John Kampfner: Who are we to lecture on racism?

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The Independent Online

With Europe bigoted and broke, there has never been a better time to be a little Englander. Everywhere you look, according to our media, we have left the hapless continentals far behind. Take football. As England limber up for their biennial heroic defeat, TV and newspapers have focused on racism and hooliganism in Ukraine and Poland. Russian fans were apparently the first culprits in the tournament itself, in their game on Friday night.

It is entirely right to focus on this problem, and for the authorities to come down extremely hard on the perpetrators. However, what sticks in the craw is the culturally condescending sub-text. It permeates far beyond the sporting arena. We hardy Brits can teach those Johnnies a lesson. The fact that few of our compatriots speak any of their tongues is paraded almost as a virtue. During the radio coverage of Germany's match on Saturday, the commentators expressed astonishment that the venue, Lviv, actually had decent hotels, restaurants and pleasant people. They hadn't bothered to do any homework about the city's rich culture and history.

The tone might be more understandable if confined to areas of the former Soviet Union with serious human rights problems. Ukrainian politics, as with many countries in the region, has long been mired in political and economic corruption, and abuses – not least the current imprisonment of the opposition leader Yulia Timoshenko.

Yet it goes without saying that pretty much across Europe, our papers suggest, their criminal justice systems do not match ours. Any Brit in trouble in, say, Spain or Italy, is almost certainly not going to get a fair trial. As for their economies, our patronising manner long predates the recent woes. When I lived in Germany in the mid-1980s, Brits couldn't help but pontificate about Thatcher-era mantras of de-regulation and let-the-market-rip. Yes, we even knew how to run businesses better than the Germans. And who is having the last laugh?

Back to Euro 2012 and Poland and Ukraine: Britain has made commendable strides since English clubs were banned from Europe for violent behaviour. But we have no moral authority to lecture others. In case anyone has forgotten, the England management is mired in a controversy involving player selection with allegations of racist overtones. Pots calling kettles black, anyone?