The myth of the tolerant Bulgarian Antoine MAKITOU, BHC consultant
EFA has decided to fine the Bulgarian soccer club CSKA with 30,000 Swiss francs for the racist insults made against Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse. The financial penalty, which is relatively lenient for that behavior, was entirely expected and preferable to all of the club’s supporters, and its management, over the possibility of CSKA having to play its next few matches behind closed doors. Characterized in the press as a ·unique success” (24 Chassa newspaper, 20 August 2005), the fine is unlikely to solve the problem that led to its imposition. It will not make the shouting of monkey noises at black people or xenophobic epithets or intolerance disappear. It is not likely that the posters calling for ·Blacks out of Levski Soccer Team!” and the like will be covered up. The Bulgarian media response to the racist behavior in the country’s stadiums has been either ambivalent or inconsistent, most often limited to that which is known to be a fact: ·The champions avoided a stiffer penalty and were fined 30,000 Swiss francs for all of the incidents of such behavior. The club did not even receive a final warning that it would be deprived of hosting matches. The initial expectations had been that one match would be closed to spectators, since a similar measure had previously been taken against Blackburn with regard to home matches,” Georgi Filipov wrote in Sega newspaper (20 August 2005). As long as this continues, intolerance and the shouting of racist insults in the stadiums and outside them will only increase. And in future, the same as now, dark-skinned and foreign players will not remain on Bulgarian teams for long, with the exclusive exception of Ibrahima Gueye! The problem is not exclusive to CSKA, nor is it exclusive to soccer clubs, because most Bulgarian teams have foreign or dark-skinned players. The problem lies in the myth according to which the average Bulgarians think of themselves as tolerant. It is a public problem, and the sooner we acknowledge it, the sooner we can begin to take steps to solve it. Back in 2001, I published an article entitled ·Xenophobia and racism in Bulgaria have not gone away” (Obektiv, issue 79). At that time I claimed that ·a study of several aspects of the problem of xenophobia in Bulgaria in the attitudes of young people, of the Young Europeans for Security organization - Bulgaria, reveals that unfortunately, issues related to xenophobic attitudes are becoming more common in Bulgaria, with the causes being natural economic and cultural factors. At the moment there is a danger that the country will be hit by a wave of xenophobia and racism, and that the trend will be confirmed and reported in the European Commission’s anti-racism and intolerance report on 21 March 2000 and in successive reports.” The fact that those predictions came true, and were indeed confirmed, does not bring me any joy. I am also not happy about the fact that the state and all other interested parties have not taken appropriate measures to prevent or limit racist behaviour. My article from 2001 is still applicable today; I would only add that at the time I was writing about violence in Bulgaria, it had a more xenophobic tinge to it,
while unfortunately today it has also begun to take on racist tones. Instead of “skinheads”, desperate young people who are unable to find any fulfillment in society, nationalistic groups have begun to appear: movements that not only propagate and incite violence, but also hatred and intolerance. Unfortunately, and from my own bitter disappointment I must point this out once again, the danger of a long-term pattern of such behavior taking root is increasing, and this will give rise to violence against anything ·different” (foreigners, blacks, jeering when other countries’ anthems are played, etc.).* This time it was CSKA that got penalized, and perhaps Levski will be next, but care should be taken to direct the punishment towards those who are truly to blame: ·the hooligans disguised as football fans, who are everywhere. They shout and protest and take issue with all matters both inside the stadium and out.” It would be interesting to see how Bulgarian fans would feel about the first black-skinned footballer on the Bulgarian national team. Just as expected, once again there were two opinions. CSKA fans shouted encouragement to the Brazilian Tiago Silva, while Levski supporters, who were twice as numerous at the time, jeered and whistled every time he came in contact with the ball. The classic ·monkey noises” were also heard, according to Hristo Subchev, sports-writer at Duma newspaper (19 August 2005). But since the financial penalty does not directly affect the fans, and is only levied on the club, such racist behaviour by ·tolerant” Bulgarians will continue. I wouldn’t want to propose a solution because, as Brazilian journalist Armando Nogeira wrote in the Sun: ·What should we expect from people who have been taught a lesson in barbarianism on the pitch? The hooligans who get into fights after every match are doing nothing more than playing a third half of the match they have just watched.” The need to sharpen public awareness on the issue of racism and discrimination in Bulgaria has become even more urgent, and the state should be called upon to provide a comprehensive program to combat racism, intolerance and discrimination in the various legislative spheres, and to guarantee improved enforcement of the already-existing legislation in that area. According to sociologists, in a society that is afraid of punishing, it is better to get rid of a few dangerous elements, in order to separate their behavior from that of others and separate them from the leaders. Incidentally, in March 2003 UEFA published a pamphlet entitled ·United Against Racism: A Guide to Good Practices in Fighting Racism in European Football.” It is useful for every national football organization, as well as for the state, and it is not yet too late to heed the words of the Bulgarian national hero Vassil Levski: ·The Bulgarians, Turks and Jews shall all have equal rights in every respect with regard to faith, nationality, equality in civic relations, equality in anything at all.”
* See the article ·Our society is ill with racism” by Emil Cohen, Obektiv, issue 123, available online in English on the BHC web page.
* See the article ·Our society is ill with racism” by Emil Cohen, Obektiv, issue 123, available online in English on the BHC web page. Antoi...