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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 21 July 2018
2 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 21 JULY 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM OPINION Patriots and pawns NIKOS FOTAKIS To say that the agreement between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), that sees the latter changing its constitutional name from 'Macedonia' to 'North Macedonia' did not go down well, would be an understatement. Ever since the agreement was signed, reactions in both countries have been fierce. In Greece, people are outraged, insisting that any name that includes the word 'Macedonia' is not acceptable, since this is a name of historical important to Greece. In FYROM, people insist that this is the only name the people have known and identified with, for more than a century. Ever since the agreement was signed, protest rallies in both countries have been held, often culminating in violent clashes with the police. Flareguns have been shot, firebombs have been thrown, flags have been burnt, people have been injured. Reports of hooligans infiltrating rallies and instigating violence have been surfacing in both countries. Now a theory has emerged, linking these incidents – and these hooligans – to Russia, funding these rallies with the aid of wealthy sympathisers of the Vladimir Putin administration. Historical debate on the ‘name issue’ has been looming for a quarter of a century, and the recent clashes have reopened even older wounds, dating back to the post-WWII civil war in Greece (and the participation of 'Macedonian' fighters), to the Macedonian struggle, or even to the Ottoman Empire era. Historical debate aside, this deal is the outcome of bilateral compromise, as are most diplomatic resolutions. It is a deal that aims to al- low FYROM to enter the EU and NATO - i.e. the European and American sphere of influence. It is easy to understand why Russia would not be pleased with this turn of events. It is in Russia's interests to keep FYROM out of NATO – which would make it probably stay closer to Moscow, if not Ankara. Does this mean that all these people protesting are just pawns in Russia's geopolitical chessboard? No. Nobody seriously questions the patriotism of those opposing the deal. In both countries, people participating in protest rallies do so out of love for their country and respective history. Yes, nationalists have taken advantage and been louder, but they are not the majority. Still, if the claims made by the governments of Greece and FYROM are true, this means that there are wolves among the sheep – and we're not talking about Golden Dawn Nazis and the ultranationalists in each country. There are wolves with deep pockets, funding 'the cause', paying for the protesters' transport, covering the rallies' expenses – or even for media making noise. These claims should be seriously investigated. Athens and Skopje need to prove these claims. The Greek PM has to an- swer the questions raised by the opposition. And patriots themselves should campaign for transparency, if they don't want to be smudged. It should be easy to find out the truth. Just follow the money. Did Russia meddle in Greece and FYROM’s internal affairs? • Questions arise after the deportation of Russian diplomats from Greece • Claims of bribery behind public outcry about the ‘name deal’ • FYROM names billionaire Ivan Savvidis as orchestrating nationalist protest Relations between Greece and Russia have entered an unprecedented shaky ground since the deportation of two Russian diplomats from Greece over accusations of trying to bribe officials and foment demonstrations to whip up opposition to the Macedonia name deal that paved the way for Skopje's induction to NATO. Two more diplomats were banned from entering the country, apparently facing the same accusations. This led to a war of words be- tween the two countries. On Wednesday, Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that "such things do not remain without consequences" and claimed that third countries were behind Athens' decision. Greece, she said, should "communicate with their Russian partners, and not suffer from dirty provocations, into which, unfortunately, Athens was dragged." The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a response, saying her statements "are a characteristic example of disrespect for a third country, and a lack of understanding of today's world, in which states, regardless of their size, are independent and can exercise an independent, multidimensional and democratic foreign policy." NEOS KOSMOS Published since 1957 Published by Ethnic Publications Pty Ltd (ABN: 13005 255 087) of 169 Burwood Rd, Hawthorn, Victoria 3122. Printed by ACM Printing, 126 Fairbank Road, Clayton South 3168. No. 6065 Contacts Reception Phone: (03) 9482 4433 Fax: (03) 9482 2962 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Advertising Phone: (03) 9482 4433 Email: email@example.com Web: www.neoskosmos.com Letters Email: firstname.lastname@example.org NEOS KOSMOS - English Publisher: Editor-in-chief: Acting editors Journalists: Address: Level 1, 169 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, Victoria 3122 Subscriptions Phone: (03) 9482 4433 Email: email@example.com Fax: (03) 9482 2962 Letters should not be more than 200 words and they must indicate your full name, address and a daytime telephone number for verification. By submitting your letter to us for publication you agree that we may edit the letter for legal, space or other reasons and may, after the publication in the paper, republish it on the internet or in other media. Christopher Gogos Sotiris Hatzimanolis Nikos Fotakis, Anastasia Tsirtsakis Nelly Skoufatoglou, Eugenia Pavlopoulou, Zoe Thomaidou Contributors: Dean Kalimniou, George Stogiannou, Con Stamocostas, Alexandros Anifantis, Lisa Radinovsky, Marina Tzima, John Kennedy, Helen Velissaris Graphic design: Peter Kelidis, Thanos Pappas, Vangelis Karakasis "Unsubstantiated claims to the effect that this decision was taken following pressure from third parties are unworthy of comment, and indicate a mindset of people who do not understand the principles and values of Greek foreign policy," it said. Mail: PO Box 6068 Hawthorn West, Victoria 3122 The announcement also added that "such negative reasoning, in fact, is what led four Russian citizens to take actions that led to their expulsion or their ban from entering Greece … the evidence by which Greece acted has been presented to Russian authorities in a timely manner. At any rate, Russian authorities themselves have very good knowledge of what their people do," the statement read. The incident has put the violence that will prevent the Balkan state from entering the NATO alliance. Protesters hold Greek flags and shout slogans during a rally over the name of FYROM in Larisa. PHOTO: AAP VIA EPA/PASCHALIS MANTIS long-standing ties between the two countries under stress, particularly since Moscow summoned the Greek ambassador the week before. Russia has been dismissing accusations of meddling in Greece's domestic affairs; Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement claimed that no evidence to support accusations has been presented by Greece and accused Washington of being "behind the anti-Russian decision of the government of Greece." This accusation is largely based on a tweet by US Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert saying: "We support Greece defending its sovereignty. Russia must end its destabilising behaviour." Although few details have emerged from official ‘lips’ in Athens, detailed press reports claim that the pair of Russian diplomats were engaged in efforts to drum up opposition in northern Greece. According to various sources, the diplomats were offering monetary rewards in an effort to influence municipalities, and metropolitans in the Greek Orthodox hierarchy, but also to gain influence in Mount Athos. According to a report in a Financial Times article, bylined by the paper's veteran correspondent in Athens, Kerin Hope, the two Russian diplomats were suspected of cooperating with local businesspeople in order to bribe state officials in the Evros prefecture, Orthodox church clergymen, members of cultural organisations and "far-right" groups in northern Greece - all with the aim of scrapping the agreement between Athens and Skopje. "For Greece to kick out Russian officials is all the more extraordinary, and not just because of the cultural and religious affinities between the two countries. Greece is also governed by a far-left party that once enjoyed warm ties with the Kremlin," was the quote from the FT article. The same claims were made in FYROM, where protests against the deal were also fierce. According to FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, his government has received multiple reports that "Greek businessmen" who are "sympathetic to the Russian cause" paid locals amounts ranging from $13,000 to $21,000 to "commit acts of violence". In an interview with mainstream media website BuzzFeed News, the PM argued on Friday that his country suspects a Greek Russian billionaire bribed protesters with the intention to undermine the outcome of the much anticipated referendum that will determine whether FYROM will be able join NATO later this year. Reports have allegedly gathered evidence uncovering PAOK president and former Russian lawmaker Ivan Savvidis being a key player in what is described as a massive scheme run by Russian Greek businessmen to incite According to the accusations, Savvidis appears to have distributed more than $350,000 to FYROM politicians, nationalist organisations, and soccer fans to cause turmoil. A soccer hooligan involved in violent demonstrations against the deal in June confirmed to the Investigative Reporting Lab that he had received payments, BuzzFeed News reported. The Interior Ministry documents revealing the scheme have been reviewed by BuzzFeed News’ reporting partners, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Investigative Reporting Lab Macedonia. Savvidis, a dual citizen of Greece and Russia, used to own the latter's state tobacco company before acquiring Northern Greek soccer club PAOK FC. The controversial businessman who hit international headlines earlier this year for getting into a fight during a soccer game while carrying a gun is reportedly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Savvidis categorically denied that he's behind attempts to block the agreement between Athens and Skopje to solve the ‘name issue’, which still prevents a full normalisation of relations. "We want to make it unequivocally clear that businessman Ivan Savvidis has no whatsoever involvement or relationship (in the matter), as stated in the absolutely false and extremely libelous article," Savvidis' Dimera Group, his holding company, said in a statement. Up until recently, Savvidis was believed to be one of the businessmen who had strong ties with the government, but now the sentiment is that he has stronger ties with Putin's Russia, which has been loathed to see NATO expand, especially at the expense of its influence in the region, something ensured by the GreeceFYROM deal.
14 July 2018
28 July 2018