It won’t be just footballs that’ll be kicked in the Ukraine this summer

The UEFA choice of the Ukraine as one of the sites for this summer’s European Championship baffled those with firsthand knowledge of the place. Those without such knowledge took a while to cotton on, but cotton on they did.

At first, their attention was drawn to the downright extortion practised by Ukrainian hotel keepers. With a room in a single-star fleapit going for £800 a night, and football fans staying away in droves, even Michel Platini, the UEFA president largely responsible for choosing the Ukraine, had harsh words to say. These had mostly rhetorical value, for only about 3,000 British fans will be in attendance – compared to 25,000 at the 2010 World Cup in a rather more distant South Africa.

Now it’s Ukrainian racism that’s in the news, and with good reason. For if it’s true that racism is a poor man’s snobbery, then Russians and Ukrainians must be very poor indeed.

The Ukrainians in particular have always enjoyed the reputation of being the most anti-Semitic people in the USSR, which is saying a lot. Their claim to that dubious distinction is amply supported by history.

For example, throughout the seventeenth century Ukrainian Cossacks were perpetrating the kind of atrocities that only the Nazis were able to match and eventually outdo. Those reached their peak in 1648-1649, when the Cossacks ably led by their Hetman Bohdan Chmielnicki massacred 300,000 Jews. Chmielnicki then went on to sign the 1654 treaty of Pereyaslav, incorporating the Ukraine into the Russian Empire and thereby achieving the improbable feat of making the Russians look tolerant by comparison.

The fine tradition of racially and religiously inspired massacres never really abated. Both under the tsars and during the Civil War, Kiev, Odessa, Białystok, Lwów and numerous other Ukrainian cities saw numerous bloody pogroms, a word the Russians and Ukrainians contributed to a grateful world. And during the Second World War, Ukrainian nationalists unleashed torrents of blood that sometimes scared even the SS.

The reason I’m talking specifically about anti-Semitic outrages is that violence against blacks is a relatively recent phenomenon in that region – for the simple reason that even Russia, never mind the Ukraine, had had little experience of blacks until the 1957 International Youth Festival, the massive propaganda exercise following which the Patrice Lumumba University was founded.

This venerable institution trained Third World students for advanced degrees in terrorism, subversion and related subjects. One of their ablest Latin American alumni would later become famous as Carlos the Jackal. But most students were African, which delivered a massive shock to the Muscovites’ systems.

The term ‘blackarse’, traditionally used to describe anyone born south of Kiev, now had to do extra service to include not just Georgians and Armenians, but people who actually were black. Within months, the same racial stereotypes as in the erstwhile American South became standard fare around Moscow. Negroes smell. They stick their oversized penises into willing blondes. They rape the unwilling ones. They secretly practise cannibalism. They – well, you get the picture.

Russians wouldn’t be Russians if at some point they hadn’t begun to act on such stereotypes, particularly since the police tacitly approved. In fact, the well-oiled KGB rumour mill quickly went into high gear, promoting racial hatred. One suspects their motivation was the same as that of the Tsar’s secret police that had produced the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Anything was welcome that could act as a distraction and relief valve.

Before long interracial relations in Moscow crystallised into a pattern not dissimilar to that of Alabama in the second half of the nineteenth century. Whenever a black man walked with a Russian girl in broad daylight, both would be cursed and sometimes spat at, a scene I witnessed many times. If they dared to walk together after dark, the man would be beaten within an inch of his life, and sometimes beyond that point.

Such incidents were hardly ever investigated. The cops would simply shrug with the same ‘well, what d’you expect’ nonchalance exhibited everywhere by policemen asked to investigate a crime they consider trivial. ‘Wrong place at the wrong time,’ they’d shrug, as if the incident had been force majeure with no human agency involved.

Then came a particularly snowy winter during which two black students disappeared. What was left of them was found when the snow melted in April. They had been beaten to death.

The next day several hundred African students staged a demonstration of protest in Red Square. Such events were never publicised as the papers had more important things to worry about, such as the starving existence of working-class people in the United States. But it was impossible to keep a rally in the centre of Moscow under wraps. Before long rumours began to circulate, and the KGB felt they had to set the record straight by countering with rumours of their own.

The grapevine they activated informed curious Muscovites that the demonstrators had been protesting against the absence of whorehouses in Moscow. To satisfy their beastly urges they had been demanding a hard-currency brothel staffed with full-bodied Russian blondes.

Since then the Ukraine has parted ways with Russia, at least formally. Her universities and football teams have been welcoming African arrivals, though welcoming is perhaps the wrong word to describe the public reaction. It’s roughly the same as it was in a post-1957 Russia, only worse. Every day one reads accounts of blacks in the Ukraine being attacked verbally if they are lucky, or physically, if they aren’t. Black footballers plying their trade there complain of the kind of abuse that these days wouldn’t be tolerated in Milwall or Barnsley. Passers-by routinely spit at them off the pitch, bananas are tossed at them on it.

That fruit is particularly close to Ukrainian hearts. Oleg Blokhin, manager of the Ukraine, which is in the same group as England, has publicly called for his players to learn from home-grown stars, rather than those visitors who ‘have climbed down from a tree and were given a couple of bananas to play football.’ Just imagine Roy Hodgson saying something along those lines.

Wouldn’t it be nice if places like the Ukraine were ostracised until they’ve learned how to behave in a civilised fashion? Alas, this question can neither be answered in what passes for polite society these days, nor indeed asked. It implies a value judgment, a transgression much worse in our PC modernity than anything the Ukrainians are likely to perpetrate later this month.

The mantra is all-familiar. It’s not that some countries are civilised and others aren’t. It’s just that they all have different civilisations, and who’s to say that some are better than others? Certainly not the UEFA.


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