Greeks unite to draw a hard line on Macedonia: On the eve of voting in Athens, Leonard Doyle sees no change in policy towards Skopje

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The Independent Online
STANDING in the main post office in Constitution Square, waiting to send a letter to the neighbouring country of Macedonia, Teta Papadopoulou was accosted by a man who had looked over her shoulder and read the address on the envelope.

He began by shouting she was 'a traitor' and not a true Greek, and a crowd gathered. He accused her of sending a 'love letter' to one of the most hated figures in contemporary Greek life, Kiro Gligorov, 'President of Skopje', as Greeks dismissively call Macedonia, the country that has the misfortune to be caught in a pincer between Greece and Serbia.

Ms Papadopoulou's letter, to the 'University of Skopje,' was also addressed to the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia', the temporary name given by the United Nations to Macedonia, with Greek government acquiescence. But that did not satisfy the man in the queue.

Then the clerk who reluctantly accepted the letter said it would have to be opened. Needless to say, it never arrived in Skopje, hundreds of miles away, but Ms Papadopoulou had send another via Paris.

Macedonia has hardly figured in the campaign for the Greek election tomorrow, which came to a close yesterday with the opinion polls still predicting a comfortable victory for Andreas Papandreou and his centrist Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) over the outgoing Prime Minister, Constantine Mitsotakis, leader of the conservative New Democracy party. This election was fought primarily on economic issues, like the huge burden of public debt which weighs heavily on the government.

Polls released by a Greek private television channel yesterday predicted that Pasok, with 40 per cent of the votes, would take 165 seats in parliament against 115 for New Democracy, with 33 per cent, a solid majority.

But even with such a margin to play with, a Pasok government is expected to be even more hardline than the outgoing New Democracy administration on its Balkan policy. Second only to fears of Turkish expansionism, Macedonia is the most pregnant issue in the country's political life.

Theodore Pangolas, who is expected to be Greece's new minister for European affairs, helping to set European policy on the Balkans when Greece assumes the EC Presidency in January, did not mince his words on the Macedonian question in an interview yesterday.

He described Mr Gligorov and his government as 'purely fascists pretending to be liberals', saying that a new Pasok administration would not co-operate in UN efforts to find a name for the country to include the word Macedonia. He accused the Gligorov government of being 'provocative' for choosing the 'Star of Vergina', a 16-ray sun found on Philip of Macedon's tomb near Salonika, as its national symbol.

The Gligorov government's refusal to accept the border with Greece was further evidence that 'the Skopjeans' were up to no good and were a destabilising factor who would one day provide Turkey with an excuse take action against Greece, for example by meddling with the Muslim minority in Greece's province of Western Thrace.

'Sooner or later they will start killing each other in Skopje', Mr Pangolas predicted, because of growing tensions between the fast-growing Albanian minority and Slavic Macedonians. 'And at the moment of trouble Greece will set up a security zone on both sides of the border.'

Most observers expect a Pasok government to ignore its northern neighbour, while allowing trade and commerce to take place.

In the dying days of the election campaign Mr Papandreou and Mr Mitsotakis goaded each other over Macedonia, Albania, Turkey and Cyprus. But they were half hearted efforts, because their parties are in basic agreement on maintaining a hardline policy against the use of the name Macedonia, by itself.