Fears in Ukraine for neo-nazi influence on football
Whilst the wider football community in Europe may think of Ukraine mainly in terms of its joint bid with Poland for the European Championships in 2012, Ukrainian Ultras Against Racism now urges the very same football community to speak out against the attempts by Ukrainian neo-nazi groups to increase their influence amongst football fans.
According to the website of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), the neo-nazi group Ukrainian National Labour Party (UNTP) organised a "Defend Our Football" action in the capital Kiev at the end of January with demonstrations against the "men in suits" from the Football Federation of Ukraine and the Professional Football League.
Amongst the demands of the party is that it should not be possible for non-Ukrainian origin players to become naturalized in the country and that Ukrainian international matches should be played in different regions of the country.
The FARE website reports that the reaction from Ukrainian sports papers to the initiative so far has been mainly positive with little concern for the fact that neo-nazis are behind it.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Ultras Against Racism calls for solidarity from anti-racist football fans all over Europe and for an official statement from UEFA and the Ukrainan Football Federation condemning the attempts from neo-nazis to hijack football fans' agenda.
Scottish fans beaten up in October last year
Just like in other parts of Eastern Europe, neo-nazis have been creating problems at football matches. In October last year, Ukraine played against Scotland in Kiev and before the match Scottish fans were attacked with a hail of bricks and bottles from a group of local skinheads.
According to reports in the newspaper The Daily Record, the attack appeared to be well planned. After the match the Scottish fans were escorted out of the stadium to the city centre to the applause of many Ukranian fans that were very unhappy about the attack in the afternoon.
An expert on racist attacks in the former Soviet Union says that the neo-nazi movement has gained strength and attacks have worsened in the Ukraine over the past three years.
"Ukrainain law enforcement officiels have continued to deny that the country has a problem with hate crimes, and Ukrainian officials are doing little to fight racist and anti-Semitic extremism," Nickolai Butkevic, Research and Advocacy Director with the Union of Council for Jews in the former Soviet Union, said to Radio Free Europe over the summer.
The reaction from the Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Kingdom might be symptomatic. After reading reports in British newspapers about events in Kiev, the ambassador Ihor Kharchenko wrote a letter to the British newspaper The Guardian denying that the football thugs were neo-nazis.
"I do frankly apologise for the improper behaviour of my countrymen, but have to say that it seems rather far-fetched to call them "neo-nazis." Ukrainians suffered the most from nazism during the second world war, so I can assure you that we are well immunised against that phenomenon," wrote the ambassador and stressed his country's hospitality and tolerance towards foreigners and other cultures and ethnic groups.