Monday, March 21, 2005

Dinamo Blues

Last Saturday was for citizens of Zagreb in many ways similar to the experience felt by New Yorkers on September 11th 2001. The incomprehensible thing happened and one of city’s symbols fell crashing down.

Dinamo Zagreb, which, until recently, was seen as the top Croatia’s soccer club and one of national institutions, failed to reach 6th place at the end of the first stage of this season’s Croatian Soccer Championship. Instead of competing for the championship in the rest of season, Dinamo Zagreb will have to fight for staying within First Division with six other teams in so called “Survival League”. The losers in that league are relegated into the Second Division of Croatian soccer.

While most people doubt that Dinamo will suffer such humiliation – something that didn’t occur even during Yugoslav days – the early exit from championship race is humiliation enough.

However, some sort of massive public reaction is missing for various reasons.

The most obvious reason lies in security concerns. During the long months of Dinamo agony, its players and officials were subjected to the endless threats, intimidation and assaults by increasingly violent faction of Bad Blue Boys, that club’s fan group. BBB, which until recently limited their aggressive actions only towards rival fan groups, has turned against the club. If the media push this story too far, the violence could escalate beyond any control.

Another reason is political. Croatia is about to have local elections this spring, and city of Zagreb is, naturally, the main prize. Under normal circumstances, any politician and his party would like to associate themselves with Dinamo. But under these circumstances, almost anyone in Zagreb politics would pretend that Dinamo doesn’t exist.

That goes to current administration, nominally led by mayor Vlasta Pavić (Vlasta Pavic), and really by deputy mayor Milan Bandić (Milan Bandic) and one of the most powerful “bosses” of Croatia. During last few years city taxpayers had not only to subsidise Dinamo, led by Bandić’s good friend Zdravko Mamić (Zdravko Mamic), but also to finance the renovation of Maksimir Stadium – megalomaniac project begun during Tudjman’s reign and not finished to this day. Estimates tell that the project, which has already swallowed some 50 million €, is likely to cost taxpayers another 50 million €. And all that for a club which is in danger of spending next season in Second Division.

At first sight it looks like HDZ might use this situation to score some points by accusing Bandić and other “Yugocommunists” for “destroying Croatian national institution”. However, since HDZ leader Ivo Sanader happens to be a native of Split, and since he also happens to be a fan of Dinamo’s arch-rival Hajduk Split, this could be counter-productive. Furthermore, in recent five years Dinamo, which used to be unofficial rallying point for Croatian nationalists in Yugoslavia and regime’s darling during Tudjman’s days, lost this status to Hajduk whose fan base of rural, conservative and war-ravaged Dalmatia responds to the cause of Croatian hard-line nationalism better than people from rich and nominally cosmopolitan Zagreb. HDZ, therefore, won’t play that card, and HDZ-controlled and government-friendly media are going to put Dinamo stories down.

Matija Babić (Matija Babic), on the other hand, doesn’t have such scruples. Today’s issue 24 sata published an article trying to link Dinamo plight with the lifestyle of its top players. In other words, players Dario Zahora, Dino Drpić (Dino Drpic) and Igor Cvetković (Igor Cvetkovic) have, according to 24 sata, invested great deal of energy in drinking, partying and womanising – much more energy that they show at the pitch. 24 sata published few photographs and SMS transcripts showing all three players being involved with Playboy Croatia models Nives Zeljković (Nives Zeljkovic) a.k.a. Nives Celzijus and Maja Kljaković-Šantić (Maja Kljakovic-Santic). 24 sata also adds top Croatian skiers Nika Fleiss and Janica Kostelić (Janica Kostelic) to this “first Croatian soccer soap opera” due to their SMS messages expressing love for Cvetković.

Some may disregard this as tabloid exploitation of Croatia’s soccer club plight, but things could get serious, at least according to 24 sata, which claims that Dario Zahora made death threats 24 sata reporter Romana Vukadin in order to prevent publishing of incriminating photographs. Vukadin refused to yield to threats and is now surrounded by security guards.


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