The FIFA World Cup 2018: A matinee in a concentration camp

Illustration by Andriy Yermolenko

The FIFA World Cup is always a holiday. Fans celebrate the success of their teams, commentators wax lyrically, praising the masters of the leather ball and their spectacular goals, the guests of the championship are noisily resting, artists are performing at the opening. Everyone is happy. Everyone is wondering who will win

Even when the World Cup is hosted by Russia.

This country is the prison of nations, this country is the last empire of the planet. Two wars in its territory and three on foreign, chemical weapons, downed Malaysian Boeing, hundreds of political prisoners, the killing of politicians and journalists, the exertion of pressure on the neighbors with gas contracts, the supporting of fascist movements in Europe, a murderous drug policy and no less murderous homophobia, the law of Dima Yakovlev, repression of the Crimean Tatars after the annexation of the Crimea, the Scripal family poisoning, and I could continue.

And millions and millions of clear eyes around the world. Millions of people who are not interested in any of this and don’t care. For those who are more influential — it is advantageous to have good relations with Russia. And for ordinary people — it makes no difference. Because it is football! Sport! A holiday of fortitude! The great country of Dostoevsky!

You know, guys, if you had read Dostoevsky, and did not only connect him enthusiastically to the great Russian culture, you would be sick of the amount of poverty and humiliation that he described. And now you would be sick of your reflection in the mirror, because nothing has changed since then, except that the Internet has been connected to the country. And you all know this. And you see it all every day in the news. But you are all ready to forgive Russia for watching the ball, impressively flying into the top corner.

You watch football sitting on the couch with a beer. And Stepan Chubenko, a player in the youth team «Avangard» from Kramatorsk, will never watch football again either with or without a beer. At the age of 16, he was killed by pro-Russian militants. This football won’t be watched by the ten thousand dead Ukrainian military, the unknown number of Ukrainians civilians killed or captured in basements in uncontrolled territory, or by 298 passengers of Malaysian Boeing.

Separately, I want to mention the Third Position in the European Parliament, which voted against the resolution in support of Oleg Sentsov. All the doyens of the post-Soviet left — Di Linke, Siriza, Podemos — all vote in the same way as extreme right-wing parties. Since when have the leftists come out together with the fascists against the release of political prisoners? Is this freedom, equality, brotherhood- sisterhood, internationalism, maybe — what is it? Realization of what left value?

But everyone is watching football. And the football is not a problem, the problem is the substitution of values. The problem is that high achievements in sports are just high achievements in sports. Only the balls in the net. But they are given a higher meaning with rapture — as opposed to any other high meanings. So it turns out, that  the victory and triumph of the spirit is not when Oleg Sentsov is alone against the whole empire and its Western allies, preserving the dignity in conditions close to the concentration camp. This is when the ball is rolled into the goal.

* * *

It is clear that football should be outside of politics.
It is clear that the principle of fair play is more important than political fuss.
The ball is round, like our eternal planet.
Wise humanity humorously listens to the next accusations in its address.

Clearly, poetry must not take up universal madness.
It is clear that literature should not have slipped down to newspaper news.
The change of the wind can not be placed on an a protest poster.
The world is a bit more complicated than the lists of the dead and shell-shocked.

Do your jobs poets — break the hearts of gullible readers.
Who has surrendered the happiness of people who have not surrendered to anyone?
The Butchers are offended when their right to madness is boycotted.
Nobody will be amazed with your posters printed at home.

1936 year. Olympic Berlin.
French athletes, passing, congratulate the German Chancellor.
Birds hang in the streams of wind over sunny Munich.
There goes the whistle. The game begins.

Sergey Zhadan, translation by Grigory Knyazev

/translated by Nastacia Kvora

Original text here

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