Watching the BBC’s Panorama about racism on Ukrainian and Polish football terraces, I was shocked. Both by the terrible scenes shown by the reporter Chris Rogers, and by the fact that the BBC sounded so much like the Daily Mail.
What I saw on Panorama is not sporting behaviour. I thought the programme was racist – racist towards Ukrainians and Poles. Painting two nations as violent savages based on several fascist gangs is not worthy of the BBC I knew as a BBC Ukrainian producer. I dare Panorama to do a similar report on racist violence in East London, the area of racist attacks and stabbings, before the Olympics, show it to Usain Bolt and film his reaction. I dare them to produce a report on the London event by filming a match somewhere in Glasgow. It is just not cricket. As a journalist I can see how much work went into that report; my question is about fairness and judgement.
Every time the BBC reports on the English Defence League, there are comments from people who say that they do not wish to be associated with them, that they do not represent the society. Somebody from the community always says they celebrate diversity. Not a single second was dedicated to fans who appreciate black Ukrainian players and the goals they score for the team; we didn’t hear from coaches, we didn’t hear from clubs, we only saw mindless violence and repeated fascist symbols as representing Ukrainian football – and one lame official. I heard one mention of John Terry’s case but no mention of racist and anti-Semitic chants on English terraces, from Chelsea to Newcastle. There was no mention of the very active antifascist movement in Ukraine – surely a month-long investigation is enough to uncover it?
I also wonder whether the script was written before the trip, as is so often the case with Western media. I heard about a (non-BBC) correspondent who demanded some racist fights to be staged in Lviv for his report. I can understand him: there is a juicy story about the nation not used to answering back. But I expected more from the BBC.
In my nine years with the BBC Ukrainian, BBC values became part of my DNA. I would advise my former colleagues to treat foreigners like they would their own: with fairness and impartiality. Even before a football tournament.
So is the Ukrainian society racist and anti-Semitic? Oh yes, no doubt. I don’t doubt that Panorama’s pictures are true. But there is much more than that. Ukraine is a huge multi-ethnic country with a very complicated history. Its over 90 ethnicities get along; black and Asian foreign students often marry white locals and stay in the country.
There are all sorts of violence, including between different Christian Orthodox confessions, but there are no honour killings. As a country, Ukraine’s troops have only taken part in peacekeeping missions during its independence. Being itself a nation of work migrants, it is beginning to feel the effects of immigration as Asians fill in labour gaps left by those building houses and picking strawberries in countries like this one. There is indeed more tension, just like everywhere in Europe.
Is it tragic that in Ukraine, where over 9 million people were killed during the WWII either in action or by occupants, we see the rebirth of fascism in urban centres? Yes, it is tragic in the extreme. Yet the Panorama report is so disturbing to the English-speaking audience partially because it is so well understood. “White Power” on graffiti is in English, “skinhead” is an English word. Celtic cross is not a Ukrainian or Polish sign, and neither is the swastika. Ukrainian racists speak English more often than they speak Ukrainian. Does anybody know why?
A fight against racism involves fight against ethnic profiling. As a Ukrainian living in the UK, and now proudly bearing a British passport, I have heard all I care to hear about Ukrainian brides or prostitutes, Ukrainian gangsters and anti-Semites. Now we are also branded fascists. I think that’s enough racial profiling of Ukrainians in the British media. Yes, there is racism in Ukraine, and as a Ukrainian I want to apologise to everybody who has ever been a victim. There is racism in the UK, and as a Brit I want to apologise to all victims too. I even promise not to judge all British journalism on basis of a handful of people who don’t allow the bigger picture to stand in a way of a good story.
And on a separate note – I’ve never been to Africa but I’m sure there is more to it than starving children, flies and rape. So to all colleagues in journalism – and I still consider myself a member of the profession – let us not write the script beforehand. Let us see how things are first.