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 8th 2008)
Tarnishing Croatian Achievements
The Croatian national team achieved a great deal on the pitch since it became an independent country again after the break-up of Yugoslavia – the highlight being an impressive third place in the World Cup in 1998. Sadly a minority of their fans are hardcore racists, posing as Croatian patriots. These so-called fans are endangering the impressive achievements of the newly independent nation.
A human swastika was formed by Croatian fans at the Stadio Armando Picchi in Livorno and the U-symbol of the Ustaše at the Asim Ferhatović Hase Stadium in Sarajevo respectively after the World Cup in Germany in 2006. The Croatian FA made it clear that such supporters are not wanted. The overwhelming majority of Croatian fans are a credit to their country, but they clearly have a problem with racist followers.
A Few Idiots
The Ustaše remains banned in Croatia due to its appalling record of atrocities that even caused Nazis to recoil in horror in the Second World War.1 It is a part of Croatian history that both the government and football authorities in the country would like to see confined firmly to the past. While, Croatia’s articulate coach, Slaven Bilić, points out that those fans are just a few idiots, he recognises that such so-called fans have to be dealt with.
However, he doesn’t believe that Croatian football should be punished because of it. “They are just a few idiots”, he says, “but other countries have them too.” He then goes on to address the issue of hooliganism as well. “You [England] have them too and while, we have hooligans you had them first – thirty years ago”.
He has a point, but do the sins of others in the past justify a new generation committing them today? It is a particularly poignant question for both Croatia and Serbia, both of whom have used previous atrocities to justify their policies as the former Yugoslavia descended into chaos.
Bilić and the Croatian FA know that the behaviour of their fans will be carefully scrutinised during the forthcoming European Championship and that racist conduct and hooliganism will be clamped down on by the authorities. Bilić also claimed that there is no problem in the Croatian football and basketball leagues, but he was wrong. There is a problem in the Croatian league as well.
A Recurring Problem
African and even South American players were targeted for racist abuse before the World Cup. In February 2006 Croatia’s Prime Minister Ivo Sanader decided that enough was enough. “We are living in a century in which tolerance should be cultivated”, he told the newspaper Sportske Novosti at the time. “We have to stop racist acts”.
He was referring to repeated monkey-chanting that had broken out in Split again just two days earlier. Among those on the receiving end were Eduardo da Silva and the Camerounian Mathias Chago – then playing for Dinamo Zagreb. The offenders were Hadjuk Split fans who also gave the Brasilian Oéliton Araújo dos Santos – Etto – the same treatment in that match on February 12th 2006.
The Brasilian-born Croatian international da Silva joined Arsenal last summer. Both Chago and Etto still play for Dinamo. That incident wasn’t the first time that Hadjuk Split’s fans had racially abused Dinamo players either. Earlier that season they did it as well. Hadjuk was fined $3,600 for the previous incident.
The repetition in February cost Split’s most famous club – and traditional Croatian rivals of Dinamo – $20,000. They also had to play their next match behind closed doors.
1See the series of five articles The Birth of a Problem that was published previously in the magazine for further information.