|No racism here, nothing to see|
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|
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.