ATHENS – Tempers have frayed in an ongoing debate in the Greek parliament on Friday ahead of a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras over a provisional deal reached with its northern neighbor to settle a long-standing conflict over the latter’s name amid an exalted, nationalistic climate and widespread street protests.
Members of Greece’s lone legislative chamber fiercely attacked Tsipras, of the left-wing SYRIZA coalition, for having brokered a deal with the country, known until now as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, that would see it adopt the new name of “Republic of Northern Macedonia,” which Greek nationalists and irredentists still see as an affront to their ancient heritage going back to the times of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC).
“I call on the country’s military leadership to respect its oath: to arrest Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, (Defense Minister) Panos Kammenos and (President) Prokopis Pavlopoulos in order to prevent this treason!” said Konstantinos Barbarousis of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party before stunned lawmakers.
“Your heads in Prespes!” he added, in reference to the lake near the homonymous border town where the final agreement is excepted to be formally signed.
The ultranationalist far-right party’s open call for a violent coup d’etat was met with a temporary ban from all parliamentary sessions related to the no-confidence vote by the chamber’s speaker, Nikos Voutsis.
Meanwhile, several jingoistic platforms calling for “only one Greek Macedonia” have organized further protests for Friday afternoon and the following days at Athens’ iconic Syntagma (“Constitution”) Square, located in front of the Old Royal Palace that houses the parliament, as well as near Lake Prespes, in Skopje and in Thessaloniki, the capital of the Greek region of Macedonia and the country’s second-biggest city.
“Set Fire to the Parliament,” “Fatherland, People, Nationalism” and “Macedonia Is Only Greek,” were some of the slogans written on protest signs in Friday morning’s demonstration at Syntagma, which saw a low attendance, many blue-and-white Greek flags and a few scuffles with riot police.
The deal reached on Tuesday between Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, has not only enraged the most nationalistic sectors of Greek politics, but also raised hackles amid the ranks of the conservative New Democracy (ND) party, which filed the no-confidence motion against the executive.
In the 1990s, then-PM and ND leader Konstantinos Mitsotakis showed a willingness to close a deal similar to the current one, but his efforts were sabotaged by a party faction led by Antonis Samaras, the then-foreign minister and later PM between 2012-15.
According to political analysts, Samaras was now again one of the main instigators behind the present boycott, although this time he was doing so discreetly, since he lacks a formal post within the party, which is currently led by Mitsotakis’ son, Kyriakos.
The younger Mitsotakis has decided to completely abandon the moderate approach taken by his father – which several ND heavyweights are still keen to retake – and is one of the most prominent hardliners on the Macedonia question.
SYRIZA’s government coalition partner, the national-conservative Independent Greeks (ANEL), have taken a clear stance of opposition to the deal but are forced to vote against the no-confidence vote in order to prevent their own government from collapsing.
In any case, the SYRIZA-ANEL alliance holds a majority of 155 seats out of the chamber’s 300, meaning that ND’s bid to oust Tsipras is extremely likely to fail, as it would need an absolute majority of votes in order to prosper.