On Sunday night, Giorgos Katidis who scored the winning goal of the home team in AEK-Veroia match in Athens, celebrated the win by a Roman salute, a gesture adopted by the fascists more than half a century ago. AEK, founded by the immigrants forced to leave Istanbul in early 1920s, is having a tough year and Katidis’s goal may have saved the team from relegation nightmares. However, talk of the town at the club is far away from this critical goal, as the salute overshadowed it. The fact that Thessaloniki-born Katidis made this gesture on the 70th anniversary of the Jews of his city being sent to Auschwitz makes it all more atrocious.
The AEK fans expressed an instant reaction to the incident via blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts. The common point was; ?AEK is an immigrants’ club and there’s no room for Nazis in this club.? Also some Greek sportspeople expressed their discontent over the issue. The national water polo player Mavrotas said; ?I’m glad he wasn’t wearing the shirt. Otherwise, it would be a historic stain for the club.?
The reaction of AEK fans, who are well-known with their anti-fascist attitude and in the very same match raised a banner commemorated Carlo Giuliani , murdered by the Italian police in Genoa in 2001, is very important as it wasn’t pruned by the importance of the goal and the big win. It’s a striking example of how fans’ identity can resist the political trends of a country.
Another giant step came from the Greek Football Federation. They hadn’t even waited for 24 hours after the incident and called the gesture unacceptable, following a lifetime ban from all national team categories. Bearing in mind that Turkish Football Federation covered up an expert’s report certifying the national team captain made racist insults to a black player; this decision against practically the biggest talent of the country by the Greek federation is substantial.
On the other hand, we should contemplate on what Katidis said after the gesture. The young player says, ?I didn’t know what the gesture meant. I’m not a fascist.? You can discuss the sincerity of this statement, however it’s not the point. Not only in Greece, in whole wide world, the professional football players are bred like cattle, or produced as greenhouse vegetables. Katidis may have not known what the gesture meant, as pro footballers aren’t expected to learn these things. On the contrary, instead of learning all these, they’re expected to devote all their energy to more intensive training to reach the senior squad when they are 16-17 years oldu. Katidis may have seen this gesture on TV and liked it. On Greek mainstream media, the horrible acts of the fascist party Hrisi Avgi are rarely seen. They can even be saved by police, when their MPs punch communist female MPs on live TV. Katidis may have got a wrong impression watching all these people having such a difficulty on openly condemning the fascists. As a matter of fact, Katidis not knowing what the gesture means, aggravates the whole issue. The fact that professional sportspeople are incapable of interpreting the world around them makes them an easy target for the simplistic nature of nationalism and its extreme derivatives. The professional sportspeople -especially footballers- are the ideal prototype of the politically frustrated, ignorant, alienated youth the nationalists always dream of. These people can act as a shortcut for justification and massification of such acts. That’s why there’s no single fascist movement that doesn’t target the stands and sports fields.
We should take lessons from the unbreakable attitude of AEK fans and the Greek Football Federation, in a context where the fascism raises an eerie support in Greece. In Turkey, for two weeks, the football fans have been manipulated to act against the Kurdish movement. Last week, Bursaspor fans attacked the Kurdish women in a women’s rights rally. This week, it was attempted to redirect the tension of the Göztepe-Karşıyaka derby in İzmir against the Kurds celebrating Newroz festival and it would be a massive provocation if the festival wasn’t relocated to Buca at the eleventh hour.
The basic difference between Greece and Turkey; is the fact that discrimination, racism and fascism can still shock people there. Here, we are so stuck into ?ordinary fascism? that its displays on football fields don’t shake us. We can’t even get shocked when the fans protect a player with documented racist behaviours, and this person represents Turkey as the national team captain in international events. The Katidis incident shows that on this issue there’s a light year of distance between Turkey and Greece, even when a fascist party gets a 10-percent support there. We know the source of the distance, we know it has nothing to do with football, and we know it’s not coincidental. What we don’t know is how to resolve it. Unfortunately we don’t know how we can get rid of such a normalized, internalized sense of fascism.