'Sieg, Sieg' Chants and Hitler Salutes: Behavior of Some German Fans Cause for Concern

Germany has won applause for its easy-going brand of patriotism at football tournaments in recent years. But the behavior of some fans at the Euro 2012 is causing concern. Chants of 'Sieg, Sieg,' Hitler salutes and the display of offensive banners have now led to fines.

German supporters celebrating in Lviv, Ukraine. Zoom
REUTERS

German supporters celebrating in Lviv, Ukraine.

UEFA, European football's governing body, fined the German football association €25,000 ($31,000) on Monday for the behavior of its fans during a Euro 2012 match against Denmark in Lviv, Ukraine, on June 17. Supporters set off fireworks in the stadium, displayed "inappropriate banners and symbols" and made "inappropriate" chants, according to UEFA.

The penalty follows a €10,000 fine UEFA imposed on the German football association after supporters threw objects onto the pitch during Germany's opening match against Portugal.

UEFA gave no details but German supporters have been criticized for chanting "Sieg, Sieg" (Victory) at matches, a call that evokes the Nazi greeting "Sieg Heil" and has been condemned as especially tasteless given that Poland and Ukraine, which are hosting the tournament, suffered terribly at the hands of German troops during World War II.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the chants were shameful and that he was angry that a small number of Germany supporters had displayed the black, red and white German Reich flag, which has become a neo-Nazi symbol.

'Ashamed'

"As a German patriot I am ashamed at how these people are trying to damage our reputation in Europe and the world," Friedrich told Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung in an interview published last week.

He also criticized a racist message posted on Twitter last week about German midfielder Mesut Özil, who is of Turkish descent but was born in Germany and has German citizenship. The message read: "Özil is definitely not a German! A piece of paper doesn't change your ancestry." Özil's management filed a legal complaint against the anonymous poster of the message.

Other football associations also face disciplinary action for spectator conduct. UEFA on Tuesday opened proceedings against the Russian and Spanish football associations for racist chanting by their supporters. Friedrich also criticized the behavior of Croatian fans who were heard singing racist songs and making ape sounds at black players.

Even though the vast majority of German fans have behaved well, the incidents clash with the image of easygoing, light-hearted patriotism that Germany has been projecting at international tournaments since it hosted the World Cup in 2006. During that tournament, millions began waving the flag, attaching it to their cars and painting their faces in the national colors.

Journalist Reports Seeing Hitler Salutes

Florian Schubert, a journalist who works for the anti-racism website Publikative.org, wrote an article about his experiences travelling with Germany fans to matches in the current tournament.

He wrote that German fans displayed a banner in the match against Denmark with the words "Gott Mit Uns" (God With Us) which adorned the belt buckles of Wehrmacht soldiers. He also reported seeing some fans greeting each other with the Hitler salute in the central market square of Lviv after the match.

He took a picture of one Germany supporter in Lviv supporting a German football shirt emblazoned with the number 88 on the back -- a neo-Nazi symbol which stands for Heil Hitler. The letter H is the eigth letter in the alphabet.

"Hardly any of these occurrences feature up in the reporting on the matches of the German national team even though journalists must have seen the same thing," writes Schubert. "It is also alarming that hardly any of the other Germany fans seem to mind the described songs, comments and behavior. And all this went on in a city where under Nazism more than half a million people were murdered by the German occupiers -- almost the entire Jewish population (more than 400,000 men, women and children) but also more than 140,000 Russian prisoners of war."

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