Tuesday, 29 May 2012

No room for racism – or its apologists

No racism here, nothing to see
“no, no, that wasn’t the Nazi salute, they were just pointing at people” said the Ukrainian police chief. “with their right hands”.

Seconds earlier we had seen massed ranks of angry looking young men enthusiastically adopting the Nazi salute and yelling “sieg Heil” in unison, while waving neo Nazi flags and declaring their readiness to inflict various forms of death on Jews.

Thus we witnessed for 30 sickening minutes of the Panorama programme last night various scenes and interviews with football followers in Poland and Ukraine who openly described their hatred of Jewish people in particular and foreigners in general. In one case as they trained with wooden “knives” to practice the attacks they plan to inflict over the next two weeks. For these are the two countries that will be hosting the Euro 2012 football tournament, which is why Panorama was asking perfectly legitimate questions about whether people would be safe. Not so, said former England captain Sol Campbell as he watched scenes of Asian fans who had been singled out for a beating for the crime of having the wrong colour skin, as police stood by.

But is all of this acceptable to some? Apparently so. Yesterday I responded to a series of angry tweets from someone who lives in the Bush and was clearly incensed by the coverage. In his three missives he demanded that English fans stop “disrespecting” Ukraine and Poland and warned that the real culprits would probably be England fans who he described as “pissing in war memorials”.

Stick within in the law and show “respect”, he said, and everything would be fine.

I couldn’t help responding “unless you’re black” given what I’d been told by returning fans who’d been to that part of the world before. And based on Panorama a reasonable thing to say.

But not as far as this individual was concerned. I was being completely outrageous, there really wasn’t a problem. I told him that, with respect, he didn’t seem to know what he was talking about.

That was the cue for an explosion. Coming back to my phone an hour or so later I had another few messages. I had completely crossed the line, apparently, and was being disrespectful to the people of Poland and Ukraine. I was being disrespectful to him. And I had, allegedly, said that it was inevitable people would be attacked. (I hadn’t). He then informed me that I’d been “slapped down” for making sweeping assertions. At this point I decided to block the foaming tweeter.

Ukrainian football crowd "slaps down" opponents
So what’s the point of telling you all of this? Because I don’t just think this is an issue about two faraway countries and solely something related to football. I honestly don’t know if this individual has murky views and I’m not naming him as a result. But I do find such anger (he’s not to my knowledge either Polish or Ukrainian) a bit disturbing.

We don’t have the sort of scenes you saw portrayed last night in this country anymore. But we used to. And in elections during the last decade we saw the BNP elected to numerous council seats across the country. Looking across the channel we see the National Front as the third biggest party in France and the rise of extremist parties in Greece as they continue to suffer their turmoil.

If you’d featured the interview with that Ukrainian Police Chief in black and white film you would have thought you were watching a programme about the 1940s last night. The fascist regimes of the 1930s came to power by exploiting the economic fallout of 1929 and other perceived injustices. And if that’s still too far in the past to worry you only a few weeks ago marked the 20th anniversary of war breaking out in Bosnia, which led directly to events such as Srebrenica.

And if that’s also too far away geographically let me take you back to the scenes last night of people practicing with wooden knives and talking about using them. The police filmed the killers of Stephen Lawrence doing exactly that before they went out and took his life. A black lad waiting for a bus.

I quoted the philosopher Edmund Burke this morning who is credited with the line “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. I have seen that line inscribed in Berlin at the Holocaust memorial, and when I was in Rwanda at the memorial to the 1994 Genocide. Whether he said it or not is apparently open to dispute – but what is not, surely, is the need to challenge not only racism – but some people’s apparent acceptance of it as a fact of life.


  1. Just for the record the statement I took offense to was when you responded to this tweet with a flippant remark:

    "Poland is not a scary place to go for anybody unless you're the type of person that likes to disrespects others. Great place, great people"

    Your reply "or unless you're black"

    So essentially you're claiming that Polish people are racist. Well done on fanning the flames of British anti Polish sentiment online Chris. I didn't mention the Ukraine - but again you're tarring an entire country with one broad brush - which is racist and ironic when you're moaning that they were racist.

    It would be a fine time to mention that NO country is whiter than white in relation to racist crimes in and out of football. The UK has a very shameful record of behaviour off pitch, not including the ever growing EDL who openly recruit for football hooligans to join their ranks and cast an ugly shadow in our communities. There are plenty of documentaries on the crime and violence that is endemic in football firms in the UK, if we were to host any proper tournaments here I'd be wondering if you'd be happy for other countries to highlight our worst faults and use them in a tabloid fashion to state categorically that all English are racist? No?

  2. 1) I was responding to all three of your messages, which were obviously intended to be taken together since you labelled them 1/3, 2/3 and 3/3. In those you made the comments about England fans and claimed that Sol Campbell was being completely outrageous.
    2) The Panorama programme was based on research and evidence whereas your own sweeping statements that so long as England fans stayed within the law (and didn't pee in war memorials, bizarrely) everything would be OK. Perhaps you'd like to explain that to the Asian fans who attended the football match featured in the programme, or the Jewish community leader featured in Poland
    3) I don't for a second pretend that the UK has no problems in this regard - as I think the article makes abundantly clear.

    I hope you now reflect on your somewhat disturbing views.

  3. The only reflecting I will do will be on my opinion that you were any less senastionalist than the "dead tree press" that you harp on about.

    The Panorama documentary hit on some very good points, that were far betetr researched than your assumption that any black person will be treated badly in Poland - which started a twitter frenzy by many who felt it was open season to pick on Polish and Ukrainians online for the stupidity of a few who act like this.

    If Panorama did a documentary on the ill deeds of English football fans inside Europe it would make a lot of us very uncomfortable - and my very valid points on where many choose to "pee" stands true to this day. I think it is very poor form to start throwing stones when race relations in the United Kingdom are hardly anything to be smug about.

  4. I don't regard confronting racism or the tolerance of racism as sensationalist, and your use of the word "moaning" to describe my doing so is very revealing.

    In fact the substance and tone of both of your responses rather underline the points I make in the article.

    But I'm more than happy to let others reach their own conclusions and suggest you do too.

  5. My tone does nothing of the sort. Nobody said it didn't exist, but your intent to buy into the Panorama "shockumentry" and use it to smear other nations leave a rather nasty taste in my mouth. Thankfully other media sources are investigating these claims further to see that much of it was sensationalised by the BBC (shock horror).

    I know you have experience in Europe so it makes your broadly maligned comments so disappointing.

  6. Look - I think you're wrong to tolerate racism. You do not. We therefore disagree. Others will judge. Now please go away, you're really not a very nice person.

  7. This is screening in Australia at the moment. It seems unbelievable that this sort of thing still goes on. I guess, come the UEFA cup, we'll see whether it's true or not.