By hiring Di Canio Sunderland is damaging football’s fight against racism and fascism

Image by Hilton Teper

Image by Hilton Teper

This post originally appeared in The Guardian‘s Comment is free.

In their quest to avoid relegation from the Premier League, Sunderland Association Football Club have appointed a self-declared fascist. By hiring Paolo Di Canio, who has repeatedly made his fascist beliefs known, the Sunderland board has thrown their club (and by extension English football) back to an era in which the dividing line between extremism and football appears far from clear.

Nor can the Sunderland board claim political naivety, as Di Canio’s political beliefs and lineage are all on record. There are his (several) fascist public salutes, which in several European democracies would entail life bans from the sport. There are his links to the neo-fascist ‘ultras’ in Lazio, the members of which have mocked Jewish communities, sing about putting their opponents in Auschwitz-style ‘ovens’ and recently attacked supporters of Tottenham Hotspur, which many traced to the Ultras’ virulent anti-Semitism. There is Di Canio’s description of Benito Mussolini as ‘basically a very principled, ethical individual’ who was ‘deeply misunderstood’. And in case of any lingering doubt, there is also the ‘Dux’ tattoo on Di Canio’s arm, a reference to the Italian dictator, ‘Il Duce’.

Di Canio will respond, as he has done in the past, by claiming that he is a fascist and not a racist. This is an old argument on the extreme right-wing, which is often referred to by activists as ‘verbal judo’. As part of an attempt to distance themselves from the racially motivated genocide of Nazi Germany, they claim the Mussolini brand of fascism was, at best, more interested in state power and harnessing a new man than race-based supremacism or, at worst, fell under the influence of Hitler’s Nazis. Italians have certainly been receptive to the view, even sending Mussolini’s grand-daughter back into Parliament in the early 1990s and at various points voting for parties that have praised Il Duce and downplayed his regime. Of course, what fascists like Di Canio conveniently forget or downplay is that, when it suited, Mussolini was perfectly willing to employ the same racially supremacist rhetoric as Hitler, as when discussing Italy’s expansion into Yugoslavia or Africa, enacted discriminatory racial laws in the late 1930s, and facilitated the deportation and murder of Jews. Also downplayed is the fact that the ideology of fascism vigorously opposes egalitarianism and a representative democracy that works to safeguard a plurality of different groups and ideas, all of which are integral to a functioning and twenty-first century football league that brings together a multitude of organizations, each of which in turn increasingly depend on multicultural teams.

English football has certainly had its fair share of dark days. Perhaps the darkest came in 1938 when, under the government’s appeasement policy, the Foreign Office ordered members of the national team to give the fascist salute to their German hosts. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, open expressions of racism on the terraces attracted recruitment drives by the far right National Front. But British society and football have come a long way since then. True, recent groups like the English Defence League have absorbed elements of the football hooligan scene, but these are fringe (and often banned) elements within a sport that has actively sought to remove extremist politics and racism. The likes of John Terry and Luis Suarez highlight the enduring challenge of racism, but they are a minority and should be juxtaposed against the anti-racism campaigns in English football, which are some of the most highly developed and prominent in Europe. More can always be done, but the campaigner Sunder Katwala was right to note that while in the past football probably introduced many to racism, today it has arguably done more than any other part of British society to publicly repudiate racists and fascists.

But this shift is seemingly lost on the directors of Sunderland, who by hiring a self-described fascist have shown themselves to be at odds with the broader generational shift that is taking place in British society. Their indifference to Di Canio’s beliefs is the most striking aspect of this case. Only the club’s non-executive director, David Miliband, recognised the significance by instantly resigning from his local club, attributing to the decision to Di Canio’s ‘past political statements’. While intending to bolster their immediate prospects, the decision has relegated the wider standing of Sunderland AFC. I am not even convinced that based on his past actions Di Canio would pass the ‘six point plan’ that was recently advocated by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), and which under its ‘commitment to all’ calls for action against all forms of prejudice, including anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Consider this. Even in Italy, Di Canio’s open posturing was met with short bans and fines, while the President of FIFA made clear his desire to impose a life ban on players who openly supported fascism. In fact, this latter measure has just been enacted in Greece, where amidst a climate that has seen the return of neo-Nazism, a talented young midfielder named Giorgos Katidis effectively ended his football career after celebrating a goal with the same salute that Di Canio has given on several occasions. In stark contrast to Sunderland, and even amidst rising support for Golden Dawn, the Greek authorities instantly handed Katidis a life ban from playing in national teams, while condemning the player for insulting ‘the victims of Nazi bestiality’ and ‘injuring the deeply pacifist and human character of the game’. And Katidis was not even an open admirer of fascist ideology. While in modern day Greece they ban you for injuring the human character of football, in Sunderland it appears they make you the manager.

Matthew Goodwin

The eurozone crisis and the rise of soft Euroscepticism in Greece

An important consequence of the eurozone crisis has been a rise in Euroscepticism across Europe, weakening the legitimacy of the integration process and undermining the political representation of the citizens in the member states. Just how extensive has the increase in euroscepticism been and what are its implications for the future of European integration? In investigating these questions, Greece offers a particularly interesting case. Greece, at the centre of the crisis, has been deeply affected by a recession entering its sixth year, with the total decline in GDP expected to exceed 25 per cent before the end of 2013. The crisis has caused much political controversy, electoral volatility and civil strife, affecting political parties, voting behaviour and governing institutions. The agreement of joint IMF-EU rescue packages in May 2010 and July 2011 were accompanied by austerity measures and recurrent speculation about a ‘Grexit’. Before the crisis, Euroscepticism was a minority viewpoint in Greek public opinion. Consistent majorities of Greek citizens and the mainstream parties, from the late 1980s onwards, have been amongst the strongest supporters of the integration process, recognising the social, political and economic benefits of membership.

Public opinion data from the Eurobarometer surveys show that the crisis caused  many supporters of the EU project to become critics or even sceptics.  Figure 1 shows the evolution of the views of Greek citizens between 2003-12, using a series of long-standing Eurobarometer indicators showing negative evaluations towards the EU and the integration process. While there was a small and gradual increase in Euroscepticism during the early 2000s, reflecting an EU-wide trend, the figure reveals a striking rise in negative sentiment during the crisis.

As Figure 1 shows, it was not the outbreak of the global financial crisis which triggered the change. Instead, the turning point came immediately after autumn 2009, with the onset of the Greek sovereign debt crisis when the newly elected Socialist government admitted that the country’s official economic statistics had been misreported. Revised figures revealed the grim state of the Greek economy with a very high deficit and public debt. From this point onwards, as the eurozone’s initial hesitation to intervene in Greece was followed by an EU/IMF bailout delivering harsh austerity measures, the five indicators of negative sentiment towards the EU follow parallel upward paths.

Figure 1: Indicators of attitudes towards the European Union (negative responses)

Source: Eurobarometer surveys.

Source: Eurobarometer surveys.

In a period of three years, the proportion of Greek respondents holding a negative image of the EU almost tripled (from 14 per cent in November 2009 to 49 percent in November 2012), while those tending not to trust the EU and those believing the EU was going in the wrong direction more than doubled (from 38 per cent to 81 per cent and from 31 per cent to 74 per cent, respectively). For the latter two indicators, the overwhelming majority now held a negative stance. Those viewing EU membership as ‘a bad thing’ jumped from 13 to 33 per cent in Spring 2011, which is the last time this question was included in the Eurobarometer surveys, but showed a notable drop at 19%, based on a survey conducted by the European Parliament in spring 2012. In Spring 2011, this made Greece the EU member-state with the highest proportion of respondents giving a negative answer, marginally ahead of the traditionally Eurosceptic UK. Meanwhile, between November 2009 and May 2011, those Greek citizens who considered the country had not benefited from membership doubled from 25 to 50 per cent, the second highest proportion in the EU (this time behind the UK).

The speed and extent of the Greek opinion shifts are startling. This change in attitudes reveals that there is a potential message to send to political elites in Greece and Europe. The increase in negative attitudes towards the EU could reflect a crisis of “output legitimacy” and the fact that the EU can no longer guarantee prosperity and growth for its citizens. It could also reflect a crisis of “input legitimacy” and the realisation of the irreversible impact of the process of integration on decisions that touch the most important political issues for ordinary voters such as growth and job creation. Citizens in Greece have become increasingly aware that they can no longer influence public policy through traditional forms of political participation, such as voting in national elections. The realisation that the EU matters a lot could trigger a positive process whereby citizens demand to become more actively involved in debates on the future of the integration process, the content of EU policies, their ideological direction and their impact on questions of equity and solidarity within their societies. Several of the indicators cited above can be regarded as measuring soft Euroscepticism, entailing opposition to the current direction of integration or the content of key policies. Unlike hard Euroscepticism, the soft variety does not challenge either the principle of European integration or national membership. In May 2011, while almost three-quarters of the Greek sample agreed the EU was going in the wrong direction, an indicator of criticism rather than scepticism, only one-third concurred with the statement that EU membership was ‘a bad thing’, a hard Eurosceptic response.

Perhaps what is more disconcerting is that the proportion of citizens that expressed distrust in EU institutions reached 81% in autumn 2012, a huge increase from 30% in autumn 2003. This is particularly worrying since negative attitudes towards the EU are for the first time closely accompanied by increasing distrust in national institutions, such as the government, parliament and political parties (reaching by autumn 2012, 91%, 89% and 94%, respectively). The crisis has clearly shaken Greek citizens’ trust in the EU and its institutions. The thought of where those citizens would turn to when they no longer trust any of the formal political channels of representation at both the national and EU level opens up some worrying and potentially dangerous possibilities for the future.

On the more pressing matter of speculation of a disorderly Greek departure from the eurozone, we can look at attitudes towards membership of the single currency. 

Figure 2: Attitudes towards the single currency

Source: Eurobarometer surveys.

Source: Eurobarometer surveys.

Figure 2 paints a different picture from that in Figure 1 and shows that, after a period of declining support in the euro in the years after its introduction, there has been a clear reaffirmation of Greek support from 2008 onwards. By 2011, positive attitudes towards the euro had returned to the very high levels of the early 2000s, with an overwhelming 75 per cent of Greeks in favour compared to an EU average of 53 per cent. In the context of the unfolding economic crisis and sharply increased negative evaluations of the EU, this result initially appears paradoxical. But it is consistent with an interpretation which distinguishes between hard and soft euroscepticism. It confirms that Greek citizens still very much want to be part of the EU since anything else is a much less attractive alternative and most importantly they want to have a say about what kind of EU they belong to. There is very clearly a crisis of confidence in the EU, which is no longer trusted in Greece. However, this does not extend to rejection of the EU. While the European Union is currently not loved unconditionally, membership remains legitimate and Greeks are still willing to endure the austerity measures in order to hold on to their EU status. What is uncertain is for how long.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

Kyriaki Nanou, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford and Susannah Verney, Department of International and European Studies, University of Athens.

Planning to Build a Wall

Last month, it was announced that a 12.5km border wall between Greece and Turkey will be complete within 5 months. The EU is not happy with the plans. Already labelled as the black sheep of the EU family, Greece has been criticised by the EU for falling back on ineffective and heavy handed tactics. A wall is too obvious; too Realpolitik! Human rights groups have condemned the plans, labelling the planned fence as the ‘wall of shame’, an edifice that will tarnish Europe’s desired image as a haven for human rights.

In the wake of all this criticism, Greece is defending the plans as a valid tactic against what it presents as an unending tide of ‘illegal migrants’ (more than 90% all illegalised migrants come to Europe via Greece’s land border); exceptional times call for exceptional measures. No? But what does this tough talk, and these tough plans, mean? Let’s put the wall in some context. What does experience tell us walls do?

We have plenty of examples to draw upon. There’s the US-Mexico border. Almost 2000 miles long, famed for demarcating the greatest wealth disparity in the world, as well as the site of around 500 deaths, year on year. Then there’s the West Bank Barrier. 470 miles of recently completed wall that has contributed to the displacement of 17.3% of Palestinians. There are borders in Europe too: the Morocco-Cueta razor-wire that defends 8 km of annexed Spanish territory on the northern tip of Africa.

These examples teach us many things; but there are some common features among them. For a start, they all suffer from rather bad reputations. They also reinforce inequality. As such, they become self-fulfilling prophesies. Lines of separation make sure the inequality continues, indeed increases. In that sense these walls both create and perpetuate the security problem they seek to resolve. They’re not called separation barriers for nothing. They also kill people.

Will the Greek fence share these morbid characteristics? Well, in part, it already does. The plans are to build along the natural barrier of the Evros river. Migrant solidarity groups such as Welcome2Europe and Clandestina have been tirelessly documenting the perils people face when crossing into Europe here, already. An estimated 58 died there last year as a result of drowning, exposure, and (until recently) minefields. Last year, a group of solidarity activists uncovered the site of a mass grave of unnamed migrants who had died in the crossing. If the wall is Greece’s attempt at playing hard ball, what on earth do such statistics suggest has been happening before the wall?

In the face of human experience, political argument and statistics seem weak. And it is at this level that we need to think about this wall. Walls, and the logic they fit within, make permissible violent means to keep people out. The deaths reported at such walls become collateral damage because these people have already been pre-labelled as committing a crime, and their deaths consequently pre-absolved. But such logic makes sense only when we accept a number of prior principles: that labelling the movement of some as an illegal act makes sense; that maintaining and perpetuating inequalities makes sense; that creating a fortress for some is a valid cost for our freedom and also makes sense. None of this makes sense to me. A place with such a logic is not a place where I want to live.

Natasha King is a postgraduate student at the University of Nottingham, and is currently writing about autonomy, resistance and migration. She has recently returned from 9 months living in Athens. Natasha is involved with the NoBorder Network and is interested in the possibilities of connections between academic practice and activism