The Rio Olympics has been marred with controversy after controversy, but the latest one offended not just the country that invented the Games, but it also offended history.
As Australian audiences tuned in to watch Channel 7s coverage of the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics, at the introduction of the team from FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) respected sports journalist Bruce Mcavaney and basketball legend Andrew Gaze connected the Slavic team’s history to that of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia:
Andrew Gaze: “Greatest ancient Olympic Champion was?”
“Macedonian and his name was Phillip the second, father of Alexander the Great.”
Bruce Mcavaney adds “And a bit of history about Macedonia.”
The outrage over the insinuations of the Gaze and Mcavaney commentary flooded social media with Greek Australians and community groups like the Greek Pan-Macedonian Associations demanding retractions and apologies from the network.
Their commentary linking ancient Macedonia to FYROM was not only factually incorrect as any historian and scholar around the world would tell you, but it reaffirmed the ignorance and confusion that exists in public discourse concerning ‘Macedonia’ ever since Greece’s northern Slavic neighbour appropriated the word and used it as its name, as it emerged as an independent state after the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Sports commentators aren’t known for their expertise in history and politics, but if they do decide to venture into that realm, it is best they are well researched and prepared.
As protests increased, soon enough Greek Americans flooded social media accusing NBC for the same Gaze/ Mcavaney faux pas! Slowly but surely, it emerged that the commentators were all parroting off the same script.
Greek City Times has emailed the International Olympic Committee and their official broadcasting body for an explanation over the matter, asking who wrote and approved the script?
One can be forgiven for thinking that the Greek reaction is nothing more than a bit of nationalism, but it doesn’t stop there. Our children’s educators, scholars and historians around the world agree and support the Greek side.
The dispute between Greece and their northern Slavic neighbour goes beyond just a ‘name’, but has to do with a distortion of history and the appropriation of another’s culture, in a desperate attempt to create a national identity.
Over 300 distinguished scholars from the world’s great universities have protested previously to President Obama over the propaganda of the government of Skopje (FYROM) and requested that he ‘’intervene to clean up some of the historical debris left in southeast Europe by the previous Bush administration whose incompetent actions,
“Not only abrogated geographic and historic fact, but it also has unleashed a dangerous epidemic of historical revisionism, of which the most obvious symptom is the misappropriation by the government in Skopje of the most famous of Macedonians, Alexander the Great. We believe that this silliness has gone too far, and that the U.S.A. has no business in supporting the subversion of history’’
Nobody denies Greece’s neighbours the right to an identity, but to outright claim that Alexander was not Greek but a Macedonian in the ethnic sense like them, suggesting he was a Slav, is nothing short of an insult to our common intelligence and a lack of respect for history.
Famed American scholar, Eugene N. Borza, professor emeritus of ancient history at Pennsylvania State University stated:
“Modern Slavs, both Bulgarians and Macedonians, cannot establish a link with antiquity, as the Slavs entered the Balkans centuries after the demise of the ancient Macedonian kingdom. Only the most radical Slavic factions—mostly émigrés in the United States, Canada, and Australia—even attempt to establish a connection to antiquity.
These are a newly emergent people in search of a past to help legitimise their precarious present as they attempt to establish their singular identity in a Slavic world dominated historically by Serbs and Bulgarians’’
Archaeology, history, art, literature and the unearthed material culture of the last 2,500 years testify to the fact that ancient Macedonians spoke and wrote Greek, and like other Greek city states might have had local dialects, worshipped the same Gods and had incorporated regional deities into their belief system. Indeed, Alexander the Great was Macedonian, Pericles was Athenian, King Leonidas was Spartan and all of them Greek.
The tragic irony for FYROM with respect to the gaffe in the Olympic sports commentary is that it contains some truth:
Indeed, Phillip competed in the ancient Olympics, but could not have done so unless he was GREEK, given that non-Greeks were banned. In other words, today’s self-proclaimed “Macedonian” peoples have nothing in common with the Greek kingdom of Ancient Macedonia, unless of course they regard themselves as Greek…
We wonder, would FYROM have claimed the name had Alexander the Great not existed?
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