A problem beyond Uefa – racism takes root in politics
Bulgarian bigots were expressing virulent right-wing views that are prevalent in Europe and from which Britain itself is not immune
The reason England ran into a racist ambush in Bulgaria goes far beyond the ineptitude of Uefa in punishing offending nations. Gareth Southgate’s players were engulfed by a wider tide in European politics.
Everyday bigots existed before the rise of so-called populism, and everyday bigots will be in football grounds when, or if, the current nationalist regression runs its course. But what England encountered on Monday night was another level up: a seemingly planned infiltration by a shavenheaded gang dressed in black and Nazi-saluting.
Before we turn to the subject of Eastern European xenophobia, it might be worth reminding ourselves that a quarter of all terrorism arrests in the UK in the past year have been linked to far-right violence. Police said last month that far-right terrorism was the fastest-growing form on these islands, and that a third of all plots since 2017 were concocted by people with extreme right-wing motivations.
When we talk of racism in football grounds, we tend to be discussing older forms of hatred that have been given vent in our polarised climate. Previously suppressed views are now openly expressed. In the end, though, the road leads from individual idiots to the kind of organised loathing England had to face. Bulgaria is where you end up if you allow fascistic ideas (or variations thereof) back into the mainstream.
Some context on Bulgaria. According to Radosveta Vassileva, who teaches law at University College London, the government’s coalition with three far-right parties “has established xenophobia as a government policy”. The anti-“romani” rhetoric extends to one minister calling for “a final solution to the gipsy problem”.
Vassileva writes that each year Bulgaria “is the venue of Lukov March – a large-scale neo-nazi march” which the Bulgarian authorities appear reluctant to
Warped patriotism: England fans clashed with police and rival supporters in Marseille during Euro 2016