We first published this series of articles six years ago. Then as now the aim is to develop an understanding of how that nationʼs history and experience contributed to the development of what has become a major problem in its football – one that threatens to tarnish Croatiaʼs experiences on the pitch. On the eve of the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, we think it timely to publish them again. Croatia will be entertained by Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs resurgent Brasilian side in São Paulo on June 12th – the opening match of Brasilʼs second World Cup. We hope Croatiaʼs fans will support their team with gusto while showing respect to their hosts.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 1st 2008)
Croatia is far from the only country to be subjected to many foreign influences. Conquest provides that, but some countries absorb those influences and make them part of their culture. For example, Sicily adopted that approach and doesn’t have a problem with racism as a result. It is one of the most welcoming places in the world.
Others forge a sense of nationhood from resistance to foreign occupation. Croatia has followed that route. It can foster racist sentiment in society that sometimes finds an outlet in football. Croatia has such a problem, although the full extent of it has yet to be determined. On August 16th 2006 – soon after the World Cup in Germany – Croatia played the newly crowned world champions, Italy, at the Stadio Armando Picchi in Livorno.
Up to 250 Croatian fans formed a human swastika. Croatia was warned by UEFA that it faced expulsion over it. Ahead of the match against England in Zagreb Croatia’s FA were busy making stringent preparations to ensure that there would be no racist abuse of England’s black players. “Those fans do not care about Croatia – only themselves”, said their FA’s chief Vlatko Marković to the Guardian at the time.
The shameful behaviour in Livorno was far from the only time a minority of Croatian fans had disgraced themselves and their country. During Euro 2004 in Portugal they were fined because some of their fans had racist banners against France.
Croatia’s coach Slaven Bilić insists that Croatians are a friendly people and pointed to the lack of problems in the national leagues in both football and basketball. “There are a few idiots”, Bilić told Empower-Sport Magazine, “but your country [England] had them too a few years ago”.
Bilić thinks that it is wrong to punish a football nation for the actions of a tiny minority that he insists are not representative of the Croatian people, but the problem persists. Just over a year later – August 22nd 2007 – to be exact, Croatia played against Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Asim Ferhatović Hase Stadium in Sarajevo. Scandalously, so-called Croatian fans formed the U-symbol of the fascist Ustaše.
That organisation remains banned in Croatia and rightly so. It had committed atrocities especially against Serbs during the Second World War, which were so vicious that even Nazis were shocked.? In order to understand where the problem came from it is necessary to return to Croatian history – this time over the last century, as the violence of the country’s re-emergence as an independent nation shaped the problems that have now found expression in football.