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Macedonia: Alexander the Great as Media Bait

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Western Europe, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Arts & Culture, Education, Ethnicity & Race, History, Humor, International Relations, Media & Journalism, Politics, Science

For several years now, Macedonian traditional media have been involved in relentless promotion of all and any claims and events related to Alexander the Great that were deemed “positive” in terms of generating public approval and more readers/viewers.

The only other person who can come close in this regard is the late pop singer-turned national hero Toshe Proeski [1] (1981-2007), but he has been allowed to rest in peace for the last couple of weeks, after the closure of a defamation lawsuit between his girlfriend and his manager.

Alexander III of Macedon (356 BC – 323 BC), on the other hand, has no such luck – national TV Kanal 5 this Sunday descended to a new level of so-called news item [2] [MKD] about a “historian” who went to Florida with a camera crew to seek the services of an allegedly famous medium to provide contact with his (sic!) ancestors. In the video, the spiritualist claims that a young man dressed in lion's skin is standing in the room, saying he went to Persia not for conquest but to seek cultural exchange, and would like to know more about the contemporary Macedonian linguistics.

Marble portrait of Alexander the Great said to be from Alexandria, Egypt (2nd or 1st century BC), currently in the British Museum, London, UK. Photo: Filip Stojanovski [3]

Marble portrait of Alexander the Great said to be from Alexandria, Egypt (2nd or 1st century BC), currently in the British Museum, London, UK. Photo: Filip Stojanovski

Razvigor blog, run by the author of this article, commented [4] [MKD] on this quasi-news item asking how come the ancestral spirit could communicate in English, a contemporary language which developed thousands of years after his death, but had no information on Macedonian, which developed in a similar manner. In addition, this “communication” did not provide any exclusive information which would have been known by the historical Alexander, such as locations of treasures that can be unearthed by archeologists and used as evidence, or known by his spirit – like the location of the grave containing his earthly remains.

Two days later, a user on the social bookmarking service Kajmak.ot “unearthed” [5] [MKD] an obviously faux news item [6] [SRP] from a Serbian blog about the discovery of Alexander's tomb in the south of the Republic of Macedonia, near the Greek border. The article is written with the structure of a “real” news story, but any resident of Macedonia with minimal knowledge of local geography or social issues would immediately recognize it as a joke, since all the names of official institutions, functions, locations and persons involved are nonexistent.

Screen shot of the front page of Macedonian news portal Kirilica from April 14, 2009, prominently displaying the faux news about discovery of the grave of Alexander the Great as a real news item. [7]

Screen shot of the front page of Macedonian news portal Kirilica from April 14, 2009, prominently displaying the faux news about discovery of the grave of Alexander the Great as a real news item.

During that day, a number of Macedonian media, such as the news portal Kirilica [MKD], published [8] Macedonian translations of this “news” in its entirety, adding just a small, barely noticeable disclaimer that the content has not been confirmed. Such gossipy items did not contain any fact-checking whatsoever, nor did they include a link to the original source. During the day, the site was frequently unavailable, possibly due to bandwidth overload.

Some bloggers took the bait, like Vojvodataa, the author of the blog Radikalno, who wrote [9] [MKD]:

Please God, let this be true. The article contains many first names and surnames, I think there is some truth in it. If this is true, Our Lord is coming to aid our century-old struggle for our name and the elements of our identity, of which Alexander of Macedon is an indivisible part.

Other bloggers, such as Mojon and Azhder, reacted with lascivious humor, inviting the media to republish their posts about a discovery of a sexy photo of Alexander's seventh grade math teacher taken with his iPhone Ancient [10] [MKD], and finding of the two sculls of King Marko [11] [MKD].

On the other hand, the scientifically-grounded Archeological Diary documented the whole affair, providing an overview of the sensationalist (including A1, the most influential national TV station) and more somber media coverage of this affair. The blog's author Vasilka Dimitrovska, an archeologist, wrote [12] [MKD]:

First and foremost, any information must be checked with at least three independent sources. Good God, even I—a non journalist—know that. It is nebulous to distribute news about anything connected to archeology without going in the field, even about the tomb and the spirit of Alexander of Macedon in person. Unless one checks all the options and removes even a shadow of doubt, the scientific public should be spared of such turbulent, emotionally charged media observations.

I suppose that the historians and the archeologists will continue to keep mum about these events [13] [MKD], just like they kept silent about the world's first hamburger, the Copper Book, the Hunza and the Kalash, the Rosetta Stone affair, etc. There's nothing worse than such silence and ignoring, because it implies silent approval of such hypotheses and theories. We as society slowly move closer to the axiom “that the land has always been ours,” aiming to provide an united and monolithic view of a historical walkabout from the Paleolithic [14] to Tito [15], even though some of the episodes are not quite “safe” and lead to the above mentioned failures of reason.

The view that history is a science based on immaculate myths, lacking elements that would contradict the fragile “officially ours Macedonian evolutionist schema” deserves criticism. We do not need to lie [16] [MKD] – the truth is enough, no matter what it is. In spite of the fact that the same tendency spans from Greece to Sweden – recent research showed that national myths of all European countries are almost identical [17] [MKD]. Dissemination of such trivial information provides a fake image to the world about strengthening of our identity (esp. the ancient Macedonian part), while lacking the scientific approach, published scientific papers and documented archeological findings. I really can't see why we should use a technique of self-identification through denial [18] [MKD] to confirm any type of identity.

To conclude, I think that the Macedonian journalists covering culture, and especially the topic of history->identity should get more education about archeology as a science which deals with societies of the past, not the present. I for one would speak at such a seminar or a workshop. If need be, pro bono. :-)