Letter to the Editor: Football violence, national shame

Dear Sir,
Having followed the correspondence regarding the British indifference to, and ignorance of Slovakia, I was given the impression of a nation emerging from its past years of communist misrule, and understandably demanding some recognition for its efforts, some recognition of its greatness, and some understanding.

[Slovakia's recent] football match in Bratislava against England certainly addressed some of these issues, but not in a wholly positive way. With the exception of the Slovakia football squad, who by most accounts deserved to win the game, the international exposure given to Slovakia by the match was entirely squandered. What was witnessed by millions of Europeans was a nation of small-minded, racist, reactionary and incompetent Slovaks incapable of hosting a pub darts match, let alone an international football event.

I am sympathetic to anyone who has had the misfortune to encounter a group of rowdy, drunken, possibly violent English football fans in their local bar. I can see why they were expelled. I don't quite understand why a "private security company" was called rather than the police, but I accept that there may well be cultural reasons for this. The shooting of two English fans, one in the leg and one in the neck, with countless spent cartridges collected around the area, does suggest that an alternative means of control would have been preferable. However I am happy to accept that things can go wrong whatever the preparation.

What was unforgivable was the racist abuse throughout the match aimed at the nonwhite England players. It was clearly heard in the stadium and throughout Europe via TV and radio. Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England manager, has complained, the English FA has complained, and UEFA is launching an enquiry. These events may well lead to Slovak supporters being banned from the next England vs Slovakia match in the UK. If so, I believe this would be the right decision, serving not only as a warning to Slovakia but to other countries in Europe where this unacceptable behaviour is still tolerated.

My wife is from Slovakia, I am from London, where we both now live. We have visited Slovakia together on a number of occasions, during which time I have been overwhelmingly impressed by the country and its people. It's the racism that concerns me about Slovakia. Not only the kind that was witnessed at yesterday's football match but, for example, the attitude adopted by the masses towards the Roma community: the "Roma Problem", as I so often hear it described.

In the EU strategy paper released October 9, dealing with the progress towards accession by each of the candidate countries, much is detailed regarding the great progress Slovakia is making in fulfilling the preconditions of EU membership. However, it is clear from the report that the Roma community is even now subject to an institutionalised level of racism that is unacceptable.

Amongst the English, I tend to adopt an overtly supportive attitude to Slovakia. This is founded on my experience of my wife's family, the people I have met visiting the country and what I have read regarding Slovakia's long struggle against tyranny and oppression. In private though, I ask myself how this view would differ had my colour been something other than Anglo Saxon white.

Britain is not a nation free from racism. However, there is a recognition within all mainstream political parties, unions and public bodies, which is underwritten in law, that discrimination of minorities is unacceptable. Until Slovakia adopts a clear stand against such attitudes I personally, whilst supporting Slovakia in my heart, will always question why, as a nation, Slovakia appears to be suspicious, if not hostile, towards ethnic diversity.

Mike Benso, London

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