Football Politics in Central Eastern Europe: A Symptom of Growing Anti-Europeanism and Anti-Globalization?

By Roland Benedikter and Dariusz Wojtaszyn - 31 August 2017
Football Politics in Central Eastern Europe: A Symptom of Growing Anti-Europeani

There is a discourse in Europe’s current academic and political debate about growing Anti-Europeanism linked to Anti-Globalization in the Central Eastern European (CEE) region. Football culture in the European Union’s East, particularly Poland, is perceived as symptom of such trend. Many of the local fan groups, although belonging to very different ideological and social stripes, conceive their actions more often than hooligans in other European nations as openly political – i.e. mainly as a form of resistance. “Resistance against the system” – including both the national, the European and the global “systems” – is their unifying bond. In most cases, resistance against one of these systems means to automatically oppose the other two too. To understand this particular embedment of football as a contextual political factor in the public sphere of Central Eastern Europe, which is causing domestic turmoil and negative perceptions in other European nations and worldwide, one has to understand the political, social and cultural role of Europe’s most popular sport in the former “Eastern Bloc” during the 45 communist years 1945-1990, write Roland Benedikter and Dariusz Wojtaszyn.

Policy Recommendations

  • The EU should put more attention into documenting and studying the specific contextual political sphere of its current “problem region” Central Eastern Europe, characterized by anti-European developments such as authoritarianism and a deeply split society. Contextual political factors have been neglected by the EU since the accession of the CEE, i.e. the former nations of the “Eastern block” in 2004, but can serve as seismographs for deeper cultural problems and unsolved social issues.
  • The EU should implement specialized task forces in close cooperation with the Polish and other CEE governments to address the phenomena related with the proto-politics of football. Such cooperation could both become a new bonding factor between the EU and Poland, and at the same time serve as an important, yet still widely missing part of historical elaboration and maturation.
  • Among other origins, the phenomena connected with football “resistance culture” are rooted in Western Poland’s (the former eastern territory of Germany’s) violent history, particularly during WWII and its aftermaths. Football in these areas which after WWII were allotted to Poland as a result of the nation’s forced shift to the West, with Poland’s eastern part lost to Russia, is in good part the expression of a problematic territorial self-imaginary. It tends to style “the loser” to be the “true hero”, and identifies aspects of Nazi culture with “resistance”. While such paradoxical identification is undertaken mainly by right-wing fan groups and not by the broader public, it is part of the popularization of historic memory that has been under-addressed by both CEE and European policy, thus partly causing current divisions.
  • The EU member states should undertake joint comparative research of different football cultures and involve all hooligan groups willing to take part in it, including actively trying to get on board rightist and leftist extremist groups too.




Photo Credit: Nick Bastian Via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)