Macedonia Soccer Movie Kicks Off Controversy September 26, 2012Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Human rights, Human rights abuses, Israel, Macedonia.
Tags: Bulgaria, Israel, Jewish, Jews, Macedonia, Nazi, the third half, Third reich
The gripping story of how some local footballers paid the ultimate price for having the temerity to thrash a Nazi soccer team has become a source of national pride in Ukraine.
It’s such an enthralling story that it has easily lent itself to movie adaptations — inspiring a number of films such as “Escape to Victory” starring Sylvester Stallone as well as the controversial “The Match,” which sparked a major controversy ahead of the Euro 2012 finals, which Ukraine co-hosted. .
Now, a Macedonian filmmaker has given the cinematic treatment to one of his country’s most venerated soccer stories, which has also sparked a row.
Playing in the Bulgarian league at a time when Macedonia didn’t officially exist, and coached by Jewish trainer Illes Spitz, this team defied all the odds to reach the Bulgarian national league final of 1942.
Mitrevski’s movie is essentially a love story based on the life experience of Macedonian Holocaust survivor Neta Cohen.
“The Third Half” depicts how a young Jewish girl from an affluent family defies her parents by dating a poor Macedonian football player. But their love overcomes this parental hostility and even saves the girl’s life because she manages to escape being deported to Treblinka by eloping with her boyfriend.
With high production values and a classic Romeo-and-Juliet plotline set against the tumultuous backdrop of World War II, the film has every chance of being well received internationally.
It’s not surprising therefore, that “The Third Half” has already been nominated as the Macedonian entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar.
WATCH: International trailer for “The Third Half”
In neighboring Bulgaria, however, the film has sparked outrage, with many saying that it paints a skewed picture of the deportation of Macedonian Jews to Nazi death camps.
Late last year, three Bulgarian members of the European Parliament called on the European commissioner for enlargement, Stefan Fuele, to censure Skopje for the movie, which they said was an “attempt to manipulate Balkan history” and “spread hate.”
Bulgaria has often been praised for refusing to deport its Jews to its ally Germany in World War II. Nonetheless, it did deport Macedonian Jews after it occupied the region following the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1941.
According to Balkaninsight.com, only 2 percent of Jews from Macedonia survived the Holocaust and some historians have intimated that Bulgaria handed them over to appease the Germans for protecting their own Jewish population from the Nazis.
Mitrevski has denounced the Bulgarian allegations, which he described as “foolish reactions.” He has also slammed the use of what he calls “Goebbels-like production machinery” to deny Bulgaria’s role in the Holocaust.
Old Sense Of Injustice
Ironically, despite the heated debate surrounding the movie, the real controversy for most hard-core football fans has nothing to do with historical accuracy.
For Macedonian soccer supporters, the film has reawakened an old sense of injustice because they believe FC Macedonia was robbed of the Bulgarian championship in 1942.
To this day, there are many people who still feel that the Skopje club was denied victory in the league final against Levski Sofia because of biased decision-making by referees who had conspired to ensure that a “non-Bulgarian” team would not win the national championship.
In 2010, FC Macedonia’s last surviving member, goalkeeper Vasil Dilev, indicated that there was no doubt his team were by far the better footballing side, thanks to the tutelage of the legendary Spitz.
“There are no more coaches like that,” he said. “He turned Macedonia into a club that made the whole of Bulgaria shiver.”
WATCH: Interview with FC Macedonia goalkeeper Vasil Dilev