MON, 23 OCT 2000 23:01:54 GMT
AIM Athens, October 23, 2000
The national and especially nationalistic use of football is not an exclusively Balkan affair. If we deal with history rather than sociology, we recall Serbia, for example. There, the stadium became a reservoir for ethnic hatred and hooligan patriotism and ended up as a reservoir for members of paramilitary groups, who no longer implemented hooligan patriotism with chants and gestures but with guns and on the land of the "national rival," often cleansing it from the face of the earth.
Fortunately, the Albania-Greece football match of 12/10/2000, which ended in a 2-0 victory for Albania (the Greeks played a better game; the Albanians had better luck) does not bode anything like that. It is, however, a paradigm of the "ethnic" use of football. It is also a model of patriotic marketing, a paradigm of how the media manipulates repressed emotions of the "popular soul," a paradigm of populism and, why not, mutual demonizing. Much of what was said and written after the match gave serious cause for amusement. But that factor is inherent to all patriotic marketing.
The first picture in the story of the match has to be that of Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta, who promised the national team the highest bonus in Albanian football history ($10,000) and then went around "all day wearing the team uniform." Of course, the Prime Minister has good reason. First of all, he's patriotic. Secondly, as we know, it's not enough to be patriotic, you have to show it. Thirdly, it's election time in Albania and the nation is not much more than a "imagined community" (as Anderson says) with symbols grafted onto it. And the national football uniform is the ideal medium for patriotic marketing, especially when the team is playing a rival that its "popular soul" wants to take revenge from. "Patriotism" is also the best response to accusations of corruption and bad administration. Besides which, the Prime Minister belongs to a sector of the socialist leadership that is accused by the leadership of the rival party (the Democratic Party) of being "traitors" and "agents of the Greeks" and that "they have sold out Albania to Greece." Since 1997 a theory has circulated in Albania of a conspiracy on the part of those who fell from power: supposedly the uprising provoked by the collapse of the pyramid schemes was the product of a collaboration between the external enemy (the Greeks) and the internal enemy (the former communists-now socialists who returned to power after the uprising).
As for the fans themselves, in all probability there were many among them who had attempted the emigration adventure to Greece. This adventure seems to have profoundly marked Albanians due both to the treatment reserved for them by Greek police in their "sweep-up operations" as well as to the "demonization operations" of the image of the Albanian immigrant and the Albanian in general zealously undertaken by the Greek (especially privately owned) media. The Albanian media, in turn, leaps off of this demonization of the image of the Albanian in Greece and the torment of Albanian immigrants in order to achieve the reverse - the demonization of the Greek. In both cases the method is familiar - what Taguieff calls "abusive generalization." In our case, one could talk of the method of "an eye for an eye," which in the end permits no eye to see the Other against anything but a black-and-white background. Despite the fact that the favorite method followed every so often with exceptional performances by the media of both countries, is that: "the Other must exist either as absolute evil, or not at all." "On Wednesday, under four spotlights (it was an evening game) of Western European technology (sic), Albania declared its divorce from indignity… Eight years of patience for one day's retribution," writes "Klan" magazine. Continuing the long list of torments of Albanian immigrants in Greece, the magazine concludes that "the winning of a football game equalized the competition between the two nations…(sic) since the myth of Greece's superiority over Albania has been debunked." So easily, so simply, so well… Nor does the press forget to flaunt the slogan directed at the Greek Olympic gold medalist Pyrros Dimas. Dimas used to compete on the Albanian national weight-lifting team, but since coming to Greece he not only has forgotten his previous life but also flirts weightedly with the paradigms of nationalism. A banner hanging in the stadium (and also diligently broadcasted by television) declared, "Pyrros you're a traitor, we're Albanians." In his article, Koha Jone goes a step further, attempting to give the slogan biological grounds while taking a shot at Greek nationalism: "he may say he's Greek but his DNA proves otherwise"(sic).
In the newspaper "Shekulli" the writer acknowledges that this is the first time Albanian fans catcalled during the playing of a guest team's national anthem. Yet, he appreciates the fact that the theory of an eye for an eye contributes to tolerance "because it will help the Greeks improve their behavior towards Albanian immigrants," and will help in general to improve relations between the two countries. The theory of an eye for an eye, however, is better and more "poetically" presented by "Koha Jone:" "We catcalled during their national anthem just like they did a year ago. We didn't treat them as friends for one important reason: there were two peoples in the stadium, one of them organizes "sweep-ups" and the other has been trying for years to behave normally. That's also why we were pleased that they left in shame. "Sweep-up" acquired the meaning it ought to have. For us it meant retribution."
The marketing of patriotism and stereotypes continued on the other side of the border. If in Albania the match was interpreted as "retribution" and "redemption of national pride," in Greece it was experienced on the part of the press and certain politicians (among them the Minister of Sports) as a national tragedy. Many headlines spoke of "humiliating defeat" and "shame." While football history shows that the Albanian team has always been a tough opponent for the Greek team, and although many of the Albanian players play or have played in the Greek championship on important teams, the newspaper "Ta Nea" addressed the players with the words, "you made us look like fools." "Kathimerini," on the other hand, characterized the defeat as "one of the most bitter and mortifying in our recent history." Then, an article in the newspaper "Adesmeftos Typos" clarified things. It proposed the lifetime blacklisting of the players participating in the Greek football delegation because their national consciousness had evaporated and been replaced by their multinational consciousness of commerce - meaning that they play for the money and not for the nation. The newspaper "Apoyevmatini" focused on the savage ingratitude of the Albanians demonstrating their hatred. "They had a bad time in Greece," it writes, "They were annoyed by the 'sweep-up' operations and so… These people who rob us, attack us, rape our women, cut us up with carving knives, kill us with Kalashnikovs." The writer forgot to write that he was stating all this with no racist feeling whatsoever. He'll do that at another time. Meanwhile, the T.V. cameras were ingratiatingly covering the protest by fans at the airport (their number did not exceed 10), who just simply happened to be there on the team's return to Greece and made sure to protest the "national denigration" since the "wealthy national team" dared to lose to the Albanians whom "we're feeding here." A New Democracy parliament member very well-known in patriotic marketing, by the name of Yiakoumatos, was wailing on one of the television panels about the wretchedness of the national team, the ingratitude of the Albanians and the rumpling of the national pride. His main argument was that the Albanian coach said that, "we Albanians had soul," which meant that "we Greeks didn't." This syllogism was unbearable for the Greek nation and especially, he meant, when you're playing a nation like the Albanians. The efforts of the other panel members to convince him that this was about a football game were in vain. It certainly would have been interesting to also mention the dissenters and the entire climate. There were albeit few, one-sidedly only in Greece, while it seems that in Albania the "redemption of national pride" did not allow for that sort of thing.
As for those in accord on both sides of the border we dedicate the quote from Danilo Kis that cite how a true nationalist thinks both inside and outside the stadium walls: "we're drunkards, but they're alcoholics and junkies. We're nationalistic, but they're worse than us…" And let's add from our side, "we're always the victims and benefactors, they're always the predators and ingrates." So, see you again in the black-and-white stadium of our future.