in 1991). The deal would have the country renamed North Macedonia, a far cry from the wish for many to have the name changed entirely as to not imply territorial ownership over the cultural and historical significance of the Greek region by the same name. In a recent poll it was found that around 70% of Greek citizens opposed this new deal.
The protest was organised by right-wing politicians that opposed the new deal proposed by the current left-wing government (who’s opinion polls have recently been found to be much lower than their right-wing counterparts.) and their president Mr. Tsipras, who only recently survived a vote of no confidence. The organises expected a rather large peaceful protest of 600,000 including many priests and conservative citizens, while police on the other hand only expected a diminished 60,000. Both were proven wrong ,however, as tens of thousands flocked to the capital from both those opposing the deal and those who defended it. While the protest started peacefully, the amount of people crammed into one street (many of whom opposed each other) eventually led to more violent protest and rioting to break out at around 3pm. This resulted in the once peaceful protest descending into a platform for violence by anarchists, radicalises and vandals. With the outbreak came police intervention, many of whom had to use tear-gas to prevent those with clubs, firebombs and other weapons from entering the parliament building. In the end 25 police men were wounded while 7 rioters were arrested.
Despite the protest and continual backlash from the Greek people, Tsipras continues to defend the proposition saying that it provides a clear distinction between the country and region. The deal also claims that the country of Macedonia can make no claim to ancient Macedonian heritage, a common point of contention among those who opposed Macedonia’s name. Alas, the debate still continues, with many wishing for a referendum for the Greek people. Tsipras himself has been criticised by his opposition of grossly neglecting the voice of the people during these heated times.
So what can we take away from this whole debacle, what can we learn? From an optimists view (such as my own) it speak wonders to the value placed by many on cultural heritage and history, in a world that is becoming more more distanced from its cultural heritage and the knowledge that can be gleamed from it. The subtle pessimist in me, however, does cry out to be heard. The violence seen is as an ominous reminder of the rapidly growing political tensions across the globe. Day by day we see more and more violent extremists (left and right) emerge from the rope tight tensions within the political climates of the world. And so I leave you with a useful reminder, if a bit cliche. All in moderation my friends.
By Oli Hurley