Monday, 26 March 2007

Milan - Celtic: antifascist commemoration

So, a brief aberration from my thoughts on Valencia. I meant to post this up straight after Milan-Celtic but real life intervened, sorry. I thought it was interesting though and it touched my soppy heart. (Translated in haste from Il Manifesto, the Italian communist daily, 8 March 2007,):
A wreath of lilies, the sybolic flower used by Irish revolutionaries against British colonists. A bunch of 15 lilies, one for each of the partisans killed by Nazi troops here in the summer of 1944. Yesterday, Celtic fans took time out from partying in the streets of Milan, putting their beer down and leaving off their football chants, in order to remember the anti fascist struggles of the past. They gathered for a moment of silence in front of the monument in Piazzale Loreto which commemorates the young partisans executed there, and to deposit their floral tributes. At 2pm, a few hours before the kick-off of their Champions' League match, they acted to remind us that football should be against racism and fascism. [followed blurb about Celtic & their Irish connections]
10,000 Scots have invaded Milan and enjoyed concerts and pubs here. The ceremony in Piazzale Loreto was organised by FARE (Football against Racism in Europe) with local orgainsers, alongside the 80 year old partisan hero Giovanni Pesce. Pesce fought in Spain for the Republic aged only 18, and then in the antifascist Brigata Garibaldi, for which he was awarded the highest possible award for valour as a hero of the Resistance. He commented yesterday that "In that period the only way to defend freedom and democracy was in armed struggle. Only by fighting could we defeat the Nazi-fascist dictatorship and create a new Italy and a new Republic." Noting the yough of many of the gathered Celtic fans, he observed that "when we were young we had few choices, we did our duty in the pursuit of liberty." Pesce's experiences fighting fascism in Spain proved valuable when it came to organising the resistence in Turin and then in Milan. "Unity had to be our top priority," Pesce explained to Celtic fans, "socialists, communists, Catholics. All united against the dictatorship. Faith and hope were our inspiration. And that commitment to freedom which motivated us 60 years ago must be continued today. We must continue to fight for the ideas and the rights which motivated the young partisans who died here."

After the speeches, songs were sung by both Celtic and Milan fans, a few choruses of Bella Ciao, and the ceremony concluded.

From other papers, it transpires that it wasn't just lilies, nor was the Irish connection the only one played up. Il Manifesto's desire to link the antifascist resistance to events in Ireland is them pushing their own agenda. Anyway, the fact remains that this rather touching ceremony was held and the photos of the visiting fans with the 80-yr-old partisan veteran were very moving.

There are, I daresay, problems here. I suspect that Jim Hancot, retired Rangers fan, may be spluttering into his vegan beer over the thought of Celtic fans being ambassadors for anti-racism in Europe. There are also problems about the romanticisation of past struggles which particularly infect the Left in Europe. But at the end of the day as a historian and a human beeing you can't argue *against* people taking time out from celebrating their football club and enjoying their daily life to remember past sacrifices. And I'm in favour of people spending more time thinking about war memorials and commemoration. It makes me seem less weird by comparison.


martinobhoy said...

I think there is a real push among the travelling Celtic support to do this sort of thing, especially in Europe.

We have certainly made very strong links with the fans of Hamburg club St Pauli who are defiantly anti-fascist and anti-racist. As a lower league German club a lot of their fans now follow Celtic in Europe.

Certainly we have had our problems in the past and continue to have fans that you really wish weren't following Celtic but I think as a support we are undoubtedly moving in the right direction.

Without going into the politics of the ceremony I think it is encouraging that football fans are making an effort to find out a little bit of the local culture of the places they are travelling to.

de vertalerin said...

I think it admirable, but then, I'll happily indulge in a bit of romanticisation of past struggles, given the opportunity.

ginkers said...

There are so many examples of the opposite kind of behaviour that anything like this has got to be welcome...

Spangly Princess said...

Just so, Ginkers.

Martino, St. Pauli are a bit controversial I think in Germany for their espousal of the Palestinian cause, given that much of the German left is pro-Israeli. But yes, I agree. Efforts to understand other people's cultures and to build links based on commonality of experience and shared humanity can only be a good thing.