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Friday, 20 June 2008


Before the quarter final match between Croatia and Turkey in EURO 2008, which will be played today, I wanted to write my observations about the friendly match between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia that was played last year relating both of the matches. This will also be an opportunity for me to write something into my blog again after a long time.


Stadium: Koševo

Date: August 22, 2007

Sarajevo Film Festival is going on. Sarajevans are running from one venue to another to watch as much films as possible. My favorite films are those new films which are directed in ex-Yugoslav geography. I also try to catch short and documentary films as a habit that I have since my university years in Ankara. We were not missing short and documentary films in Ankara Film Festival, as they were free of charge. At 14:30, there is a documentary film called “Karneval”. This is a Montenegrin-Bosnian co-production. The theme is about the human rights assault of Montenegrin government to the Bosnian refugees during the war in 1992-1995 referring to Montenegro’s unwillingness to share the sins of war with the big brother Serbia. The producer of the documentary is a name that I recognize: Boro Kontić is a Montenegrin originated Bosnian journalist who is also a great fan of Željeznićar. He does not miss the matches in Grbavica. The primary source of information for social scientists during the fieldwork are usually journalists who can give you information about everything. In fact, Boro had always replied my questions with a great patience in Sarajevo Media Center, while having a coffee or rakija together.

While I was running to the Bosnian Culture Center, which was the venue for the film, I met another guy whom I knew. Although I could recognize his face, I could not remember who he was. Just before entering the Bosnian Culture Center, I have remembered who he was: Jeremy Irons! He was walking neither with bodyguards nor with a group of people who bores him with autographs of photos. Sarajevans are pride of being so much interested in arts without railroading celebrity artists. It can be the reason why Sarajevo had always been an attractive city for artists even during the war. A note: This year it will be fourteenth anniversary of the film festival, where the first one was organized in 1995 during the war.

After the film, I had a walk in the city center. The Marshal Tito Street is like a battlefield. While I was watching the film, there was a fight between Bosnian and Croat football fans. Today, there will be a “friendly” match between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

In the first sight, that match between two neighbors does not look like an important one. However, the history had witnessed great tragedies. During the war in 1992-1995, Croats were fighting against Serbs with Bosnians. However, after a while they opened a third front with the provocation of nationalist leaders in order to be able to take a “piece” from Bosnia which was already been smashed. Mostar is the city that witnessed the biggest tragedies of that war. Te buildings on Šantićeva Street are still in ruins. Šantićeva Street was the borderline in Mostar that divided the city into two parts: Western Croat, and Eastern Bosnian parts. After shelling the Serbian Orthodox church in East Mostar, the Croat artillery had destroyed the Mostar Bridge aiming at sweeping all the symbols of fraternity of different cultures. No one can forget the scene of the fall of the historical, beautiful Mostar Bridge. Although since the end of the war, there are relatively good relations between Bosnian and Croatian government, it seems the tragic experiences in Mostar are difficult to be forgotten. Two years ago, during and after the match between Croatia and Brazil in the World Cup in Germany, there had been tension between Bosnian Muslim and Croat communities in especially in Mostar, sometimes causing serious conflicts. Bosnian Croats who are ethnically affiliated with Croatia were supporting Croatian national team, whereas Bosnian Muslims were supporting Brazil against Croatia. Is it possible if the match between Croatia and Turkey which will be played today may cause similar, even more serious problems? The answer may be found in the friendly match between Croatia and Bosnia which was played last year.

I was a bit late to the match that had begun at 20:00. Just at the moment I entered into the stadium Croatia scared a goal. I met with Adnan, Admir and Damir at Koševo Istok (Eastern part of Stadium). Adnan is my buddy with I had been many matches in Sarajevo. He is from Herzegovina and a hard core fan of Mortar’s team Velež. Admir is from central Bosnian town Zavidoviči, and Damir is his cousin. Admir and Damir are not very much interested in football, but what would be more enjoyable to go to a football match in a nice summer night? There are approximately 15,000 Bosnian fans in the stadium, and around 1,000 Croats. It takes nine hours to get to Sarajevo from Zagreb by bus, which means just an overnight travel. That is exactly not a great distance for fanatics, but I was surprised by the amount of fans that came to Sarajevo because of a “friendly” game. Adnan told me that most of supporters of Croatia are ethnic Croats from Bosnia. This is visible from the banners at the Croat side, which represent different locations in Bosnia. This is not acceptable by Bosnian fans. Both of the sides swear to each other during the whole match. I have to mention that Croatian and Bosnian are almost the same language. Grammar structure is the same, but only some vocabulary differs. More than two different languages, they resemble two different dialects. So, both sides can understand the swearwords of the other side. From time to time, instead of swearwords, the fans prefer to throw coins or similar things to each other. Now, it is 1-1 and Bosnians are more hopeful. However, Croats score two more goals and disappoint Bosnians. Croats make good passes in midfield and look for goal by rapid attacks. Bosnian players do their best, but could not avoid deadly attacks of Croats and the score is 1-3. One more goal of Bosnia gives hope to the fans but the final score is 3-5 for Croats.

During the match, when Croat fans attempted to throw flambeaus to the Bosnian fans, there was a clash between policemen and Croatian fans. A slogan of Bosnian fans took my attention: “Zagreb će biti turska mahala”. I got a bit surprised. It means: Zagreb will be Turkish “mahala” (district). In my previous article on my observations about the football match played between Slavija and Sarajevo, I had already mentioned about great sympathy of Bosnians towards Turkey. But, even that sort of sympathy makes me to be surprised. I complain to Adnan that it had been almost two centuries since Turks had left Bosnia and we still have problems with Serbs (and Croats) because of them (Bosnians)”. Adnan takes attention to the roots of the conflict. That is Turkish occupation. What shall I say? In fact, he is true. Adnan had met many Turks when he was living in Germany during the war. Since teaching swearwords to the foreigners is the first cultural diffusive attempt of an average Turk, Adnan is also good at swearing in Turkish language, besides essential swearwords of Bosnian language.

When Turkey was seeded with Croatia for the quarter final match of EURO 2008, I remembered that slogan: “Zagreb će biti turska mahala”. Considering the fact that there had been clashes during the match between Croatia and Bosnia, I am curious about what would happen during and after the match between Croatia and Turkey. Mostar has a fame of violence related with football. The Mostar team Zrinjski was banned during the Yugoslav period since it was supported by fascist Croatian (Ustaşi) regime during the Second World War. After the collapse of Yugoslavia, one of the first implementations of nationalist Croatian politicians was to re-activate the club. Velež fans are angry on that issue. There are two reasons for that: Firstly, Velež has got a claim of representing Bosnian (or better to say; Herzegovinian) identity, whereas Zrinjski appear as a nationalist entity provoking ethnic hatred. The second issue is that, Velež fans claim that Zrinjski had stolen their Stadium Bijeli Brijeg. Bijeli Brijeg is located in the so-called Croatian Western part of Mostar, and was rented by Zrinjski club for 49 years in some informal ways. All of Zrinjski-Velež matches are causes of street fights in Mostar. Especially when the matches are in Bijeli Brijeg, since the Velež fans has to pass through district with high buildings, they have to interfere with the jars, or other types of pots thrown from the flats. The rivalry between those teams may sometimes end up with very strange events. Last season, tens of fans were injured during the match in Mostar between Zrinjski and Partizan from Serbia when two teams were seeded in UEFA Cup. Some Velež fans had supported Partizan. Keeping also in mind what happened during the match between Croatia and Brazil, those two examples may give some hints about what can happen in Mostar during the match between Croatia and Turkey. According to the evening news of Federal TV in Bosnia in June 18, Mostar polis has already taken precautions in case of any clashes. Obviously, Zagreb will not be a Turkish district, but Turkish mahala atmosphere will be more or less effective in at least half of Mostar.

And, what about the game Bosnia-Croatia? My Bosnian friends did not make any technical analysis about the game. It has been a long time that “110 x 70 meter grass field” is the last think that is spoken about football in Balkans…

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