‘Never Again’ Association
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
It is a real honour for me to speak here on behalf of FARE and its Polish partner organization, the ‘Never Again’ Association. It is no coincidence this conference is taking place in Warsaw. Yesterday many of you visited an exhibition, which documents an important part of the painful historical experience of this city. It documents the destruction caused by fascism, racism, antisemitism: the ideologies of hatred. It is a lesson which Poland learned in a hard way and it is an experience shared by other countries in our region. The legacy is also a challenge for us today.
There are many ways in which this legacy relates to football.
Let me invoke the heroic story of the multi-ethnic team of Dynamo Kiev during the years of Nazi occupation of Ukraine. They played under an assumed name FC Start and were ordered by a German general to play against German army football teams. The games were to serve Nazi propaganda purposes.
During the first match things did not go as the Nazis had planned. Despite the risk of displeasing the Nazi occupiers was serious, FC Start won 4-1.
The Nazi commanders insisted on a re-match and five days later the Kiev players played again, this time against a stronger Nazi select team. This time FC Start recorded a resounding 6-0 victory. The Nazis brought in a professional team from Hungary, a country which at the time was Germany’s ally in the war against the Soviet Union. They were brought to Kiev to restore Nazi pride and to put the Kiev team where they belonged. Still, Kiev won 5-1 and then 3-2 five days later. Finally on 6 August 1942, Dynamo Kiev players took to the field against the unbeaten Luftwaffe team of Flakelf. The match, which came to be known as the death match, was played in front of a stadium filled entirely with German soldiers. No Ukrainians were allowed to even be near the stadium on the day. The Dynamo Kiev players were warned before the match. Lose and they would be spared. Win and face execution. Kiev won 3-2.
They knew that they could inspire the Ukranian people to face the Nazi occupation with their heads held high. Soon after the match all the Ukrainian players were arrested by the Gestapo. Some were tortured. Some were executed. Some were sent to concentration camps. None of them survived.
To be sure, there are other stories of defiance and resistance to Nazism by players and fans in occupied countries of Eastern Europe.
And yet, in an ironic twist of history, Dynamo Kiev today is among those many clubs in our region which have a number of fans who engage in racist chanting and display fascist symbols.
In my country, Poland, the country where the main death camps were located during the Nazi Holocaust, manifestations of racism and antisemitism at football grounds are all too common, even despite the fact that almost no Jews are left to live here. Are we living up to the heroic legacy of resistance to Nazism or are we failing this challenge?
Let me give you one example. Just a few months ago, in October 2008, a group of Polish fans, shouting Sieg Heil, attacked and beat up a rabbi on their way to the Slovakia-Poland game in Bratislava. During the actual match some of the Polish supporters chanted racist slogans and they attacked Slovak fans.
As a Pole, and as a football fan, I am deeply ashamed of this kind of behaviour. Anybody who wants to know, does know that such acts still happen frequently. ‘Never Again’ Association conducts regular monitoring of such incidents in Poland and each year we can document up to a hundred racist manifestations. It is a responsibility and a challenge for each of us: are we going to tolerate racism or are we going to confront it?
The problems we are facing are serious indeed. At the same time, let me state we have made some good progress, too. Over the last ten years, FARE and UEFA have done an excellent job, putting the issue of racism on the agenda across Europe, including in our region. Like problems in any walk of life, the first step is to understand that it exists and then to attempt to solve it. We have managed to raise awareness of the problem, and of the seriousness of the problem, among key stake-holders and among football family at large. This conference is yet another proof of that.
With crucial support from UEFA and FARE, the ‘Never Again’ Association and the Polish Football Association established fruitful cooperation, including training of stewards and game observers. As a result, the presence of racist symbols in Polish football stadiums decreased significantly. The whole Polish national team expressed their support for the campaign ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of the Stadiums’ by appearing on our anti-racist posters. It has been one of several important symbolic landmark events in our anti-racist campaigning.
There is still a long way to go. We need vigorous enforcement of anti-racist regulations but we also need more educational efforts to tackle racism as a poisonous ideology and to support the development of an anti-racist football culture. Independent monitoring and advocacy will be crucial in the years to come.
FARE and ‘Never Again’ currently focus on educational and awareness-raising activities to be undertaken in the run-up to UEFA Euro 2012. We are going to provide practical working tools to be used by clubs, community groups and non-governmental organizations in Poland and the other East European countries. In this way the experience accumulated by ‘Never Again’ will be systematised and shared with other actors in a lasting and sustainable way. Importantly, we will be happy to assist our Ukrainian colleagues in developing their own anti-racist initiatives which will tackle xenophobia and celebrate ethnic diversity.
We do not promise to eliminate racism completely in time for the next European Championship. Football is a reflection of society, and racism – to be sure – was not invented in the football stadium. Problems such as anti-Roma racism or homophobia are acute among wider society. The organized extreme right is active outside of stadiums, too. In fact until not long ago it was a part of the Polish government and it still controls some important institutions.
Nevertheless, we believe that we can make a difference. Experience has shown that football can be a positive force in our societies and it can contribute to shaping multi-ethnic and multi-cultural identities in the increasingly diverse world. We should all make sure we live up to the challenge of the past as well as to the challenges of the future.