Add your Insight
07 June 2021
Football Fans’ Identities in Central and Eastern Europe: What Happened over 30 Years?
International webinar on 14 May 2021, Université Libre de Bruxelles [Cevipol]
What territories and for how long?
More than 30 years after the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, enough time has elapsed to allow researchers to provide detailed answers to one question: how have the region’s football fans’ identities transformed and what these evolutions can teach us about their respective societies. One must interrogate if 1989 can really be deemed a breaking point in the field of football fans, a genuine regional T0. Geographically, our interest spans through Bulgaria, Czech Republic, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, the former Yugoslav (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia) and Soviet republics and Albania.
What underlies the (re)construction of group identities?
The dialectical analysis of disruptions and continuities with the recent past could shed light on several aspects of fans’ identities. May one speak of similar evolutions from the same moment in time or were there only isolated processes of collective identities’ (re)construction? What could have underlain the construction of group identities in societies undertaking the deconstruction of the communist societal model? The return towards an exalted past and the socio-political criticism of present times nurture the imagination of regional fans, but do these two dimensions partake in an ethos transcending ultra movements?
Confronting the past: break, change or continuity?
Football fan groups rely on the symbolic value of a heritage. Fans of former clubs associated with communist power (army, militia) had to resignify their teams, vesting new values into them during the post-communist transition. This webinar shall explore the strategies and variations of such attempts. Some clubs acquired a massive fan base under communism as they faced persecutions from the authorities, or at least gained a symbolic capital because of this rebellious aura and the real or perceived oppression. For their fans, coming to terms with the recent past was a lot easier. Nonetheless, the logic of enduring dissent eventually collided with the yearning for renewal inspired by deep societal transformations. The scope of the webinar also pertains to the continuities with fan movements during communism or even the interwar period for fans of clubs established before 1945.
What sort of politicisation in the stands?
The far right is overrepresented in the stands of the respective countries’ stadia, even where its political weight is negligible. Is it a ‘return’ far right, drawing its cultural references from interwar fascist movements, or rather a ‘modern’ far right using football as its showcase? The issue of what sort of politicisation operates among football fans and how it works is central to our endeavour. The avenues and forms of politicisation are identity pillars. Tensions and rivalries stemming from different political posturing among fans of the same club, as well as between fans of competing clubs, have the potential to foster divisions worth exploring. Seweryn Dmowski drew a geographic typology of football rivalries encompassing the lines of ethnic conflict. Societal and political cleavages going far beyond the ethnic fractures, contributions investigating a wider spectrum of rivalries with a potential impact in terms of identity shall also be welcome.
Globalisation and/or rooting: the fans’ options
Globalisation might trigger a ‘standardisation’ of fans. Local clubs lose support to Champions’ League tenors. Against this background, supporting local teams involves social, political and identity motives which are worth exploring. Sometimes, it can open avenues to politics. Accross the region, organised fans have frequently been politically instrumentalised, while the takeover of a club for gaining political weight has also been commonplace.
From regional identities to the instrumentalisation of fans
Democratisation might have allowed in these societies the open expression of new (or less new) identities, i.e. regional ones (as in Catalonia). Investigating the emergence of these identities in the stadia is a challenge this webinar intends to meet. Orbán Viktor’s Hungary uses football for consolidating the cohesion of Hungarian communities beyond its borders, by funding clubs in Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine. Besides this, the (non)emergence of centrifugal identities among the region’s football fans could prove a fertile research ground. The relation to state, in a region where there were only state-owned clubs before 1989 or even 1991, might also be widely instructive.
Diaspora and new infrastructures: do they account for something?
Central and Eastern Europe is highly affected by mass emigration, with youth leading the way. The impact of migration on the fans’ identity, be it through the advent of diaspora support or by a loss of intensity, is also a noteworthy possible research axis. The build-up of new infrastructures (stadia) might in turn weigh upon the construction of identities and all interventions aiming to test this hypothesis are welcome.
What place for violence in the fan cultures?
A cultural history of foreign influences over the region’s ultra groups might shed ample light on the relationship to the West. If the 1990s were dominated by the Italian role model, the continuation is more cosmopolitan. The more Western arenas became intolerant to violence, the more certain Eastern fans’ groupings (mostly in Poland) sought to gain recognition in this field. Exploring the place violence could still hold today in shaping the Eastern and Central Europe’s fans identities is a potentially rewarding avenue of research.
Selected papers from the Webinar will be published as a special issue of Soccer & Society.
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