There’s a joke going around the twittersphere about Vladimir Putin. He was asked to fill in a visa form when he recently visited Greece:
Name: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Occupation: Not this time
Russians abroad are a dangerous breed if recent events in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and France are any guide (though I only mean this in the vaguest possible way, and I’m fond of several Russians who are exceptions to this crude generalisation). In Crimea they were ‘little green men’, and in Eastern Ukraine they are ‘volunteers’.
In Lille tonight, marauding gangs of Russian football hooligans, their techniques perfected at the feet of their British equivalents, are throwing tables, punches and letting off flares. I imagine that their team’s suspended expulsion from the Euros will be enforced forthwith and they will soon be making their way home to a heroes’ welcome as exciting as Lenin’s at the Finland Station in 1917.
It’s possible that the English may also be on their way home (I care no more about that, I’m afraid, than about the Russian’s return). My only fear is that Euroscepticism will be encouraged by English expulsion, making Brexit a dead cert next Thursday.
But, considering the Russians for a moment, is their behaviour a surprise? A macho, belligerent, bare-chested manner is a mark of the true Russian these days, whether you’re President Putin or a thug in the streets of Lille and Nice.
No wonder, then, that back home they’re winning plaudits for their assertive behaviour, described by a Government official last week as ‘incorrect’ as if it infringes rules, but isn’t necessarily wrong.
‘I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting,’ Igor Lebedev, a nationalist MP and football official, wrote on Twitter. ‘Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!’
Is it any wonder that athletes, soldiers, ‘volunteers’, hooligans and politicians behave eccentrically when the tone of the Russian Government is nationalist, thuggish and exceptionalist? It’s okay if Russia doesn’t want to engage with the rest of the world in any sphere or at any level, but if Russia wants to trade, compete and cooperate with the rest of us it needs to show a little sensitivity – or would that be too ‘gay’?