On the Macedonia question in Greece

February 23, 2018

A massive right-wing demonstration in Athens earlier this month has raised an old political question revolving around Macedonia, the nation that declared independence following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but which has always been claimed by nationalists as part of Greece.

Following a demonstration in the city of Thessaloniki in January attended mainly by the hard-line right wing, the Athens demonstration on February 15 drew some 200,000 people according to independent estimates and 1.5 million according to its organizers. Police reported that some 300 buses brought demonstrators to Athens from various parts of Greece. Among the slogans heard on the loudspeakers of Syntagma Square, the large plaza in front of the country's parliament building, was: "Every Greek is Macedonian, and every Macedonian is Greek."

The claim that Macedonia must be absorbed by Greece is high on the agenda of the Greek right wing. The independent nation is not referred to in Greece by its name, the Republic of Macedonia, but as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." It is also commonly referred to as Skopje, after its capital city, a sign of disrespect for Macedonia's independence. Recently, Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras of the formerly left-wing SYRIZA initiated further discussions over disputed questions with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

Among the sponsors of the Athens protest were the Greek Orthodox Church, organizations of the far right, including the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, paramilitary organizations, the Independent Greeks (known as ANEL, and a coalition partner with SYRIZA in the Greek government) and television channels. Also supporting the demonstration in Athens was Greece's main center-right party New Democracy and the main opposition to SYRIZA in parliament. New Democracy formally remains open to the possibility of a compromise on the name, as has been demanded by NATO and the European Union (EU), but it also has an interest in building a nationalist current of opposition against Tsipras.

Tsipras and SYRIZA have overseen the imposition of drastic austerity and economic crisis under the conditions of the Memorandums--agreements with the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary that exacted harsh measures in return for debt relief.

Sadly, however, voices of the left-wing opposition to SYRIZA joined the nationalist agitation over Macedonia. Former Speaker of Parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou supported the call for the Athens rally, as did famed singer and songwriter Mikis Theodorakis, a radical opponent of Greece's military dictatorship of the 1970s and a member of parliament representing the Greek Communist Party in the 1980s. Tellingly, Golden Dawn praised Theodorakis' participation. On the other hand, Manolis Glezos, a well-known figure of the anti-Nazi resistance during the Second World War, refused to call for this nationalist mobilization.

Here, we publish a statement of the Internationalist Workers Left and Red Network on the Macedonian question, which also appeared in French at the A l'encontre website.

CONCERNING THE recent developments in the Balkans, DEA and the Red Network state the following:

1. The background to understand recent events is the initiative of the U.S., NATO and the European Union (EU) to impose a new stability and dominance on the region by establishing a direct connection of all the countries with the major imperialist organizations. The time frame that has already been announced (the EU Summit in Sofia at the end of May and the NATO Summit at the end of June) highlights that the actors are moving at a fast pace to address the difficulties that Western imperialism is facing in the Middle East and the shift of Turkey in the direction of a rupture with NATO and the U.S.

Their objectives are the following:

To regulate relations between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia so that the Greek "veto" is withdrawn and the Republic of Macedonia can join NATO.

To regulate relations between Greece and Albania by canceling the state of war and agreeing to mutually acceptable Exclusive Economic Zones so that a closer military-diplomatic cooperation between the two countries can be achieved.

A massive nationalist demonstration in Athens's Syntagma Square
A massive nationalist demonstration in Athens's Syntagma Square

To consolidate stable military cooperation with Bulgaria in order to include this country in the Greece-Cyprus-Israel axis, with the obvious aim of encircling Turkey.

To magnify the pressure on Serbia so that it enters the EU and NATO.

These plans aren't limited to the military-diplomatic field, but extend to important initiatives in the economic field, like establishing new energy trade routes or connecting the port of Thessaloniki with central Europe and the Atlantic Ocean.

These plans are extremely dangerous. They lead toward a major reinforcement of imperialism in every country, and they are connected to the prospect of a tighter control of political and social life in the Balkan countries by the major imperialist powers of the West.

2. Greece is participating actively in these plans on its own initiative, connecting the search for a way out of the crisis with a further penetration of the Balkans and its rise as a local partner of the major Western governments and a sub-imperialist power in the region.

The Greek state, both its armed forces and its diplomatic wing, are taking up an important role of coordinating these plans--they are at the forefront of this effort.

Thus, the theory which claims that Greece is a "vassal state" has once again been proven wrong.

The necessary anti-imperialist struggle must be closely connected with the struggle to cancel the Memorandum and reverse austerity inside the country. This means it must be closely connected with the necessary anti-capitalist strategy.

3. In the political field, the government of SYRIZA and ANEL has taken up the task of implementing these plans. A government that is using the language and symbols of the left is trying to destroy the anti-imperialist tradition that was born out of the struggles against the military dictatorship and the years after its downfall in the 1970s. It is trying to destroy the links between anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, which were forged in the recent movement against the neoliberal capitalist globalization and the huge antiwar movement at the beginning of the 21st century.

After sinking into the swamp of the Third Memorandum, the government of Alexis Tsipras is seeking a means for its political rescue by taking up the role of NATO's strongman in the Balkans and by trying to convince the ruling class that it is the most "qualified" and ruthless political servant it can find.

A clear anti-government position is a must for the genuine radical left in the struggles and political initiatives of the period before us.

4. Concerning the relations with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia, we must state that any honest policy of peace and friendship should have, as a starting point, respect for simple democratic principles, including the right to self-determination. The name of the neighboring country should be left to the unobstructed will of its people to decide.

Until today, the "name question" was a vehicle for the Greek state to intervene in the neighboring country, in order to turn it into an economic and political "satellite." This strategy included war threats--let's remind ourselves of previous rallies that were organized under the slogan: "There is only one solution: Move the border line to Serbia"--plus periods of financial blockade and political-diplomatic isolation, which led the neighboring country to an existential crisis of viability as a united state.

Today, the "name question" is the battering ram to enforce the signing of a deal that will turn the neighboring country into a western canton, where Greek capitalists will enjoy political and economic primacy.

In order to serve the idea of a greater Greek nation, there is an ideological and political manipulation of history underway. We must remember that the same was done to serve this same purpose during the explosion of nationalism in the Balkans after 1910. Back then, the working class and the poor popular classes paid a heavy price in blood during the years-long wars that followed.

The left should not take into account ambiguous interpretations of history or even more ambiguous theories about the origins of nations when it considers the principles that will serve as a foundation for its policies and proposals. These principles should start from the non-negotiable defense of peace, the rejection of any territorial claims and annexations, the acceptance of the right to self-determination and the support for minority rights.

5. The policy of the SYRIZA-ANEL government, which reflects the overall strategy of the Greek ruling class, by constantly raising demands towards the neighboring country, is paving the way for the recent outburst of nationalist rallies.

During the rally in Thessaloniki, we have witnessed the nationalist far right taking the initiative. We have seen a strong presence of the neo-Nazis from Golden Dawn, taking part in the most provocative and dangerous way.

In the rally in Athens, the right-wing New Democracy party is trying to incorporate far-right protest over the "name question" by actually taking responsibility for organizing them. The presence of Mikis Theodorakis in this nationalist circus is a great gift to the right--for the second time in his lifetime, following his support for the government of right-wing Konstantinos Mitsotakis that started the neoliberal offensive in Greece in the early 1990s.

This is a very serious threat.

The far right and the traditional right are trying to divert popular anger and despair created by austerity toward nationalist hatred.

With help from the church and important parts of the state-machinery, they are managing to mobilize large numbers of people, although they are still falling sort of the massive nationalist rallies of the 1990s.

The left should stand firm against this prospect. We should constantly reveal the dangerous character of these rallies and emphasize the potential that they create for the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn. We should wage a struggle in all organizations of the workers movement, and talk to everyone we can individually in order to prevent participation in these rallies and isolate their organizers.

We should denounce New Democracy and the organized far right, without downplaying responsibilities of the SYRIZA government that is paving their way. We should counterpose an independent policy of the radical left--a policy of peace, collaboration and friendship in the Balkans, and confrontation with the imperialists, which insists on the struggle for socialist emancipation.

6. In the coming period, we need to organize our own rallies and protests to demand cancelation of the Memorandums, the reversal of austerity and a break with imperialist powers, including the EU and NATO. Organizing toward this goal is urgent and presupposes unity in action and political struggle among all the forces of the radical, anti-austerity, anti-capitalist left.

- No to NATO's imperialist "solutions" in the Balkans. Withdraw from NATO now, shut down the military bases, no to armaments and military expenditures.
-- A policy of peace and collaboration, based on democratic principles, toward all neighboring countries. The peoples of Balkans are our brothers and sisters.
-- No to hate-filled rallies opf the right. No to nationalism, the far right and racism. Solidarity with the refugees and immigrants.
-- No to the governmental policy of Memorandums, brutal austerity and lining up with imperialism.
-- Unity in action of the radical, anti-Memorandum, anti-capitalist left.

First published in French at A l'encontre.

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