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Soccer Violence and the Culture of Illegality

Last February 3, a policeman, Filippo Raciti, 38 years old, was killed by a “fan” during an urban battle outside the stadium of Catania after the soccer match Catania-Palermo. As of this writing, the murderer has not been identified. He could well be a teenager. He could have used a steel bolt or perhaps a basin ripped out of a stadium bathroom to pummel the policeman’s liver. The investigations continue. The policeman was married and the father of two young sons.

In Italy the violence of soccer fans is not a new phenomenon. It could be largely solved through legitimate repression, an appropriate application of legal violence by the state to establish a respect for law in order to prevent its violation. Yet there has not been adequate legislation to address the problem, and the best current laws have never been enforced. The primary issue has never been money—even though soccer is big business in Italy.

The key problem is that there is no civic culture to sustain law and order (a formula which most of the Italian intelligentsia reject as “fascist”). A pseudo-sociological culture has similarly rejected the term “repression,” replacing it with “pre-emption,” even though very little has been pre-empted during the past thirty years. The result? Every year there is plenty of fighting around soccer games, and sometimes someone dies, but nothing changes.

Recently, this para-anarchical mob violence has gained support from the far left parties that are in the current governing coalition. In July 2001, during demonstrations against the G-8 meeting in Genua, a carabiniere shot a young man who had tried to kill him with a fire extinguisher. The carabiniere acted in self-defense. Yet he was forced to leave his job and publicly denounced as a cold-blooded murderer, while the dead young man became a kind of martyr of anti-globalism and (strangely) pacifism. Today, there is a room in the House of Deputies dedicated to that young hooligan, organized by the parliamentary group of Communist Refoundation.

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The culture of A.C.A.B. (All Cobs Are Bastards) has spread from the UK to Italy, thanks in part to adults incapable of educating young people to anything other than cynical nihilism. A pseudo-culture of illegality is spread by many media operators and politicians. Every legitimate exercise of authority is often judged as an abuse of power, or even an act of fascism.

So the problem is both cultural and political.

An anti-political, anarchical violence is being used and supported by parties on the far right and left for their own purposes. Since the Italian parliamentary system requires coalition, moderate left and right parties have to form alliances with some of these extreme movements. To maintain these coalitions our ruling classes sometimes have to close their eyes, and response to violence is never complete or sufficient. The cultural milieu of intellectuals and journalists justifies the violence with tired sociological arguments. Too bad for their theories that almost all the violent soccer fans are lazy sons of affluent families.

A spoiled kid who kills a cop just for pleasure or to appear as a negative hero to his peer group or simply to silent his boredom has no reason and no excuse. Nor can he even claim courage, since the hooligans always outnumber the police. Soccer fan violence is therefore a problem of the rule of law and the use of legal force by public authorities. Educational and cultural policies ought to follow from that.

Punishing the guilty would be the first real lesson. This holds especially for young men, who would have more inner sense of justice if there were fewer “progressive” adults in their schools and entertainment TV programs. The proliferation of violence is a paradox for a country like Italy where war is banned by words and peace is the first value taught at school. The challenge is to educate the natural aggression of the young men and not to pretend that it does not exist or to deny it through empty rhetoric. Yet this will entail a difficult cultural battle, since even simple competitiveness is currently demonized by our élites. Our utopia of social harmony—the efforts to deny competition and aggression—typically leads to its apparent opposite, meaningless and indiscriminate violence. We have lost any genuine sense of reality. This post-ideological era is just another ideological one, like post-modernism. In the meanwhile, the common man has no more guides or points of orientation. After the death of God, the public is searching for a new code of moral values. But it would not have to be so new—except for the fact that “conservative” is another prohibited term.

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