Poland, Ukraine: Euro 2012 and Racism

Global Voices Online
Friday, June 1, 2012


Football fans across Europe have been presented with quite a list of reasons not to travel to Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012, which is scheduled to begin in a week. Ukraine "options" to choose from include mass killings of stray animals, hotel price gouging, the threat of "beautiful Ukrainian women," homophobia, and the plight of Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine's jailed ex-PM. The newest item recently added to this extensive and diverse negative publicity menu is racism - and it is relevant for both Poland and Ukraine.

On Monday, May 28, BBC One aired Panorama's Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate, a documentary that, according to BBC, "reveals shocking new evidence of racist violence and anti-Semitism at the heart of Polish and Ukrainian football and asks whether tournament organiser UEFA should have chosen both nations to host the prestigious event." After watching the footage that "Panorama spent a month filming at matches in both the joint host nations," Sol Campbell, a retired English footballer, advised fans to "stay at home" and "watch it on TV": "Don't even risk it… because you could end up coming back in a coffin."

The BBC documentary has caused many heated discussions online. The article on Campbell's advise to fans, mentioned above, has generated over 950 comments. The Periscope Post reviewed tweets by "some key sports commentators [who] insisted that the film has irresponsibly overstated the countries’ societal problems, while others welcomed the BBC’s expose."

Below is a selection of excerpts from English-language blogs commenting on the BBC documentary and the issues it raises.

LEvko of Foreign Notes commented on the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry's inept response:

[...] A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Oleh Voloshyn, today stated the BBC should apologise for the programme. He claimed 'the British side' has never officially protested about the racist displays by Ukrainian fans.

[...]

He should have declared: there will be zero-tolerance at Euro 2012 of racist behaviour, either by home fans or by visitors, and left it at that. His statements will merely dissuade even more England fans from travelling to Ukraine.

Polska Dotty wrote about the need to address the problem of football racism:

[...] On the one hand there has been criticism of the programme that it caricatured the problem, giving the impression travelling to Eastern Europe would be like stepping back into the Third Reich. [...] Some of the many bloggers in the two days since Panorama was shown have suggested Poland has concentrated too much on the stadiums and other infrastructure needed for Euro 2012 and not enough on clamping down on the racism/hooliganism amongst fans. I think that has to be right. In UK we had terrible football hooliganism in the 70s, but it was addressed. To be fair, it took time, so we should be careful how we judge others. If the Poles stamp out the unacceptable behaviour quickly from now on, encouraged to act by the spotlight that has been shone on them, this will be a result. [...]

Odessablogger explained the use of the word "negr" in Russian and Ukrainian:

[...] Now there is no denying that there is a racist element amongst certain fans and in particular those associated to certain football clubs in Ukraine.

[...]

However, this heated debate between the Ukrainian Expat community and traveling English fans has now centred over the word “nigger/negro” (негр).

It is time to be crystal clear. In Ukraine and Russia there is no racial derogatory slur attached to the word “nigger/negro”. It is not an insult here and neither is it meant to be insulting!

Despite the negativity attached to the word in the UK and other nations, historically and currently, the word nigger has no such undercurrent in Ukraine or Russia. It is not a word that Ukrainians or Russians would use to insult a black person.

[...]

Cultural, linguistic and historical awareness is a necessity if you are looking for an excuse to call racism over words like nigger in Ukraine. Wonder if the BBC or UK media will actually highlight this, or whether they will simply be so ignorant as to see it as a racial insult – that it isn’t?

On Thenews.pl's Euro 2012 Blog, Peter Gentle wrote, among other things, about a seemingly minor cartography blunder and the effect it might have on the audience:

[...] And Panorama would never have got off to a bad a start in its pomp as Stadiums of Hate does, by displaying a map at 2.28 minutes into the programme of Poland sharing a border with … Austria! Unless there have been huge changes in borders and peoples around Europe, in secret, that only the BBC knows about, then Austria does not border Poland. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic has slipped south, and borders with a large country which appears to be Yugoslavia.

Maybe, Panorama's confused idea of the map of Central Europe is not such a big deal in the context of the vile imagery the programme presents: but imagine if you are a Pole watching this [...] and having to take seriously a programme that doesn't even know which countries Poland borders with. [...]


A screenshot of the map shown in BBC Panorama's documentary, which misplaced and misnamed some countries.

In her "Letter from Tennessee to Poland and Ukraine," Kim Green wrote:

[...] Poland and Ukraine, it isn’t going to be easy to do this. But I implore you: sit down and watch the video. Get mad. Get embarrassed. And then, move on. Clean house. Let your wrongheaded rednecks know that you think they’re complete jack@$$es, and you’re not going to put up with the swastikas and the ridiculous anti-semitic t-shirts and the incoherently designed hatemongering banners. And then, you can welcome the world to your cities for Euro 2012 and show them who you really are. [...]

Michał Zachodny, who writes about Polish football on his blog and on Twitter, had this to say on The Independent's sports blog:

[...] But there is something Poles and Ukrainians can thank the BBC for. By making the problem much bigger than it is in reality, by showing that both countries are struggling with the issues, by compromising the governing bodies, they made them react. Strong reaction, even if forced, is needed to help fans prove that their response to, and disgust at, the Panorama show, is not based on empty promises and hopes. Because however scandalous and unfair the treatment was perceived to be during the programme on Monday night, it is now up to the hosts to prove the BBC wrong and the European championships are just the start.

At Polandian, Paddymokotow wrote:

[...] Poland shouldn’t be afraid of the world’s attention. We should be glad the world is holding a mirror up to this wonderful country. Now let’s show the world its true reflection.

[...] The Polish Government has taken the policing and security of this event extremely seriously – they know how important it is to Poland’s reputation. You should take the same care you’d take visiting
any unknown city as a tourist, but not more.

Which reminds me of my trip to South Africa for the World Cup. The UK media spent a lot of time talking about the rampant crime, terrifying HIV rates and extreme poverty in the run up to the football- saying some England fans were ‘virtually certain to die.’ But not one
England fan was arrested or killed in that month. But proving the media wrong about South Africa doesn’t prove them wrong about Poland –
that’s up to everyone Polish person when kick off begins. [...]

On The Guardian's Comment is free, Natalia Antonova wrote this about the situation in Ukraine:

[...] Law-enforcement officials are keenly aware of the possibility of scandal. My source in the Ukrainian police told me this week: "People being picked up by the police for crimes are being told that should they cause any trouble during the tournament, there will be hell to pay. And officers themselves are being cautioned to think twice about harassing foreigners."

It may be that during Euro 2012, Ukraine will be a safer place for foreigners than for citizens. As a friend of mine who is a former prosecutor told me this week: "Some parents are worried that their children will fall prey to foreign sex-tourists during the tournament! As you can see, these kinds of safety concerns can go both ways. But Kiev is ready for the fans, the city is spruced up, and I think all will turn out well." [...]

One of the 220 comments to this post, by Definatelynotashark, reads:

Can anyone name me a major sporting event that didnt have these headlines in the run up?

Are people in Europe watching documentaries showing the Tottenham riots and warning them of the dangers of London in advance of the Olympics?

Go to Ukraine, take reasonable precautions, act sensibly, enjoy!

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