Thursday, July 03, 2003

Croatia's Soccer Shame

Last weekend city of Vukovar hosted its traditional Veterans Memorial youth soccer tournament. Just like in many other occasions, Vukovar 91, local soccer club, was supposed to play with top seven teams from Croatia.

14-year old M.M. was supposed to be the star player of Vukovar 91. But few hours before the first match he was barred from playing. The explanation was very simple – he was ethnic Serb, and, as such, he was unwelcome on the tournament dedicated to the memory of Croatian soldiers, policemen and volunteers who had died in defence of Vukovar from Serb forces in Autumn 1991. The decision was made by tournament board, chaired by Petar Mlinarić (Petar Mlinaric), HDZ leader for Vukovar and vice-speaker of City Council.

The news about this decision broke only few days ago, mostly because City of Vukovar represents something of a black hole for Croatian media. The city, captured by Serbs after three-month long and bloody siege, was peacefully reintegrated into Croatia following 1995 Dayton Peace Treaty and three year transition period. Despite constitutional and para-constitutional guarantees about equality and self-righteous politicians preaching "forgiveness" and "tolerance", Croat and Serb population co-exist in the state of virtual apartheid, which includes separate schools.

14-year old M.M. was apparently such soccer talent that nobody in Croat-dominated Vukovar 91 – management, board, other players – minded his ethnicity. But that wasn't the case with local HDZ politician, determined to show that seemingly "reformed pro-European" party still has people who are faithful to Tudjmanist principles of ethnic purity and chauvinism. This resulted with the affair that represents so far the most blatant case of ethnic/racial discrimination ever recorded not only in the history of post-Tudjman, but also in the post-war areas of former Yugoslavia. Instances when people get discriminated because of their ethnicity are very common, but instances when it is done openly are quite rare.

This event is even worse than Kranj waterpolo riots. In that case it could be attributed to intense heat, large amounts of alcohol and plain old hooliganism. But this is different – the chauvinistic excess was premeditated. It is something that shouldn't be tolerated. Even prime minister Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan), not known for standing to virulent forms of Croatian nationalism, had to react. And even Croatian Soccer Association, institution that used to embody Croatian nationalism, is now in the serious spin mode, trying to give good explanation why its officials didn't intervene during the tournament.


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