Nationalist pageantry on the soccer pitch


Few things are as ridiculous as bad taste employed in the service of chauvinism. We were reassured of this when we recently watched the players of Turkish soccer team Caykur Rizespor march onto the pitch in blue berets and camo jackets over the team colors. This time they did not give a military salute as they did in October during the Turkish military’s incursion against the Kurds. But they did sing the national anthem, with the kind of passion one feels obliged to display when the cameras are on you and every aspect of your tone and bearing is being scrutinized.

It wasn’t just the Turkish players who sang it either (there are only three on the 11-member squad anyway), but the foreign ones as well. Apparently eager to stay out of trouble (of the kind that Greek basketball player Kostas Sloukas found himself in some time ago with the nationalists of Fenerbahce), they made sure to take a crash course in “Turkishness.” They’ll have understood what kind of democracy they’re living in, after all.

A similar military look was adopted by the team’s coach and owner, Rize’s district attorney, the head of its criminal court and other state officials. It’s become somewhat customary for our neighbors to confuse sneakers with combat boots – and damn what international soccer’s governing body UEFA has to say about it.

There are certain to be Turkish people, democrats, who would like to poke fun at the nationalist frenzy that is being so methodically cultivated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in order to cover up his failure on multiple other fronts. Even if they did, though, they would have to do it quietly for fear of being picked by the gendarmerie.

The only public voices of protest we can expect are from the openly anti-Erdogan Boston Celtics basketball player Enes Kanter and from Turkish journalists who have fled to the West because they could no longer stand having their freedom stifled.

This is – and should be – the main difference between Greece and Turkey: Where there’s fear over there, there’s freedom of speech over here. Where there's censorship over there, over here there’s freedom of expression and the right to criticize without the fear of being branded a traitor or provocateur.

Let us also turn that right to exercise criticism to our own fans of fatigues, to individuals who use military garb to camouflage their intolerance. If these “guardians of the Evros border” continue to be allowed free rein, they will multiply the chances of there being an “accidental” fatality at the Greek-Turkish border – on either side. And if that happens, no amount of commentary will be able to save anybody.