Greek “footballer” Giorgos Katidis had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.
As you may or may not be aware, Giorgos Katidis was banned for life from playing for the Greek national football team after he celebrated a winning goal with a Nazi salute.
Let me back up for a moment. As you may or may not be aware, Wikipedia tells me that “football” is “a sport played between two teams of typically eleven players, though other variations in player numbers such as 5 and 7 are also played, with a spherical ball.” Presumably, scoring a “winning goal” is a good thing, but I have no idea, I don’t watch soccer.
Here’s what it looked like:
Anyway, Giorgos Katidis immediately took to Twitter [though I can find no evidence of this on Twitter, presumably because he took to Twitter in Greek] to defend himself, “I am not a fascist and I would not have done it if I had known what it means.”
Giorgos Katidis’ coach stood up for him: “He is a young kid who does not have any political ideas. He most likely saw such a salute on the internet or somewhere else and did it, without knowing what it means. I am 100 per cent sure that Giorgos did not know what he did.” But Giorgos Katidis’ coach sort of had to say Giorgos Katidis found the salute on the internet, because Giorgos Katidis’ coach is from Germany, and you know, if it wasn’t the internet…
In the wake of the incident, the BBC quite sensibly — a momentary departure from the norm, I assure you — asks, “Can you accidentally do a Nazi salute?” It answers: possibly.
For one thing, the Nazi salute is sort of a thing these days — especially among Greek football “hooligans”:
In Greece, the leader of the Golden Dawn far-right nationalist party has been shown making Nazi salutes at party rallies.
Members who use the arm-outstretched, flat palm, gesture, argue they are employing the “Roman salute”.
“There is a lot of work being done among Golden Dawn to recruit among the hooligan sections of the football clubs,” says Athens-based journalist Christos Michaelides.
In other words, there are probably a lot of people ineligible for the Greek national football team. Which isn’t necessarily fair, continues Athens-based journalist Christos Michaelides:
“There are those young people who are just fascinated by the party and its symbolism – the black clothes, the hair, tattooing themselves.
“They see Golden Dawn as a friendly party, which says that it can clean up Greek politics. They also like it because it is against foreigners.”
But some of those who are drawn to the party’s symbolism have no idea what it all means – even the salute, says Michaelides.
Quite right. They have no idea what the Nazi salute means: they just like it “because it is against foreigners.”
Others — like Matthew Goodwin, associate professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, and a specialist in political extremism — aren’t so sure:
“Football culture is symbolically rich and neo-Nazi-type gestures and symbols have become immersed in certain of those cultures… It’s obvious what they represent.”
Goodwin acknowledges that a generation is emerging that has grown up with little personal connection with the war or the Holocaust. Their grandparents will have been children in the 1930s, if they were alive at all. But, he argues, they do retain a basic understanding of the meaning of Sieg Heil gestures.
“Europe still displays a fascination with Nazi Germany – its paraphernalia and culture is still very heavily present. There is the popular culture, the films – the symbolism is still represented,” he says.
In Greece, in particular, it is “incredibly doubtful” that people don’t have notion of what the symbolism or gestures mean, says Goodwin – partly because of all the fuss over Golden Dawn.
But this approach — trying to figure out what Giorgos Katidis knew — and how — and when — doesn’t actually get us any closer to what we’re actually interested in: whether you can accidentally do a Nazi salute.
It would be more instructive to ask whether someone who knows exactly what he’s doing can accidentally do a Nazi salute. So how’s this for an answer?