Giorgos Katidis, the Greek soccer player who celebrated a goal Saturday by giving the crowd at Athens’ Olympic Stadium the Nazi salute, has been banned for life from playing on Greece’s national team by the country’s soccer federation.
Katidis is only 20 years old. He claims he was unaware of the significance of the salute and his coach, Ewald Lienen, who hails from Germany and, thus, most likely does understand the salute’s significance, has similarly claimed the young player has no idea about politics. That may be true, but it would also mean he has no idea about history or popular culture, for that matter. It’s one thing to say he has no association with Golden Dawn, the country’s far-right political party, which has been labeled in the media as a neo-Nazi party, but are you honestly telling me he’s never seen a movie in which the bad guys are the Nazis? I find that extremely difficult to believe.
Even if Katidis’s statement of innocence is true, there would still be a reason for concern. Ignorance is the food upon which extremism feeds—ignorance and fear. Katidis’s salute comes during a time of political instability. The Greek economy has been on its death bed for how long, the European Union has coughed up not one, but two bailouts to avoid a complete collapse whose shock waves would be felt throughout the continent, and the Greek electorate has rioted against the austerity measures the Greek parliament voted to accept as part of the most recent bailout package.
In the middle of this political instability, the Greek electorate, as so many electorates before them in history have done, has moved to the extremes. In the 2012 parliamentary elections, the Golden Dawn gained 7% of the national vote, good enough for 21 seats in Parliament. And news comes just today of a run on banks in neighboring Cyprus after word leaked that the bank deposits would be taxed as a means to offset the cost of a bailout there.
Now, I’m not one to sacrifice a stupid 20 year-old kid on the altar of European integration. I would prefer he be punished and rehabilitated, if that’s even possible. The bigger concern for Greek officials is, however, what the salute augers for broader demographic and electoral trends in the country.
Fortunately for Katidis, the ban, right now, is not much more than symbolic. Though he has in the past played on junior national teams, he has never played for the senior side and it isn’t certain he ever would have.
The real sanctions are yet to come. Katidis’s team, AEK Athens, and the Greek league in which the team competes are still deciding what their responses will be, and what they decide could have significantly more bite than being banned from the national team. If, for instance, the league were to decide to ban him for life, that would present a real problem for Katidis because I’m not sure in how many other leagues in Europe he would be welcome.