Fanaticism’s fatal river

n a small country like ours that is free of the big social problems that plague others, what is it that leads groups of youths, without cause, to kill and be killed? Is it perhaps that while society and the politicians are jabbering away on other issues the conditions have ripened for such violence to become part of our society? Or was last Thursday’s fatal clash nothing more than «West Side Story» without the music, a choreographed clash of young idiots who, wishing to show their devotion to their team (whether partisan or sporting) lost control and just happened to murder a supporter of the other side? Whatever the cause, the clash showed that a dark and mighty river flows under our society’s surface. The question is whether the river has swelled to such an extent that it will take more lives or whether it can still be controlled. That is why it is of the greatest importance to clarify exactly what happened on Thursday to cause the fans of the two teams to set up the clash, getting hundreds from each side to the site. Without going into the details of the coroner’s report, or waiting for the police reconstruction of the crime (if there ever is one), it is clear that on Thursday some people wanted to kill others. The wounds inflicted on the dead man and upon those who were injured show murderous, merciless intent. Maybe the simple explanation is that the mob functions as a beast which shows none of the human feelings that we would expect of an individual. The mob is merciless because it exists for a single purpose, the purpose that caused it to form in the first place. On Thursday, the Olympiakos and Panathinaikos fanatics got together in order to clash with each other. They were looking for trouble. The reasons for this are many and have been analysed fully in the past as violence is not new to Greek sport. (It’s not for nothing that Greeks are «credited» with introducing soccer-style hooliganism to basketball, a sport that had been free of violence till then.) Whenever we witness violence related to the world of sport, the newspapers and airwaves fill with analyses of what has gone wrong, and proposals as to how to go about fixing it. We hear once again about the evil caused by the organized fan clubs which function as militias for club owners; we analyse the incompetence of the police, and consequently the judiciary, and their inability to get the hoodlums out of the way. The more progressive analysts go on about the lack of political will in combating violence, the social exclusion that leads to anti-social behavior, and so on. Again we hear about how countries with terrible hooliganism, especially Britain, managed to enforce order in and around their stadiums because the authorities showed the determination that we have never seen in Greece. We nod our heads gravely at the common wisdom that here, whatever measures are adopted by law, they will not be implemented: either because of the incompetence of those who must enforce them or because allowing violent elements to run riot through society suits too many people who use this violence to serve various dark interests. All of these are valid points and valuable aspects of the problem to keep in mind. But what is not mentioned often enough – if at all – is that the seed of evil in our sports world and in society in general, is our unjustified tolerance of brutal behavior, of bad manners, of everyday acts of violence in which each side tries to impose its will on the other. This fanaticism which borders on fascism and wants to stamp out the other opinion, is encountered at almost every level in our society. Public dialogue is too often a conflict of monologues in which the loudest and most persistent – sometimes the most extreme – voice can expect to win. How can we expect fair behavior in our sports arenas when, in one of the brightest moments of the past decades, the Greek victory in the European basketball championship in Athens in 1987, the Greek fans booed the rival teams whenever they touched the ball – and this was tolerated? The barbaric booing and whistling which is seen as part of sports prohibits any enjoyment of the beauty of the game and denies the other teams of the respect they deserve for their efforts. This is the first big step on the slippery slope that leads to conflict for conflict’s sake, to petrol bomb attacks and, ultimately, to murder for no reason. The lack of the most basic respect for others leads to a society which, if we are not careful, will be held hostage by hoodlums.

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