Nazism is a popular culture in European societies. It's therefore impossible for any right-thinking individual to believe a grown-up European who claims, in 2013, that he doesn't know what the Nazi salute means. The Hitler salute as it is also called is a gesture adopted in the 1930s as a signal of obedience to Adolf Hitler, a totalitarian and autocrat who aggressively promoted antisemitism, supremacist and racist policies that resulted in the murder of millions of people, including Jews and the Roma.
On 16 March 2013, Greek footballer Giorgos Katidis celebrated a goal with the Nazi salute. He scored the winning goal for this team - AEK Athens - in a Super League game in Athens, Greece. [Source] The salute rightly attracted widespread condemnation and Greek football federation responded swiftly.
Giorgos Katidis was banned for life from playing for the Greek national team.
Insult to intelligence
The 20-year-old footballer issued a statement that he would not have made the gesture had he known what it means. He said he was pointing at a team mate in the stands.
In my opinion, it's an insult to the intelligence of victims of Nazism and analysts for Katidis to insist that he was "pointing" at a team mate in the stands. The Hitler salute he made (see photo) is distinctive and cannot be mistaken. It's hard to believe that the footballer didn't know what the controversial celebration meant, especially considering the fact that he's from Greece - a country where an economic crisis has propelled a fascist, xenophobic and neo-Nazist political party to prominence.
Suggesting that he didn't know what the gesture means is ludicrous and adds insult to injury.
In Greece, the Golden Dawn political party makes use of Nazi symbolism (including the Hitler salute) and has been linked to football hooliganism and racist violence against foreigners. The party's flag has a close resemblance to the flag of Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party) - founded to promote far-right, racist politics in post-World War I Germany.
The Golden Dawn is a well-known far-right "extremist" movement in Greece.
Mindful of widespread hostility against immigrants and other minority groups marked by the rise of the Golden Dawn in Greece, it's plausible to conclude that Giorgos Katidis was saluting neo-Nazis in the stance and paying allegiance to a deadly ideology.
I welcome the decision by Greece's football federation to sanction Katidis. The sanction might be deemed too heavy, but it sends a loud good message: Nazism has no place in modern-day Europe.
In my view, Nazism is like a deadly virus. It claimed millions of lives across Europe after an outbreak in Hitler's Germany. Anyone spreading the virus in modern times or creating a conducive environment for it to fester should be isolated and sanctioned. A new strain of the virus, known as neo-Nazism, is spreading rapidly in Greece and other European countries. It should be eradicated before it's too late.
In Greece, neo-Nazism has gone beyond symbols and gestures in public spaces. Racist and xenophobic violence is rampant. In August 2012, an Iraqi migrant was stabbed to death in central Athens. Foreigners reportedly live in fear in the "birthplace of democracy". This is an affront to freedom and what democracy is all about.
Giorgos Katidis isn't the first Greek sports figure to be sanctioned as result of unacceptable behavior that could be linked to far-right activism. In July 2012, triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from Greece's Olympic team for targeting African immigrants on Twitter.
Greek sport authorities, in my view, are doing a better job than police and the judiciary to curb neo-Nazism and related crimes. Police have been accused of siding with the Golden Dawn and according to Human Rights Watch no one has been convicted of hate crime under Greece's 2008 hate crime statute, despite the fact that attacks against foreigners are "frighteningly common." [Source] The leader of Golden Dawn has been seen making Nazi salutes at public rallies [Source] - with no consequences for his actions.
There should be consequences for actions that insult, provoke and intimidate victims of "Nazi bestiality". Everyone, including athletes and politicians should be held to the same standards.
Glorifying Nazism emboldens far-right extremists and incites hatred, racism and antisemitism against vulnerable minority groups.