What with the England – Slovakia football match last Saturday and Brian Micklethwait’s visit to Bratislava, it has been an unusual period of publicity for the small country wedged between its better known Central European neighbours – the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.
In his post What EU means to Slovakia Brian waxed lyrical about the sophistication of the Slovak high-school students and their ability to transcend the limitations of their environment. They managed to turn Brian’s perception of himself up-side down:
For the Slovaks, the Internet is the world. Suddenly I felt like a provincial oik, from a huge but basically non-central kind of place like Yorkshire or Texas, in the presence of the world’s true sophisticates.
Then we get the news of racist abuse aimed at two black players in the England team during the European Championship in Slovakia last Saturday1. Emile Heskey, along with Ashley Cole, says he was subjected to the worst racist abuse he has experienced in his career.
“We heard the racist stuff because it just wasn’t in one section of the stadium, it was virtually the whole ground… To hear it in this day and age is shocking and you would have thought that people might have moved on from that sort of thing by now.”
Quite. So what is Slovakia really like? A country of which we know little and care even less, it hasn’t yet found any symbolic associations that gets small, and big, nations through the day – Switzerland has cheese and cuckoo clocks, Scotland has whisky and tartan, Czech Republic has beer and Prague, Russia has vodka and chaos etc.
The truth is that Slovakia is neither a hidden gem of sophistication a là Brian’s post nor a den of primitive and dangerous louts. It is a country suffering from the effects of long-term isolation under communism and a history of neglect and bashing by its bigger and ‘superior’ neighbours. The symptoms are standard and predictable – a severe inferiority complex coupled with an outrageously inflated sense of importance. So, a single conversation can contain scathing criticism of all things Slovak, from politics to your next door neighbours, as well as a vociferous defence of the Slovak ways as the best, never admitting that there may be something better outside your immediate world and interpreting behaviour of the outside world as if Slovakia was its focal concern. The result of such an autistic worldview is usually a breeding ground for conspiracy theories…
Makes sense, if you ask me. The racist abuse hurled at the England players is based on the same fear of the unknown, fear of the ‘different’ that could undermine one’s ill-fitting but comfortable understanding of the world, like a tight but well-worn shoe. In Slovakia this fear goes hand in hand with the desperate need to feel superior to someone and so any reason, however ‘out-dated’ or primitive, will do.
But while I may have some understanding for the Slovak struggle for identity, I do have a problem with the Slovak media and its approach to the incident. I haven’t had a chance to find out what ‘ordinary people’ think but no doubt Brian will be happy to share his first-hand experience, given half the chance.
“This type of abuse will probably never stop. I have experienced racism since I played in the under 21s” said Heskey calmly to the British media.
Calmly, my foot. And even so, how does Heskey’s ‘calm’ make the behaviour of the crowd less primitive?!
However, Beckham was not hiding his disgust of the Slovak fans’ behaviour in the stadium Slovan in Bratislava: “Problems with our fans is one thing but the most significant moment was the racist behaviour towards our players. We tried to ignore it but it simply wasn’t possible to screen it out completely.”
As if Beckham’s glossing over the England football fans, who indeed were causing trouble, and his insistence that the behaviour of the Slovak fans was worse, disqualifies him as biased and renders his judgement irrelevant. How subtle!
A classic definition was attempted by the England coach Eriksson: “This should not be possible in the year 2002. It was horrendous and shouldn’t have happened.”
Yes, bring on the sarcasm and screw unbiased and unloaded reporting!
It is the reaction of those whose identity and sense of worth is built on emotional rather than rational grounds and Slovakia certainly does not have the monopoly on this phenomenon, which can be found in any society. The difference is in the significance and effectiveness of the historical straws at which the society in question can clutch. Hence the well-known obsession of the English with World War II, the anti-German banter being a source of instant and cheap superiority to any English football hooligan.
To be fair, this kind of knee-jerk reaction is not confined to the simple or provincial mindsets, it is rife amongst the ‘sophisticated’ western socialist commentators, journalists, politicians, intellectuals etc., obviously, its manifestations far more ‘civilised’ than the racist booing of the Slovak football crowd.
The socialist beliefs and rhetoric of the ‘chattering classes’ act as a psychological salve, soothing their champagne-soaked consciences as well as making them feel virtuous about defending the poor of this world. Overflowing with ‘noble’ sentiment and love of the humankind, they truly hate us – the heartless capitalists thriving on child labour, the cold-hearted free marketeers spurning the warm cocoon of the state love, the beastly gun-wielding hawks supporting military action against our enemies, so obviously evil and warped for we disagree with them! The old “Workers of the world unite!” has been replaced with “Do not think, emote!” And to hell with those who make them confront the results and consequences of their idiotarian mental processes. There is always room for a new definition of the ‘class enemy’!
1 = I am not concerned about the force used by the Slovak police against violent England football fans set on making trouble since that is the only way to deal with them. Also, I do not think shooting of two England fans outside a bar in Bratislava demonstrates anything but more stringent, albeit not entirely PC, attitudes towards security. They were shot by private security guards…