On Sunday January 21st 2018, about 70,000 people protested in Thessaloniki, Greece, against the Republic of Macedonia being called Macedonia. During the protest, fascists attacked two squats, burning down completely one of them (fortunately, noone was inside the squat). They also put a bomb to another squat the day before, causing only minor damages to the door. In the arson attack participated some fascist hooligans of PAOK FC, whose fans generally describe themselves as antifascists. Meanwhile, a counter-protest was taking place mainly by anarchists, and groups of fascists tried to attack them but they were literally rescued by the riot police. On Sunday February 4th 2018, about 120,000 people protested against Macedonia in Athens. During the protest, a counter-protest was taking place by anarchists and some left organisations, about 750 meters away from the antiMacedonian protest. A large group of fascists managed to break the lines of the riot police in order to attack the counter-protest but the counter-protest was already over by then. The fascists then had some minor clashes with the police to get into the Exarcheia neighbourhood, but only a few managed to and were beaten by antifascists. There, aside some minor conflicts between fascists and antifascists, there was also a police attack against leftists at the offices of the left party ANTARSYA (Front of the Greek Anticapitalist Left), but the cops were repeled. After the fascists’ failure to invade Exarcheia, they attacked the Theatre Embros squat, but they were repeled by the squaters.
The protest in Athens was much different than this in Thessaloniki. In both protests the Church and reserve military officers played central role, but in Athens the central organisers tried to make the protest as open as possible, beyond the traditional right-wing nationalists. As central speaker for the protest they chose the songwriter and music composer Mikis Theodorakis who, despite his turn to the right since the 90s, is still considered associated with the left due to his history and his ties with the stalinist Greek Communist Party. Some left nationalist parties and groups like LAE (Popular Unity) and the bordigist Engymo found enough mitigating evidence in this to participate in the protest. The organisers also condemed all fascist attacks both in Thessaloniki and in Athens, saying that they have no affiliations with Golden Dawn and other right-wing organisations, and with no political party in general. In the Athens’ protest also participated many political leaders like the former Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras (ND, New Democracy), Vasilis Leventis (president of Union of Centrists), Adonis Georgiadis (vice-president of ND) and Nikolaos Michaloliakos (general secretary of Golden Dawn).
In contrast to the 1992 protests against Macedonia, today’s protests are neither backed up by the state nor are they as massive. Since 1994, the thesis of the Greek state on the matter is that the two states must find an erga omnes compound name including the term “Macedonia” for the Republic of Macedonia, while the main organisers insist that the term must not be used, whether they state it clearly or not. Many political organisations participated in the Athens protest but not because they reject the term “Macedonia”. Some supported the protest speaking of some undefined and abstract irredentism on part of Macedonia, others viewed the protest as a chance to press the government for early elections, others as a tactical move to prevent Macedonia from joining NATO and EU, others made some abstract connections between the antiMacedonian protests and the antiMemoranda protests via the issue of national sovereignty. The Athens protest brought together many different nationalist notions and as a result the whole protest implode under its own weight. After the encounter of all these different interests and nationalist notions, many of which contradict each other, what could be a possible central demand for a future protest? An attempt to organise a similar protest in Patra, Greece failed due to disagreements among the organisers.
According to a poll survey by Kapa Research about the Athens protest, 54% of the protestors identify themselves as right-wing (of which 13% participated to the Greek indignados movement), 15% as left-wing (of which 45% participated to the indignados), 21% as centrists (of which 26% participated to the indignados), and 10% didn’t identify with any political milieu (of which 16% participated to the indignados). The 77% of the protestors were men and 72% of the protestors were over 45 years old. The 54% of the protestors voted “no” at the Greek referendum on 2015 and only 24% voted “yes”. Concerning the institution they most trust, the army is dominant with 64% of protestors responding “too much or enough”, the Church has attracted 55% of their confidence, while the parliament and the political parties are very low in their appreciation with negative responses lying between 85% and 93%.
The anarchist groups and most of the left groups didn’t participate in the protest. But many of those groups tried to make a connection between the antiMacedonian protests and the “Stay in Europe” protests that took place at the period around the 2015 Greek referendum. We read in a public announcement of ANTARSYA about the nationalist protest in Thessaloniki that “[t]hose who supported the protest supposedly in the context of ‘anti-Memorandum’ unfortunately showed a tolerance to fascists and the only thing they achieved is to go hand-in-hand with the supporters of ‘Stay in Europe’ and the neonazi criminals”. First of all, as the above survey shows, the majority of the antiMacedonia protestors voted “no” at the referendum, while the “Stay in Europe” were for “yes” fearing that “no” will inevitably lead to a Grexit. Secondly, which was exactly the “anti-Memorandum” context of the protest that some groups and parties “exploited” to “push the masses” to the embrace of neonazis? Is there a connection between the protest against Macedonia and issues like, say, the question of the wages or the pensions? The reference to the “antiMemorandum context” states clearly that the question of the capitalist restructuring doesn’t concern the Greek left in terms of the attack against the proletariat, but instead in terms of power distributions between nation-states. The only common element between the protest against Macedonia anti the “antiMemorandum context” are Greek national interests: on the one hand, “Skopje” want to take “Macedonia which is Greek”, and on the other hand, “the Germans” want to take “our poor little Greece”. National indepedence, for which the anti-imperialist left rip apart its clothes in the “antiMemorandum” stuggles, means nothing else but sovereignty and sovereign state. And it’s precisely the issue of sovereign state that Greek nationalism feels that it’s getting questioned by the name “Macedonia”, as it also has the illusion that Greece is a “debt colony”, or whichever fancy name it gives to the theories of dependence. Left nationalism may not attack immigrants like the neonazis (and, of course, this is no small difference) but, just like the neonazis, leads the proletariat to seek protection from the world-market’s tempest to the “seaport” of the nation-state. The connection between antiMacedonian protest and the mainly cosmopolitan, middle-class and petit-bourgeois protests of “Stay in Europe” (which hasn’t appeared again since the referendum) is an absurdity that only the anti-imperialists left can make. In the grotesque conditions we experience, some groups of the anti-imperialist left and of the anti-imperialist leninist self-proclaimed anarchists (in reality, more like neo-bolsheviks) claimed that the Greek veto on the term “Macedonia” isn’t necessary nationalist but a support to the Macedonian people against their integration in the “imperialist mechanisms of NATO and EU” and their further expansion in the Balkan area which would lead to new wars. Wars between who? They don’t give an answer to this question.
Of course, all this “nationalist fervor” –which is still sustained by the current confrontation with Turkey– can, and of course is, used by state and capital to escort the implementation of measures that further sustain the restructuring: first, dealing with the especially thorny issue of privitizations, the Syriza-Anel government passed laws these last weeks that further privatize ELLINIKA PETRELAIA (Hellenic Petroleum, the leading refinery enterprise) and the lignite extraction facilities of DEI (Public Electricity Entreprise). Secondly, faithful to its commitment to modernize the Greek state profile according to European requirement s, Syriza supports politically the contacts of the mayors of Athens and Thessaloniki with the Macedonian prime minister Zaev and the mayor of Skopje, Shilegov: a sign of this kind of capitalist internationalism with which the antinationalists/antifascists in Greece rarely deal with. Thirdly, on 25.4.2018, the CEO of DEI signed at Skopje the contract with which DEI acquires EDS, a Macedonian-based company that produces and distributes electric energy and has presence in several Balkan markets. Greek capital comes third as far as foreign invenstments to Macedonia are concerned. Generally speaking, although the position of Greek capital in the Balkans may have changed in the last 20 years, it still cannot be viewed by the lens of “dependence” in any absolute sense.
1. This is the final estimation given by the police. Their first estimation was 30,000 people. There have been many different estimations by the media, some even talking about 500,000 people. We think that 70,000 is more close to the reality having talked to comrades there.
2. A few months prior to these events, on 26 November 2017, hooligans of PAOK had also attacked Pakistani immigrants in the very centre of Athens. Pakistani immigrants were having a religious festive celebrating Muhammad’s birthday near a fan club of PAOK FC. The official version published by the media was that the immigrants thought that the PAOK fans were members of the Golden Dawn (both usually dress in black clothes) and so they attacked them, but this was never crosschecked. Whatever really happened, the result was that the hooligans broke the Pakistanis’ festive, and the clashes stopped only after the intervention of riot police. Even if the clashes were caused by a misunderstanding on the part of the immigrants, they probably could be prevented by the PAOK hooligans if they wanted to, but they didn’t. These events as well as the arson attack we mentioned before testify to the fact anti-squat and anti-immigrant attitudes reach the street level in a way that doesn’t need the cops’ cover as always did Golden Dawn the years before.
3. This points to the indirect way that Syriza government, and more generally a partly denationalized state like the Greek one, uses antifascism for its own purposes: as a symbolic counterweight to a nationalist demonstration it did not create and did not control
4. This number is the official estimation given by the police. The organisers of the protest were speaking of over 1.5 million people. Our estimation lies somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 people.
5. We have to add that the two demonstrations, in Thessaloniki and Athens, were not identical in terms of participation either. In Thessaloniki, social media contacts through participation to cultural associations, facebook groups, unions defending “Macedonia is Greek” etc as well as calls by football clubs, mayors throughout northern “greek macedonian” cities, the church etc can be identified as the initiators of the demonstration, later followed by parties coming from the whole political spectrum of the opposition. Conversely, the demonstration in Athens was the result of political agitation, mainly by far right groups and parties, rather than a social event. In both cases, though, the whole atmosphere resembled more to an “indignado” gathering, to a serious patriotic meeting, than to an expression of “fascist” attitudes
6. This failure to reignite the series of mass protests of 1992 designates the limits – and, to be clear, not the absence or the impossibility – of “nationalism from below” which are both structural and historical. Structural, because it cannot affirm itself exceeding the need to connect itself to a state. Historical, because, as Hobsbawm correctly stresses, nationalism changes its form and content throughout history and this can be shown to be true in the Greek case: as an important part of the proletariat are immigrants, nationalism cannot truly incorporate the whole of proletarian aspirations and therefore cannot express the social question as a whole. That’s why it is necessary for nationalism in our days to appear publicly as an expression of laicism, a privilege of “native citizens only”, with its racist component alive and kicking. How could it be otherwise in a denationalized state context when, additionally, the Greek state has a specific position in the European division of labour as far as “immigrant flows” are concerned?
7. The survey is unfortunately available only in Greek:
8. The announcement is, again, unfortunately available only in Greek: http://antarsya.gr/node/4653