August 11, 2008

What is in a name?

The parade of nations entered the Bird's Nest stadium in order of Chinese pictography: the least number of strokes required to pen the initial symbol of the country's name, the closer to the beginning. In the trilingual announcement, all nations were announced in an abbreviated Mandarin form ... except one, which was painstakingly introduced as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". In an international event in which Greece is always given the place of honour, to do otherwise would have been a slap in the face to Greece.

So deep is the division, it has spread far beyond the boundaries of both nations to the diasporas of both nations, which have been known to exchange bombings over the issue. Greece won't accept the proper name "Macedonia" for any country on its borders for reasons cultural and politic and very, very pragmatic; while FYR Macedonia is just as determined that "Macedonia" should be prominent in its name. From the Greek nationalist pov, to call the country just north of it "Macedonia" would be a theft of their heritage; while, inversely, FYR Macedonia feels that Greece is denying them their own heritage. FYR Macedonia has been denied membership in NATO over the issue, vetoed by Greece. Greece would not allow FYR Macedonia to be seated in the United Nations under "M", FYR Macedonia refused to be seated under "F", and for now a tentative and temporary compromise has been achieved by seating it under "T".

China itself has been known to use each of FYR Macedonia's self-preferred name, the Greek proposal, and the compromise name: and officially has no position on the subject. Yet at the Olympics, it steered as close to the middle route as was possible.

What is in a name?

Many previous Olympics have now featured the North and South Korean teams marching in as one, carrying the Flag of Unification. In this Olympics, they entered separately, each carrying their own flag.

What is in a name?

Per the 1989 agreement which also allows them to compete independently, the Taiwanese team marched into the stadium under the name "Chinese Taipei" ... but in an opening spectacle that presumably showcases domestic talent, dancers from Taiwan were explicitly included, and listed as such on the programme. These, along with the "fraud" of the two girls and the footprints, seem to have inspired much localised outrage about "cover-ups": even though they were mentioned variously by the commentators and by the artistic director himself.

Taiwan came close to boycotting entirely. In the Parade of Nations, it was scheduled to march next to the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. As it was, it and its supporters are not allowed to show the flag of the Republic of China: a slightly stronger restriction than from previous years. Instead, as in previous years, the team uses the Chinese Taipei Olympic flag. Such are the compromises of a continued autonomous existence.

What went unmentioned was that the Tibetan ethnic group was represented among the 56 ethnic groups carrying in the Chinese flag. (Nine ethnic groups, including Sherpas, are not officially recognised by the government of China. The Tibetan people come in tenth in population among recognised Chinese ethnic groups, numbered at 5.4 million: virtually all from within the Tibetan post-1956 occupied territories.) Perhaps this omission is why this point seems to have invisibly passed by both mainstream press and citizen journalists, for all their concern over occupied Tibet?

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