Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]

I am presently watching, as I write, the triumphal descent of Les Bleus—who just arrived from Moscow—down the Champs-Élysées in the open top double-decker bus. The crowd—who number in the high six figures, maybe a million, who knows?—is naturally delirious. What a spectacle. After yesterday’s wild-and-crazy final, aptly described by one observer as truly bonkers—if anyone wants to know what I thought of the game as it unfolded, here’s my running Facebook commentary—I went in to Paris to check out the ambiance. La folie furieuse, comme on dit. People were so happy. I took a few short videos, which I tweeted here, here, and here. My wife, who’s down south in Sète, took some pics (here) of the celebrations there. The ‘black-blanc-beur’ thing of ephemeral 1998 fame, which was subject to so much mythologizing, certainly seemed real to me yesterday. The multitudes in Paris—younger rather than older, naturally—were as multiracial/ethnic as you can get in this country, and with everyone so happy and communing together. And as both my wife and I observed, there were far fewer Algerian (and Moroccan, Tunisian etc) flags than in 1998. The young people of Maghrebi origin—not to mention African—were waving the tricolore. It’s a new generation out there, who barely remember 1998, if at all—Kylian Mbappé wasn’t even born—and whose identities are not constructed in the same way as those who are now in their 30s and 40s.

I have more to say and could drone on—for sharp commentary, I refer all to my friend Akram Belkaïd’s blog—but will end this post now, with an open letter to Didier Deschamps by faithful AWAV reader Michel Persitz, who lives in the south of France and goes by the nom de plume Massilian, which he sent me earlier today and that I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting

Thank you Didier !

Thank you for resisting all kinds of pressures and having built such a beautiful team of inspiring brilliant young sportsmen who love France, respect the republic and sing the Marseillaise without back thoughts.

Thank you Didier !

Because until late into the night, young people made a great, noisy, joyful, parade on scooters, motorcycles, cars, in the streets of Marseille, waving French flags.

Not so long ago, but with a different coach and a different team, I witnessed noisy parades, with many of the same youth waving Algerian flags because of one stupid demagog brilliant player.

Thank you Didier !

We had the greatest need to teach love of France to our young ones. You showed that hard work, solidarity and fraternity do bring better results than individual egos.

On the other hand, Didier, you gave us a kind of “Französische Mannschaft”, rather cold blooded, solid, very lucid, very technical, very realistic, but whose game aside from occasional brilliant flares of great talent is not that exciting to watch. The contrast with the fiery Croatian, Argentinian, Uruguyan, Belgium teams was striking. Yet I know, they all lost.

I guess you can’t have it all and if I have to choose, considering the benefits for morale of the country, I prefer a winning team. And I do enjoy the perfume of victory. Twenty years ago I was revving up my motorcycle engine and blasting my horn on the Champs-Elysées for the greatest pleasure of my ten years old son screaming and waving his arms behind me.

Football is fine, it is a highly popular sport, but it is only a game. The sudden tsunami that is taking over the country by storm after such a victory and which turns every brave Frenchman into a brilliant, heroic, proud, two-stars Frenchman, amazes me and also scares me a little !

During the world cup, the hazard made me read a book by the great Argentinian writer Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1999) : “Journal de la guerre au cochon”(1969). I was struck by this sentence : “The strength of demagogues is that they make outcasts aware of their dignity.”

Amitiés triomphales !
Michel

Très bien, though I am personally not worried about some future demagogue channeling the collective joy on the streets and squares of France last night, let alone toward nefarious ends.

À propos, the Bleus’ victory has knocked every other story off the news here today. Nothing on the unbelievable Trump-Putin meeting, which is dominating commentary on Facebook and Twitter feeds from people stateside. More on that very soon.

UPDATE: Vox has a six-minute video (July 10th), which is well worth watching, on why “France produces the most World Cup players.” Spoiler alert: it has to do with immigration, but not only.

2nd UPDATE: FT Paris correspondent Simon Kuper has a nice piece (July 18th) in the New Statesman, “A victorious World Cup team made in the multiracial Paris banlieues: Football is the bit of French society where I’ve seen integration work best.”

Kuper has a similar one in Le Monde dated July 19th, “Des terrains de banlieue au stade Loujiniki, une éclatante réussite d’intégration.”

Don’t miss the post (July 12th), by Australian sports sociologist Darko Dukic, on the Run Repeat blog, “Most World Cup talent are born in France (data analysis).”

3rd UPDATE: Everyone is au courant by now (July 20th) of the exchange between Gérard Araud and Trevor Noah, and particularly Noah’s response to the French ambassador, which has gone viral on social media. I found Noah’s response pretty good, but particularly like the reaction on Facebook by my (Indian-born) friend Leela Jacinto, of the English service of France 24

This identity business is so boring! So, the French ambassador could have been a bit more nuanced. But know what, just ask the players & they’ve reiterated, individually, time & again, they’re French. As I’ve snapped at countless clueless, well-meaning folks, ‘I’m not about to be your little brown girl in the ring. I have a US passport, French residency & I feel at home & a stranger anywhere. So stop telling me who I am.’ When I see first-hand how countries in Asia, Mideast, Africa treat their own immigrants/refugees & their diasporas wank on about hyphenated identities, assimilation blah-blah, I see stones pelted from glass houses. The point is, do you have equal rights, face discrimination – that’s the issue. If you know a country, language, culture well for whatever reason, that’s great. But your identity is your own bloody problem, so stop boring me.

À propos, see Zach Beauchamp’s post (July 19th) on Vox, “Trevor Noah’s feud with France over race, identity, and Africa, explained: The feud involves the World Cup, jokes, differing ideas of citizenship, and Noah’s French accent.”

See as well the provocative commentary (July 20th) by Hudson Institute research fellow Benjamin Haddad, who’s French, in The American Interest, “Multiculturalism and the World Cup: Why American liberals celebrating the French team’s ‘Africanness’ are making common cause with Jean-Marie Le Pen.”

4th UPDATE: See the intriguing analysis by Alternatives Économiques journalist Vincent Grimault, posted June 8th on the Alter Éco website—a week before the tournament began—”Pourquoi la France va gagner la Coupe du monde de football (ou presque).” The reason? Because France has a high level of taxation. N.B. the article, it is specified at the end, is “(relativement) sérieux.”

5th UPDATE: Political scientist and public intellectual Yascha Mounk has a typically thoughtful commentary (July 24th) in Slate, “Trevor Noah doesn’t get to decide who’s French.” The lede: “The Daily Show host says his critics in Europe missed the context of his World Cup commentary. But he’s making the same mistake.”

In his piece, Mounk links to one by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, dated July 16th, that I missed, “The French World Cup win and the glories of immigration.”

Read Full Post »

Today is Bastille Day, when people here are supposed to feel a little more patriotic than they normally might—and particularly if they watch the parade on the Champs-Élysées—I never miss it myself (on TV)—and then La Marseillaise at the end, which moves me in a way The Star-Spangled Banner never does (and the way things are going stateside, likely never will). Everyone will certainly be feeling more patriotic tomorrow, with Les Bleus meeting Croatia in the World Cup final. Can anyone who is not Croat and maybe Algerian—for whom opposing France is part of the national DNA—possibly be for Croatia and against the excellent and sympathique French team? I was disappointed England didn’t make it, as I was hoping for a France-England final—ça aurait eu de la gueule—but the Croats deserved to win the semifinal. From the 2nd half onward, they were the superior team. C’était ainsi. Needless to say, the level of excitement here—since Les Bleus’ well-merited victory over Belgium on Tuesday—is palpable, possibly even greater than in 1998.

The 20th anniversary of Les Bleus’ glorious victory over Brazil was two days ago, which everyone born before, say, 1988 is recalling and recounting—me, le vieux, to my daughter (who was 4 at the time) and her friends. It was a great team and with players we all got to know and love. And they have not been forgotten, not a single one (not by me, that’s for sure). It was exhilarating being at Place d’Italie after the game (I was living in the 13th) and observing the wild celebrations. People were so happy. Me too. And then there was the mythologizing over the feel-good ‘black-blanc-beur’ team and ‘la France de toutes les couleurs’. It felt real at the time—and I still think there’s reality in it. Not to be un empêcheur de tourner en rond, though, but in recounting le bons vieux temps to the young people, I nonetheless have to say something that few will admit, which is that the broad French public did not, in fact, jump on Les Bleus’ bandwagon in the 1998 tournament—and despite it being played in France—until after the victory over Italy in the quarterfinal (a soporific 0-0 game at the Stade de France that was settled in a penalty shootout—during which I was so anxiety-ridden that I could barely watch). In the round of 16 game against Paraguay five days earlier—also a soporific 0-0 affair, won with Laurent Blanc’s golden goal in the 114th minute, thus avoiding a shootout against the redoubtable Paraguayan goalkeeper—Le Monde described the crowd in the stadium in Lens as “éteint” (it was, admittedly, a hot, sunny afternoon). At a press conference before the quarterfinal, a frustrated Emmanuel Petit said something to the effect of “Come on people, get with us! We need your support!” (I’m recalling this from memory).

The fact is, France has historically not been a big soccer/football country, at least not compared to the rest of Europe. There are reasons for this: the absence of a major Paris team until the 1970s and of two or more first division teams in other cities, and thus derbys and intense local rivalries (based on rival parts of town, ethno-confessional groups, social class; cf. the UK, Italy, Spain, etc); the preeminence of rugby in the southwest and cycling in the west; the past disinterest, indeed disdain, of the bourgeoisie and intellectuals for the game… Even today, French fans do not travel to games in nearly the same numbers as do their European and other counterparts.

But 1998—and the quarterfinal victory—changed all that, when everyone got with the program and Gloria Gaynor. And everyone is with the program today, in 2018 (though not with Gloria Gaynor, as ‘I Will Survive’ is just so 1998).

As for Croatia tomorrow: we met them, if one will recall, in the 1998 semifinal, for which Lilian Thuram will forever be remembered. The last 15 minutes of that one were among the most stressful of my life, with France playing a man down—Laurent Blanc having been sent off with a red card, for a manifest dive by Slaven Bilić—and fending off a relentless Croatian counterattack. C’était chaud. But we held them off and won.

And inshallah, we will again.

Stade de France, July 12 1998

 

Read Full Post »

Antoine Griezmann & Kylian Mbappé,
France-Argentina, Kazan, June 30th (photo: AFP)

[update below] [2nd update below]

The World Cup has now been underway for three weeks but this is only my first post on the tournament, whereas I had ten on the last one, in 2014. I am naturally following this one closely—as I have every World Cup since 1998 (from 1982 to ’94, I only watched the final; before that, I cared not at all about soccer)—but was maybe a little less enthusiastic about it this time, with the absence of soccer powers Italy and the Netherlands, plus other countries that one expects to be there, such as the United States and African powerhouses like Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon. Too bad none of these qualified, particularly Italy (though I am absolutely not a fan of the Squadra Azzurra). Also disappointing that Team USA was eliminated, in view of the increasing popularity of international soccer in the US (though losing the final qualifying match to Trinidad and Tobago—which is not known for its football prowess—and at home no less, was truly pathetic). Interest in the World Cup is thus down this year in the US, though close to 30% of Americans say they still have some level of interest in the current games, which isn’t bad IMHO.

But the country that mainly interests me is, of course, France, who qualified relatively easily—not having to go to a run-off, as with the last two World Cups, and with near-death experiences—and have played well enough in the group stage (okay, the game against Denmark was a snoozer but we were already qualified for the round of 16). If one had any doubt that Les Bleus have what it takes to go all the way to the final, that was settled with last Saturday’s spectacular victory over Argentina. Now I am not a specialist of soccer/football—I didn’t grow up with the game and do not at all follow league play—so lack the competence to engage in any sort  of commentary on or analysis of the sporting side of it (not that anyone would be interested even if I did). One friend who does possess an impressive knowledge of the subject is Akram Belkaïd of Le Monde Diplomatique, who has had twenty posts on the tournament so far on his blog. The New York Review of Books has also had a running series of essays on the World Cup (and with the latest on the host country Russia).

Back to France and Les Bleus, Rory Smith and Elian Peltier had lengthy piece in the NYT (June 7th), “Kylian Mbappé and the boys from the banlieues.” The lede: “The vast sprawl of suburbs and satellite towns around Paris, disdained by some as a breeding ground for crime and terrorism, is home to the greatest pool of soccer talent in Europe.” Taking up the soccer/banlieue theme from a more academic angle is my friend Paul Silverstein, who teaches anthropology at Reed College, who has a post on the Pluto Press blog, “World Cup summer in postcolonial France.” The lede: “France is a bellwether for postcolonial anxieties and populist politics. Football is the stage wherein these anxieties and politics often play out. In this blog Paul Silverstein, author of Postcolonial France: Race, Islam, and the Future of the Republic, considers how the social and cultural contours of the nation are represented during the 2018 World Cup.” Paul is very smart and knowledgeable but I have a few comments to make on his (jargon-heavy) piece. Maybe later. (N.B. I wrote about the banlieue/immigration aspect in my 2014 series, so am not going to do so again).

A few random comments on the tournament so far, most of the games I’ve watched in whole or part:

Stunning that Germany crashed out in the group stage, and finished last in its group to boot. Doubtful anyone predicted that, particularly after the Mannschaft’s breathtaking victory against Sweden. With that and pathetic Spain’s inglorious defeat by f*cking Russia on Sunday, the bracket is out of whack.

Really disappointed for Egypt and Mo Salah. It would have been nice if they’d at least beaten Saudi Arabia. Also sad for Senegal, which did not deserve its early elimination, particularly after its whacking of Poland.

Portugal-Spain: what a great game! As for Portugal, I’m glad they got knocked out by Uruguay, as I didn’t want to face yet another France-Portugal elimination match (Euro 2000 semi-final, 2006 World Cup semi-final, Euro 2016 final: all stressful and tedious at the same time).

Serbia-Switzerland sure was riveting, not least because of the political and identity issues involved. (I wrote about the multicultural Swiss team in 2014).

Belgium-Japan: what an incredible second half! Great performance by both teams.

Not too impressed with England, who were lucky as hell to advance to the quarterfinals. But I hope they go all the way to the final, where we (Les Bleus) will easily defeat them…

Brazil? Bof. I was hoping Mexico would win that one. Tant pis.

More to follow, after the quarterfinals.

UPDATE:  The excellent Russian-American journalist Julia Ioffe, with whom I am normally in 100% agreement on matters Russian (and on most other issues as well), has a piece in The Washington Post (July 2nd) on “Russia’s World Cup win [being] good for Putin [but] Russian dissidents loved it anyway.” The lede: “Beating Spain may make for good propaganda, but it’s also legitimately thrilling.” Nice for the Russians, though one does have to be Russian, or a serious Russophile, to support that country in any team sport, let alone football.

À propos, RFE/RL senior correspondent Peter Baumgartner has an article (June 30th; tweeted by Ioffe d’ailleurs) on the ethnocentrism/racism of Russian soccer, “Russia’s World Cup team bucks multiethnicity seen on Swiss, other teams,” which is one reason, among many others, why I can only hope Russia loses. Always. It begins

While there is a splash of ethnic diversity on virtually every team playing in soccer’s 2018 Russia World Cup, many cite the Swiss national team for setting the standard for being multicultural.

Known affectionately by its fans in Switzerland as “the Nati,” 14 of the 23 members of the Swiss team were either born outside of Switzerland or are “secondos” — a word used by the Swiss to denote the offspring of immigrants.

Switzerland is not the only team that came to the World Cup in Russia with a sizable portion of players from the country’s migrant or ethnic minority communities.

More than three-quarters of France’s team (18 players) are from the country’s varied communities of immigrants, while the Belgians have 11 such players, England 10, and Germany six.

Baumgartner could have also mentioned Denmark’s national team, whose star forward, Pione Sisto, was born in Uganda to South Sudanese refugee parents, as one reads in this piece on The Guardian’s ‘World Cup Experts’ Network’, as well as in Le Monde, which opines that Sisto incarnates “le métissage réussi du football danois.”

Further down the article, Baumgartner writes

In a strange reversal, 17 of Morocco’s 23 players at the World Cup and 11 of Tunisia’s were born in Europe — mainly in France and the Netherlands. They spurned their home countries to play for the birthland of their parents or grandparents.

“Many of the players now choose to play for Morocco instead of the Netherlands,” said Frank van Eekeren, an assistant professor and researcher on sports and society at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

“There is a change [going on] there — I’m not sure if it’s a change in the whole society or just in this particular group that feels a different kind of connection to our country,” he said. “It could be a sign of players that don’t feel at home in the country [in which] they were born.”

It is likewise with Algeria’s national team, which, as we saw in 2014, is mainly comprised of dual-national Franco-Algerians born and raised in France.

As for why these players opt for the national teams of their parents’ countries of origin, the reason has less to do with identity than the fact that they are far more likely to be called up regularly by the Algerian/Moroccan/Tunisian teams than the talent-heavy French (or Dutch etc). Professional considerations override personal sentiment. Seriously, if any of those dual-national players on the aforementioned Maghreb teams had been called up by Les Bleus early on in their football careers, what do you think they would have done?

2nd UPDATE: Afshin Molavi, who is a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins-SAIS, has an opinion piece (July 6th) in The Washington Post on “What France and Belgium’s World Cup success says about European immigration.”

Read Full Post »

fair play

I’m sort of following the Olympics, watching a bit on TV, keeping up with the medals table. I’ve read about the Russian doping scandal over the past couple of weeks. Am not surprised the Russkies got off with a slap on the wrist. The affair recalled a good Czech film I saw last year, Fair Play (in France: Sur la ligne), about state-organized doping of athletes in Czechoslovakia during the communist era (and that was likewise in the other eastern bloc countries). Here’s a plot summary culled from IMDB

The 1980s in Czechoslovakia. The young talented sprinter Anna (Judit Bárdos) is selected for the national team and starts training to qualify for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles (before the Soviet decision to boycott). As part of the preparation she is placed in a secret “medical program” where she’s getting doped with anabolic steroids. Her performance is getting better, but after she collapses in training, she learns the truth about the drugs. Anna decides to continue her training without the steroids even though her mother (Anna Geislerova) is worried that she won’t be able to keep up with other athletes and might not qualify for the Olympics, which she sees as the only chance for her daughter to escape from behind the Iron Curtain (her parents having been dissidents and her father living in exile in Vienna). After Anna finishes last in the indoor race, her mother informs the coach (Roman Luknar) that Anna had stopped using steroids. They decide to apply the steroids to Anna secretly, pretending it’s nothing but doses of harmless vitamins.

The film offers what is certainly the most accurate cinematic treatment one will find of state-organized doping in communist countries: of the collaboration of doctors, oversight of the secret police and the party, and the pressure that was brought to bear on the athletes to comply—e.g. access to higher education and other resources, post-sporting career employment—and particularly if the athlete’s family was already politically suspect, as was Anna’s in the film. In short, it lays bare the overall insidiousness of the really existing socialism of the Soviet bloc countries. The pic did well at the box office in the Czech Republic (it has yet to open in the US or UK). The reviews in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are good. Trailer is here.

Not all was dodgy or somber in the Soviet bloc sports scene, it should be said. Last year I saw the terrific documentary, Red Army, by American filmmaker Gabe Polsky, about the saga of the HC CSKA Moscow ice hockey team, nicknamed “Red Army”—that formed the core of the national team the Soviet Union fielded in international competition—mainly from the 1970s to the early ’90s. The Red Army/USSR ice hockey team may well have been the best ever in any sport—and, under the yoke of the legendary slave-driver coach, Viktor Tikhonov, no doubt the most militarily regimented. The national team regularly blew away the competition in international sporting events (though was shocked by Team USA—then comprised of college-level amateurs—at the 1980 winter Olympics in Lake Placid, in what was one of the biggest upsets in the history of sports). They were amazing. One does not need to know a thing about ice hockey or have the slightest interest in it to find the documentary riveting and all-around excellent—critics in France and the US/UK alike gave it the thumbs way up—as it’s about politics, the Cold War, and the Soviet Union in its waning years as much as it is about sports (see the trailer here). Among those interviewed throughout the documentary are two of the USSR national team’s great players, Vladislav Tretiak and Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov—the latter, along with others on the team, going to the US and Canada in 1989 and after to play in the NHL—and the journalist Vladimir Posner, who was a fixture on American television in the 1980s, as a slick, English-speaking spokesman for the Soviet Union.

Did the Soviet hockey players take anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs? Probably, though in that they would not have differed from their counterparts in North America.

redarmy-poster-de-fr-it-640

Read Full Post »

Euro 2016

France-Germany, Marseille, July 7th (photo: Tribune Sports)

France-Germany, Marseille, July 7th (photo: Tribune Sports)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

This is my first post on the Euro 2016—which I’ve been following for the past month, watching most of the games in whole or in part—and, if France loses to Portugal in the final tonight, will be my last. But Les Bleus should logically not lose, as France is the host country of the tournament, the game’s at the Stade de France, the nation is entirely behind them, and the victories against valiant Iceland and, above all, formidable Germany were just so thrilling. Les Bleus have the mo’. And it would just be so terribly disappointing if they lost. Also, Portugal isn’t what it used to be. Except for the semifinal against Wales, the games the Seleção won were won ugly. They have not have impressed. Voilà: Allez les Bleus!

The Wall Street Journal Europe’s sports editor Joshua Robinson has a good, informative piece, dated July 6th, on “The French soccer revolution.” The lede: “Unlike France’s last title-winning team, its Euro 2016 side features a core of key players who developed outside the country’s prestigious academy system.” As I don’t follow club soccer—i.e. I pay only passing attention to the professional leagues—I wasn’t aware of the particular parcours of Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet, Olivier Giroud, and other new stars of the national team.

In this vein, also see the piece in Mediapart by Michaël Hadjenberg, “Griezmann, une histoire française.” The lede: “Bien peu de gens le savent mais Antoine Griezmann est en partie à l’origine de ‘l’affaire des quotas’.”

Soccer scholar Laurent Dubois, who teaches in the history department at Duke University, has a nice post, dated July 9th, “Paul Pogba’s joyful, exuberant moment of brilliance [in the France-Germany semi-final] was the play of Euro 2016,” on Slate’s soccer blog. Also see his June 29th post, “How football can explain a divided Europe.”

Some random comments on the tournament:

Did anyone not adore plucky Iceland and all its supporters who flew over from Reykjavik? One-tenth of that country’s population came to France to support their team. And who couldn’t love TV announcer Guðmundur Benediktsson (a.k.a. Gummi Ben)?

But the Irish fans were the greatest, no?

Les Bleus clearly didn’t miss Karim Benzema. The brouhaha over his and Hatem Ben Arfa’s non-selection—of whether or not this reflected anti-Arab racism by the FFF—was hugely overblown. In view of the sordid affair in which Benzema has found himself—and in which he is no doubt guilty—there was simply no way Didier Deschamps could have selected him. It would have been a big distraction and the French public would not have accepted it. And as the tournament was at home, the team needed the public 100% behind it. End of story.

Les Bleus are still multicultural and multiconfessional, bien évidemment.

The knockout stage bracket was too imbalanced, one consequence of expanding the tournament to 24 teams (it should have remained at 16). Too bad Germany-Italy happened in the quarterfinal (a consequence of the imbalanced bracket).

Germany’s Mesut Özil is one class act. I like the Mannschaft. A great team with cool players. Glad they lost.

Was disappointed for Belgium. France-Belgium in the final: ça aurait été beau.

Felt for England, which is normally my default team (after France). To be humiliated by little Iceland, that’s tough.

Lots of Portugal flags on display in the Paris area, including in my banlieue, where there is a sizable Portuguese community. People have no problem with Franco-Portuguese supporting the old country team. Can one imagine the political reaction if a similar number of Algerian flags were in view for a France-Algeria match? Hah.

UPDATE: A frustrating final. It started well for Les Blues but Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury—leaving the match on a stretcher and in tears—put a damper on things. The Bleus outplayed the Seleção and in all categories during regulation time but were ineffective in the penalty area. Once in overtime the Seleção took control and the Blues came apart. They were just kicking the ball around, unable to do anything. When Eder scored his excellent goal at the 110th minute, it was over. Dommage pour la France et félicitations au Portugal.

2nd UPDATE: Franklin Foer, writing in Slate’s soccer blog after last night’s game, does not mince words in observing that “Portugal’s turgid victory was the dreadful ending this terrible European championships deserved.” Can’t disagree with a thing he says.

3rd UPDATE: France’s defeat may have been disappointing—for supporters of France at least—but was not disgraceful, as no host country of a European championship or World Cup since 1980 has won the title…except for France. The historical record:

Euro 2016 – France: lost the final
World Cup 2014 – Brazil: lost semi-final
Euro 2012 – Poland & Ukraine: eliminated in group stage
World Cup 2010 – South Africa: eliminated in group stage
Euro 2008 – Austria & Switzerland: eliminated in group stage
World Cup 2006 – Germany: lost semi-final
Euro 2004 – Portugal: lost the final
World Cup 2002 – Japan & South Korea: lost in round of 16 & in semi-final
Euro 2000 – Belgium & Netherlands: eliminated in group stage & lost semi-final
World Cup 1998 – France: WORLD CHAMPION!
Euro 1996 – England: lost semi-final
World Cup 1994 – USA: lost in round of 16
Euro 1992 – Sweden: lost semi-final
World Cup 1990 – Italy: lost semi-final
Euro 1988 – West Germany: lost semi-final
World Cup 1986: Mexico: lost quarter-final
Euro 1984 – France: EUROPEAN CHAMPION!
World Cup 1982 – Spain: eliminated in second round
Euro 1980 – Italy: lost third place playoff

Arun's balcony, July 10th

Arun’s balcony, July 10th

Read Full Post »

Muhammad Ali, R.I.P.

When We Were Kings

My social media timeline was covered with tributes when he died a week ago. I didn’t put up anything myself, as I was off the blog for two weeks and with limited Internet access—on a voyage that I will write about soon—but also as I didn’t have anything of interest to say about him. But as today is his funeral, and with a part of America honoring his memory, I will add my 1¢ here, namely to say that he was one of those public personalities whom I knew, as it were, for most of my life, notwithstanding my zero interest in boxing. Muhammad Ali was a character whom one found amusing and interesting, not least for his political views, such as expressed here and here in regard to the Vietnam war. And his Chicago mansion—on the 4900 block of S.Woodlawn—being in my neighborhood in the 1980s, I would make a point to show it to visiting out-of-town friends (though Muhammad Ali didn’t actually spend much time there; pour l’info, Barack & Michelle Obama’s Chicago home—where they no longer spend much time either—is nearby, on the 5000 block of S.Greenwood). And he was certainly one of the better known Americans abroad, at least in Muslim countries in the 1960s and ’70s; I have memories of his name coming up with people when I lived in Turkey back then. And then there was the Rumble in the Jungle, which was the subject of the excellent documentary, When We Were Kings (see here and here). I think I’ll watch it again.

Slate has passages of “The best stories ever written about Muhammad Ali.” The full text of Murray Kempton’s is here.

UPDATE: President Obama has an exceptional tribute to Muhammad Ali, posted on the White House website. Watch Valerie Jarrett read it at the funeral here.

Read Full Post »

Photo credit: graphics8.nytimes.com

Photo credit: graphics8.nytimes.com

That’s the title of an opinion piece (June 11th) by the well-known libertarian-conservative legal scholar Richard A. Epstein—of the University of Chicago Law School, among other places—in Politico.eu (adapted from a version published three days earlier in the Hoover Institution’s journal Defining Ideas), in which he argues for a major overhaul in the rules governing world soccer. When I saw the click-bait title and then the identity of the author—whose world-view is generally the opposite of mine—I snorted and scoffed, assuming that he would propose rule changes to increase scoring, like scrapping the offside rule and widening the goal, or stopping the clock every ten minutes for commercial interruptions. In any case, I feared the worst.

But lo and behold, Epstein’s piece is excellent and I completely, totally agree with every proposal he makes, a few of which I’ve even been thinking myself, e.g. increasing the number of referees, adopting video review for fouls (particularly in the penalty area), and allowing for more substitutions of players during the game. He also argues for making regular goals count for two points and penalties one—which makes sense—and revamping what he calls soccer’s atrocious penalty structure for various infractions.

Epstein is not arguing that soccer should become more “American”—that’s just the title to hook the reader—but that its rules are archaic and are crying out for change, and that, on this score, the sport could draw inspiration from two played in America, basketball and ice hockey, which have evolved over the decades and kept up with the times. With Sepp Blatter gone and the prospect of the Qatar bid being reopened, which would make the US the favorite to host the 2022 tournament, maybe US Soccer will push for FIFA to adopt Epstein’s proposal. That would be good.

Read Full Post »

The World Cup – X

Rio de Janiero, July 13 2014 (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Rio de Janiero, July 13 2014 (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

A well-deserved victory by Germany, which was the best overall team in the tournament. As Slate senior editor and soccer aficionado Jeremy Stahl wrote à chaud after the game, one should not cry for Argentina or Lionel Messi, as “This Germany team is [indeed] one of the best in years.” And it is certainly more sympathique than the Mannschaft teams of the 1980s.

So that’s it. My evenings will no longer be consumed by sports as they have for the past month. And save for any new developments on the 2022 Qatar question, this will likely be my last soccer post until the Euro 2016, i.e. for two years. Back to politics and movies…

Read Full Post »

The World Cup – IX

140708-brazil-fans-anguish-jms-1723_51fd1fa9a0115f07203582fb41ea3171

[update below]

I watched with slack-jawed incredulity the unbelievable Brazilian collapse against Germany on Tuesday, my sentiment no doubt being shared by all the several hundred million people tuned into the game across the globe. I felt so badly for Brazil, team and people. The best analysis I’ve read so far on the game is an article in Slate by Irish Times journalist Ken Early, “Why Brazil lost.” The lede: Rather than make a real plan, [the Brazilians] abandoned themselves to romantic notions of passion and desire.

Early’s piece is well worth the read. He suggests, among other things, that some soul-searching will have to be done in Brazil. The reception the Seleção receives from the hometown crowd at Saturday’s consolation game in Brasilia will be instructive. If it’s even somewhat akin to that received by the German Mannschaft at their third place match in Stuttgart in 2006, as Early describes it, that will be good and salutary. But if Brazilian fans greet their team with negativity—e.g. pelting them with garbage and hurling insults, as happened in 1986 at Rio de Janeiro airport upon the Seleção’s return following its quarterfinal elimination from the tournament that year (I remember the TV news image of this)—and pile on the humiliation, I will lose a lot of sympathy for them.

On Brazil, here’s a piece dated June 17th in the Afro-American-oriented webzine The Root, by journalist Dion Rabouin, on how “Black identity and racism collide in Brazil.” The lede: The country’s complex history with race gains the spotlight as the World Cup attempts to address the recent wave of racist attacks against black players.

And here’s something from the NYT (July 7th) on “Neymar’s injury sidelin[ing] effort to end World Cup racism.”

I was hoping for a Brazil-Netherlands final but Germany put paid to that. Then I thought a Germany-Netherlands final would be pretty cool but now that won’t be happening either. The Argentina-Netherlands game yesterday was not nearly as “exciting” as the one on Tuesday, though I didn’t think it was as dull as did various media and FB commentators. Both teams played very well defensively, particularly the Dutch, though the latter were admittedly insipid and uninspired on offense—no shots on goal in regulation time and too many free kicks that went nowhere—, so Argentina’s victory in the shootout was merited. But La Albiceleste hasn’t been overly impressive in the tournament, depends too heavily on a single player (L.Messi), and has had such an odious reputation over the decades—of playing dirty and bad sportsmanship—that I’ll be all for Germany on Sunday.

UPDATE: Cambridge University political theorist David Runciman, who’s been posting on the World Cup on the LRB blog, has a good commentary on the Brazilian debacle. See also his successive post, on Argentina’s inglorious 1978 World Cup victory.

brazil-defeat21

greetings from brazil

Read Full Post »

Celebrating Algeria's World Cup qualifying victory over Burkina Faso, November 19 2013

Celebrating Algeria’s World Cup qualifying victory over Burkina Faso, November 19 2013

This is a continuation of my post of three days ago, on Franco-Algerians and issues of identity, which I put up before saying everything I wanted to say on the subject. Three more comments. First, when pondering—and dreading—a hypothetical France-Algeria World Cup quarterfinal—which thankfully did not come to pass—, one immediately thinks of the October 6, 2001, France-Algeria friendly de funeste mémoire, before a packed Stade de France in Saint-Denis, the first time the two national teams had met for a friendly match and in France (the one previous meeting between national soccer teams of the two was the 1975 Mediterranean Games final in Algiers—and which was won by Algeria). The game’s advance billing presented it as a beautiful—and heavily symbolic—moment of Franco-Algerian friendship and reconciliation, so numerous politicians and other public personalities were present at the stadium, including Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Minister of Youth and Sports—and the then PCF Secretary-General—Marie-George Buffet had the brilliant—or, one should say, “brilliant”—idea to distribute free tickets for the game to thousands of young people of Algerian parentage in the surrounding, heavily immigrant populated banlieues (Saint-Denis being in the heart of the neuf-trois). A lovely gesture, or so she thought. The stadium was a sea of Algerian flags. When Les Bleus—the celebrated black-blanc-beur team that had won the World Cup three years earlier—entered, they were booed. And when the national anthems were played, La Marseillaise was likewise booed. And loudly. Throughout the game, whenever a French player took the ball, he was booed—even national hero Zineddine Zidane, and normally beloved by young Franco-Algerians—and with the Algerian players loudly cheered. And then at the 76th minute, with France leading 4-1, youthful spectators invaded the field. It was pandemonium (watch here, from 6:50). The game had to be called and with the players quickly exiting to the locker room.

What was to have been a beautiful moment symbolizing the friendship between the two countries turned into a fiasco. Jospin, Buffet, and the other VIPs were like statues during the game—their faces frozen—whenever the TV camera panned to them (and Mme Buffet was hit by a projectile). I watched the whole thing with my wife and we were speechless. And stunned, as was everyone we knew—including all the Algerians and other Maghrebis—who watched the game. And the reaction was likewise across the board in France. French society was blindsided by the spectacle, of tens of thousands of young French citizens—or citizens-to-be—booing France and the symbols—flag and anthem—of the French nation. It led the news the next day, was the headline in all the papers, and the cover story in the weekly news magazines, with analyses, tribunes, and debates as to the meaning of what had happened and how to interpret the manifest alienation from French society of a portion of the younger generation of Algerian immigrant origin. As the Front National was at an electoral low point at the time, there wasn’t much demagoguery from politicians over the event. Mainly shock and disorientation. The most sober reaction came from the Über-republican patriot Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who spoke of how saddened he was by the spectacle and what he interpreted as the failure of the Republic to integrate young Franco-Algerians.

The most virulent reaction, as it happened, came from Algeria, with the press there unanimously denouncing the youthful Franco-Algerians at the Stade de France, whose comportment disgraced Algeria and Algerians in France, so the Algerian press asserted. Algerians in Algeria spared their brethren in France no quarter. And the adults in France’s Algerian population felt likewise.

The fallout from the game was long-lasting. It was not forgotten. In debates over post-colonial immigrant integration, there was a before and after October 2001. A France-Algeria match today—and a high stakes one at that—would certainly see similar type behavior from young Franco-Algerians. But there would be fewer soul-searching reactions à la Chevènement from politicians. In view of the current electoral strength of the FN, the surge of the hard right-wing of the UMP—thanks to Nicolas Sarkozy and Jean-François Copé—, and the Internet réacosphère (with countless right-wing blogs and reactionary websites, e.g. Valeurs Actuelles), the political récupération and exploitation would be terrible. The well would be poisoned big time. As I have said, France does not need this.

A second comment, and to put things in perspective: Except when playing Algeria—or Morocco or Tunisia—the French national team is actively supported by young Franco-Algerians/Maghrebis. In the wild celebrations that followed France’s 1998 World Cup victory over Brazil, young Franco-Maghrebis were out in force—and marking the French victory by waving Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian flags (which I was able to observe, having been out and about on that glorious July night). Again, hybrid/multiple identities issuing from post-colonial immigration.

Third comment. On the phenomenon and significance of waving flags of former French colonies at events in France—including political rallies—see the guest post on this blog by sociologist (and personal friend) Didier Le Saout dated May 7, 2012, in which he analyses “les drapeaux étrangers et le débat de l’intégration des populations étrangères dans la société française” (scroll to nº2; see also my exchange on this with a conservative American who commented on the blog).

Political scientist and Algeria specialist Thomas Serres has a sharp analysis (June 29th) in the webzine Jadaliyya, “From the World Cup to the ‘Great Replacement’: Football and Racist Narratives in France.”

Celebrating Algeria's World Cup qualifying victory over Egypt, November 18 2009

Celebrating Algeria’s World Cup qualifying victory over Egypt, November 18 2009

On Team USA’s elimination by Belgium last Tuesday, I have nothing in particular to say about it except too bad, better luck in 2018, and Tim Howard was awesome. Everyone is remarking on the upsurge of interest in the World Cup in the US, with statistics published in WaPo “[proving that] Americans care more about soccer than you think.” And in case one missed it, the NYT’s Sam Borden had a good piece after the Belgium game, “Wild ride by U.S. comes to end, but soccer is the winner.” On the engouement for soccer in the US

World Cups have been growing in popularity among Americans for some time, but this tournament has felt different. Explanations for the surge vary, with some pointing to Brazil’s time zone being favorable for American viewers, especially compared to South Africa four years ago. Others say soccer’s spike is simply the result of a growing Hispanic population in the United States as well as the inevitable aging of Millenials. A great number of soccer-loving children have now become consumer adults.

“These are all young people who grew up with the game, whether it be the English Premier League or Major League Soccer, and they don’t need to be convinced that soccer is a sport that is worthy of their attention,” said Don Garber, the commissioner of M.L.S. “The country has changed. This is a new America.”

Statistics seem to support that claim. Fourteen percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 said professional soccer was their favorite sport, second only to the N.F.L., according to Rich Luker, who runs a sports research firm. That means a greater number of fans are more likely to continue following the sport even when the pageantry of the World Cup is over.

Millennials are not just knowledgeable about the Premier League and MLS but have grown up playing the game—which was not the case in my generation (and certainly not among boys in the Midwest). And, as Ann Coulter and other soccer denigrators—of which I was one until two decades ago—surely know, those Americans who play soccer and/or follow it are mainly middle and upper-middle class and include many from Republican families (and whose grandparents were born in the US…).

Hypothesis: One reason Ann Coulter and her ideological ilk are suspicious of soccer—apart from the fact that they didn’t grow up with it—is that an interest in the sport necessarily and positively engages one with the rest of the world, and particularly Europe. One cannot follow soccer without an on-going knowledge of—and respect for—the major European leagues—and which will be superior to MLS for a long time to come. One cannot be a soccer fan and America-centric.

I like these pics of “fanatical ‘gringo’ fans suffering defeat in the round of 16,” on a Venezuelan website I stumbled across.

Hypothesis: Ann Coulter and ilk also dislike the rise of soccer in the US because it is a team sport in which Americans are not the best and where the US national team will inevitably lose to some European, Latin American, African country, that Americans will have to get used to defeat—as do all other countries, including Brazil—, but that it’s not a big deal. The playing field will always be level.

Assertion: Ann Coulter and ilk will just have to get used to their fellow Americans liking soccer. There’s not a thing they can do about it.

Watching Belgium-USA on the big screen at Soldier Field, Chicago, July 1st (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Image)

Watching Belgium-USA on the big screen at Soldier Field, Chicago, July 1st
(photo: Scott Olson/Getty Image)

Read Full Post »

The World Cup – VII

France-Germany, Rio de Janiero, July 4th (photo: AFP/Christophe Simon)

France-Germany, Rio de Janiero, July 4th (photo: AFP/Christophe Simon)

Hélas… I was optimistic for Les Bleus’s chances against the Mannschaft, had visions of them moving on to beat Brazil or Colombia in the semifinal, and then maybe winning the big one on July 13th. But it is not to be. The French outplayed the Germans in the second half but just couldn’t get the ball past goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Everyone here was so disappointed. But for the first time in my soccer memory—i.e. since the mid ’90s, when I started to follow international competition and the French national team—the reaction in the press and by the public to the French team’s elimination has not been to beat up on or savage them, as was (deservedly) the case in 2002 and 2010 (as for 2006, I will personally never forgive Zineddine Zidane for his unforgivable headbutt of Marco Materazzi at the 110th minute in the final, though public opinion remains divided on this). Just about everyone—or so it appears the day after—is speaking highly of the team in defeat, a team few thought before last November 19th would get this far in the tournament. The French public was trashing the team nine months ago, now they adore it once again. The team members are young and sympathique, and with the 23 selected for the tournament not including prima donnas or manifest jerks in their ranks. And they’re very good soccer players. Didier Deschamps has done a great job of putting the team together, transforming it from “chumps to potential champs” and earning respect from the world in the process. Les Bleus are back in the world soccer elite. As France is the host country of the 2016 European championship—and with Les Bleus consequently automatically qualified for the tournament—, they won’t be playing any games that matter from now until June ’16. Just friendlies, which I almost never watch. So I probably won’t see them play for the next two years 😦

BTW, the Brazil-Colombia game that followed France-Germany was great, or at least high octane and very intense. Was one of the few all-South American games I’ve watched from beginning to end, confirming that South American soccer is more offensive, physical, and overall exciting to watch than European (and aided by the exuberance of the spectators in the packed stadium). Too bad about Neymar. Now I guess I have to be for the home team Brazil to win the thing.

Les Bleus (photo: AFP/Damien Meyer)

Les Bleus (photo: AFP/Damien Meyer)

Read Full Post »

Algerian national team homecoming, Algiers, July 2 2014 (Photo: Getty Images)

Algerian national team homecoming, Algiers, July 2 2014 (Photo: Getty Images)

This post is a couple of days late. First of all, here’s a post by poet and essayist Charles Simic on the NYR Blog (July 2nd), “Confessions of a Soccer Addict,” that I can relate to. Now I am not nearly as much of a soccer addict as Simic, as I only follow international tournaments—World Cup and European nations championships, and France’s qualifiers for these (and only since the mid 1990s)—and have not watched every last game of this tournament, but have still been caught up in it. Every two (even) years in June-early July, I become obsessed with international soccer. And once it’s over I move on to other things.

But this one’s not yet over, with the quarterfinals tomorrow and Saturday. In round 16 I was particularly focused on the games with France, Algeria, and the USA. Not much to say about France-Nigeria other than the Nigerian Super Eagles played a good game—their players are all with top flight clubs in Europe—and Les Bleus weren’t too reassuring for the first two-thirds of it, but they got it together in the final 20 minutes and deservedly won. I am not pessimistic for their chances against Germany.

As for Algeria’s Fennecs, they went out against Germany les têtes hautes, which is just as it should have been. As I wrote in the last post, I was thrilled by Algeria’s draw against Russia and qualification for round 16 but did not want Les Fennecs to defeat Germany, as this would have set up an Algeria-France quarterfinal—assuming, of course, that France beat Nigeria, as expected—, which was to be avoided at all costs. Living in France, my dread of an Algeria-France QF seemed to require no explanation—it went without saying—but then a friend asked me this question on FB after the Algeria-Germany game ended (with the German victory but Algeria valiantly attacking to the very end):

Arun, what was the political and social fall-out that we just dodged by avoiding a France-Algeria quarter-final? What in your view would have happened?

Response: I cannot say concretely what would have happened but such a match would put a few million Franco-Algerians in France in the position—uncomfortable for some, less so for others—of having to root for Algeria against France and, in the event of an Algerian victory, publicly celebrating France’s defeat on the streets of French cities, and in the event of Algeria’s defeat, being disappointed at France’s victory—and these are people who would otherwise be cheering for France if Algeria weren’t involved. The reaction in the larger French society would naturally be very negative, Marine Le Pen & Co. would make a huge deal about it, and would further poison what in America is referred to as “race relations,” which does not need any more poisoning in France right now. The Franco-Algerian relationship—a relationship with a long colonial history and bitter war of independence, for which there is no equivalent in American history—does not need this. It would generate a nasty political polemic—about immigrant integration (or the presumed lack of it)—, increased anti-immigration rhetoric within the parliamentary right and with calls for a revision of French nationality law (e.g. suppressing dual nationality), foster bad feelings all around, and which would not be quickly forgotten. Such an Algeria-France match would not be a big deal between Algeria and France or in any way affect state-to-state relations between the two countries; it would strictly be an affair of Algerian-origin French citizens.

We’re dealing here with multiple/hybrid ethnic identities clashing head on. Americans have little to no experience with this, as clashing identities are played out mainly in international team sports competition, and American sports do not have major international tournaments (and with American football having none at all). The only time (some) Americans have witnessed this is in USMNT soccer games with Mexico played in the United States, where stadiums—except in Columbus, Ohio—are invested by spectators cheering for Mexico, waving Mexican flags, and booing the US. But as most Americans don’t pay attention to soccer, most are not aware of this—and it is not clear what proportion of those fans are Mexican-Americans or simply Mexicans living in the US (or travelling to the US for the game).

In France, those cheering the Algerian team are, in their majority, citizens of France and with most of the younger ones having been born and raised in the country. That they support the Algerian national team is only normal, as their parents are Algerian and Algeria is a part of their identity. Anecdote: I watched the Algeria-South Korea game on June 22nd chez a friend, who is Algerian naturalized French, in his mid 40s, came to France in his 20s for university, has an Algerian wife, is middle class—works in the private sector, as does his wife—, is thoroughly integrated into French society, with house in the suburbs (not far from Disneyland), and all. Moreover, he is a card-carrying member of one of the major French political parties and was a candidate in the last municipal elections in his town. His 13-year-old son—born and raised in middle class suburban Paris—, who is very knowledgeable about soccer, was, of course, all for Algeria. I asked him who he’d be for if Algeria played France. His response (I’m paraphrasing here and the exchange was obviously in French): “Uh, I’d be for Algeria.” Me: “But you’re French and live in France!” Him: “Yes, but I’m Algerian.” Me: “But you’re French too.” Him: “Well, yeah.” Me: “Are you for the Les Bleus too?” Him: “Of course.” Me: “So?” Him: “I dunno, that’s the way it is. I’m for Algeria.” Okay, he’s a kid, but there are hundreds of thousands of kids like him in France, or young adults who were kids not too long ago (and not just Algerian but other immigrant origin too). And in all of the French national team’s games—except with Algeria—he will be loudly cheering for France.

Complex this issue. I’ll continue with it in the next post. And will discuss the US too.

Read Full Post »

Algeria-Russia, Curitiba, June 26th

Algeria-Russia, Curitiba, June 26th

I was absolutely thrilled by Algeria’s qualification for the knockout phase on Thursday night. For the anecdote, I watched the second half of the game in a bar in Bayeux, managing to persuade the barman and sympathique table of Belgian fans—wearing goofy caps with horns and Belgian flags painted on their cheeks—that the Algeria-Russia match was more interesting and with greater stakes than Belgium-South Korea—being played simultaneously—, as Belgium was going to round 16 anyway, so they agreed to flip the channel. I also informed the French in the bar that they should be for Algeria, as the majority of Algerian players are, in fact, Franco-Algerian dual nationals from France, so the Algerian national team may also be seen as the French B team… At the end of the Algeria-Russia game the Belgians all applauded the Algerian qualification and a couple of the French gave me the high five. Sympa….

The Algeria qualification was a lead story in the French media yesterday morning, with the explosion of joy by Franco-Algerians across the country after the game (pics here), acting like Les Verts had won the World Cup final. But not everyone in France is happy about it, or at least for the same reasons. There was the expected bad humor from the extreme right (FN etc), who predictably focused on incidents of vandalism and torching of cars in various cities during the celebrations (which has been going on in this country for over three decades; it’s a permanent phenomenon; it always happens when there’s a pretext for lumpen youths to do so; so what point is one trying to make in fixating on it?). And then there were reactions from non-extreme right commentators, e.g. Le Figaro’s nitwit editorialist Ivan Rioufol, who asserted that “le patriotisme algérien en France révèle l’échec de l’assimilation.” Quel con. Monsieur Rioufol—as with so many others on the right (and some on the left as well) who opine on the subject—has zero understanding of the immigrant experience—in all immigrant populations in France and everywhere in the world, present and past—and the multiple or hybrid identities that ensue from this. And when it comes to Algerians and other post-colonial immigrant-origin populations in France, there is also a considerable mauvaise foi in Rioufol & Co.’s attitude.

To illustrate this, I will recount an exchange I had with a student (French) on precisely November 20th last fall, in one of the Master’s level courses I teach at the Catholic University here. It was the day after the French national team’s stunning victory against Ukraine, that (unexpectedly) qualified Les Bleus for the World Cup tournament in Brazil, and with the game happening at the same moment as the Algeria-Burkina Faso playoff—which Algeria won, thereby earning the ticket to Brazil as well. And, as it happened, Portugal also qualified for Brazil that evening, winning its playoff against Sweden. So there were celebrations on the Champs-Elysées that night after the games, of fans of all three winning teams waving flags of the three countries. My very right-wing student—who was not FN but not far from it; and, as I learned, had been an activist in the anti-gay marriage movement several months earlier—brought up the incidents of vandalism and arson (hugely exaggerated by hard right websites) and expressed indignation at the waving of Algerian flags by youths who were certainly born and raised in France. I responded to this by asking him about all the Portuguese-French fans who waved Portuguese flags during the celebration, adding that in my banlieue—where there is a significant Portuguese community—Portuguese flags hang from windows when the Portuguese national team plays a game, and that when it’s Portugal vs. France—as happened in the semifinal in both the Euro 2000 and 2006 World Cup—, these fans root for Portugal against France, and that this includes members of the second generation, who are full French citizens, so what does he have to say about that? The student’s response: “Ah, but that’s not the same thing…” Me: “Oh, really? So it’s okay for a French citizen of Portuguese parentage to wave a Portuguese flag but not okay for a French citizen of Algerian origin to wave an Algerian flag? Please explain.” The student: “Behind the Algerian flag are revendications…” Me (surprised): “Revendications? What revendications?” The student would not or could not say. And he clearly did not want to continue the exchange. I invited him to elaborate on what he said in a future class, to do a short presentation on it, which we would then discuss as a class, but he manifestly wasn’t interested in my proposition.

Total French right-wing mauvaise foi. And on this, I don’t imagine I would have received a more elaborate or sophisticated response from Ivan Rioufol. The French right has a problem with the presence of Muslims in France and doesn’t know how to think about Algeria, Algerians, or the Algerian war—or about France’s colonial past more generally. And this mentality is clearly being transmitted down the generations, at least in the more politicized portion of the hard right.

As it happens, the CRIF saw fit to publish Rioufol’s commentary on its website. This is lamentable. What point does the CRIF wish to make here? Rhetorical question: If Israel had qualified for the World Cup, finished in the top two in its group, and thereby proceeded to the knockout phase, would not there not be celebrations by French Jews and who would proudly wave the Israeli flag? Poser la question c’est y répondre…

What on earth is wrong with individuals having multiple or hybrid national identities? What’s the big deal? E.g. the big pro-Israel march in Paris on April 7, 2002 (along Bd Voltaire, from République to Nation)—which I attended as a spectator—, was a sea of French and Israeli flags (and in equal proportion). Absolutely no one in the French political or media mainstream expressed disapproval of this display of multiple national identities on the part of the marchers—and whose ranks included high-profile politicians from the right, center, and left, who came to express solidarity with the Jewish community and Israel at the height of second Intifada (those I remember seeing: Alain Madelin, Claude Goasguen, Pierre Lellouche, François Bayrou, Corinne Lepage, Jean-Marie Le Guen, Julian Dray). Rhetorical question: So if it’s okay for Jews, why not for Muslims too?

Nouvel Obs columnist Bruno Roger-Petit has a fine commentary (June 27th) on the celebrations following the Algeria-Russia game, which he says were “un formidable pied de nez aux réacs.” And Laurent Dubois had an equally fine essay in January (which I just read, h/t Muriam HD) on the Roads & Kingdoms blog, “Afro-Europe in the World Cup.”

Though I’m pleased that Algeria has qualified for round 16, I will not be rooting for Les Verts to beat Germany on Monday, as this will—assuming that France defeats Nigeria in that day’s earlier match-up—set up an Algeria-France quarterfinal, which is to be avoided at all costs, not because of what will happen on the field but off it—in the cities and banlieues of France. The hybrid/multiple identities will brutally clash and with a certain deleterious political fallout. An Algeria-France World Cup match is not in the higher interests of the French polity or French society. So Algeria needs to lose to Germany with honor, allowing for a (logical) France-Germany face-off in the quarterfinal.

Paris, June 27th © Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Paris, June 27th © Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

I was also pleased with the outcome of the Germany-USA game on Thursday—which I watched at the aforementioned Bayeux bar earlier in the evening, packed with Americans—plus that of Ghana-Portugal, thereby allowing Team USA to proceed to the knockout phase and in second place. Had the Americans defeated Germany to finish first in the group, this would have set up an eventual France-USA quarterfinal—and with me being for France against the USA, a position I would rather not find myself in. So now Team USA will face off against the Belgian Red Devils on Tuesday. I will be favoring the former.

After the game I saw a “commentary” by the wacky right-wing bloviator-entertainer Ann Coulter, in which she says that “growing interest in soccer a sign of nation’s moral decay.” It reads like a parody of an Ann Coulter column. Numerous Facebook friends posted it and with indignant comments but I thought it was hilarious, as it’s so wildly over-the-top that it can’t be serious. Ms. Coulter cannot possibly believe what she’s saying. It has to be tongue-in-cheek: click bait written with the expressed purpose of getting liberals all worked up and talking about her. But there is, of course, the possibility that the unhinged Coulter is 100% serious and is seriously throwing red meat to her numerous right-wing fans. If so, the intellectual depravity of the American right is even worse than I thought.

Cheering Team USA against Ghana at Jack Demsey's, New York City, June 16th  (photo credit: Getty)

Cheering Team USA against Ghana at Jack Demsey’s, New York City, June 16th
(photo credit: Getty)

Read Full Post »

Portugal-USA, Manaus, June 22nd

Portugal-USA, Manaus, June 22nd

Team USA played one great game last night! Too bad about the Portuguese goal in the final seconds, as the Americans deserved to win it. Everyone was impressed with their performance, which is to say, my friends—Facebook and those who sent me text messages when it was over (1:50 am local time)—and the French commentators on beIN Sports. The USA is now definitely in the elite of international soccer. And they have the respect to go with it. Such has, in fact, been the case with sports commentators in France since the 2002 World Cup, when Team USA went to the quarterfinals. I distinctly remember one of the TV announcers back then exclaiming, in regard to Team USA’s soccer style, “J’adore ces Américains!” And another approvingly observing that the reason the Americans had upped their game was that they were now “playing like Europeans”: with “opportunism” and “cynicism”…

And then there was this commentary by Aimé Jacquet, the beloved coach of France’s 1998 World Cup team, in Le Monde dated June 22, 2002 (he had a column in Le Monde’s daily World Cup supplement during the tournament that year)

Dans chaque Coupe du monde, il y a des révélations. Cette 17e édition n’échappe pas à la règle, et bouleverse même de façon extraordinaire un ordre peut-être trop vite établi. La participations aux quarts de finale de la Turquie, du Sénégal, mais surtout des Etats-Unis et de la Corée du Sud, confirme que le fossé entre les «petits» et les «grands» n’existe plus. Pas plus qu’un complexe dont souffriraient ces nations qualifiées d’inférieures.

Pour autant, ne tirons pas de conclusions hâtives: les Etats-Unis ne sont pas devenus un plus grand pays de football que l’Italie, par exemple. La vérité de ce Mondial asiatique n’est qu’une photographie du moment. Pour ma part, je ne peux que me réjouir du parcours de ces quatre équipes. Il est indispensable, pour que le football reste vivant et attractif, d’assister à cette petite révolution. (…)

… Pour moi, [les Etats-Unis] ont réussi un coup. Pour commencer, une victoire (3-2) face au Portugal, l’un des favoris de la compétition. Après ce déclic, un nul face à une Corée malheureuse ce jour-là, avant de trébucher lourdement face à la Pologne, pourtant dernière du groupe. Leur succès en huitièmes de finale, face au Mexique peu inspiré, est leur deuxième coup. Cette équipe s’appuie sur sa force athlétique et s’applique méthodiquement à empêcher l’adversaire de jouer. De plus, les hommes de Bruce Arena bénéficient d’une réussite maximale devant le but et les deux attaquants Landon Donovan et Brian McBride font preuve d’un opportunisme tout à fait étonnant.

Ces quatre formations ne doivent leur bon parcours qu’à elles-mêmes. Elles ont eu le mérite d’être présentes dès le premier jour. Le Sénégal, les Etats-Unis, ont en commun d’avoir battu d’entrée deux grosses cylindrées, respectivement la France et le Portugal. Pour son entrée, la Turquie a fait jeu égal avec le Brésil et n’a été battue que par le talent des individualités sud-américaines. Une entame qui a placé les joueurs dans des conditions psychologiques idéales. Enfin, si la Turquie, la Corée du Sud, les Etats-Unis et le Sénégal en sont là, c’est que, à la grande différence des grandes nations européennes, elles ne sont pas aspirées par les compétitions. Au contraire, elles n’aspirent qu’à en disputer.

One of the nice things about the American team is that they’re sympathique. They play collectively and don’t flop, dive, or act like assholes on the field. In the USA victory over Mexico in the 2002 round 16, the Mexican players behaved so odiously—as if they could not bear the prospect of losing to the Americans—that we were extra satisfied that they did indeed lose. And in the 2006 group game against Italy—which ended in a tie—, those chez moi who were watching—and which included a militant in an extreme left party—started out for Italy but by the second half were cheering for Team USA, as the Italians were such assholes. And the Portuguese last night were hardly sympa. So good for Team USA. Here’s hoping they go to at least the quarterfinals, if not the semis.

But I do hope they don’t beat Germany on Thursday and finish first in Group G, as that will set up an eventual France-USA in the quarterfinals, which I absolutely do not want. Let Thursday’s game end in a tie, so USA takes second.

John Cassidy has a post up (June 23rd) on The New Yorker web site, “The day America fell in love with the World Cup.”

And then there was yesterday’s Algeria-South Korea, which I watched with some ten enthusiastic (understatement) Algeria fans. Great to see Les Fennecs finally win a World Cup game—and decisively—after their unfortunate experience in 1982. Now the Algerian nation can finally put that one that behind it and move on.

In view of the insipid Belgium-Russia match (zzzzzzzz), one cannot exclude a first place Algerian finish in Group H. On verra jeudi.

Algeria-South Korea, Porto Alegre, June 22nd

Algeria-South Korea, Porto Alegre, June 22nd

Read Full Post »

France-Switzerland, Salvador, June 20th

France-Switzerland, Salvador, June 20th

France-Switzerland: What an amazing game! Five f—ing goals scored by Les Bleus—and by five different players—and against a good team to boot! Haven’t seen that kind of performance by Les Bleus in a long time (okay, there was that little victory against Ukraine last November…). The French national team is definitely back—and will definitely have regained the esteem of the French public—, even after/if it is eliminated in the knockout phase of the tournament.

On the subject of l’équipe de France, historian Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff, who works in the US Department of State’s Office of the Historian, had a post on June 17th on TNR’s Goal Posts blog, “French revival? Five story lines to watch during Les Bleus’ next matches.” As it happens, Dr. Krasnoff published a book in 2012 on the formation of players for the French national teams in soccer and basketball, The Making of Les Bleus: Sport in France, 1958-2010. I haven’t seen it yet but am sure it’s a good, informative read.

Another recent, English-language scholarly type book on Les Bleus is Duke University history and French prof Laurent Dubois’s Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France, published in 2011 by the University of California Press. I haven’t seen this one either but in view of Dr. Dubois’s fine Soccer Politics/The Politics of Football blog, am sure it’s tops.

On the Swiss team and its multiethnic character—which I mentioned in my previous World Cup post—, journalist Jérôme Houard has an interesting piece in Slate.fr, “La «Nati» suisse, une équipe unie par sa diversité” (June 20th).

Some Tweet-length comments on games of the past few days that I’ve seen in part or whole:

Brazil-Mexico: What an intense, tension-filled game! Whoever said scoreless ties couldn’t be exciting?!

Colombia-Ivory Coast: Too bad for Les Éléphants. Hope they whack the Greeks to advance.

England-Uruguay: Tough for the English, what to say? I would have liked to see them advance. Hélas.

Costa Rica-Italy: Wow, Costa Rica is for real! Whoda thunk it?

Ecuador-Honduras: Bof.

I unfortunately missed Chile-Spain and Australia-Netherlands. On Spain’s crashing out, I know how the Spaniards feel. We in France were there in 2002 and 2010 (though Les Bleus were eliminated in the third group games in those, not the second…).

making_lesbleus

9780520269781

Read Full Post »

The World Cup – II

France-Honduras, Porto Alegre, June 15th

France-Honduras, Porto Alegre, June 15th

The Algeria-Belgium game is underway as I write. One of the most nationalist countries in the world vs. a country that isn’t even a nation. As it happens, all but two players on the Algerian team play professionally outside Algeria and two-thirds are actually from France, i.e. they’re French-Algerian dual nationals (c’est-à-dire, des beurs). As for the Belgian team, four of today’s eleven starting players are of immigrant origin (Morocco, Mali, the Congo, Martinique). I would have expected more. Contrast this with the Swiss team that played Ecuador on Sunday: of the eleven starters and two substitutes, precisely ten are of immigrant origin: Diego Benaglio (Italy), Johan Djourou (Ivory Coast), Ricardo Rodríguez (Spain), Valon Behrami (Kosovo), Gökhan Inler (Turkey), Xherdan Shaqiri (Kosovo), Granit Xhaka (Kosovo), Josip Drmic (Croatia), Admir Mehmedi (Macedonia), Haris Seferovic (Bosnia). There are more Swiss players who ethnically hail from the ex-Yugoslavia than Suisses de souche! Haven’t yet seen anything on how they feel about that in la Suisse profonde.

Back to Belgium, University of Georgia prof Cas Mudde has a post on Monkey Cage (June 15th) asking “Can soccer unite the Belgians?” And on TNR’s fine World Cup blog, “Goal Posts” (June 16th), Cambridge University political scientist David Runciman explains “Why you should (and should not) be excited about Belgium’s new golden generation,” the Belgian team being, he argues, “[a] test for the unifying power of soccer.”

Update: Belgium beat Algeria. Logically.

I missed the first two days of the tournament, including the Netherlands-Spain game (I was some 35,000 feet above India, or maybe Af-Pak, while it was underway). Arriving back in Paris on Saturday, I learned to my incredulity that the majority of the group games are on pay TV only, on the Qatari network beIN Sports. F*cking Qatar. So I’ve missed a few games I wanted to see, notably last night’s Ghana-USA. But as a month sub for beIN is only €12, and which can be cancelled at any moment, I decided today to just do it, as there’s no way I’m going to miss Portugal-USA late Sunday night, entre autres.

All the France games are on TF1, of course. Les Bleus played well against Honduras (admittedly not among the stronger teams in the tournament). If Les Bleus beat the Swiss—who are good—on Friday, they’ll go to Round 16.

À suivre.

Read Full Post »

The World Cup

calendrier-coupe-du-monde-2014-france

It begins in a few hours—at 4:00 AM where I happen to be at the moment (Singapore), so I’ll miss the game (Brazil-Croatia). Like several hundred million people the world over, and likely more, I’ve been looking forward to this. I will be spending the next month watching as many games as possible (back in France, where they’ll all be in the evening). I’m for Les Bleus, bien évidemment, even though I have no illusions that they’ll go too far (to the Round of 16 at least—they’re in a relatively easy group—, maybe even to the quarterfinals). On verra. In the meantime, I’ll post any interesting, highbrow articles or worthy commentary on the subject I come across. Here’s one already, by University of Michigan political scientist—and soccer specialist—Andrei Markovits, who, writing on the political science blog Monkey Cage, says that “National characteristics do not explain soccer styles.” See also the other articles in the Monkey Blog’s series on politics, political science and the World Cup.

BTW, it appears that Team USA is not in the real Group of Death after all. According to this analysis by Nate Silver (who else?), the real Group of Death is Group B, followed by D.

7767657273_mondial-de-football-2014-les-huit-groupes

Read Full Post »

The Putin games

Putin riding a meteorite via Global Voices

I haven’t been watching the Sochi games at all—TV news reports excepted—, though have been reading about them plenty, more the politics than the sports. I’ve particularly liked the dispatches of TNR’s Julia Ioffe, who’s a bicultural Russian-American and thus knows the country well. But despite her Russian roots she’s no Russophile, loin s’en faut, as she makes clear in this piece from four days ago, in which she nails some of the psychological issues afflicting the collective Russian psyche (and which has similarities with the Algerian psyche, with which I am more familiar). I note that her attitude toward the country of her birth seems to differ from that of Russian-American blogger and former student of mine, Anna, whom I mentioned in an earlier post (Anna and Julia look to be the same age, BTW).

One inveterate Russophile, but who’s fully American, is Stephen F. Cohen, NYU and Princeton professor emeritus, well-known Soviet Union/Russia specialist—I liked his biography of Nikolai Bukharin, which I read way back when—, and who has taken to apologizing for the Soviet Union/Russia over the years, most recently in a piece in The Nation last week, “Distorting Russia,” in which he railed on about “[h]ow the American media misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine.” Oh please. Cohen’s rant recalls The Daily World from the ’70s and ’80s, in which the American media and anyone who criticized the Soviet Union was accused of “anti-Sovietism” (I read this stuff in spades back then, so know of what I speak). Okay, Cohen’s piece was not that crude, but still… Among those he inveighed against were Julia Ioffe, Russia specialist Amy Knight, and Yale University historian Timothy Snyder, the latter two of whom, I regret to inform Professor Cohen, have greater cred in my book than he when it comes to analyzing the lands of the ex-Soviet Union (e.g. here is Snyder’s latest, must-read piece, “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” that was posted on the NYRB website two days ago and will appear in the March 20 2014 issue). What Cohen loses sight of is that to report objectively on Russia—as on the Soviet Union in its day—is to necessarily sound negative. Some incontrovertible facts:

  • Russia is an authoritarian regime and where the rule of law is non-existent. The country has known nothing but tyranny for almost its entire history. It’s hard to get around this reality when analyzing the country’s politics.
  • Vladimir Putin is a KGB thug and with a KGB world-view. Period. He may have been legitimately elected and enjoy majority support among Russians in the heartland there but so what? That doesn’t make him any less of a thug (the parallel with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan comes to mind). And if the cult he has built around his male virility is not utterly fascistic, then I don’t know what fascistic means.
  • Russia, despite its fabulous natural resource wealth and human capital, is an economic basket case. It is a rentier state which has nothing to offer the world—or even its own economy—but hydrocarbons and weapons. In the latter Cold War years the Soviet Union was nicknamed by its own citizens “Upper Volta with rockets.” Part of the Russian population today lives not too badly—thanks to rentier-generated income—but a significant part of it is still in “Upper Volta.” Russia is, as they say where I live, un pays clochardisé.
  • Related to the above, the Russian business oligarchy exports its capital. And sets up residence abroad—in Europe—and has its children educated outside the country. Imagine American (or French etc) capitalists acting likewise.
  • Russian civil society is weak and efforts by citizens to engender a measure of civisme are met with repression. Independent or discordant voices meet with little tolerance.
  • Russia is a brutal, violent society—which few Russians would deny—and with little social solidarity beyond the immediate family unit. And the political culture is thoroughly reactionary.
  • The level of xenophobic nationalism and racism in Russia has no equivalent in the Western world. Better not to be a black, dark-skinned, or Central Asian-looking person there. Or gay, of course. Racism and xenophobia exist everywhere, which goes without saying. One of the problems with it in Russia, though, is that a lot of it is stoked up by the authorities.
  • Russian society is ravaged by alcoholism and with societal decay such that overall life expectancy there is at a Third World level (below that of Bangladesh), indicating, among other things, a calamitous public health system.
  • Russia could have been a great nation but was wrecked—utterly ruined—by seven decades of communism. The Bolshevik Revolution was one of the 20th century’s greatest catastrophes (just behind Nazi Germany and along with the creation of Saudi Arabia). Some lefties may have a hard time accepting this but it is absolutely the case. The bilan of seven decades of Soviet communism is entirely negative. If Lenin’s train had derailed before reaching the Finland Station, Russia would no doubt be a better place today. And the world too.
  • Among the countless catastrophic consequences of communism was the destruction of the environment and of anything resembling a decent cuisine. Soviet cooking: anyone own a cookbook of this?
  • And there’s Russia’s predatory, imperialist relationship with its neighbors, who—with the exception of its Orthodox cousins (some of them)—fear and despise it. Go to any city in Poland and ask a hundred people at random how they feel about Russia…
  • Et j’en passe…

In his screed, Stephen Cohen took aim at the American press and American commentators on Russia, including those who are bona fide specialists of the country, not editorializing hacks. But he could have said the same thing about the French press and French specialists, whose analyses of Russia hardly differ from those of their counterparts outre-Atlantique. E.g. see the editorial in Le Monde dated February 9-10, “Vladimir Poutine ne mérite pas de podium,” which was no doubt written by Le Monde’s editor-in-chief, Natalie Nougayrède, who was the paper’s correspondent in Moscow and other cities in the former Soviet Union for a dozen years in the ’90s and ’00s. Le Monde’s Marie Jégo, who’s been reporting from Russia for many years, is no different in her assessments of the country. And then there’s Marie Mendras, France’s top academic specialist of contemporary Russia, whose articles on the subject—e.g. this recent one, on how the Putin regime is going after the opposition intelligentsia—hardly differ in tone from those of American specialists decried by Stephen Cohen. To all this one may add the enquête in the muckracking webzine Mediapart by Agathe Duparc, who reported from Moscow for eight years for various French publications, on the fortune Vladimir Putin has amassed during his years in power, which may be as high as $40 billion…

For the French press, Moscow has long been a plum post and with a number of France’s top journalists having been posted there and learned the language. What’s interesting and noteworthy is that the majority of them come away with a severe assessment of the country: not its people—one naturally forges friendships with many excellent individuals and appreciates aspects of the culture, not to mention the courage of political dissidents there—but its institutions, political culture, economic dysfunction, and everything else noted above. Contrast this with the US, Washington and New York also being prestigious posts for French foreign correspondents. Like their Moscow correspondent colleagues they also acquire specialized knowledge after time spent there, but do not become biting critics of America. Au contraire, they may invariably be counted upon to counter or refute a lot of the misconceptions and nonsense recounted about America and Americans by their French compatriots. Their analyses of America—of its politics, culture, whatever—are usually on target. And it is naturally likewise with the sizable community of French academic specialists of the US, whose knowledge of their subject often puts mine to shame. French specialists of other countries are second to none, so I take their analyses and views seriously, on Russia as on everywhere else.

I’ve actually never been to Russia but have long wanted to visit the country. If anyone wants to invite me there on all-expenses paid trip—or just accommodate me in Moscow (I can cover the rest)—I’m game. And if anything I’ve said above is misconceived—or so one deems it—, I’m open to having it challenged.

Read Full Post »

#StopQatar2022

Qatar-puissance-et-gloire

France 5’s weekly news magazine “Le Monde en face” had a very good two-part documentary on Qatar two nights ago—on its transformation from an obscure patch of desert to a veritable regional power and with near global reach—, by investigative journalists Vanessa Ratignier et Pierre Péan, and which may be viewed on the France 5 website until next Tuesday: “Qatar: la puissance et la gloire – 1995-2008” (part 1) and “Qatar: trahisons et double jeu – 2008-2013” (part 2)—both 53 minutes and followed by a 15-minute discussion, “Faut-il avoir peur du Qatar?,” with two specialists of that accidental country and its megalomaniacal ruling family. The documentary touches on, among other things, the slave-like conditions afflicting the bulk of the mainly Asian labor force there, which was the subject of my post “Qatar: modern-day slavery” last September, in which I insisted on the utter unfitness of Qatar to be hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

À propos, The Guardian reported this week that “[m]ore than 500 Indian workers have died in Qatar since 2012,” and to which may be added the 382 Nepalese workers who have died there during the same period. The Qatari World Cup organizing committee announced last week that workers building the stadiums—but not those building other infrastructure—would be held to higher standards, but with the kafala system remaining unchanged. This is BS to mollify foreign critics. When it comes to the conditions of migrant labor, nothing will change there. Qatar needs to be stripped of the 2022 World Cup. Spread the word on Twitter and everywhere else: #StopQatar2022!

La-Une-de-France-Football-sur-l-attribution-de-la-Coupe-du-monde-2022-930x620_scalewidth_630

Read Full Post »

20100213140706_sochi_2014_protest_for_the_circassian_genocide

Voilà more links on Sochi.

On the outrageous cost of the games, MJ has charts on what are absolutely “The most ridiculously expensive games ever.” Totally obscene (though the Sochi price tag will be peanuts compared to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar…).

In my previous post I linked to a piece by Christian Caryl, in which he explained that Putin’s bid to hold the games in Sochi was intimately linked to the wars in the Caucuses and the determination to assert Russia’s will in the region. À propos, Joshua Keating has a piece in Slate rhetorically asking “Did the Age of Genocide begin in Sochi?” The genocide—or maybe it was just massacres on a mass scale; the question is not settled—was of the Circassians, a generic term for the Muslim peoples of the northwestern Caucuses who were killed en masse and expelled—to the Ottoman Empire—in their near entirety during the Russian conquest of the region in the 1850s and ’60s—a conquest that made what the Americans did to the American Indians a tea party by comparison. The cruelty of the Russians in Caucuses was on another level altogether. And as we know, historical narratives are passed down through the generations, so the memory of this is still very much alive.

There are some 20,000 Muslims in Sochi today, BTW, but the city does not have a single mosque, as one learns here.

Tons has been written on the nearby Chechens—who have historically gotten it almost as bad from the Russians as did the Circassians—but if one is interested in a single book, here’s a review of historian Moshe Gammer‘s The Lone Wolf and the Bear: Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule, by U.Mass-Dartmouth Islamic history prof Brian Glyn Williams (published in Slavonica 13/2, 2007).

For Francophones, the blog Penser la Russie had a dossier last week on the Sochi games. The lede

À l’approche des Jeux Olympiques, Penser la Russie publie un dossier consacré à l’événement le plus chaud de cet hiver. Le dossier s’ouvre par sur un reportage d’Éléna Ratcheva du journal Novaya Gazéta. Publié il y a un mois il contient des détails précieux sur le déroulement du chantier olympique: ouvriers impayés, chasse aux immigrés, les travaux contraints des «bénévoles» et… manque de main d’œuvre.

Nous publions également une interview de Vladimir Poutine qui témoigne de l’image contraire à la réalité du déroulement des travaux préparatifs . Le président russe souligne que dans le succès des préparations des JO de Sotchi réside la réussite du pays dans son entier. Ceux qui osent en douter, comme le démontre un échange sur Twitter, sont de suite condamnés : selon un fonctionnaire « patriote », «l’Empire » ne serait qu’ « un son creux » pour ces personnages…

And then there’s The Sochi Project, by Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen. The description

Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen have been working together since 2007 to tell the story of Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. They have returned repeatedly to this region as committed practitioners of “slow journalism,” establishing a solid foundation of research on and engagement with this small yet incredibly complicated region before it finds itself in the glare of international media attention. As van Bruggen writes,
Never before have the Olympic Games been held in a region that contrasts more strongly with the glamour of the Games than Sochi. Just twenty kilometers away is the conflict zone Abkhazia. To the east, the Caucasus Mountains stretch into obscure and impoverished breakaway republics such as North Ossetia and Chechnya. On the coast, old Soviet-era sanatoria stand shoulder to shoulder with the most expensive hotels and clubs of the Russian Riviera. By 2014 the area around Sochi will have been changed beyond recognition.

Hornstra’s photographic approach combines the best of documentary storytelling with contemporary portraiture, found photographs, and other visual elements collected over the course of their travels. Van Bruggen contributes a series of engaging stories about the people, the land, and its turbulent history. Together, the images and texts unpack the complex, multivalent story of this contested region, shining a harsh light on Vladimir Putin’s claim that, “The Olympic family is going to feel at home in Sochi.” Designed by long-standing collaborators Kummer & Herrman, The Sochi Project book, website and exhibition: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus is the culmination of this five year project, a contemporary masterpiece of photography and journalism in the collaborative tradition of James Agee and Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor.

On a lighter note, here’s the Russian Police Choir singing ‘Get Lucky’ at the Olympics opening ceremony. Not bad…

Circassian-Republics-Map

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: