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The “United or Divided?” Euro 2020 Edition ⚽

The “United or Divided?” Euro 2020 Edition ⚽
By Weekly Focus by n-ost • Issue #11 • View online
Hi and welcome to the 11th issue of the Weekly Focus!
It’s coming home. Even if you are in England. We mean our timeless n-ost publication homegames21.eu. Writers from across Europe explain the continent to us through football. You can order it here for free (postage only).

Plagued by COVID-19, the Euro 2020 provided a sense of as much normalcy as it could this summer with Italy emerging victorious over England at the finals in Wembley. As always, the Euro demonstrated nationalism and internationalism, unity and division — although, arguably, this time it was a bit more political than usual. 
From football players kneeling on the pitch to the jeers and boos from some fans, Black English players facing racist abuse online, to more geopolitical and European questions — beyond the EU vs. Brexit theme, came the “sportswashing” venue choice at Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, the Ukrainian team’s jerseys and the Munich rainbow stadium controversy over Hungary’s anti-LGBT law. 
Initially, the Euro 2020 started as an innovation: the first tournament to be held all over the continent, in 11 cities, paving the way for a big integrated European fiesta. But did it really contribute to European understanding?
Christian-Zsolt Varga, this week’s Editorial Coordinator
Samindra Kunti (Leuven), Amalie Klitgaard (Copenhagen), Botond Csepregi (Budapest), Jacob Sweetman (Berlin), Christian-Zsolt Varga (Berlin).
Samindra Kunti (Leuven), Amalie Klitgaard (Copenhagen), Botond Csepregi (Budapest), Jacob Sweetman (Berlin), Christian-Zsolt Varga (Berlin).
United 1:1 Divided
Croatian fans congregating in the city center of Copenhagen. The photo was taken by our author Samindra Kunti, who travelled across the continent to cover this summer's Euro from Saint Petersburg, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Munich and London.
Croatian fans congregating in the city center of Copenhagen. The photo was taken by our author Samindra Kunti, who travelled across the continent to cover this summer's Euro from Saint Petersburg, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Munich and London.
The Euro 2020 felt like the real thing from the moment the opening ceremony began. This was no longer football at Madame Tussauds, but febrile and fevered nights of shared cultural experience. Football’s hibernation came to an end, a stripped-back tournament in which collective endeavor replaced star power took hold. Across the continent, Europeans rejoiced at the game’s reawakening, the tribalism of club football forgotten.
From the Caspian Sea to London, fans slogged their way to far-flung cities to attend matches at corporate cathedrals, often traveling in the wee hours of the night, and staying at shabby, overpriced hotels. All the while with Covid-19 lurking in the background. In Saint Petersburg, the virus seemingly didn’t exist. A 40-men strong Russian TV production crew invaded my Petrogradskaya basecamp, all unmasked and unvaccinated at the height of a third wave. In Amsterdam, the testing system simply collapsed, and in Copenhagen, masks were a rarity.
The endless testing and rules wore down even the most vigilant travelers. Overall though, fandom in the pandemic was different: more sanitized, more sterile and with less mingling, the joyous scenes of cultural exchange from the World Cup a distant memory. 
Even so, on a base level, the tournament did unite Europeans. How often, after all, do a Frenchman, a Portuguese and a Swede share a communal experience? Political scientist Benedict Anderson argues that in a large society, one will never meet the vast majority of those who claim to have the same identity as us – an Englishmen from Brighton cannot meet all his fellow countrymen – and thus a sense of community is produced not by face-to-face interaction, but in the collective imagination — and football is the perfect lubricant, on TV or in the stadium. The Danes’ tournament was an exercise in nation-building, the North Macedonians flooded Bucharest and the Belgians once again turned into 90-minute patriots.
The final however symbolized existential divides, a matchup between England and the continent, between English exceptionalism and the commendable values of Gareth Southgate and his young stars. Football, in 2021, has never been more political.
Samindra Kunti is a freelance football reporter, whose work has been featured on BBC, Forbes, World Soccer and Josimar. At home, he backs Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku in his social activism against racism.
Samindra Kunti is a freelance football reporter, whose work has been featured on BBC, Forbes, World Soccer and Josimar. At home, he backs Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku in his social activism against racism.
🇩🇰 A heart attack that depoliticized Denmark’s flag?
Denmark's Euro 2020 brought out all to the streets under the common belief that the team would live up to the narrative from 1992: That a small nation can win against the football Goliaths. That didn't happen, but it brought patriotism forward. Photo: Josefine Hummelmose.
Denmark's Euro 2020 brought out all to the streets under the common belief that the team would live up to the narrative from 1992: That a small nation can win against the football Goliaths. That didn't happen, but it brought patriotism forward. Photo: Josefine Hummelmose.
When the Danish star player Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest, it shocked and united the country. As his fellow players surrounded him, Danes came together in their living rooms. Even though Denmark lost to England in the semi-finals, the football player’s survival meant victory for many and boosted its national narrative.
Suddenly nationalism is considered “positive” and “beautiful” (and not protectionist) because it brought the Danes together to take care of each other, a conservative newspaper wrote. Today, the Danish flag is waving proudly from windows and is no longer shamefully hidden due to populistic right-wing politicians hijacking its connotations for decades. Multiple media commentators have announced that the flag has been “depoliticized” — it now includes, rather than excludes.
Yes, the Euro 2020 was an emotional rollercoaster for Denmark, but in a time when “nationals first” and anti-immigration stances have become part of the mainstream political discourse, it sounds a bit hollow that a common pride of “our boys” should suddenly include everyone. Recently, a young writer criticized the use of the Danish flag under the tournament, arguing that it is not a neutral symbol of community, but “a plagued symbol of an extremist ideology led by far-right parties.”
It did not take long for the populist and anti-migration right-wing Danish People’s Party to claim that they never took monopoly over the Danish flag. Even though the former second-largest party in the Parliament incorporated the national flag into their logo and actively used it to signal EU-scepticism and their nationalistic politics. This is a party that emerged after Danes rejected the Maastricht Treaty in a referendum following the national team’s victory at the Euro championship in 1992. 
Will we see history repeat itself? Although Denmark did not win this year, Eriksen’s heart attack and the following saga of the Danish football team could potentially lead to a new wave of nationalism. Maybe a less demonised, far-right type. But as radio host Christoffer Emil Bruun wrote, it could become a nationalism that favours the national state over a European Union.
Amalie Klitgaard is a freelance multimedia journalist covering international and social issues in Denmark, Spain, and China. She has always been more into the politics of nationalism than sport, but nevertheless toasted (read: got drunk) when football didn’t come home.
Amalie Klitgaard is a freelance multimedia journalist covering international and social issues in Denmark, Spain, and China. She has always been more into the politics of nationalism than sport, but nevertheless toasted (read: got drunk) when football didn’t come home.
🇭🇺 The end of a common Hungarian dream
Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/tim_ellis (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/tim_ellis (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Before the Euro, most Hungarians had hoped the euphoria and football fiesta of 2016 would return to the streets of Budapest and into the hearts of millions of citizens. The shocking success of the national team back in ’16 caused long-waited buzz and unity in the ranks of the Hungarian society.
It turned out that football– that remains to be labelled as the insanely expensive hobby of Orbán – still can unite the ever-arguing and painfully divided Hungarians to cheer together and forget all their problems, at least for some glory days.
Just a few days after the recent tournament it is clear that unity failed to return to the country this June. And it’s hard to think that this was anything other than the will of Viktor Orbán.
It all started days before the Euros when Orbán not only agreed with the Hungarian fans who booed the kneeling Irish players at a friendly in Budapest, but even added that “If you are a guest in a country, then understand its culture and don’t provoke the locals.”
Later, after the draw against the reigning world champion France, the state propaganda declared that we should be thankful to Orbán for the team’s success.
And on top of that, the prime minister and his party turned the quarrel about the rainbow lighting at the Munich stadium a part of the 2022 elections campaign. Orbán didn’t foresee that his homophobic law would cause such general outcry in Europe. But when it happened, he used football in his imagined European freedom fight. While many clubs all over Europe illuminated their stadiums in rainbow colours out of solidarity, the state-controlled Hungarian football scene perfused the domestic stadiums with lights of the Hungarian national flag.
The fiesta on the streets of Budapest has been cancelled – not in the wake of the coronavirus, but as a result of a calculated division. One cannot full-heartedly celebrate the great performance of the Hungarian team anymore without inadvertently supporting the Orbán regime.
Botond Csepregi is a freelance journalist writing about football and politics. He grew up near Viktor Orbán’s village, went to the same school as the prime minister and supports the same football club as him — but ended up as a critic of his regime.
Botond Csepregi is a freelance journalist writing about football and politics. He grew up near Viktor Orbán’s village, went to the same school as the prime minister and supports the same football club as him — but ended up as a critic of his regime.
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England’s players pay the penalty
Tweet by English centre-back national player Tryone Mings. Screenshot: twitter.com/OfficialTM_3
Tweet by English centre-back national player Tryone Mings. Screenshot: twitter.com/OfficialTM_3
Earlier this year, Pritti Patel, the belligerent UK Home secretary, pointedly refused to condemn anyone who booed the England footballers as they took a knee in protest at racial injustice. Now, her tweet calling out racism has come a little too late.
This was largely the sum of her involvement in the game thus far, at least until England beat Denmark in last week’s semi-final, when she released a carefully taken photograph of her own celebrations. 
Up to Sunday night’s loss in the final to Italy, football once again was in the front line.
In June 2020, during the first Covid summer, England found itself in a febrile state. The Black Lives Matter movement was inspiring panic, and the government seemed keen to stoke the flames of the “culture war” raging across the pages of newspapers and on social media in the absence of pubs to host the discourse.  
It was billed as ‘the wokes’ versus the patriots.
Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United centre-forward who had already forced Boris Johnson’s government into a humiliating climbdown over the subject of free meals for children, was just one of the England footballers who would find themselves at the heart of this battle as the postponed European Championships began.
Their silent taking of the knee was jeered at two friendly games on the eve of the tournament, despite eloquent statements as to why the players made the gesture. In the words of commentator Toby Young, they were supporting “a neo-Marxist political movement that wants to dismantle the nuclear family, defund the police and end capitalism.” 
One person not watching though was Tory MP Lee Anderson, who had promised to boycott the games. “For the first time in my life I will not be watching my beloved England team whilst they are supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life,” he said.
So, following England’s loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday night, with Rashford missing a spot-kick, Patel’s protestations at the inevitable racist abuse he received came across as somewhat less than genuine. 
Jacob Sweetman is an English-born, Berlin-based author and sportswriter. He has the misfortune to support the football team of the country of his birth.
Jacob Sweetman is an English-born, Berlin-based author and sportswriter. He has the misfortune to support the football team of the country of his birth.
🇦🇿 1 question to... Anar Mammadli
Anar Mammadli is a political and human rights activist and former political prisoner of the Azerbaijani regime. In 2014, he was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Today, he is the chairperson of the Election Monitoring and Democracies Studies Center.
Anar Mammadli is a political and human rights activist and former political prisoner of the Azerbaijani regime. In 2014, he was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Today, he is the chairperson of the Election Monitoring and Democracies Studies Center.
Mr. Mammadli, did the Euro 2020 bring Azerbaijan closer to Europe? 
Yes and no. First, you need to know that people in Azerbaijan often feel very isolated. Europe does not accept us as part of the European family, as a member of this continent.
So to bring in the Euro or other types of sport and cultural events gives our society a chance to hold people-to-people contact. It’s especially important for the younger generations. They want to see the Czechs, Swedes, Welshmen and Danes and experience themselves as a part of Europe.
To see all these foreigners coming from different parts of Europe, bringing their different flags and integrating with each other is a very positive thing for Azerbaijan.
But there are also disadvantages. Such events will always be part of the political propaganda and manipulation of the ruling political elite. Unfortunately, it helps them whitewash their bad reputation. They try to show that they are part of the European family; that they respect the European core values. But it is only an imitation.
Just look at our bad records when it comes to the democratic institutions in our country: the rule of law and human rights, political freedoms, election rights, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly… Right now more than 60 people are in jail for their criticism, their independent voices and their activism.
So is hosting a signal for European integration? My answer is no. 
And as a citizen, I’m also afraid that in the future more events like the Euro will take place in Baku because it’s always another chance for corruption. For example, when the European Sports Games took place in Azerbaijan in 2015 they spent approximately 3 billion dollars to build the infrastructure. But there was no financial reporting. How did they spend this money? We don’t know.
So this is somehow, for me, the dilemma.
Christian-Zsolt Varga is the Coordinating Editor at n-ost with a focus on European cross-border publications.
Christian-Zsolt Varga is the Coordinating Editor at n-ost with a focus on European cross-border publications.
Author's pick: What we were reading
The England squad is built on immigration – yet our xenophobic government dares to cheer it on
Politics have entered the football pitch. Was it inevitable? | Euronews
Watching Wembley in the woods
What brought on the racist abuse after the final? | eurotopics.net
Home Games
Editing & proofreading: Lucy Martirosyan / Production: Katya Kovalenko
Editing & proofreading: Lucy Martirosyan / Production: Katya Kovalenko
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