Euro 2012: Antisemitic Echoes That Threaten Celebration of Football
In Lviv in western Ukraine, a place I had never visited before, I found the darkness in people’s souls. The city survived the worst of the war. Its perfectly preserved medieval heart is wrapped in a ribbon of Austro-Hungarian imperial boulevards and architecture.
But conversation after conversation with people from all walks of life reveal them looking backwards into the bleak times. Perhaps that’s to be expected given the catastrophic destruction visited on the two countries, but it has led many to a world-view that is a perversion of the golden rule: do unto others as others have done unto you.
It is most visible in the culture surrounding football. Racism, xenophobia, Jew hatred, all manifest themselves at the footie. Why this hatred should be so strong has social historians grasping for answers.
Jan Olaszek, of Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, says: “People don’t know history. They know stereotypes.” This is what lies behind one of the strangest phenomena of contemporary Polish life, what Olaszek calls “antisemitism without Jews”.
Poland was the centre of the Holocaust. There are virtually no Jews left in the country, yet antisemitism persists. This is what Olaszek means by stereotypes. “Some Poles think all Jews were communists.”
Zhid kommune, Jew communist, is still a common epithet in Poland. It is a synonym for the Soviet era. But there is the old stereotype as well and that’s the one on display at football stadiums. There, Jew is a term of abuse, a way of telling the other team’s supporters you aren’t really Polish, you are something else, something less than human.
The ugliness is tolerated. In Rzeszow last year a huge banner reading “Death to the hook-nosed ones”, illustrated by a grotesque caricature of a bearded Jewish man with a long, crooked nose wearing a yarmulke, was unfurled.