(Published in Turkish edition of "Four Four Two" in June 2007)
The fresh air of Sarajevo becomes extremely cold when it becomes dark. At the evening of March 24, considering the chilly weather outside I was putting on warm clothes just before leaving home to watch the match between Greece ad Turkey in a Turkish restaurant, while at the same time I was glancing over screen for the game between Norway and BiH which was played in Oslo. Yet the match had just started, Bosnian fans lit tens of flambeaus and made a heavy smoke in the stadium. It is regarded intrinsically as a great honor for fans to lit flambeaus and to halt the game for a while. Moreover, it has been a tradition in Balkans. However, now, it caused not only a few minutes, but a thirty-five minute halt which has other reasons exceeds anthropological explanations. Indeed, a banner on the rows took my attention: “NFSBiH=Mafia”. The action of Bosnian fans was aimed to protest NFSBiH (Nogometni/Fudbalski Savez Bosne i Hercegovine – Football Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina).
Boro Kontic, journalist from the weekly “BH Dani” implies that besides energy, tobacco & spirits and telecommunication, “football” is one of the cash businesses in a small country like BiH. Therefore, NFSBiH is one of the important political institutions of BiH, in a country which is separated into RS (Republika Srpska) and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina that consists of four Croatian, four Bosnian and two mixed cantons, though de facto administered by OHR (Office of Higher Representative). Even, Jusuf Pusina, who was the first chairman of NFSBiH had been one of the closest friends of Alija Izzetbegovic. In fact, after resigning from being the chairman of NFSBiH, Pusina is actually general consulate of BiH in Istanbul. Although Ibrahim Muratovic, a sports journalist from FTV (Federal TV) argues that Pusina was one of the main effective features behind the international recognition of NFSBiH. It is known that Bosnian football fans are not easy with NFSBiH chairmen and administration of NFSBiH. Before mentioning the relationship between football fans and NFSBiH that goes beyond the events in Oslo, it would be better to have a look at institutional development of football in BiH.
Football fans will easily remember; during the siege years, the match between those players who stayed in Sarajevo and UNPROFOR that was played at March 1994 and ended up with the 4-0 victory for the Sarajevo players took attention of the international public. NFSBiH was one of the first established institutions of BiH during the re-structuring period just after the Dayton Peace in 1995. However, recognition of NFSBiH by UEFA and FIFA had not been before RS football clubs were included, which were previously enjoying in the football leagues of Serbia and Montenegro. Bosnian Serb player Vladan Grujić’s involvement in BiH national football team in October 2002 was an important step in the name of the integration in BiH football.
Although the integration of Bosnian football had well been provided, fractions especially within the fans can be easily seen in BiH football. Unsurprisingly, ethnic differences are one of the main reasons. BiH Premier League consists of sixteen clubs, where five of them are from RS, and among the BiH Federation clubs four of them recognized as Bosnian Croat and seven of them are recognized as Bosniak clubs. This fractured structure is especially very much visible in the matches between the teams from Sarajevo and Slavija. Slavija is a club from Lukavica which is a subdistrict of Sarajevo, but now re-named as Istoćniy Sarajevo (East Sarajevo) within RS territory. Since Slavija has limited number of fans, violence is not observed in the matches of Slavija in Sarajevo. On the other side, when Željezničar and Sarajevo plays in Lukavica, at least thousand fans of the visitor team raid and violence is expected. Without doubt, the most dramatical clash rooted in ethnic differentiation takes place in the matches in Mostar. As mentioned by the Bosnian hip-hop group Dubioza Kolektiv, divided by emerald green Neretva, after the collapsed of Berlin Wall, Mostar remains as the only city in Europe which is divided; the east recognized as Bosniak, and the west recognized as Croatian part. The main determinant of rivalry between Velež and Zrinjski is ethnic differentiation. Adnan, Denis and Arnis, who are members of Velez fan club “Red Army” opposes to define Velež as a Bosnian Muslim (or Bosniak) team whereas Zrinjski is recognized as Bosnian Croat club. It has to be mentioned that the struggle against recognition of football clubs by ethnic identities are mostly held by those fans of so-called Bosniak (or Bosnian Muslim) clubs. As a matter of fact, it is unlikely to see any kind of expression referring to the ethnic identities of Bosniak teams. The clubs that are from RS are recognized as Bosnian Serb, whereas those who have got the squared red-white Croatian national symbol on their emblem are recognized as Bosnian Croat clubs. The “rest” are known as Bosniak teams. It has to be mentioned that Bosnian Croat teams are usually financially equipped and RS teams enjoy hiring players from Serbia.
It is misleading to argue that the only separation in BiH football is based on ethnic differentiation. A conflict like Bizans – Antibizans in Turkey appears in BiH between the cities, so to say between Sarajevo and other cities, although we cannot talk about a strict oligarchic structure in BiH football. Having been insulted as Palanka (rural – stemming from the word “town”), those who are residents of rest of BiH except Sarajevo are unlikely to have friendly emotions towards the teams from Sarajevo being unconfident about the flow of the huge part of investments to the capital city. This is reflected in football as well. Especially, during the matches between the Zenica’s club “Čelik” and the teams from Sarajevo, bloody conflicts may occur. Even, two years ago a Željezničar fan was killed by knife after a match with Čelik. It has to be noted that, both Zeljo and Čelik are recognized as “Bosniak” teams. In case of Mostar – Sarajevo issue the case is a bit different. Whether it is Zrinjski, which is recognized by its Croatian identity, or Velež, the most important rivals of Mostar teams had always been the teams from Sarajevo.
On the other side the rivalry between Željezničar and Sarajevo is neither based on ethnic differences, nor on rural-urban (periphery-core) conflict. Not only in BiH, in all over ex-Yugoslavia many clubs do exist named Željezničar, where it literally means “railway worker” in south Slavic languages and shows similarities with clubs in Turkey such as Adana Demirspor, Ankara Demirspor, Eskişehir Demirspor, etc. However, the most famous “Željezničar ” is the one from Sarajevo. The railway workers in Grbavica district in Sarajevo established NK Željezničar in 1921. Yugoslav football, representing the Danube Ecole had boomed during Tito Era, as in BiH. In addition to Danube Ecole’s characteristics of excellent technical capabilities, increasing stamina and modern training methodologies and new collective tactics made Yugoslavia like a “football factory”. During the socialist era in Yugoslavia, new sports clubs had blossomed. One of them was FK Sarajevo, which was established by the help of local administrators in Sarajevo. One of the basic steps for the success of that club, which was also backed by Party administration, was to attract the players of the other team in the city, namely Željezničar. Since than blue-white Željezničar, and maroon-white Sarajevo are known as prominent rivals. After a while, being more or less backed by the Party administrators, Sarajevo likely became the representative of BiH in Yugoslav football, reaching the title twice, whereas Zeljo had only one. On the other side, Zeljo had won the title three times in BiH Premier League, but Sarajevo for once. At the end of 1980’s, fan groups were established in BiH, as well as in whole ex-Yugoslavia. Both Sarajevo fan group Horde Zla (Horde of Evils) and Željezničar’s fan group Maniaci (no need for translation) were formed in 1987. Before the formation of fan groups, Sarajevo fans were named as Pitari, and Željezničar fans were known as Košpicari. Pitar literally means the owner of Burek (pie) house, which signifies a person who has a well income, a good house and a good model car. On the other side, Košpicari literally means “the person who eats a lot of sunflower seeds” which is literally equal to Turkish term of “çekirdekçi”. However, differing from the Turkish meaning, košpicar is the person who wanders around with cheap sports dresses, busy with small scale illegal business, where he also eats a lot of sunflowers since it is very cheap. Today, although “pitari” is still used for Sarajevo fans, “košpicari” is not used for Željezničar fans, maybe because of its pejorative meaning, or maybe Željezničar fans have relatively more wealthy and educated vision.
Željezničar long for the good old days in BiH Premier League because of the financial crisis that they have. Being just above the death line in the first half of the season, they had a spectacular 7-1 victory against Posušje that motivated them to rise to the upper ranks. In fact, in the Sarajevo derby, which was played in FK Sarajevo’s Kosevo Stadium, they lost the game with the last minute goal. The poor condition of Željezničar does not seem to affect Maniaci. Besides, they continue to support their team as if they are struggling for the title. Even sometimes, Željezničar may find more support then their city rival who will probably have had won the title of BiH Premier League when this article is published. Probably, the most important factor behind that fact is that, Željezničar offers a more clearly defined and powerful identity to her fans.
Željezničar plays in Grbavica Stadium, named with the district that it is located. Being located at one of the central and important districts of the city, Grbavica Stadium is functional not only during the matches, but also other days because of the existence of shops within the stadium complex such as markets, petty ware shop, burek houses and restaurants. Moreover, since it is located in between blocks, stadium is possessed by locals. On the other side, Kosevo Stadium that was built for 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, where Sarajevo plays home matches is located relatively far from the city center and is dysfunctionally located. Therefore, it is a place where fans visit only during the matches. As mentioned by Sarajevan journalist Senad Zaimović, Sarajevo fans go to the stadium as if they are going to holiday, on the other side Željezničar fans go to the stadium, which is already internalized in their daily lives. The different spatial perception has effects on identity formation. In between, I have to mention that unalike to Turkey, it is almost impossible to meet youngsters with fan scarves or jerseys in Sarajevo daily life. The basic reason behind that is; like in any other Balkan country, football fans are perceived as unemployed, trouble making, and uneducated, low cultured persons. One of the basic reasons behind the formation of such an image is “hot” scenes from the stadiums.
In the evening of March 24, Oslo Ullevaal Stadium was like in a fire. Norwegian football fans, which were seldom shown on TV screens were staring to that “barbaric” scene. What they were thinking was very much visible on their sour faces: “God damn Balkanians, you brought your troubles to my peaceful land!” The events that halted the match for 35 minutes in Oslo was not ad hoc. It was a protest against HFSBiH and organized by the fan group called “BH Fanaticos”. But, who are BH Fanaticos?
One of the original peculiarities of BiH football is that, similar to that of Scotland, the national football team has a fan group. Those who established the BH Fanaticos are mainly the Bosnians in diaspora. The core of the group was the Bosnians in Scandinavia, and contemporarily they have got more than 3000 members from different countries who pay membership fees regularly. Only 370 of them are living in BiH, and as far as we have informed, during last month a Turkish academics that came to Bosnia for an anthropological research had paid his fee and became a member. Members do not have membership cards. Instead, they are given a special t-shirt that only the members are allowed to wear. The administration of BHF is in Sweden. I asked to Nizar Altinowi, the representative of BHF in BiH, if this situation creates a problem for the group members in BiH. Nizar, student of the Faculty of Dentistry in Sarajevo University, says that the division of duties is well done, and admits that in spite of the general outlook of the football fans, BHF members are well educated and that kind of personal problems do not exist in their groups. A friend of Nizar from the faculty, namely Mesut – citizen of Republic of Turkey, who also made Bosnian-Turkish translation during my interview with Nizar, validates that members of BHF are all “well educated boys”.
BHF was established in 2000 and had been active especially in the abroad matches of BiH national football team. BHF members from BiH do only attend in abroad matches that are geographically close to BiH. For example, it was only the members from BiH who attended the match against Moldova in Chisinau. The travel costs were partly paid by the diaspora. It is very much visible that BHF administration is quite serious on financial issues. Even, they are able to help community. For example, nowadays BHF is busy with collecting aid for the “Ljubica Ivezić” orphanage in Sarajevo where five babies had died during a fire in April 22, 2007.
Boro Kontić argues that BHF is an indicator of identity for Bosnian youngsters in diaspora, and serves as a tool to attach them to motherland. Not only the Bosniaks, but also among the members there are Bosnian Croats and Serbs. However, it has to be added that there is no attendance from Republika Srpska in BHF. The Bosnian Serbs who are members of BHF are from cities inside BiH Federation like Sarajevo, Tuzla or Zenica, as such. İbrahim Muratović points out that Bosnian Serbs in RS do never support BiH, and adds that during the match between Serbia and BiH in Beograd, half of the Serbian fans in Marakana supporting Serbian team were from RS. In fact, as he mentions, the RTRS (TV channel of RS) broadcasts football matches of Serbia when it overlaps with that of BiH.
BHF takes attention not only by the support given to the BiH national team in abroad, but also with the conflict against NFSBiH. In the manifesto titled “Rat Savezu” (War against NFSBiH) published in their website www.bhfanaticos.com, they clearly mention it and define their basic wish as total renewal of NFSBiH. The main reason for that wish is that, they argue that administrators of NFSBiH are all politicians and does not have football background. Moreover, they claim that they corrupt the Bosnian players to be in the squad. That is why, they claim, most of the Bosnian players playing abroad reject to play in the national team. Nizar admits that they wish to see Elvir Bolic as the manager, and Barbarez as the general director. Barbarez is a heroic figure not only among the BHF members, but also every football fan in BiH. Originally being from a Serbian-Bosniak family from Mostar, Barbarez does delight fans not only with the quality of football he plays, but also with his devotion to BiH. For Bosnian fans, devotion is an important issue when the NFSBiH presidency is comprised of a Bosniak member who declares that they had won 250.000 Euro after the 0-4 defeat against Greece, a Bosnian Serb member who affirms that he will support BiH only against Turkey, and a Bosnian Croat member who does not hesitate to show his support to Croatian national football team in the World Cup while donating his family with Croatian jerseys and flags. As asserted in the lyrics of the song “Rat Savezu” which may be defined as the “hymn” of BHF and sung by “Frenkie & King Mire”:
Kraljice Bosno nemoj se vise bojat
(Bosnia my queen, do not be afraid anymore.)
mi smo tvoj stit i necemo te prodat
(We are your protective shields, and we will not sell you.)
After the actions of BHF in Oslo, NFSBiH is fined for 36.600 Euro. The next match of BiH will be against Turkey. Nizar mentions that they will attend to the match individually but not as a group to boycott the NFSBiH. I ask: “Who will be victorous?”. He replies: “We have to win to be promoted from the group hand-in-hand with Turkey.” As being a member of BHF and a citizen of Republic of Turkey, I smile by knowing that “we” will win.
(Translated from Turkish by: Özgür Dirim Özkan)
For the draft of the article in "pdf" (acrobat reader) format: