I was shocked to hear about the racist riots in Moscow last weekend. A hooligan supporter of Spartak Moscow was shot by caucasian men, and footbal fans retaliated with a mayhem that ended with two people dead. I am no good at russian, but I think it is a good thing that Gazeta.ru dares calling the beast by its name - pogroms.
In the Guardian article above western commentators and russian liberals sees the Russian authorities as partly responsible for fomenting xenophobical feelings to divert frustrations over social and economical woes.
Making a political connection is probably correct. For all I know about Russia, it would be impossible to imagine any other kind of organised people than football fans to cause such havoc in downtown Moscow.
And Russia is not alone. Football fans are pivotal actors on the political scenes in many post-communist countries, not least on the Balkans. In the book This is Serbia Calling, Matthew Collins mentions how it was the fans of Red Star Belgrade that both brought Milosveic to power, and fought the decisive battle against his police when he fell.
Fan's graffiti from Beograd
The football fans of Bulgaria are not any more pleasant than the Spartak Moscow ones - they were probably the only kind of people that truly scared me while I was living in Sofia. In the beautiful film Eastern Plays they are depicted as doing the dirty work for politicians. Something that is easy to believe but maybe harder to prove.
But after all, who was it that decided the course of events on 14/1 2009? The people I talked to after the riots all said that football fans came uninvited to the protests, to fight with the police. For the fun of it? Or did someone want them there?
I don't know. Their presence turned the demonstration violent, and changed the political dynamics into something that was impossible for the Stanishev government to manage.
Someone who wants to really understand the politics of Eastern Europe should make reasearch on the violent football fans. maybe someone has already done it - if you know of any such work, please let me know!