Monday, March 20, 2006

When Dutchmen wore those helmets

ENGLAND soccer star John Barnes has been over in Israel, taking a football kick-about photo opportunity with the kids at Sakhnin, and advising the Israel Football Association on how to "Kick Racism out of football.

Meantime, some UK Muslim groups and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign are irate over Arsenal signing a sponsorship deal to promote Israel tourism next season. Having heard some Arsenal supporters singing about what they'd like to do to Jews, and heard about Betar Jerusalem fans who spend the entire 90 minutes chanting "death to Arabs" before going out to beat up anyone they dislike the look of, I'd be happy to see both sets of fans brought together in one stadium. Never mind the football, if they don't kill each other we can always make a Santiago.

Some say the Arsenal chants are just to wind up Spurs, but when they are heard on tubes and buses across London a lot of people, particularly nervous overseas tourists, don't appreciate that. The Gooners are quite a multi-racial crowd, although the gangs I've heard singing away from the park were all-white. Mind you, compared with some Chelsea, say, they're quite an amiable lot. Some of my best friends and family are soccer fans, of various persuasions, so I better be careful what I say, but - well let's face it, it may be "The Beautiful Game", but it has some damned ugly supporters.

Kick racism out of the game, along with mob-violence? Admittedly their causes lie in what happens during the rest of the week rather than on the pitch, but they are what some "fans" go for. And anyone who knows the British media will know that however much papers and politicians affect to deplore "mindless hooliganism", jingoism and thuggery, they will be happy to profit from them wherever possible.

The Dutch Football Federation (KNVB) has barred its football fans from wearing Dutch replica "Nazi helmets" during the World Cup in Germany this summer. Frank Huizinga of the KNVB says the orange-colored helmets which have become a top-selling fan product will be banned from all World Cup stadiums and practice sites of the Dutch national football teams in Germany. "Everything that can be seen as offensive to others whether chants or a product, are banned in the stadium," Huizinga told the daily Telegraaf. "And we find this product extremely offensive."

This has not unduly troubled the manufacturer. "We are now selling three times the previous average daily volume," said Florian van Laar. "We are thinking of sending the KNVB a gold helmet in thanks." His firm sells around 5000 to 7000 orange helmets per week and has added helmets in the national colours of Australia, England, Germany, France and Italy to its range.

"This is simply meant as a joke," Van Laar said. But the KNVB is not amused.
"We don't see the joke in wearing these helmets and think they are in bad taste," said Frank Huizinga. "A lot is possible in Holland, but we will not accept everything."

Germany has launched a marketing campaign to rebrand itself with reference to famous composers, poets, philosophers and scientists, but is still bracing itself for the invasion of foreign fans obsessed, however ambivalently, with Nazi images. Of course there is nothing intrinsically "Nazi" about a helmet. Helmets this shape were worn before the Nazis came, and worn by other forces than Germans, but what would be the point in wearing them if it was not to wind-up the Germans, or, paradoxically, because some like dressing up as Nazis, even if orange seems a surreal colour.

If German fans are riled by the arrival of Dutchmen wearing these helmets they could find some way of reminding the Dutch fans that last time this happened the Dutchmen thus attired were being sent to fight on the eastern front for Germany. It's said the Netherlands produced the highest recruitment of any occupied country. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Brigade Nederland brigade comprised two Regiments, the 48.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Regiment General Seyffardt in honour of their dead figurehead, and the 49.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Regiment de Ruyter named after the seventeenth-century Dutch Admiral Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter.

Dutch forces served on a wide front, from Latvia to the Caucusus, and were also sent into Yugoslavia. A military historian writes: "During its time in Croatia, elements of the brigade were engaged in anti-partisan operations against Josip Broz Tito's forces. The fighting was brutal and no quarter was given on either side, however the Brigade showed itself capable in combat". Which is more than Dutch UN forces did when surrendering Srebrenica to Ratko Mladic's Serb nationalist butchers (Though admittedly because that was what French and British UN commanders expected them to).

Dutch SS men also ran their own concentration camp and took part in actions against their own countrymen in Holland. I should add that it was Dutch anti-Nazi resisters who killed General Seyffardt. Also, SS Haupsturmfuhrer Henk Feldmeijer, who had been responsible for killing Dutch civilian hostages in reprisal for resistance attacks was himself riddled with bullets on 22 February 1945. Some say his car was strafed by an Allied plane, others that he was killed by his own men.

Holland has not had a bad press, compared with say Croatia or the Ukraine, or even the Flanders region of Belgium. So it is time we restored some balance, even if it means recalling unpleasant things. It may be not quite the aggressively liberal, secular and progressive image that the Dutch government is currently promoting, but it suggests those hemets might not be as ironic as the wearers pretend, or intended.

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