Home News Black jerseys, banned flags: Euro 2024 fanatics drive politics

Black jerseys, banned flags: Euro 2024 fanatics drive politics

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The instructions are clear and concise.

Those who wish to go to the stadium with Hungarian fans to watch the first match of the Hungarian football team European Championships Expect to arrive on time at 10am, five hours before the start of the game.

The dress code was strict. Some people were allowed to wear black, others had to wear red, white and green, the colors of the national flag. Under no circumstances was there any flashy clothing. “Flamboyant colors, clown hats and bagpipes” were prohibited. Marchers were reminded, “You’re going to a football stadium, not a circus.”

The aggressive, slightly pretentious tone is uncomfortable given the source of the orders: the official Facebook page of the Carpathian Brigade, an ultranationalist faction of the group, which consists of a group of hardcore fans known as ultras who provide fierce and volatile support for the Hungarian national team.

In recent years, the Carpathian Brigades have become perhaps the most notorious extremist group in Europe, gaining fame from Clashes with police, Racial discrimination against opponents and Displaying homophobic bannersIn 2021, during the last European Championship, it had to Members are reminded to cover any Nazi-related tattoos So as not to violate German law.

None of this has stopped the Carpathian Brigade. If anything, it has accelerated its growth. Drawn to Hungarian patriotism and unabashedly right-wing values ​​— an ideology that both echoes and promotes the populist rhetoric of Prime Minister Viktor Orban — the group may now be able to muster as many as 15,000 members.

Nor is it an isolated case. Ultras dressed in black have become a fixture of Euro 2024 this month, with groups of hundreds, sometimes many more, seen at matches across Germany and in countries including Albania, Croatia, Romania and Slovakia.

While some of these groups were formed in response to Carpathian Brigades attacks, for the most part they share neither the motives nor the exact political agenda of the Carpathian Brigades, nor do any of them carry the same threatening aura.

However, their presence is a problem for European football’s governing body UEFA, which Fines imposed on some countries During the games, the groups were punished several times for “spreading inflammatory messages unsuitable for sports events”. These groups not only provided background music and visual feasts for the games, but also hinted at the rise of nationalism in Europe.

“This behavior is contagious,” said Piara Powar, executive director of Fare, an anti-discrimination network that monitors extremism in soccer. “For many of them, it’s more of a farce. But you have to be careful with this kind of thing because Hungarians take soccer seriously.”

The Carpathian Brigade’s power is unmatched. In Cologne, the march to the stadium this month was orderly, just as the group had requested. There was no violence and no bagpipes.

Hungary pushed the boundaries a little when it faced Germany a few days later in Stuttgart. During a march that day, the crowd sang to the tune of Gigi D’Agostino’s “Forever Love,” a song banned in Germany because its lyrics were often misinterpreted as “Ausländer raus,” or “Foreigners get out.”

Of course, this way of information transmission is in line with Mr. Orban’s worldview.

Football has already His core political views: Under his leadership, many Hungarian The stadium has been rebuiltmillions of dollars have been invested in clubs in Hungarian-majority regions of neighboring Hungary, where many professional teams are taken over by oligarchs with close ties to its ruling party, Fidesz.

He also often tacitly or informally approved the activities of the Carpathian Brigade, even though the Brigade’s actions would result in fines and penalties.

For example, Hungarian authorities have been lobbying UEFA to stop the anti-discrimination group Fare from monitoring national team matches and have tried to remove some of the symbols preferred by the Carpathian Brigades from Fare’s logo. Guide to Ultranationalist Images.

spokesman Subjective Assumptionone of the few organizations in Hungary dedicated to promoting diversity, said in an interview that the Carpathian Brigades’ actions — even under sanctions — benefited Mr. Orban because they satisfied his feeling that Hungary was being oppressed by the rest of Europe while also providing him a window into Hungary’s “brutal nature.”

The spokesman asked that his name not be published for fear of retaliation from the Carpathian Brigades.

This political support is what distinguishes the Karpathos from its rivals and imitators. Ultras in Albania, Croatia, Romania and elsewhere also wear black jerseys, but only because ultras across Europe do. “It’s a way to distinguish yourself from the average fan,” said Juraj Vrdoljak, a Croatian writer and former ultra.

While Vdolyak acknowledges that most ultras lean to the right politically — “We can’t pretend otherwise,” he says — few are willing to express such a pernicious mix of racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia as the Carpathian Brigades.

Vrdoliak said most ultras reject any form of authority and oversight and see the country’s football authorities and the government as “main enemies”. Last year, Croatia’s largest ultras group, which supports club teams, united and decided to allow its members to watch the national team for the first time since 2016. “They want to make themselves visible and have their voices heard in this way,” Vrdoliak said.

The same is true in Romania: At the opening match of Euro 2024, Romanian ultras unfurled a banner protesting their own persecution. Ultras who have despised the national team for years came to Germany to “show people that we need to be against the police and the league,” said Romanian ultra Cosmin, who gave only his first name for fear of attracting the attention of the authorities, in an interview before the match in Munich.

While Romania’s extreme factions have resisted attempts by far-right presidential candidate George Simion to connect with them — “He may have gone to a few games, but he’s not an extremist,” Cosmin said — they have a distinctly nationalist bent.

This year, a match against Kosovo was almost cancelled after Romanian ultras kept chanting “Kosovo belongs to Serbia” and “Bessarabia” (its eastern neighbor Moldova) belongs to Romania.

In Germany, Romanian fans flew the flag of Greater Romania, a geographical symbol that denies sovereignty to neighboring Moldova. In other matches, this historical or geographical discontent has manifested itself in support of Greater Albania, Greater Serbia and Greater Hungary.

These themes have caused headaches for UEFA, which has spent much of the first two weeks of the World Cup issuing fines to participating associations for nationalist behavior by their fans (for example, the Albanian FA was fined It will soon be over $100,000 The team’s supporters had already been accused of chanting nationalist slogans in the first two games, and on Monday the team broke the line for the third consecutive game.

Powar said the surge in provocative nationalist rhetoric may not be a problem that football’s governing body can solve with financial penalties alone.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine has created a real sense of danger in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe,” Povar said. But just as importantly, he said, it has also emboldened those — such as Orban’s unofficial foot soldiers in the Carpathian Brigade — who see in it an opportunity to express their own territorial ambitions.

“For a long time, even Orban was afraid to talk about ‘Greater Hungary,'” said Szubjektiv’s spokesman. “Now it’s just a bumper sticker on one in five cars. Many offices have it on their walls.”

“Ultimate fans make you wear a black T-shirt and feel like you’re part of a group,” he added. “We’re going to see more and more of that.”

Andrew Das contributed reporting from Düsseldorf, Germany.

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