Those that remember as far back as Euro 2012 will know that much debate about Croatia’s role in the tournament will surround the racist chants, banners and attitudes of the nation’s travelling supporters. Last time around the Croatian FA were twice fined for their fans’ actions.
The usual approach to such racist behaviour is to state that these acts are ‘outdated.’ Of course, this criticism almost always comes from a good place, asserting that we have no time in the modern age for behaviour that we (largely) universally condemn as unacceptable. However, there is a strange distancing of our age and ourselves from the issue here. Can we say these forms of expression are outdated whilst we witness them taking place in 2012, and under the threat of seeing them again in 2014?
First, we must acknowledge that racism (in most of its forms at least) is closely connected to nostalgia. This is a point that hardly needs demonstrating; racism is almost always couched in a language of ‘the old days,’ ‘traditional values,’ and the ‘great past’ of the nation or race being celebrated. This can easily be demonstrated in the case of Croatian football; the banners shown in 2012 contained military images and a web address of a political site dedicated to ‘the promotion of Croatian heritage and culture around the world.’ Its motto is ‘Pravda je izgubila ravnotežu,’ which is translated as ‘Justice has lost her way;’ the language of nationalism is one of nostalgia for a ‘lost’ past in which things we on the right track.
Second, and more complexly, nostalgia operates or can operate where there is nothing to be nostalgic for. Or rather, that which we are nostalgic for is often an imaginary space created from the present and projected onto the past which we conceive of as answering the problems we are faced with in modernity. As Svetlana Boym notes, nostalgia is ‘an affective yearning for a community with collective memory, a longing for continuity in a fragmented world.’ This once more is perfectly demonstrated by the place of Croatian nationalist culture. A fantastic article by Gordana Crnkovic on Croatian nationalist and non-nationalist culture demonstrates that whereas Croatian culture was historically very diverse, containing Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian and other cultural influences from the region, after the war and independence a new demand for a cultural identity ‘truly its own’ was borne in Croatia. Whilst it had a diverse history, it needed a singular one; the history it searched for was one that it never had.
Croatian cultural commentator Jurica Pavicic put it another way, saying, ‘we traded away our identity because it stank of our neighbours, and for that we got corporate goods, faceless global trademarks to whom we bow.’ The point again here is that what is missing now – a truly Croatian identity – never existed; it was always a miscellany of various cultural influences. It is racism that creates an imagined time in which justice had not lost its way, in which we had an identity truly our own.
Does not the criticism of this racism as ‘outdated,’ whilst we see it around us in more forms than we would like to admit, not risk allowing this belief to maintain its hold? It asserts the existence of a time in which it was legitimate to believe such things, and distances our modern world from this ancient and backwards day (even the language celebrates the ‘progress’ of modernity).
Thus, this criticism of racism as ‘outdated’ gives racism the very thing it needs to lament: an imaginary world in which its unacceptable beliefs were permitted. In placing racism in the ‘outdated’ past we give it the very thing that it needs; an imaginary space in which racism was not only allowed but believed in. We simultaneously avoid dealing with the very modern presence of these problems by distancing our own world from them when in fact it can be our own modernity which creates this dangerous nostalgia for a different and even racist past.
What we see here is the danger that the World Cup functions as a celebration of modernity which actually benefits from the appearance of its ‘backwards’ past – since it is that which it celebrates itself as having progressed from – but which does not deal (except perhaps by a measly £65k fine) with its continuing role in our present.
Posted by Alfie Bown