It is ironic that two of the countries that suffered most
brutally under the Nazis in the Second World War should now be confronting youthful
citizens who delight in straight-arm salutes and parading swastika flags.
Ironic, but far from surprising.
Those unsavoury elements among the citizens of the
Ukraine and Poland, joint hosts of the European football championship, who are determined
to use the European football tournament to show off their fascistic credentials
by abusing foreign players of colour might be dismissed as an aberrational
minority, were it not for the fact that at least one of those governments is
allegedly using Gestapo methods to silence political opponents. Moreover, both countries have long histories
of aggressive xenophobia, including a tradition, often government-sponsored, of
If the Nazis were more ruthless in implementing their
campaign in Eastern Europe of what we have
come to call ethnic cleansing, arguably they were merely more efficient at it
than the authorities of the subjugated countries of the region had been in
earlier times. Pogrom, meaning destruction, is not a German word.
Her Majesty’s government is rightly appalled by the
images of provocative crowd behaviour coming out of the Ukraine, not to
mention smuggled photographs of a former prime minister imprisoned and allegedly
tortured. But the convergence of
football and racism is hardly peculiar to the eastern countries of Europe. Decades
ago, when the first black players appeared, and long after that, monkey chants
and tossed bananas were a common feature of British football. Much has changed, but a great deal has
not. In recent months, several
Premiership players have been accused of abusing black opponents with racist epithets,
most notably the England
captain, John Terry – hardly a stalwart of enlightenment in many respects – now
Physician, heal thyself.
The authorities in Poland
and the Ukraine
will no doubt come down hard on the racists.
In the spotlight of international television coverage they can hardly do
otherwise. But arresting a few pathetic
nutters will hardly suffice to convince some of us that the ingrained attitudes
that produced them have changed for all time.
The Dutch team has threatened to walk off the pitch if
black players are subjected to racist taunts.
We all hope they don’t have to, but I trust that if they must, they will.
Meanwhile, I’ll be watching the cricket in Birmingham (if it ever stops raining) and the rugby in South Africa.