There has been talk & much interest in the European Football Championships in Poland & Ukraine. It has been compared with the currency crisis which threatens to tear Europe apart.
The issue is racism. It cannot be ignored that there is in much of Ukraine & Poland much extreme right wing activity which manifests itself within football. For whatever reason, extreme right wing groups seem to be prevalent generally in East Europe & Central Europe & are on the rise. Monkey chants & fascist salutes seem to happen on a regular basis at football matches. Football always claims that this is society’s problem. But can this really be true?
When I came to London in the 1960s, there was virulent racism in society but none on the terraces. It was the time of the infamous Enoch Powell Rivers of Blood speech. The Prime Minister Harold Wilson was resolutely opposed to racism but not everybody agreed with him. Wilson represented the constituency of Huyton in Liverpool although he himself was a Yorkshireman from Huddersfield. In the 1970 election which Labour lost, he himself quadrupled his majority. Of course I am being disingenuous because there were no black players in the teams. At least I don’t remember seeing any & I used to go to a lot of matches when I came to London & before that when I lived in Southampton.
I remember that journals such New Society & New Statesman & I assume the Guardian though I don’t remember this specifically, were much concerned about racism in society. At that time we called it racialism. In fact the Guardian was at that time still printed in Manchester & was still known as the Manchester Guardian. Surveys at the time seemed to show that although there was much racism in society, our society, the UK; it wasn’t something which people were overly concerned about. It was said to be a secondary concern. But then there were racist marches, marches which had been ignited by Powell & the rivers of blood speech. There was in fact much anti Semitism as well, that is prejudice against Jews. But at that time most people supported Israel & exaggerated admiration for the Jews was the more common sentiment. These days most people support the Palestinians.
But the overt racism displayed against football players & against football supporters is extremely worrying & upsetting. It has been said & I believe it is true that because right wing prejudice was repressed during communist times it lurked in the swamp of the subconscious. Both Poland & Ukraine suffered greatly under the Nazis but the invading German army was initially greeted by the population of Ukraine with the traditional welcome of bread & salt. But the Germans did nothing to ingratiate themselves to the population of Ukraine.
These days at football matches there is an atmosphere of hostility which didn’t used to exist 5 decades ago when I used to go to matches. In a sense in international matches most of the chanting can be said to be racial if not racist because after all the opposing team, the enemy, is from another country.
At football matches these days there can be monkey chanting, Nazi chanting, homophobia; any kind of hostility is not exactly deemed ok but usually goes unremarked & unreported.
The racism in Ukraine & Poland is specifically prejudice against non-white people & prejudice against Jews who are white. It is very strange. Apart from anything else, there aren’t many Jews in East & Central Europe. The holocaust saw to that.
In Greece because of their political & economic crisis, the extreme right seem to be gaining influence.
What is worrying is that because we cannot look into the future it is not possible to predict whether this racism will wither away or will grow into a movement & enable the right wing to gain power & wreak havoc.