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June 18, 2012

Defensive Greeks

GreeceOn Saturday night, sitting in between thousands of increasingly desperate Russians, I observed an example of Greek bravery, against an intense 90-minute siege. As an Italian, a part of me secretly believes that the best football, the most exciting , the most difficult and the most clever, is defensive football, the catenaccio (my Milanese part believes exactly the opposite, but fortunately football does not require intellectual coherence).

Shame Greeks were as defensive, but not as brave, on Sunday against German austerity as they had been against prodigal Russians. Even if Left voters rallied around Syriza, rightwing ones did the same around New Democracy. So we have, once again, a last minute survival of the Euro. It is not that a Syriza’s victory would have been a rising star, as some Greek friends believe: socialism in one country was impracticably for the largest country in the world (Russian fans on Saturday reminded me of that), let alone for the most dependent economy of the EU15. Tsipras’ project of defaulting while keeping the Euro would have been an adventurous bet and require more than a political, fiscal and accounting miracle (by the way, it would be less difficult for Italy, which does not have a primary deficit and could survive on its own Euros). Maybe, actually, Samaras will be able to negotiate better conditions from the EU than Tsipras would have: he has more friends and more (undeserved) credibility. The point is rather a distributional one: given his electorate, Samaras will not really touch tax evasion nor rent, the roots problems of Greek public finances. And I believe it is urgent, for the Left, to expose the distributional aspects, rather than the technocratic ones, of the Euro-crisis.

Russian minersHere in very sunny Poland (yesterday I even got sun-burnt while kayaking in the countryside) people do not worry about Greece nor the Euro (they are at the end of the news), but only about Euro 2012. On Saturday night, I left the stadium with thousands depressed Russians (what a difference with their singing at the beginning of the match), the best so far in the Euro), heading silently towards the city centre. In the middle of the long Poniatowski’s bridge over the Vistula, we run into an even larger crowd coming in the opposite direction: the Polish fans leaving the Fan Zone after Poland-Czech Republic 0-1. In this same place, on Tuesday Polish hooligans had tried to attack the Russians. This time, typically Slavic melancholy and hang-over united both sides in a depressed and totally innocuous mood. In Wroclaw (where Poland had played) there were some minor incidents, but even there, the large majority of Polish fans opted for joining the Czechs in celebrating the elimination of Russia – for both sides a goal in itself.


June 13, 2012

After Poland–Russia

PoliceDespite days of media tension-building, the Polish-Russian war of 2012 went by with only minor incidents – and with little damage even in football terms.

Maverick Polish rightwinger takes on the USSR

I went to the start of the much-disputed Russian march, at the beginning of the Poniatowski’s bridge over the Vistula. A large police presence defended a few thousands Russians who were in a good friendly mood and avoided ostentatious communist symbols – tsarist ones prevailed. Maverick rightwing politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke, in desperate search of publicity, tried single-handedly to stop a lonely USSR flag. He caused amusement instead of a fight, but he is the usual case (think Le Pen and Nick Griffin) of far Right in a neck-tie, cunningly making space for the violent one. Only a little more threatening were little groups of Polish hooligans, who shouted their hatred to the Russians and ‘Russian whores’ to the police who defended them. When I had to cross the police lines to leave the Russian march, a Polish policeman addressed me in fluent Russian explaining me that I was going in the wrong direction. It is not the first time that I am mistaken for a Russian in Poland – but it is the first time that I am treated politely for this.

A little later, more Polish hooligans tried to attack the Russians and were dispersed by water cannons, with about 200 arrests and a few minor injuries. Comparisons with 1794, 1830, 1905 and 1920 are rather misplaced.

I then moved on to the Polish fans zone under the Palace of Culture and Science, the skyscraper that Stalin donated to Warsaw. Some 50,000 Polish fans, and I could spot only one Russian, a young woman wrapped in a national flag. Russians can be no less brave than Poles.

Some pictures from around Euro 2012 here, and more occasional comments on Twitter: @guglielmomeardi


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