Problems of racism, and anti-Semitism in particular, are a part of every day life in Eastern Europe to an extent no longer encountered in Western states. The racist abuse directed at England players in Bratislava 2005 was a high-profile case that brought the issue to the attention of the international football community. However, the problem of widespread racism in Eastern European football stadiums had existed long before and there had been warnings about the scale of the phenomenon, not least through the Fare network.
Under those difficult circumstances there is still room for improving the situation. Fare is in a unique position to influence the situation in Eastern Europe, being able to use positive experiences from Western European countries as well as local anti-racist expertise and contacts in the region. The large number of events in the framework of the last few years Action Weeks is an encouraging sign.
Action in Eastern Europe
Anti-racist initiatives in Eastern Europe are very much needed but there is often little chance for them to obtain local funding. In October 2003 it was decided that the funds received by the Fare network from the MTV Free Your Mind Award would be used to aid anti-racist football projects in this region.
The ‘Never Again’ Association has been mandated to use the funds both for the enhancement of its own activities in Poland and for the expansion of the Fare network and promotion of anti-racism in and through football in the region. ‘Never Again’ is well qualified for the task: it has highly competent activists and it has accumulated years of experience working at both the national and the international level. It has also experienced being active in a hostile environment, coming a long way from the initial refusal to acknowledge the problem of racism by authorities and media alike, to the gradual acceptance of the need for anti-racist measures. ‘Never Again’ has a good overview of existing anti-racist initiatives in the region, not least through its close cooperation with UNITED for Intercultural Action, the largest pan-European anti-racist network.
The ‘Never Again’ Association serves as a contact point for the development of anti-racist football initiatives in Eastern Europe with a special emphasis on Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Moldova. In each of these countries a study visit is to be conducted with the aim to present and share the experiences of ‘Never Again’ and FARE in combating racism in and through football, to encourage the development of local football-related anti-racist initiatives and to identify possible partners for long-term cooperation with Fare.
Throughout the duration of the project, the ‘Never Again’ Association will provide assistance to organizations in the region in terms of guidance, advice, inspiration, and material to be used in local activities.
Also some of the income generated from the Stand Up, Speak Up campaign is going to Fare to run a series of activities in central and eastern Europe. The Fare programme seeks to tackle the exclusion of Roma communities in Slovakia and to undertake monitoring and campaigning activities to counter the presence of neo-Nazi groups at football grounds in Poland. In the Balkans the key aim is to challenge prevailing ideas of nationalism and xenophobia through working with football clubs and youth teams. A project pool lends support to small-scale activities in the region.
Let's Kick Racism Out Of The Stadiums' in Poland
The ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out Of The Stadiums’ campaign of the Polish Fare member ‘Never Again’ Association promotes anti-racism at football grounds and aims to challenge racist attitudes prevalent amongst Polish fans. Activities include regular monitoring and reporting of incidences, production of two anti-racist magazines (‘Stadion’ and ‘Never Again’ magazine) and the organising of an annual anti-racist football tournament. The ‘Never Again’ Association has succeeded at raising the awareness of the Polish FA and club officials to the issue of racist symbols displayed in stadiums. An anti-racist manual has been produced jointly by ‘Never Again’ and the Polish FA which provides guidance for club officials and game observers. In November 2003 ‘Never Again’ gave a presentation at a high-profile conference on stadium security organized by the Polish FA. The activity of ‘Never Again’ has been endorsed by, among others, Emanuel Olisadebe, Poland’s first black international. It is hoped that anti-racist work in Polish football can be sustained and new successful projects can be inspired and supported in other Central and Eastern European countries, too.
People against racism
Racism and racial prejudices can be fought in many different ways. Football is one of them. Football can potentionally be excellent an tool for bringing down the barriers and prejudices among people, and promoting tolerance and learning among people from different racial or ethnic backgrounds. That is why Fare-partner “Ludia prodi razismu” started a project “Football is getting us together” which included a series of tournaments for mixed Roma and nonRoma junior and senior football teams. The Final event of this project was junior final held last June in Vranov nad Toplou in eastern Slovakia.
As a part of their football-related activites Ludia have managed to organise trips for three Roma football teams to various international football tournaments in Europe – the Mondiali antirazzisti in Italy, the Unity Cup in Leeds, England and the Tournament of Friendship and Tolerance in Germany.
Ludia prodi razismu also organised the Fare-conference 2005 at Bratislava.
Focus on Romania
Also in Romania the campaign against racism in football. ‘Racism Breaks the Game’, was initiated by MEP Valeriu Nicolae, who works closely with FARE, and approaches the issue of racism through sports. The main idea behind this campaign is to disseminate a general anti-racism message—one that, in contrast with Roma-focused campaigns, has the potential to be supported by a large majority—and to introduce a visible, but not explicit, Roma element.
‘Racism breaks the Game’ started when, Valeriu Nicolae, an OSI fellow, attended an event of the European Commission and UEFA in February 2005. There he gave a presentation on anti-Gypsyism in Romanian stadiums and advocated the inclusion of this perspective in the UEFA anti-racism campaigns. This led to Valeriu being invited to open one of the UEFA championship games, an implicit first statement by UEFA.