Sunday, November 04, 2007

More than 10,000 rally in Ottawa over FYROM/ Macedonia controversy

A rally staged last weekend in Ottawa by members of Canada's Greek community to protest the Conservative government's use of the name Macedonia in relations with the former Yugoslav republic called FYROM attracted more than 10,000 supporters, despite cool and rainy weather. "It turned out exceptionally well, notwithstanding the weather," Dimitrius Manolakos, president of the Canadian Hellenic Congress, said this week in an interview with TLN. According to Manolakos, the demonstration made front page news in the Sunday issue of Kathimerini, a highly-regarded daily newspaper in Greece.

Meeting this week at UN
The naming dispute between Greece and FYROM, as the former Yugoslovian republic is generally referred to internationally, has escalated to its highest point of tension, involving attempts at a resolution through the United Nations. Greek state officials and representatives from FYROM are scheduled to meet to come to an agreement starting this week at UN headquarters in New York. The Canadian decision to accept the name Macedonia in bilateral relations was announced in August by the government of the Balkan republic.

Dispute goes back 15 years
Although Canada's Foreign Affairs Department made no formal announcement, the change has been posted on its web site. FYROM sits in the southern Balkans, north of Greece, west of Bulgaria, east of Albania and south of Serbia, and has a population of just over two million. It separated peacefully from the splintering Yugoslavia in 1991, but then was hit by a Greek trade embargo over its choice of name. The embargo was lifted in 1995, but in 2001 an emergency broke out among FYROM's Albanian minority. That ended in an internationally-brokered peace establishing new rights for minorities.

Tories conspicuously absent
Among the speakers at last Sunday's rally were Costas Menedakis, president of Toronto's largest metropolitan Greek community association, John Theodossopoulos, president of the Hellenic Community of Montreal, Maria Mourani, the Bloc Québécois MP for Ahuntsic, and Paul Dewar, the NDP from Ottawa-Centre. Spokesmen for the Conservatives government were notably absent. "We would have welcomed a member of the Conservative party," said Manolakos, adding that invitations extended to the Conservatives were declined. Toronto-area Liberal MPs John Cannis and Jim Karygiannis addressed the crowd, as did former Montreal MP Eleni Bakopanos.

Few clergy present
Manolakos said a particular side-issue that has come up in conjunction with the rally has stirred controversy. Metropolitan Sotirios, the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, "was not present nor did he support the rally," he said. "At the last minute, he sort of changed his mind. He allowed some priests to come, but, unfortunately, we had no strong presence of the clergy." Asked what he surmised was behind the development, Manolakos said, "It has to be a personal thing to him." Manolakos said the Metropolitan was present at a rally staged 15 years ago when the FYROM issue also was in the news. "There'll be a reaction to this from the people …

Petitions insufficient, says Manolakos
"He should have been by his people if he is the leader of his people," he added. "When I asked him if he was going to come he told me he didn't think it was necessary for us to do a rally. He thought just signing petitions and delivering them to the prime minister would suffice. But I don't think signing petitions and taking them to the prime minister's office hardly draws attention to anything, right? I mean the fact that we were there drew the attention of the non-Greek media worldwide. Our rally has encouraged the Greek people of Australia to plan a rally for Nov. 17 on the same issue. So I think we made our mark." Manolakos said that just as Canada's Greeks were the first to respond to the wild fires that raged through Greece this past summer, they were also first to react to the FYROM issue.

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