THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) – About 250 nationalist protesters gathered in Greece’s second-largest city on Sunday to denounce the ratification of a deal to normalise relations with neighbouring Macedonia, jeering at “traitor politicians” as some public officials left a concert hall after an International Holocaust Remembrance Day performance.
The protest outside the Thessaloniki Concert Hall was timed to coincide with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos’ attendance at the concert. A few were seen making Nazi salutes while singing Greece’s national anthem.
The protesters are angry at Pavlopoulos for not weighing in on the agreement with Macedonia. Under the deal, the small country is being renamed North Macedonia and Greece is lifting objections to its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) membership.
The President was whisked from the concert venue to a side road, as far as possible from the crowd. Earlier, protesters tried to break through police lines around the building but were pushed back.
Some later threw rocks at police officers and attacked a squad on motorcycles with sticks.
Police used tear gas and stun grenades to push back the small, but determined crowd. One person was arrested and four were detained, police said.
The Macedonia name has been a sore point in Greece’s relations with its young northern neighbour since it declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece saw it as a implying
territorial rights to the Greek province of Macedonia, as well as a claim to ancient Macedonian king Alexander the Great.
During a speech after the concert, Pavlopoulos expressed horror at damage inflicted last Friday at a Thessaloniki University campus monument that marks the site of a former Jewish cemetery.
He described the smashing of the monument an “inhuman, barbaric defiling” and called for Europe-wide vigilance against a resurgence of Nazism. Pavlopoulos promised a Holocaust museum in the city would be finished by 2020.
In June, during a protest of the then newly signed name deal between Greece and Macedonia, a group of protesters threw paint at a Holocaust memorial in Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki had a considerable Jewish community until World War II. In 1943, about 55,000 Jews were deported to extermination camps, mostly Auschwitz, and fewer than 5,000 survived.