Saturday, August 9, 2008
Olympic Games and National Identity
Right now I only have time to type this lengthy quote from "The Eros of Identity" by Ivaylo Ditchev from the edited volume entitled Balkan as Metaphor: Between Globalization and Fragmentation (eds Dusan I. Bijelic and Obrad Savic, The MIT P, 2002). The quote is very suited to the occasion of the current Summer Olympic Games and of course to the occasion of my studying for prelims. Here we go, pp 239-240:
"National Identity becomes a kind of competition, as differentiation takes place on the universal scene of desire established by modernity. On the other hand, young nations without uninterrupted traditions tend to consider heritage a conspicuous source of prestige rather than a cultural effort and self-limitation. This makes the competition even more ferocious, as everyone is in a similar position (political will, state institutions, intellectual activity...) with respect to identity emblems, the content of which is of lesser interest. The Balkans have become notorious for symbolic wars over heritage. Alexander the Great is disputed between Macedonia and Greece, Cyril and Methodius between Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Serbia, the Thracian culture between Bulgaria and Romania, et cetera.
"Most of these emblems of identity have but little relation to the present local cultural practices and are the product of the big Western Other's desire. We can illustrate this through the story of the reinvention of the Olympic games. The German professor Curtius delivered a passionate lecture on this question, and it came to the attention of the rich merchant Zappas, who thought it was a good idea to try to revive the games. King Otto I was also interested in doing something about the image of the poor country in which he found himself. But there was no real tradition of modern sport and competition in Greece in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the first couple of games were a disaster. When the baron Cubertin (sic) started to work toward establishing modern international Olympic games, he nevertheless faced stubborn resistance on the part of the Greeks, who saw the trademark of the games as their property. Finally the event was negotiated in the format we have today: Greece has a particular place in the symbolic arrangement (fire comes from Olympus, Greek athletes march in first), but the organization, financing, and participation is international."