On October 15-29 FARE is holding action weeks in over 50 countries all over the world under the slogan “We Are the Football People.” “No to Racism” is the main message that UEFA and FARE are trying to convey to the fans community in different ways. The conference “Football without Hatred and Discrimination,” organized by FFU and the East-European Development Institute was held in Kyiv as a part of the action “Football against Racism in Europe.” Of course, taking into account the recent hot discussions concerning the displays of racial intolerance at the Ukrainian stadiums this event acquired a special meaning.
A short prehistory. Until recently FARE, the organization known by very few in Ukraine (it even does not have an office in Kyiv), became nearly the main newsmaker. At the end of September it was found out that the conclusions provided by FARE experts on the Ukrainian fans’ behavior at Arena-Lviv stadium during the match between Ukraine and San Marino was the reason for FIFA to apply strict sanctions against our country. The appeal to this decision is still being examined but the Ukrainians accused of racism and shocked with this now know a lot about FARE. There were enough discussions and speculations about the activity of FARE, its Ukrainian representative, the point of accusations and the adequacy of FIFA’s punishment. Not only the Ukrainian football fans were especially outraged with a handbook by FARE in which the symbols, important for most of Ukrainians are attributed to fascist ones: the red and black flag, portraits of Bandera and Shukhevych.
Despite all the discussions, Ukraine has not found any clear explanations of the openly strange assessment of fans’ moods by FARE. That is why the participants of the abovementioned conference held in the Kyiv House of Football waited for Piara Powar, the executive director of FARE, with so much impatience. However, just before setting off for Kyiv he felt badly and was unable to be present at the conference. Instead, he sent a letter in which he assured that his organization did not have any hidden goals, except fighting the intolerance, and expressed his concern about the speculations about the activity of FARE in the Ukrainian media. “As the Executive Director of FARE, I can be very clear with you that the reports we made were of racist chants and far-right neo-Nazi symbols inside the Lviv stadium,” Piara Powar wrote in his letter. “You might want to ask how many people were involved or indeed how many times the abuses took place. It is fair to say they were significant and warranted our report to FIFA. It would not be in our interests to invent situations and then present them to the world governing body. We have no reason to do so.”
We can believe Powar or not, however, the situation provoked by the notorious report by FARE has revealed a range of non-football related problems concerning Ukraine and Europe in general.
“The culture of fan movement reflects the culture of human rights in the society,” Mridula Ghosh, chair of the East-European Development Institute says. “What is happening in the society often goes to stadiums.” That is why categorically rejecting the accusations of racial intolerance without any inner discussions is at least short-sighted for the progressive Ukrainian community. There is no guarantee that these single occasions do not turn into a big problem tomorrow. The country, which is open for Europe and Russia (in both of them tendencies of racial, ethnical, and religious hatred are growing in different degree), burdened with numberless interior problems cannot afford to recklessly wave such threats aside. Approaching Europe the Ukrainians have to be ready for criticism and reconsidering their attitude to human rights: someone’s offended dignity is more important than the national football victories, commercial profits, and state interests.
Another thing is that, while criticizing, some European organizations often demonstrate selectiveness and double standards. On “Hromadske Radio” radio station football commentator Mykola Vasylkov wondered why FARE had not reacted when the Russian football fans had thrown bananas into the Brazilian Roberto Carlos in St. Petersburg and Samara.
Pavlo Klymenko, the coordinator of education programs of FARE network in the East Europe assured The Day that 50 specially trained experts are working in all European countries and in the near future FIFA might apply its sanctions to other football federations. However, now only Ukraine is under the threat of punishment. Why? Probably, we should not expect an honest reply from either football functionaries, or public activists. Obviously, in the European house, just like in any large family chaw-bacons are hungry. According to Pavlo Klymenko, despite loud indignation by FARE actions and the national sign-ins, FARE office did not receive any official application from the Ukrainians. The FFU obviously spent too much time looking for the arguments to protect the supporters’ views. However, we have to admit that they found some. During the conference in the House of Football the first vice-president of FFU Serhii Storozhenko demonstrated a replica of the famous painting by Illia Riepin The Zaporizhian Cossacks Write a Letter to the Sultan of Turkey on which the Cossacks are holding not only blue and yellow flags, but also the red and black ones. Finally! Now even the admirers of Illia Riepin’s creative work will not have any doubts that red and black flags are innocent! The situation with FIFA sanctions made a well-known fact yet more obvious: Ukrainians have to finally learn to uphold their positions and switch from the endless patriotic speeches to weighed arguments and specific actions. And the last thing. Despite its well-known effectiveness, the work mechanism of the civil society institutions tends to fail. NGOs often search not for the money to solve a problem but for a problem to spend the money on. If the problem does not exist, it has to be found or exaggerated. One of the conference participants dealing with racism issues in Ukraine who had never heard about FARE before told The Day that, in his opinion, the report about the match between Ukraine and San Marino is a pure hype, obviously aiming at donators. It can be true or not, but most of the conference participants shared the opinion that the problem of racism in Ukraine is far-fetched and is not topical to be entered into FIFA agenda.
“Ukraine is a single CIS country that took the democratic way of development,” Leonid Bard, head of the organization “America without Nazism and Racism” (New York) said. “I have an appeal, as they say, from the bottom of my heart: let Ukraine develop this way! Organizations like FARE do a great job as we have to struggle with racism, discrimination, and neo-Nazism. And one more thing: the dialog between Ukraine and Europe, between Ukraine and the world, FFU and FARE is in progress. This dialog is the most important factor for Ukraine to achieve the goals it is aspiring to.”