Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | December 22, 2012

‘Zenit’ fans’ manifesto: Did the press miss the point?

The publication by Zenit St Petersburg football fans of a manifesto entitled ‘Selection 12’ appears to confirm the underswell of racism and xenophobia among Russian football fans which has also been the subject of earlier MYPLACE blogs. Maria Tsygankova (Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg) argues here, however, that press coverage has focused on just one element of what is in fact a broad criticism of the ‘business model’ of contemporary football and a call to ‘Zenit’ owners and managers to find an alternative path.

‘The Twelfth Selection’ – the manifesto of Zenit football fans published on the Landscrona fan website ( – has caused a storm not only in the field of professional football but also among journalists and fans. However, there is one very important ‘but’ in this story. Very few commenting on it have read the document from beginning to end. The majority, for some reason, have concentrated on one specific issue; the question of Zenit and its attitude to black players.[1]

Of course we cannot ignore what the fans said on this matter but it is important to set it in the context of what else the manifesto contained.  First, the fans commented on the actions of one of the apprentices of the St Petersburg club. For those who don’t know, in September, the Zenit defender  Igor’ Denisov refused to play in the match against Krylia Sovetov unless his wages were raised in line with that of the ‘Legionnaires’[2]. The team’s management decided to reassign him to the youth team, claiming wages were more or less equal. The second point made in the manifesto follows directly from the first. Football, the fans complain, is becoming more about the profit to be made on the season’s results than the game itself:

This way of conducting football business (given competent management of the club), on the one hand, allows certain clubs to develop and guarantees sporting success. On the other hand, football increasingly resembles a factory which, similar to Hollywood, produces standard (as it is fashionable to say now) ‘football projects’ each of which tries to climb Olympus and reap its cash prize.

The fans say that for them it is important that Zenit retains its identity. The identity of the club, they are certain, will help furnish the players with a certain set of qualities. In terms of football these include: dedication, an ability to compete to the very last minute of the match regardless of the score, not cheating (through diving etc), and a desire to win by honest means. The list continues of the human qualities fans would like to see in players. These include abstention from smoking and drinking, homosexuality, ‘star syndrome’ and ‘bullying’ (of younger footballers). In addition to the qualities already noted, the ideal player for fans is someone who behaves respectably in everyday life, has an interest in the history and traditions of St Petersburg and Russia and…. ‘has a respectful attitude to accurate and professional representatives of the media who work for fans’.

Then they make a suggestion, with which you may not agree, but would certainly not be poorly received by me or the majority of my friends since, if it were to happen, football would become a lot more interesting to watch even if it meant that the club we support ceased to be the best club in Eastern Europe (as Zenit likes to promote itself) and became just an average team in the Russian championship. The suggestion is that local players be given preference in recruiting to the team. The proposal envisages a series of concentric circles. Priority would be give to players from the inner circle – St Petersburg  and Leningrad region. Moving outwards, then players might be taken from the North-Western Federal region and central Russia, then the rest of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the Slavic countries, the Baltic countries and Scandivania, and only then the rest of Europe.

Here the real question is, do we invest money in the growth of the team and its long-term prospects (i.e. try to grow our own young stars), or do we spend money here and now to buy up the best from the whole world? The fans also say that ceilings for wages of players should be set. And what’s wrong with that? When you are a star and have in a month more than a normal person could barely earn in a year, you can go a bit crazy.

A word on the question of apprentices. It is worth recounting here a particularly negative example at Zenit. A young player who had successfully made it into the main squad of the club was arrested by the police. They had stopped his ‘Infinity’ car in the centre of the city and found a young woman, who had been drinking, behind the wheel. She turned out to be the wife of a Zenit player. While they were writing out the ticket, the footballer moved from the passenger seat into the driving seat and drove off. He was also drunk. When the police stopped the ‘star’, insults flew. He was deprived of his driving license for 18 months and fined for minor hooliganism (although surely his actions were more serious than showing one’s backside on Dvortsovaia Square). The affair ended in his transfer to another, weaker club – Kuban’ (Krasnodar). It left a sour taste for fans, however. Star syndrome appears to be catching.

Finally, we need to address the question of the fans’ demand that the club say ‘no to blacks and gays in Zenit’… Again, context is important here. In contrast to Europe, Russian society retains a largely traditional attitude to homosexuality, with all the attendant consequences, including homophobia. The state’s actions only encourage such attitudes. The paragraph on the prohibition of LGBT propaganda  in St Petersburg code of administrative offences is to be rolled out to the whole of Russia. And finally, that on which everybody as focused – the resistance to black players. In the manifesto, the fans say that they are not against black players in principle or their presence in the Petersburg club in particular. But that it is simply better to manage without them.  Arguably, a statement by Zenit fans that they would prefer the team to prioritise bringing on their own apprentices would not have drawn so much attention had it not be seen in the context of previous incidents (the Ku-klux-klan hoods during the Marseilles match in 2008 or more recent incidents of offering bananas to, and throwing banana skins at, dark-skinned players. But, in fact, the statement, in its entirety, is about something rather different; the need to nurture one’s own stars.

p.s. Of course, it must be acknowledged that there are certainly aggressively oriented groups in among St Petersburg fans and that ever more frequently the words ‘white power’ can be heard at the Petrovskii stadium. But these are isolated groups and the overwhelming majority of fans (including leaders of the fan movement) clearly do not support these sentiments.

[1] The manifesto was widely reported to constitute a call by Zenit St Petersburg fans to exclude non-white and gay players from the team. See:

[2] A term used in Russia to denote ‘foreign players’ as opposed to those coming through as apprentices in the domestic system.

Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | December 18, 2012

The students have supported the teachers´ strike in Slovakia

Prof Ladislav Machacek, Dr Jaroslav Mihalik and the MYPLACE research team in Slovakia, send this piece on the recent teacher’s strike there.

For more information on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE

The overlap of November and December was marked by a teachers´ strike in Slovakia. The teachers and staff are demanding a salary increase of 10 per cent. One of the determining factors has become the support of the pupils and students mostly from the secondary schools when they did not stay at home and enjoy the free days but instead they came to settle down in their schools to show their enthusiasm and support to help their teachers in their demands.

Slovak teacher strike 1

Photo: SITA

There are plenty of video records and protests from the streets (see below link):

In the video we can see a young student confessing that the students were not abused or exploited by the teachers but the young generation accepts that students and teachers have a  common interest in improving the quality of youth education.

The result of the strike and negotiations between the government and school union was an increase the salaries of teachers  by 11.3 per cent in 2013 and a promise from the Ministry of Education in Slovakia to improve the education and the processes  for youth work  and children. New networks are to be established to rationalize the demographic  and social discourse for the children and youth of Slovakia.

Photo: SITA

Photo: SITA

The full article available:

Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | December 6, 2012

Racism, fascism and the Greek youth.

The Greek MYPLACE team at Panteion University of Social And Political Sciences present their latest blog, discussing the rising influence of racism and fascism in Greece and the sharpening of the struggle for the minds and hearts of young people.

A few days after our previous post about Golden Dawn’s influence on Greek youth and particularly on secondary education students , the subject came up again in the media, because of two new incidents.

Burning immigrants for fun: “We went to burn the Pakistanis for fun. There wasn’t anything to do for the afternoon and we decided to go and hit them”

In the first incident, four young Greeks (aged 17, 19, 20 and 23) were arrested outside Athens for having attacked the house of two immigrants from Pakistan, who live permanently in Greece and work in a printing shop. They had caused damages to the house and tried to set fire to a motorbike outside it. According to media reports, the young people arrested said that they had nothing against immigrants in Greece and that they attacked the house “for fun”, because they didn’t know what to do during the afternoon.

Moreover, one of them revealed that he had been the victim of a racist attack when he was living with his parents in Germany as immigrants. Two of the arrested are students in private colleges; one works in a company selling military equipment and one is a high school student. All of them denied any relationship with extreme-right organizations and they explained their actions as “a result of boredom”. However, the police are sceptical about it, since, they say, they have found indications that the attack had been planned.

One of the immigrants whose house was attacked points at a broken window after the attack.

One of the immigrants whose house was attacked points at a broken window after the attack.

This incident reminded a last August case, when five young people (15, 17, 18, 18, and 19 years old) had attacked with a knife and had injured immigrants from India in Rethymnon, Crete.

“Our grandparents refugees, our parents immigrants, us racists”Source: Alexandros Sakelariou (Athens, 2012)

“Our grandparents refugees, our parents immigrants, us racists”
Source: Alexandros Sakelariou (Athens, 2012)

Antifa struggles in schools and in the streets

The second incident was a violent fight between students of Albanian origin and fellow students supporting Golden Dawn in Hersonesos, a village 25km outside Heraklion, Crete in the aftermath of the incidents during the party’s leading group two-day political tour in Crete. In this case, the clash between the two groups of high school students took place because of antifa comments on facebook about the incidents during GD’s final stop in the County of Heraklion.

A couple of days earlier than the students’ clash, Golden Dawn had organized an event in Hersonesos village, but an antifa group from the city of Heraklion organized a counter-rally and protest causing great anger to participating GD members and MPs.

The following video is from the events in Hersonesos that provoked the a/m students’ clash: In the video, the GD MP Elias Kassidiaris threatens the chiefs of the police force blocking the way between the GD members and the antifa  counter-rally, with killings and with suing them for “breach of duty”, because, according to him, the police tolerates the antifa counter-rally instead of suppressing and arresting them (1:37-2:10: E. Kassidiaris: “I will fuck them all…you have my word that there will be dead people today, there will be dead today… I will sue you both, I will sue you both for breach of duty… how I’m I going to make my event, when they [the antifa] attack and destroy the cars arriving here and you are playing with your penises? Is it possible to make my event?…”).

Later on, speaking to journalists, the same MP accused the government and the media for being hostile toward GD, “although it’s a legal political party”, and protective toward the antifa who are “punks”. He also threatened that the next day “there will be havoc in the parliament” (3:38-3:42).

Moreover, during the event, another GD MP, Christos Pappas, declared that they (the GD) “have no problem at all to unfold and show [publicly]” the 1967 military junta’s emblem depicting the, out of its ashes and the army, reborn phoenix, reading on top “HELLAS” (“GREECE”) and at the bottom “APRIL, 21” (the date the military coup was perpetrated in 1967). As he explained, as soon as the audience’s enthusiastic cheering and handclapping stopped, “… it is symbolic, the reborn phoenix, which is a symbol used by many, the military regime included, it had also been used in the 1821 revolution [against the Ottoman Empire] … is Greece itself that will be reborn out of its ashes” (7:25-8:45).

The event ended with all the participants in attention, chanting the Greek national anthem, because, as the MP E. Kassidiaris said once again, “our style is not so much political as it is military” (8:48-9:55).

A couple of days after these events, the a/m two student groups clashed in Hersonesos and two of the students were injured and transferred to the local hospital.

This incident had also been the escalation of the rivalry that had emerged between two high school students, a GD supporter and a fellow-student of Albanian origin, when the former had called the latter to “duel”, after he (the latter) had supported other antifa fellow-students who had written antifa slogans on the school’s walls (see our previous post about GD and the Greek schools).

It is worth mentioning that these events in Hersonesos were also the outcome of the long-lasting open clash between GD and the strong antifa front in Crete and particularly in the city of Heraklion. GD had been trying for many months to open a local branch in this city, but the massive and tenacious resistance of the city’s antifascists has blocked all its attempts. Until now, GD has not been able to officially open a local branch in the city and, because of the city’s hostility, they avoided appearing there and they set up the a/m event away, in the Hersonesos village, where they faced the a/m antifa counter-rally.



Antifa Police

Antifa struggles have also become very common in other cities of Crete as well as in many other regions and in Athens.

In Chania, Crete. an antifa demonstration and counter rally had been organized in 24/11 during a GD event in the context of the party’s two day political tour in Crete, where the MP E. Kassidiaris declared that the GD MPs don’t like at all being MPs, but “we exploit certain privileges associated with being MPs, we carry guns legally now, they can’t arrest us in case something happens, in case an incident happens, and we are a bit more free in our movements…”

GD Chania

Antifa Chania


In Athens several antifa actions happen every week in different places. In one of them, a GD group of around 50 individuals attempted to march in the Municipality of Ellinikon-Argyroupolis streets (Argyroupolis is one of our survey locations in Athens) in order to distribute party leaflets. They gathered near an open children’s playground shouting slogans, distributing leaflets, demanding to check the identity cards of passers by in order to spot individuals of non-Greek origin and destroying banners of the Greek Communist Party. When they were spotted by the locals, an antifa group of 100-150 individuals was quickly formed and approached them shouting slogans and demanding to leave the area immediately, as they were unwelcome. The Mayor of Ellinikon-Argyroupolis was in one of the municipality’s vans following the antifa counter rally, shouting antifa slogans from a set of loudspeakers on the van. The antifa counter demonstration escorted the GD members for about five km forcing them to abandon any thoughts of distributing leaflets or accomplishing any other action. The GD action ended with the riot police blocking the way between the GD and the antifa groups and clashing for a while with the antifa group before the GD group left the area.

Last summer during the double election period, GD members had made their presence felt in the Municipality of Ellinikon-Argyroupolis attacking and destroying kiosks and stands that left parties had installed for election campaign purposes.

Antifascist and antiracist struggles have become an everyday reality in the entire country and the issue of the fascist and racist influence on the Greek youth has gained great importance. In this climate, the Ministry of Education announced recently that an “Observatory for the Prevention of School Violence and Intimidation” will be set up in order to address the problem of racism in schools. Golden Dawn responded accusing the Deputy Minister of Health, who had announced the Observatory, for targeting the party and establishing in reality an “Observatory for Golden Dawn’s Containment”, but, they conclude, all these attempts will ultimately fail because “we have won the youth from you, once and for all”. The battle for the mind and heart of Greek youth has sharpened and now covers great parts of the Greek society, following the country’s prolonged economic and socio-political collapse.

Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | November 26, 2012

Riga against Ķīlis

MYPLACE researcher Liga Rudzite from our Latvian team on the recent protests against reforms proposed by the Minister of Education.

For more information on the MYPLACE project visit the project’s website: HERE

On Friday, November 23rd, around 100 students and staff from Association of Graduate Schools of Arts of Latvia (Art Academy of Latvia, Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, Latvian Academy of Culture) organized and went on a walk to Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament of Latvia to hand in a common statement of distrust of the Minister of Education of Republic of Latvia Roberts Ķīlis.

Announcement which invited people to join what was called to become the biggest arts performance of the year “A Walk 2012″

questioned the ability of the Minister of Education of Republic of Latvia to propose and implement reforms that develop education. The announcement also mentioned that the Minister’s current plans are aimed to destroy the independence of universities and students and close some of the universities based on unclear criteria.

Protesters started their walk from the Academy of Arts, visited the Cabinet of Ministers, then the Monument of Freedom and finally the Parliament of Latvia, where they were met by the Speaker of Parliament, who promised to sit around a table with the Minister and look for solutions. She also commented that she found this to be a brave initiative, but suggested this energy to be chanelled into studies and self-development of students.

Students and teaching staff were carrying many colorful and witty posters all aimed at expressing their lack of support for the Minister. Some of the slogans read: “Rape a doll, not us!”, “For Reforms, not Deforms’, “Universities closed, students gone, Latvia – empty”, “Why do we need a minister, if there is no education” and others more clearly called for the Minister’s resignation.

Shortly before the walk protesters were joined by the president of Student Association of the Riga Graduate School of Law who had put around his head several scarfs, ironically pretending to be a student of arts, carrying a poster calling for state-sponsored booze, muses and parties. After complaints to the police by the organizers of the protest walk, the fake protester was asked to take down his poster. When he refused to do so, he was arrested by the Police. Another two “fake” protesters asked for 500 billion Lats of extra-funding for the Academy of Arts and to free all of Internet. These posters and protesters were not arrested and could participate in the protest walk.

Photo by Kristaps Bukovskis.

This protest walk is part of an active and on-going discussion on the type of reforms that are proposed and necessary in the education system in Latvia. The current protests are fueled by the critique expressed by the Minister of the current structure and funding schemes for higher education programmes in Latvia and the lack of clearness and transparancy of his proposed changes. The reform-minded minister is both supported and opposed in his endevours and those that are pro and contra reforms are forming two strong opposing sides that are visible both in public discussions on TV, conversations in social media and even protests on the street. Though a student march was organized this time by those opposing reforms of the Minister, a support group has been organizing around a platform (smart nation), which has in the past week gained nearly 3000 supporters.

Students and young people have been put in the center of this discussion – student associations, professors and other teaching staff on both sides of it explain their points with a reference to what the students think, though the actual student involvement on either side can be questioned. And perhaps the necessity for students to be involved is a bit exaggerated – once or if the reforms are set into motion, those at school today along with the rest of the population will be most influenced by them.

The Greek MYPLACE team at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences present their latest blog, discussing the continued influence of the right wing Golden Dawn movement.

On a previous blog entry ( we had highlighted the alarming rates of the Greek Nazi party Golden Dawn’s (Chryssi Avgi) permeation in the Greek youth. The fascist organization’s influence on youth vote was the second higher among all parties participating in the last two national elections.

Since then, Golden Dawn has significantly increased its presence and activity in the public sphere organizing events such as the free provision of food only for poor and unemployed Greeks and the formation of storm trooper gangs attacking and intimidating immigrants, minorities and political opponents. They have also been preoccupied with opening new party branches in various regions of the country and recruiting members and storm troopers.

Informative action of Golden Dawn’s youth division “Youth Front” in the center of Athens

The following video shows the official opening of a Golden Dawn branch in a central Greece town, Trikala. The Golden Dawn MP Elias Kassidiaris, the most famous, lifestyle “media darling” and relatively articulate member of the organization, invites those participating to sing the Greek National Anthem in attention, because, as he says, “…ours are not party or political rallies, we resemble, indeed, more to a military unit…”.

The young Golden Dawn supporters stand at the first front rows wearing dark/black t-shirts.

One of the main recruitment pools that Golden Dawn has been systematically targeting is the Greek youth and among them, especially those in secondary education schools. Media reports paint a grim picture in which Golden Dawn and its fascist, racist and hate ideology and violent activity have reached the students of Greek schools  attracting the attention and support of an increasing part of them.

The Nikaia Golden Dawn local branch wishes “Happy School year to all young Greeks”

Some speak of a “fascist fashion” among certain parts of Greek school students. According to such interpretations, young people are impressed by the military discipline, the violence, the extreme hate nationalism and the “heroic” attitude of “us against all the others” that Golden Dawn uses in order to compile its popular public image.

Others insist on the impact of the austerity on Greek families as well as on the influence of parents who voted for Golden Dawn (as a gesture of protest against their conditions of life as well as of rejection against the entire political system) over their children’s socio-political attitudes. Finally, questions about the role of the teachers’ attitude toward Golden Dawn have been raised, as there have been incidents that attracted media attention, with school teachers and School Directors expressing their sympathy toward the organization.

In this context, there are now school students that salute their friends and even their teachers using the characteristic Nazi salutation, paint swastikas on the school walls and recruit their friends and fellow students. One student in Herakleion, Crete, (a city where Golden Dawn faced a massive and tenacious resistance when attempted to open a local branch) called a fellow-student of Albanian origin to “duel” because the latter had supported other fellow-students that had written antifascist slogans on the school’s walls.

Teachers say that there are now organized groups of students supporting Golden Dawn in many schools. Their behaviour in the classroom is described as “hooliganism”; they quarrel with their teachers and classmates about politics turning the class into a battlefield, shouting slogans, interrupting others and insulting those who disagree with them. They attack violently their left-wing or of non-Greek or of minority origin classmates imposing on them “face controls” at the school’s entrance asking them if they are of Greek origin or not.

Last October, extensive media reports about fights between Golden Dawn student supporters and antifa student groups at the end of the school day in another city of Crete, Rethymnon, caught public attention, while left-wing school and university students had been attacked in the city streets by storm trooper gangs of the party’s supporters. Such fights appear all too often in schools all over the country. The situation in Rethymnon had been considered very serious by the University of Crete Deans of the Faculties of Social Sciences and of the School of Education, as well as by the Director of Secondary Education and the directors of the city’s junior and high schools who organized public discussion events and administrative meetings in order to examine the problem and to seek solutions.

Most of the Golden Dawn student supporters are boys, but there are also girls. They are usually underperforming in school, but there are also well performing students. They usually have a marginal position in the classroom and significant family problems. Teachers say that only few of them are organized and most of them do not have a specific ideological profile. They see Golden Dawn’s actions as anti-systemic behaviour against “the politicians” that destroyed the country and their future. The recruitment of students is usually done through sports-clubs and the internet. The Golden Dawn members approach the students not openly, but they act more on a personal level.

Some teachers have publicized on the internet and the media their experiences from confronting the influence of Golden Dawn upon their students. They described the aggressive rejection of “the establishment”, of “the politicians” and of “the foreigners” (including minorities such as the Roma) and their own efforts to confront pedagogically their students’ interest in and sympathy for the organization. For their courage, they have been intimidated by Golden Dawn party members and by extreme right and nationalist media.

In this climate, antifascist groups have been formed in schools, universities and football fan clubs.

“We want Albanian fellow students, Afghanian colleagues, Nigerian neighbours, and kicks for the fascists”

School students’ exhibition of antifascist posters in Arta (Northwest Greece)


Antifa Footbal Fan Clubs

The following video presentation shows photos from antifa football fan clubs in Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Germany.

Moreover, in late October, school students had paraded during the traditional celebrations for the commemoration of Greece’s entry in WWII (28-10-1940) wearing antinazi armbands and badges.


Very recently, a Golden Dawn MP announced the launch of a propaganda campaign targeting secondary education schools all over the country. They will begin “visiting” schools in Thrace (a region of Greece neighbouring with the European part of Turkey and is the main entrance gate for immigrants without papers and where the most part of the Muslim minority in Greece lives) in order “to boost national feeling”, because, the MP contended, “in these schools there are teachers that are doing anti-Hellenic propaganda”. These visits will, then, cover the entire country.

This is not the first time that Golden Dawn targeted Thrace, but it’s the first time that schools and teachers are publicly and officially targeted. The Golden Dawn MP went on warning that they will also intervene through the Parents’ Associations in which they are members.

Golden Dawn’s rising influence upon the Greek youth is a much debated issue that reveals the profound socio-political crisis that the Greek society experiences as a result of the country’s economic collapse. It also represents a major threat for the political socialization of youth and consequently for the future of democracy in Greece. MYPLACE project offers the opportunity to systematically explore and analyze such issues that lie at the heart of contemporary socio-political transformations.

The Greek MYPLACE team at Panteion University of Social And Political Sciences present their latest blog, discussing the continued influence of the right wing Golden Dawn movement.

For more information on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE

More than fifteen days ago, the 20th of October, the General Secretary of the neo-Nazi political party ‘Golden Dawn’, Nikos Michaloliakos, gave a speech at a youth festival. At one point of his speech he stated that: “They have called us Nazis, but they haven’t called us thieves. These hands maybe sometime salute this way [he salutes the Nazi way], but they are clean hands, they are not dirty hands, they have not stolen” (see the video below).

However, from early this autumn racist attacks have been multiplied in many parts of Athens and in other Greek cities. In one case (photo below) a 21 year old Greek-Egyptian was attacked the night of October the 12th on the grounds of his color even though he is a legitimate Greek citizen and holder of a Greek ID. He almost lost his eye, but doctors managed to save it, even though he is going to  be partially blind.

In two other cases, videos 1 & 2, MP’s of ‘Golden Dawn’ with other party members visited two flee markets in order to check if the immigrants, who were selling their merchandise there, had the legitimate permit from the local authorities. As you can see they did not have any problem with the cameras, in fact they were monitoring their activism themselves and as they stated they are going to continue exercising this kind of control from the moment the state and the police are absent.


Furthermore, during the last month ‘Golden Dawn’ has been self-appointed as the protector of the Greek Orthodox religion and church trying to gain sympathy and votes from any possible social group, following clearly a populist agenda. First of all, they asked officially the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs through the Parliamentary procedure of what the government intends to do about a Facebook page which criticizes and satirizes a late monk of the Greek Orthodox Church. This site’s intention was to ridicule this monk, who by the way is not recognized as a saint by the Greek Orthodox Church, and his so-called miracles and prophecies. Of course, there were other reactions against this Facebook page, but it was a couple of days after ‘Golden Dawn’s’ parliament question that the police managed to find out who the person behind this page was, search his home and arrest him according to the articles 198, 199 of the Greek penal code against blasphemy…He spent one night in prison and now he waits for his trial.

A few days later, MP’s and other members of ‘Golden Dawn’ accompanied by some members of religious groups attended the opening night of the theatrical play ‘Corpus Christi’ by Terrence McNally, but it was not in order to watch the play, but to demonstrate their rage, because Jesus Christ was being insulted. They clashed with the police and they verbally attacked against the director, the producer, the actors and all those who went to watch the play and they managed to cancel the premiere. The same took place the following night, even though now they did not succeed in canceling it due to the protection of about 100 policemen. However, the director and the actors were continuously receiving threats against their lives and after almost ten days they decided to end the play, because the pressure was too high for them. Furthermore, they are also accused of blasphemy as the administrator of the aforementioned webpage and they are going to be trialed.

‘Golden Dawn’ tries to be everywhere and impose its own ideas and opinions on the society and the state. Later on, they attacked the government because in kindergartens and student residence halls children of immigrants and foreign students are taking the places of the Greeks and they asked the exact numbers for both cases from the Minister of Education. ‘Golden Dawn’ for many people is trendy. Even singers and models are publicly supporting them. In one case a model who made a naked photographing for Playboy declared her support to the organization taking part in its activities. (See the picture below)

Contrary to what one might believe reading about this kind of controversial supporters and interests, ‘Golden Dawn’ is here and as the last polls show they are here to stay. From September till today more that ten polls have shown a very important rise of their percentage from 6.9% of the June elections to more that 10%. According to the October polls and especially in the first two polls of November, ‘Golden Dawn’ would be voted by 13-14% of the people, almost the double compared to the last elections. What is quite serious according to some experts, is that after the forthcoming implementation of the new austerity measures the now ruling party of the coalition government, ‘New Democracy’ will loose many voters, who potentially will spilt perhaps between the Coalition of the Left (SYRIZA) and ‘Golden Dawn’ to that point that maybe ‘Golden Dawn’ will become the second political power of the country.

To those arguing that the optimistic parameter of this situation is that SYRIZA will be the ruling party after the next elections, someone could reply that they should keep in mind that the rising of ultra-right parties is what threatens the society today and call them to ask themselves what will happen then: a new kind of civil war as Ilias Panagiotaros, a ‘Golden Dawn’ MP said to BBC? Golden Dawn in fact would love that. In that sense, economy and austerity are extremely crucial for the Greek society’s future, especially after the last vote for over 13.5 billion euros cuts on November the 7th. However, the rise of neo-Nazism under this populist slogan, “we are not thieves, we can be Nazis”, which for some people mean that Nazis are good, decent people, lead us to paraphrase the famous saying during the American elections of 1992, “it’s the economy, stupid” to “it’s the Nazism, stupid”, in order to underline the importance of the whole issue and that attention should be paid, because frivolity on issues like the rise of neo-Nazism is very dangerous.

Elena Omel’chenko, Doctor of Sociology, Director of the Centre for Youth Research, Head of Department of Sociology, Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg, Director of the Scientific Research Centre, ‘Region’, Ul’ianovsk University.

Anna Zhelnina – PhD, Sociology, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Youth Research, Reader, Department of Sociology, Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg, Lecturer, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St Petersburg State University.

Elena Omelchenko and Anna Zhelnina are members of the Russian MYPLACE research team.
For more information on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE


Sociology under threat? … Or who is on the lookout for new enemies of Russia, and why… 

This, in our view, is no overstatement of the current threat posed to Sociology and sociologists. Our concern arises, on the one hand, from a recent, anonymous publication that appeared on one of the regional news portals which, at first glance, might be treated with a pinch of salt rather than viewed as the start of some wider campaign against academia. On the other hand, however, the confidence with which this self same denunciation is written and the relative depth of knowledge of the author (evident from the extensive use of quotations and references), as well as the willingness of the portal to allow itself to be linked to such a document, is clear evidence that such texts have an audience and are shored up by well known legislative innovations that give the green light to routine attacks on social scientists funded by ‘western money’.

The tone, arguments and language of the text resemble a classic [Stalinist] denunciation; this suggests that those who ’ordered’ and those who ‘supplied’ it aimed not only to discredit the work and reputation of a research centre that is genuinely active and widely known (in Russia and Europe), but hoped that this kind of text would ‘help’ the responsible structures deal with an organization that receives ‘dubious’ grants from the European Commission and other ‘western foundations’ and conducts ‘dubious’ research,  and which thus fits the bill of a ‘foreign agent’. This, in the opinion of the author (and that of those furiously attaching themselves to this anonymous person and their ‘sponsor’ by adding their comments to the text), will no doubt improve the spiritual, moral atmosphere not only in the university but also in the city and maybe the country as a whole, as well as put these incomprehensible sociologists in their place at last and teach them to call things by their name.

Perhaps a response would not have been warranted had it not been for one important detail. The text clearly presumes that it is in the nature of any social scientist who has grown up or been educated in the USSR or post-Soviet Russia to continue to harbour the fear that at ‘the necessary moment’ they will  be required to prove their loyalty and supply the authorities with ‘the correct’ facts and figures. Such publications are not only alarming in themselves but should generate concern that sociologists will start to ‘give themselves up’ and provide confessional testimonies. And one more thing – such texts are premised on the assumption that they can elicit a wave of ‘righteous anger’ among the population since the discovery of new enemies of Russia facilitates vigilance, the preservation of national security and the erection of a barrier against the pernicious influence of the West.

Until recently it seemed that denunciation and persecution were things confined to the past that, while we remembered those terrible episodes of Soviet history, could never return. It is deeply regrettable to recognise that these genres are not only returning but that the current socio-political circumstances and the psychology of the Russian population provide fertile soil for them to grow. Moreover, just as before, one of the preferred targets of this genre is academia.


Recently on an Ul’ianovsk regional news portal  material was published in which the scientific-research centre ‘Region’ , which has existed for 17 years as part of Ul’ianovsk State University, was made out to be a ‘foreign agent’. The author of this slander, to which it is not worth even providing a reference, declared that, in the guise of a sociological centre in Ul’ianovsk, there is a ‘foreign agent’, which over the many years of its existence ‘has succeeded in collaborating with many overseas structures’ (there follows a list of leading research centres and academic funding bodies in the United Kingdom, Germany and the USA). Moreover, the anonymous author informs us that, ‘Of course, nobody has reflected on the consequences of the use of the results of research transferred by ‘Region’ across the border’. The fact that these ‘overseas structures’ are well established and recognised academic organisations or that the results ‘transferred across the border’ are open, scientific data published in publically accessible journals and books in accordance with normal global academic practice, does not prevent the anonymous denunciator from accusing the research centre virtually of espionage.

One might have turned a blind eye to this paranoid nonsense, if it were not that its publication in Live Journal and then on the news portal signified a worrying tendency that cannot be ignored. By this we refer to the danger of an instrument for defamation and slander being put in the hands of disingenuous critics and malevolent individuals. While legislators claim that the term ‘foreign agent’ will be applied only to a limited number of organisations of a political nature, financed from abroad, this article is evidence that this label can be used as a weapon and applied to all those unwelcome in current arguments and games. It does not matter to the author that ‘Region’ is not even a non-government organisation but a research centre within a state university. Having been labelled a foreign agent, accused of connections with ‘western structures’ and sending ‘information’, ‘across the border’, a mechanism for the generation of suspicion and doubt has been put in motion.

The terminology used by the author of the denunciation was returned to general use in the law on non-governmental organisations, amendments to which were passed in the summer of 2012 ( According to these amendments, non-governmental organisations receiving any financing from abroad should be recorded as ‘foreign agents’, pursuing foreign interests on the territory of Russia. And, just recently, as this text was being prepared, there occurred another event that might be considered part of this same trend to seek out internal  ‘enemies’; the State Duma approved immediately at both first and second readings amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, in accordance with which it will be possible to ‘call any unwelcome or “uncomfortable” person a spy or traitor  on grounds of his/her communication with foreign structures and foreigners alone’ ( The vagueness of the terminology is another means for allowing manipulation and slander. The threat is growing to sociological and other research that concerns current social problems; the interest and search for information potentially uncomfortable for the state (and this includes all information, even public opinion about social problems) and its subsequent presentation at international conferences can be rendered as verging on the criminal.


Both legislative initiatives clearly evoke the language and methods characteristic of the Stalinist epoch and parallels with 1937, the period of the beginning of the terrible Stalinist repressions, can be found frequently now in media publications and social network communications. Worrying statistics are presented also by the ‘Levada-Centre’; recent research showed that only 22% of Russian citizens now view Stalin as  negative figure compared to 60% in 1998 ( Furthermore, 48% think that Stalin played a positive role in the country’s history. This change can be explained by the decrease in knowledge about that period of the country’s history; over 25 years the proportion not knowing anything about that time has risen from 30% to 70%. Thus the lack of historical competence of new generations of Russian citizens about the horrors of the totalitarian regime alongside this new ideology is creating a dangerous situation.

The research community needs to be alert in this situation since among their sphere of interests are social processes and their critique. Sociology is by nature a critical science involving the generation of reflexivity in the public sphere as well as drawing attention to inequality, the unwritten rules of the game and power relations and alternative opinions and cultures. That position makes it vulnerable to all kinds of manipulation and accusation.

It is a part of normal global practice for researchers to engage in international collaboration, open publication of research results, including in international publications and the receipt of grants from international funding bodies. And, in normal circumstances, this is perceived as worthy and an achievement rather than as grounds for accusations of untrustworthiness. Here, however, we find that when a research centre located outside of ‘the capitals’ achieves international recognition, it becomes not an object of pride but, on the contrary, of attack.

This story should make us reflect on the prospects for Russian academia and for Sociology in particular. It appears that Sociology in Russia can exist in only one of two forms: as a totally servile sphere of activity, demonstrating complete loyalty to the authorities and rejecting any criticism of the status quo; or as a ‘stooge of the west’ serving someone else’s interests. Here we see the imprint of Soviet times when science could never be understood as pure science and there was a constant search to uncover political ‘interests’ at work in research.

It appears that in Russian society the receipt of ‘western money’ continues to signify only the ‘sale’ of data to western ‘enemies’; everything done on ‘enemy’ money is automatically perceived as untrustworthy and selling out. Normal academic practice is removed from the field of science and placed in the field of political intrigue; political and market rhetoric of ‘supply and demand’ substitutes academic logic. The tone of the discussion is determined by the traditional suspicion that good research doesn’t need external funding underpinned by a banal, envious concern that ‘money isn’t given for nothing’. And nobody bothers to consider that even Russian state scientific funding bodies have programmes jointly with the Germans, French and other overseas funders that aim to develop international academic collaboration. The combination of ‘suspicious’ contacts with the west and the study of current and socially significant problems suffices as signal enough to state universities that, for their own security, it would be wise to steer clear of such unreliable elements.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the new Russian legislation provides an easy mechanism for launching political intrigue, denunciations and everything that we know from those dark pages of Soviet history. The interests of Russian science, and even state interests, become secondary (logically one might assume that a strong, internationally authoritative Russian science capable of supplying high quality and reliable data would be to the benefit of the Russian state). In fact priority is given to trivial political squabbles and the opportunity to label an unwelcome competitor a ‘foreign agent’ or to ruin the reputation and insult an unwanted opponent.

This notorious legislation allows any member of the public to feel they have the right to evaluate the quality of academic output. This legislation has returned to everyday speech the Stalinist language of hatred and enmity, which can be manipulated in one’s own selfish interests. But it is not the law in and of itself that is frightening so much as the categories legitimized by it, which can be used by any ‘concerned citizen’. Its black and white understanding, that allows for no nuances, and demands no particular understanding, is easily accepted by public discourse. Academia is either ‘ours’ or ‘hostile’. If you take money from western funding bodies you are a ‘foreign agent’. If research results show something unfavourable about contemporary Russia, it is slander that has been ‘paid for’. That attitude, together with the presence of a legitimated ‘language of enmity’ may prevent the further development of the social sciences in Russia – a danger in the face of which the Russian academic community must rally together and speak out with one voice.

Martin Price, MYPLACE Project Manager, on the formation and transformation of the legacy of a historical political activist.

For more information  on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE

November 5th is commonly known in the UK as ‘Bonfire Night’ – a festival synonymous with one man, for his role in events which took place a little over 400 years ago.

It is important for the MYPLACE blog not to seek to pre-empt the project’s findings, so we must be careful with topics such as the transmission of historical memory and the legacy of political actions past. However, since MYPLACE will look principally at events in the second half of the twentieth century, the events of November 1605 seem like safe enough territory.

The alternative name for Bonfire Night is, as any school child in the UK could no doubt tell you, ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ and it was the Gunpowder Plot (or the Powder Treason, as it came to be known by near-contemporaries) which brought Guy Fawkes his infamy.

A Guy Fawkes effigy burns on a bonfire (source Homer Sykes on )

As we move beyond the high-level view of the history behind a celebration that now lights our night skies with fireworks for several days either side of the 5th November itself, so we probably move into territory less familiar to many people attending bonfire parties, let alone those observing the phenomenon from outside the UK.

It is fairly widely known that the Gunpowder Plot involved a conspiracy to use large quantities of gunpowder to destroy the Houses of Parliament, and that Guy Fawkes was a central figure in that plot. In fact, it is widely (but not correctly) assumed that Fawkes was the central figure and instigator of the plot (if the existence of any co-conspirators is even acknowledged). Let us briefly explore some of the details of the plot, before we consider some less obvious aspects of its relevance today. Who was Guy Fawkes, and what was the Gunpowder Plot all about? We will also see why it is more closely linked to MYPLACE fieldwork sites than you may realise.

Guy Fawkes (known also as Guido Fawkes when he fought for Catholic Spain against the Protestant ‘Orange’ forces of the Netherlands) was a Catholic soldier and mercenary, born in the English city of York. The Gunpowder Plot was a Catholic plot, and Fawkes was but one of a larger group of conspirators. His fellow plotters were John Wright, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy,  Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Sir Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham, and the leader and instigator of the plot Robert Catesby.

That it is Guy Fawkes’ name that has become most closely linked to the plot in the public imagination is due to the circumstances of the plot’s discovery: it was Fawkes who was in the undercroft below parliament guarding the gunpowder (and presumably the man whose job it would be to light the fuse).

The plot was, however, designed to be no random act of destruction. It was conceived with no less grand aim than to overthrow the government, and indeed the governance, of England. The reason for this? The conspirators were Catholic. At that time to be Catholic in protestant England was illegal, and the rites of Catholicism were practiced in secret, and punished as heresy if discovered. Catholic (or Jesuit) priests lived in hiding, frequently evading capture in specially designed hide-aways known as “Priest holes” in the houses of sympathetic Catholic families. Before the Plot’s conspirators resorted to the desperate measures of deploying 36 barrels of explosive below Parliament, several hopes for Catholic emancipation in England had been pursued (including negotiations with the new King, James I and attempts to support and invite invasion by Catholic Spain) and come to nothing.

The choice of target and date was not random. On 5th November, King James was due to formally open Parliament. The attack would therefore be intended to kill the monarch, who would be accompanied by his eldest son and heir, together with much of the ruling class in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and the senior clergy of the protestant church. It was to be succeeded by a popular revolt, and coincide with the kidnap of the King’s 9 year old daughter, Elizabeth, to be installed as a puppet queen.

It is perhaps of some passing interest to a project coordinated by the University of Warwick and conducting fieldwork in Coventry and Warwickshire, to note that the Gunpowder Plot was a very local affair. When the medieval history of Warwickshire is mentioned, it is William Shakespeare who will come to mind first. But it is less well known that many of the Gunpowder Plot’s  conspirators were based in Warwickshire, Catesby himself being born and raised in the County. Much of the plotting would have taken place in Warwickshire homes of recusant Catholics, in places such as Coughton Court, Snitterfield and Baddesley Clinton (a few miles from Warwick University, where a priest hole is preserved and can still be seen).

Coventry (at that time one of the most important cities in medieval England) was entwined in the plot too: the Princess Elizabeth was to be kidnapped from Coombe Abbey, where she was resident for her education. Today you can visit the site of the Abbey, which today is the site of a luxury hotel (with parts of the old walls still visible) and a local council-owned country park.

After the discovery of the plot, the conspirators almost inevitably fled through familiar territory in Warwickshire, stopping to raid the armouries at Warwick Castle for supplies and stopping briefly in nearby Dunchurch.

Following the discovery and thwarting of the Plot, the day came to be commemorated as part of the Protestant calendar, with special sermons and ringing of church bells. The “observance of 5th November” act of parliament – passed in the next session of parliament in 1606 made it an official part of public life until 1859. At some stage the tradition of burning effigies of Guy Fawkes (often used as a form of begging by children; “penny for the Guy”) emerged.

With the plot failed, Fawkes and most of his co-conspirators were captured, tortured and ultimately executed. Repression of Catholics in England continued, and in fact increased in response to the plot. It would be 200 years before Catholic Emancipation ended restrictions on the practices of Catholicism. This despite prominent Jesuit priests renouncing the conspirators and their plans.

So, the failure of the plot can be seen as total. For centuries then, Guy Fawkes’ only legacy was as a pariah, whose effigy was burned at an annual celebration of his failure. But in more recent years, an unlikely new legacy has emerged for Guy Fawkes, as the emblem of 21st century political protest.

This revival began in the comic book series “V for Vendetta” 

V for Vendetta, cover art by David Lloyd

by anarchist author Alan Moore. The main character in these books, ‘V’ is an anarchist revolutionary, who wears  a stylised Guy Fawkes mask. Following a 2006 film adaptation of the comic book series, these masks began to appear in various protest movements, a fashion which quickly spread across the world, having been seen at protests in Europe, North America and India. Among the movements to adopt the mask were the “Occupy” movements, some of which will be studied in ethnographic work for MYPLACE.

The journey of Guy Fawkes’ legacy from traitor and burned effigy to symbol of popular protest is only tangentially linked to our project, but perhaps illustrates how things such as history and legacy shift as both time and point of view pass.

Poster for “Occupy wall Street” featuring Guy Fawkes mask

Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | October 25, 2012

Torcida mobilized: Football fans and local politics in Split

MYPLACE research team at the Ivo Pilar Institute, Croatia on the recent fan mobilization centred on the fate of football club Hajduk Split.

For more information on the MYPLACE project visit the project’s website: HERE

Hajduk is a football club from the city of Split, founded in 1911. The club survived two world wars and five different states, being very successful in the socialist period (the 1950s and 1970s) as well as in the capitalist period (mid 1990s).

Although financial problems have been present in the past, (knowing that position of Split could be described as economic periphery in relation to Beograd during the time of  Yugoslavia or in relation to Zagreb in the recent times of independent Croatia) the crisis of today is deeper than ever.

Founders of HNK Hajduk Split, students in Prague 1911. (Photo:

From the mid 1990s, football in Europe became a corporate business, sums of money for players and marketing growing rapidly  each year, making new structures and new relationships (Champions League for example) where rich clubs compete as big corporations in the market.

It means that many
clubs which played important role in European football in the 1970s and 1980s

fell out from the new football order; Aberdeen, Glasgow Rangers, St. Ettiene, Torino, Mechelen, Nottingham Forest, Rapid Wien, IFK Göteborg,Malmö FF,Sparta, Slovan, Steaua, Crvena Zvezda, Ferencvaros, MTK and others, including Hajduk. In the attempt to play according to a new situation and ‘new rules’ in modern football, Hajduk was transformed  from NGO status to stake holding company in 2008. The city of Split is the major  stake-holder and it has several control mechanisms of the club management.  Since then, responsibility for the club and its business policy is primarily in  the hands of the mayor and the city council of Split.

Torcida, representing hard core passionate fans of Hajduk, was founded in 1950.

It is one of the oldest firms in Europe. The founders were young students and sailors, inspired by Brasilian football fans.

Several young sailors from the island Korcula experienced the atmosphere during the world cup in 1950 in Brasil and decided to establish Torcida as organized group of football fans, completely devoted to Hajduk. Last year, Torcida organized great celebration of the 100th birthday of Hajduk with thousands of flares that were visible from space.

The popular slogan and typical banner ‘Hajduk lives forever’ seemed like a fact, knowing the rich history of Hajduk and its passionate supporters. But, most recent developments showed a different picture, and another possibility (unimaginable for most of the fans) became realistic – possibility that the club would not survive the recent days of global economic crisis and its local political/economical reflections in the city of Split. Financial problems are numerous; players and other employees in the club did not receive their salaries for more than five months. Because of the depths, Hajduk is close to a ban from playing, in fact close to bankruptcy. Hajduk asked for loans from the bank, just to survive, of around 4 million euro, but in order to receive it, the city council of Split had to vote, to make decision to give guarantee for that loan. The city council of Split had the meeting on 12th October with only one agenda – guarantee for the loan Hajduk asked from the bank. Because of the political disputes and long tradition of local hostilities, SDP (Social-democratic party, left center) voted against the guarantee for the loan, HDZ (Croatian democratic community, right center) voted for, but the party of the mayor, HGS (populists) abstained. From 21 members of the city council, only 7 voted for (HDZ). So, the city council could not guarantee for the loan and it meant the bankruptcy of Hajduk. The meeting was broadcast on local television and soon after the closure of the meeting Torcida invited fans to come in front of the city hall and protest against the fact that 101 years of history is coming to an end.

Weather conditions were extreme because of the heavy storm, but despite that, in short period of time around 500 fans gathered, full of anger, chanting slogans against the mayor. Torcida made a leaflet, calling all citizens to join them, saying that ‘in the long history of Hajduk, we survived regimes of Austro-Hungarian empire, Kingdom of Yugoslavia, fascist Italy, socialist Yugoslavia and we will survive this regime and the government of Kerum (the mayor of Split) and others…’ The deputy of the mayor talked with some representatives of the fans and promised that a new meeting will assemble on Monday and that the party of the mayor will change the vote from abstained and vote for the guarantee.

3000 fans gathered in front of the city hall (Monday, 15th October) (Photo: TORCIDA)

Torcida invited fans to come in front of the city hall on Monday morning, but it was expected thatcity council will vote in favour; the mayor’s party did not want to risk, knowing that Hajduk is important part of the popular culture, it is great symbol and part of the identity, not only for Torcida, but for many others. On Monday (15th October), 3000 fans gathered in front of the city hall, chanting again against the mayor. As it was promised already, mayor’s party voted in favour and the city council gave guarantees for the loan that Hajduk can survive.

Fans in front of the city hall chanting against the mayor Mr. Željko Kerum (Photo: TORCIDA)

In the media, headlines were saying that Torcida saved Hajduk and that Torcida constitutes a movement. Torcida organized a great mobilization of the fans for the next match, banners on the crossroads, bridges, big buildings and other visible places and especially
on the internet were calling fans to come, pay the ticket and help the club in the time of the deepest crisis. On Sunday (22nd October), Hajduk played versus Istra from the city of Pula. That match would be considered as ‘small’ match according to Croatian standards, but due to mobilization organized by Torcida, 25000 people came to the stadium.

Torcida on Hajduk – Istra 0:1 with a banner ‘BESMRTAN’ (IMMORTAL) (Photo: TORCIDA)

In Croatia, average attendance at football stadiums is very low. After the match (which Hajduk lost despite enormous support from the terraces) journalists published that attendance in Split that Sunday was two times higher than attendance on other 5 matches in Croatian league, all together. Torcida showed its power and impact, based also on the importance of Hajduk for so many generations of fans. This case is just one example, among many others, that football fans could become social/political actors, leaving the limited sport sector and justifying the attention of researchers.

Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | October 19, 2012

Flame of Truth in Latvia: few activists, hundreds of signatures

MYPLACE researcher Liga Rudzite from our Latvian team on the recent “Flame of Truth” event in Riga.

For more information on the MYPLACE project visit the project’s website: HERE

9th of October was a cool autumn’s day in Riga when a torch carrying a message for truth and freedom for Tibetans reached the capital of Latvia and was greeted by a handful of activists by the City Council of Riga. “Flame of Truth” is a worldwide relay drawing attention to the human rights abuses in Tibet and asking all supporters of Tibetan independence to sign a petition demanding the United Nations to intervene immediately on behalf of Tibet, and hold China to the same standard of human rights decency as any other country. Collected signatures will be submitted at the end of the relay on the 10th of December to the UN Headquarters in New York City, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and the UN information office in New Dehli.

This blog entry offers a retrospect at the “Flame of Truth” torch’s visit to Riga where it was accompanied by Ven. Thupten Wangchen, member of Tibetan Parliament in-Exile.

“Flame of Truth” event in Riga was hosted by one of Riga City Council councillors who is also the leader of the NGO Latvia for Tibet. After the official welcoming of the torch near the City Council with flags of Tibet, activists and the few journalists from TV and Internet media were invited to an open press conference in the office of the councillor’s political group, where Ven. Thupten Wangchen spoke of the current situation in Tibet, describing it as hell on earth. The second press conference was organized in the Parliament of Latvia, but this was attended only by members of Parliamentary group for Support of Tibet. No media representatives were present here and the councillor commented that this might be connected to the close ties with China. No further explanation regarding this comment was provided.

Later on there was a special meeting arranged with councillors of Riga City Council, which was attended by only three councillors including the host of the event. During the meeting the hosting councillor voiced his concern regarding the situation in Tibet and what he might be able to do to support Tibetan cause if he would be elected in the next year’s Council elections. Also here he mentioned the close ties of Mayor of Riga Nils Usakovs with the Chinese government. When Ven. Thupten Wangchen briefed the councillors on the situation in Tibet, the other two attending councillors seemed to be not sure if this had anything to do with them.

The most visible event of the day was a street campaign to collect signatures for a petition to the UN – several activists of Latvia for Tibet approached passerbies on one of the most central streets of Riga, explaining them the situation in Tibet and inviting them to sign the petition. The current state of affairs in Tibet was compared to the former occupation of Latvia by USSR meaning that people in Latvia should help the small nation of Tibet to gain their freedom.

Activists were carrying flags and wearing hats with Free Tibet symbols, which prompted many passerbies to approach activists and sign the petition without enquiring any explanations on the content of it.

Mostly it was young people signing the petition, though people of all ages were approaching  Ven. Thupten Wangchen, asking him about the meaning of Tibetan flag, current events there and other Tibet-related questions. In total within two hours activists collected over 300 signatures.

The day was continued in University of Latvia where Ven. Thupten Wangchen spoke to students and promoted his cause and ended by a reception in a cafe “Tibet” which was attended by a few more Latvia for Tibet activists.

Twitter account of Latvia for Tibet and its leader mentioned the opportunity to sign the petition even after the event, but there is no information as to how many signatures were collected in Latvia in total.

Even though the number of people actively promoting the signing of petition or participating in the official events of the day was not as high as expected, the organizers were impressed by the number of people that did sign the petition during the street action. This seems to be a very typical reaction of Latvia’s public to the Latvia for Tibet activities – though people are happy to express their support for freedom of Tibet, they are not as keen to actively get engaged with the movement.

Here are more photos from the event: Flame of Truth in Riga

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