Leave it to Europe to leave nothing to the imagination.
Whether it’s bold and sometimes violent French kissing — despite varying levels of attractiveness in either partner — or fans’ monkey calls at black players in packed stadiums, Europeans certainly don’t mind letting us know their opinion of anybody, be it tasteful, bitter sweet or vomit-inducing.
(Of course, I am generalizing, but isn’t that the way it’s done now?)
Past grievances and events are just kind of glossed over with time, and moments that would be met with outrage or an inward look at our game in North America are simply confronted with awkward silences and — at most — a collar-tugging reaction across the Atlantic.
Such is the system when you have too many countries with too many varying definitions of ethnic tolerance. Such is the system when you’ve fought two World Wars, largely as the host, and you’re still fighting. Such is the system when political tensions give way to economic tensions, and when some countries just don’t have what other countries do.
(On that note, good thing Greece and Germany aren’t in the same group, even if I’d like to imagine Greece skipping out to the bathroom when the post-match bar bill comes.)
Such is the system where racism is not just a historical footnote, but a continued practice.
And so, when black Dutch players received their Jim Crow-inspired welcome in Krakow last week, we were shocked, stunned, and depressed, but hardly surprised.
This stuff ain’t new.
Euro 2012 has been a smorgasbord of varying levels of acceptance. On one hand, you had the Krakovian crowd throwing monkey chants towards Holland, which was later described as an isolated incident. As we all know, there are lunatics everywhere in the world, and just because some of Poland’s folks were racist that day doesn’t say anything about the other 38 million who live, love, and work there.
But racism is viewed by many as a pinpointed trend in that area of the world.
“If we talked about physical attacks and cases of hate crimes, it’s definitely a problem in big cities (in Ukraine)… If we talk about xenophobia, it’s everywhere.”
And yet, not far from Krakow, members of the English national soccer team were visiting Auschwitz, placing candles on the tracks at the world’s premier symbol of death and hatred. It was a visible and emotional example of cross-border love and understanding.
Of course, one of those players visiting Auschwitz was John Terry, who was accused earlier this year of tossing a racial barb at fellow Englishman Anton Ferdinand, who is black. So close, and yet so far.
And then there’s Poland.
Perhaps the most cursed political nation in that continent’s modern history, the Poles have plenty to be angry about and plenty to hate about Germany, Russia, or any of the Soviet Union’s former billion outlying provinces. They’d even have a reason to hate all men with mustaches.
(If you’re unaware of what I’m talking about, here’s Wikipedia.)
And wouldn’t you have it, Russia and Poland will face-off — quite literally — on Tuesday. Oh, and Tuesday is Russia Day, so a portion of the 10,000 Russian fans who have bought tickets will be holding a patriotic march from central Warsaw to the stadium, and Polish police will be providing protection and safety. You know, because old habits die hard.
Of course, Putin will be there, too.
Even though Russian fans do this before every game, they say, Poles view it as “provocative.” Can you really blame them?
(Ironically, Russia Day honours the country’s split from the USSR and its shucking of Soviet rule. But who has time for education?)
In Canada, nationalism at the Vancouver Olympics was mistaken as “Berlin, 1936” by a reporter in Texas, and all Canadians did was climb a couple telephone poles (no pun intended) in celebration.
In Poland, they actually had Nazis. Oh, and Soviets. And, a whole lot of other bad guys before them. And, not bad guys like The Joker or Bane, but real bad guys who murdered millions. And millions.
In perhaps a pre-eminent strike, Polish papers Monday morning printed pieces and front pages taunting Russia about the Miracle of the Vistula in 1920, when Poland defeated the Bolshevik Army and some say halted Communism’s spread through Europe.
Nothing like a little light ribbing.
Of course, who am I to speak about conflicts or violent outbursts? My city destroyed itself a year ago because it lost a hockey game. There were no politics involved, unless you note that the government’s only media company set up free street parties for all of us. And then we broke their television sets.
The whole world is messed up in some small way — and some big ones — and, yes, some of these racial occurrences are worse than others. I’m not trying to compare John Terry’s possible dropping of a slur with anything that happened at Auschwitz, or trying to compare the historical tension of Poland and Russia with… well, anything, really.
But in this whole Venn diagram of shifting alliances and violent patriotism, it would be nice if we could all really just get along. After all, hate is hate, no matter your sweater or your coat of arms.
They say it’s all about the football, but it never really is, is it?
This blog was originally posted on White Cover Magazine.