Anti-Semitism and Nationalism in Hungarian Sports

6 Nov

I began drafting this as one of my first posts and then decided against it.  Hungarians, in my year here, tend to be very soft-spoken…generally polite.  My Croatian friends says the men have a reputation in her country as being gentleman.  I thought I should not publicize my generally good experience in Hungary and Europe with a negative story about a few bad apples.

Yet, I read a post yesterday on another sports guys hockey blog about racist chants against a black player in the Czech Republic, Wayne Simmonds. You can check it out here.

I thought the Velvet Hockey blog post was interesting in the way it characterized the fan base in Czech Republic, which I think can be generalized for fans throughout Europe: basically normal fans (handclappers), serious fans (think Philadelphia Eagles – rabid) and Nationalistic fans.  The last category is the one I am most unfamiliar with coming from the U.S. and following North American sports.

When I first started working with the local team here, there was a sign on the door showing the items that are outlawed in the arena.  You can imagine the things normally listed: no smoking, no outside alcoholic beverages, no weapons, etc.  Of the nine things on the sign, the first item you see in the upper-right hand corner of the prohibited list: no swastikas.  This obviously means no anti-Semitic propaganda can be shown at the games.  I thought this was odd, but I didn’t really understand the level of racism by fans in Budapest.

The big rivalry (‘derby’ is what rivalries are called in Europe) is between Ujpest – the northern neighborhood team – and Ferencvaros – the southern city team.  Here is a brief Wikipedia history of the matchup.  Basically, it is a crosstown rivalry of two teams that have been playing against each other in football since the 1920s.  We were told not to bring our children, which was easy because we don’t have any.  You get the point though….

Upon our normally quiet journey to the Ujpest neighborhood there were over 300 police officers dressed in full riot gear near the stadium.  There were tons numerous fans in the hooligans section with shaved heads and tattoos – stereotypical of racist skinheads.  On the other side of the stadium, there was a sign designed like the Hungarian flag with “White Front” (in Hungarian) written across it.  I thought maybe I was being overly sensitive, because of the way Americans can be over-the-top with our politically correctness in America concerning race issues.  I came home and Google searched the White Front sign and it appears the sign may have been indicative of a cheering section for a popular former player Feher (white in Hungarian).  I was glad to know that maybe I was misreading things…..until this…

During a friendly between the Hungarian and Israeli national teams in Budapest, there were some extremely offensive acts occurring throughout the game.  Elected officials with the Nationalist Jobbik party were holding up Iranian flags and there were reports that the name of an infamous Hungarian concentration camp were being chanted during the day.  An in-depth discussion of the incidents and a link to an article from an Israeli newspaper can be found over at the Hungarian Spectrum blog.

Ok, the Nationalistic fans are an interesting, if deplorable, group of people that are interesting in the sense this is a type of fan you don’t see in North American sports.  It is curious to me to why a sporting match is a place that they feel they wish to air their offensive politics.  However, it appears that while this occurs in other nations outside of Hungary, it is rare, non-violent and government’s have investigated and punished fans (including multiyear bans from stadiums).  Where I see the problem is when governments fail to act on these matters.  In Hungary, the third largest political party is the Jobbik party, where at least one of their officials led anti-Semetic chants.  This is the same party that recently burnt an Israeli flag at the City’s main synagogue on Hungary’s Independence Day last week.  This is the same party, that at least partially, votes to provide funding and tax breaks to sports teams.

How can we expect to change what should be a time where politics don’t matter when the elected officials are leading racist chants?  Where the clubs are receiving government funds and cannot challenge this behavior?  This is a big question that must be answered recent incidents here in Hungary, Czech Republic, Serbia and the rest of the world still coming out from behind the Iron Curtain.

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One Response to “Anti-Semitism and Nationalism in Hungarian Sports”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “Ultras” in European sport. #Italians at it again against #UK fans. Does this happen in North America? « Sport Exec in Training - November 23, 2012

    […] there have been recent incidents monkey chants at black players on opposing teams.  I wrote about these issues, as well as the anti-Semetic incidents in Hungary in a soccer match against the Israeli National […]

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