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Romanian Football Hooligans Versus the State

Romanian football hooligans aren't like British football hooligans.
January 24, 2012, 3:00pm
Romanian football hooligan

Hooligan brigades in the recent Bucharest protests

Football is important to Romanian people. On a personal level, some of my first memories are of watching my brother and his knock-kneed friends frantically booting balls around in the alley behind the flat I grew up in. I sat through their every conversation and prediction about the game, and maybe that's why I ended up writing a university thesis about the sport.

More widely, there are the hooligan brigades. Recently, while I was putting together my thesis, I met S., a Dinamo Bucharest supporter and an active member of the Cătălin Hâldan Hooligan Brigade. Like me, he grew up on the streets of Bucharest, but he opted out of further education and instead decided to try his luck within the ranks of Dinamo's hooligan faction. But Romanian football hooligans are different to British football hooligans. When I met him, S. was an ideological (if not practicing) pacifist who'd only break the zen-inducing silence he sat in to listen to Korn with a smile on his face. I don't know many people in Britain who are able to listen to Korn with a smile on their face (sorry, Korn fans, I don't know how to do the backwards 'R'), but then I don't know many British hooligan firms that'd take to the streets to help angry students and left-wing protesters fight the police over damaging state healthcare reforms.

When I saw a picture of him looking really angry that had been taken at the recent Bucharest protests, I decided it was time to catch up.

VICE: Hey S., how's it going? I saw that picture of you in the newspapers. Why'd you get so angry? You're usually so calm.
S: The unhappiness of those around me. I can't be clearer than that. I try to keep my cool, but there are way too many things in life that anger me.

When you went to the protests recently, did you go as a protester or a hooligan?
On the 15th, those who commited acts of vandalism were normal Romanian people acting like hooligans. Vandalism doesn't necessarily equate to hooliganism. Vandalism can spread to each and every citizen who's got a grievance with something. The benches on Brătianu Street weren´t broken by us, or by the supporters of other soccer teams, but by the Romanian people who were caught up in the adrenaline rush. Maybe now more people will be able to relate to us hooligans.

Was the vandalism necessary?
You can call it a necessary evil. Sometimes, having an opinion just isn't enough. Someone has to asume the role of the instigator. Which is not a negative role in my mind. 

Are you saying that violence gives meaning to a protest?
No way. I’m saying that grievances and unrest give meaning to a protest. Violence is just another way of expressing that when no other peaceful solution is available.

Dinamo's fans being insane

Do you think all those people protested for the same reasons?
No. Unfortunately, most people don´t even know why they were there. This is a bit of a touchy subject.

Care to elaborate?
I can only say why I was there, and that was because I feel that the people I elected are taking me for a fool. My anger wasn't fresh, the healthcare reforms were just an excuse.

On that night, the hooligans from all three of Bucharest's football teams protested on the same side.
True. That was part of the beauty of it, I suppose.

Was it you guys that sparked it all off?
I think it was us, the hooligans. We brought the football stadium atmosphere to the streets and sprinkled over the top of everything that was already going on. The media then manipulated it in a way that made the police out to be heroes and victims. I mean, the Prime Minister stayed overnight at the hospital holding the hand of the hurt policeman. In doing that, his security arrangements made it impossible for the relatives of the other victims to visit.

Which came first, the tear gas or the petrol bombs, the police or the hooligans?
The tear gas. But the bombs were just supposed to intimidate the police. They certainly weren't meant to hurt any civilians. The police pushed us back to Union Square with a fire hose. In doing this, they proved that they are an evil tool of the ruling class.

Do you think that since the protests took place, the press have been sympathetic to the protesters?
Well they should be, because I saw a journalist getting beaten up by the police and the hooligans were protecting him. You have to work with the press to help change something. But, by and large, both the media and the politics of Romania need to be burned down and completely rebuilt.

So what's next?
We´ll do everything we can to change the country. You can count on it.

Previously: Bucharest Rioted for Healthcare and The Screaming Policeman of Bucharest