Nazi salutes, taunting black players with monkey noises, bloody noses of dark-skinned foreigners, anti-Semitic banners in the hands of bulky thugs with shaven heads -- these are Polish and Ukrainian soccer stadiums on the eve of Euro 2012 in the BBC's Panorama documentary Stadiums of Hate. After watching the program, a shocked Sol Campbell, England's former captain, warned black soccer fans to "stay home or you might come back in a coffin."
Poland's Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, maintained that no one who comes to Poland will be in any danger because of their race. The Ministry of the Interior accused BBC of bias, demanding a correction. The Polish Minister of Sport, Joanna Mucha, called the BBC program "one-sided" and the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs' spokesman expressed indignation. But only a year ago the head of the Ministry, Radek Sikorski, filed a lawsuit against Polish newspapers for tolerating anti-Semitic comments that proliferated on the newspaper's websites including Axel Springer Polska, a German-based publishing house founded by a man, whose wife, according to authors of the bestselling book Nazi Gold, was the daughter of a high-ranking SS officer.
In stadiums of Europe, just as on European streets, fan's emotions collide with their country's history and ethnic stereotypes mix with names on player's jerseys. Historical roots of football clubs are digested in stadiums by crowds which psychology turns complex historical associations into catchy slogans. Thus Polish Cracovia, a soccer club founded by Jews, is a "Jude Gang" just as AFC Ajax Amsterdam, with provenance similar to Cracovia, is called "Super Jews" in Holland.
American soccer and baseball fans accustomed to watching sporting events while munching peanuts and Cracker Jacks need a common-sense soccer guide to paradoxes of the Old Continent; Germans don't like Poles, French dislike Brits, both dislike Ukrainians and Ukrainians... heck they probably dislike them all! Give'em the ball and let'em make peace. Welcome to Euro 2012.
The only thing you should fear is... babushka.
BBC's report is as real as the reality it portrays. A television documentary does not have to present all aspects of the story. Panorama's report shows a phenomenon: stadium fascism and anti-semitism demonstrated in soccer leagues in the countries which organize the biggest event in European football.
It is a fact as sad as a paradox of history: Celtic crosses, Nazi symbols and White Power banners proudly wave over soccer stadiums in Poland where the Nazis murdered two million Poles and half a million Ukrainians. In Ukraine, where today's soccer fans raise their hands in Nazi salutes, the war unleashed by Hitler cost Ukraine 20 percent of its population. Even more troubling is a fact that it took a documentary of a foreign reporter for Polish and Ukrainian mainstream media to begin discussing the problem.
Yet, what's happening in Poland and Ukraine is only a copy of what we see in all European stadiums. Ukrainian Boys shown in the Panorama documentary are AS Roma copycats, Italian ultras active in Italy for the past 40 years. Raised arms of Ukrainian fans are nothing else but an imitation of the Roman salute (Saluto Romano) of Irriducibilis -- Italian SS Lazio ultras, embellished with a fascist's greeting Sieg Heil (Hail Victory).
During Euro 2008m we have seen fans forming human swastikas and racist chants of Horvatian soccer fans. BBC's crew would be very busy in Italy filming followers of SS Lazio and Di Canio, a self-described fascist, who, after scoring a goal, used to salute the crowds in a Roman gesture adopted by Hitler's regime. In a 2010 World Cup qualifier in Bulgaria, a group of Italian fans sported Celtic crosses on their chests enacting the Roman salute during the playing of the Italian national anthem. They also chanted "Duce! Duce!" during the match in honor of Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy.
It is estimated that only 5,000 British soccer fans will make the trip to Poland for this year's Euro, which begins in just a few days. Something tells me they won't be dads with children holding ice cream in their hands but hard-core soccer fanatics ready for everything and everybody, travelling to a foreign land which they know from their drunken brawls in Krakow's square and antique maps. After all, the BBC's report itself shows an outdated map of Eastern Europe with long-time gone Yugoslavia and Austria in the boundaries of the Czech Republic.
If I were them, I wouldn't worry about Polish and Ukrainians fans. I would be more afraid of the lack of vacancies and a local babushka offering an old sofa in a dingy room at 300 Euros a night for bed and breakfast.
Go on, tough guys. Try to fight her.