Leeders of the Greek community in Melbourne say they’re “deeply disturbed” by rumours “hothead extremists” are planning to crash a “March for Macedonia” rally on Sunday.
The march through Melbourne’s CBD comes as tensions reach boiling point over the Macedonian name dispute.
News.com.au revealed on Wednesday signs reading “Greeks are Turks”, “F**k Greece for unfairness” and “F***ing racists” appeared on freeway bridges and Greek Orthodox churches last week.
A prominent member of the Greek Australian community, Chris Moutzikis, said the signs were “disgusting” and had been erected by “bigots” and “racists”.
The other side — from the small Balkan Peninsula country home to two million people — responded on Thursday, claiming Greek Australians were not “innocent victims”.
The dispute involves claims and counterclaims about who owns the rights to the name “Macedonia”.
Greece claims it has the right because Macedonia is already a region in the country’s north. But the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) claims the rights to the name, too, because before Yugoslavia disintegrated it had a republic called Macedonia.
It may sound absurd but to both countries the name is a source of massive historical significance and identity. And to some it’s used as an excuse for ultranationalism.
Last week, Greek Australians held a peaceful rally outside the Greek Consulate in Melbourne. This Sunday, a #March4Macedonia rally is taking place in support of Australian Slavomacedonians. But fears are held the two communities could clash.
The “Macedonia is Greek Human Rights Group” on Facebook posted on Friday morning that “there’s strong rumours circulating around Melbourne streets that the Greeks are preparing a counter rally on Sunday at the Parliament”.
The pro-Greece group referred to those marching on Sunday as “Fyromians”, a term that’s deemed derogatory because Slavomacedonians believe it was “forced upon them”.
The group wrote: “Fyromians need to understand that we have every right to counter demonstrate.
“Word out from the north and western suburbs is that the Fyromians are upset to the point of getting armed with knives and baseball bats hidden in their children’s belongings.”
Mr Moutzikis slammed the counter protesters and called for peace. He said he was disappointed in those who insisted on protesting despite assurances they would stay away.
The director of the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria wrote: “(We) see this idiotic activity not as a brave and patriotic initiative but as a mindless and provocative action by hothead extremists.
“We condemn such behaviour and want to notify those responsible that their actions are no different to the ultranationalist thugs that provoke us from the other side. Such provocations especially at a time when emotions are high on both sides are likely to lead to violence. Have we not learned anything from the events in the ’90s?”
The period he refers to involved the shooting of a building used by the Association in Fitzroy.
While the back-and-forth spilt out on to Melbourne’s streets in recent weeks, diplomatic attempts are being made to settle the dispute once and for all.
UN envoy Matthew Nimetz was in the region earlier this month holding talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and FYROM’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
Mr Zaev has showed willingness to compromise, saying he was open to accepting a “geographical qualifier” such as “new”, “upper” or “north” provided the new name “respects the dignity” of people in both countries.