October 20, 2012 by mapperleystag1
The disturbing scenes in Serbia this week have once again drawn attention to the issue of racism in football, particularly in this part of the world, where an unhealthy political culture of hard-line nationalism and ethnic prejudice in the region over the past decades has bred violence and bigotry on the terraces.
Instead of reflecting on the success of England Under-21s qualifying for Euro 2013 after a competitive playoff tie against Serbia, the focus has rightly turned to the disgraceful scenes during and after the final whistle at the Stadion Mladost, with numerous Serbian players, staff and supporters engaging in acts of violence and racism against members of the England side. Throughout the game England left-back Danny Rose and other black players were subjected to racist abuse and taunts from the crowd. When England secured victory with the last kick of the match, this was too much for the home players and fans to take, who responded in a brutal, thuggish way, with punches, headbutts and objects thrown at the opposition. In the resulting chaos, Turkish referee Huseyin Gocek only saw fit to red-card Rose for kicking the ball away in frustration at the abuse targeted at him, turning a blind-eye to the violence perpetrated by the Serbs. On leaving the pitch, it is clearly audible from YouTube footage that Rose was still the target of monkey-chants from the crowd, emphasised by his sarcastic thumbs-up to the home supporters. Equally, in the tunnel, a number of home players assaulted assistant manager Steve Wigley and goalkeeping coach Martin Thomas. These shameful events have reminded the world of the prevalence of such attitudes and tendencies in the Balkans, something that has sadly been part of their politics and culture for the best part of a century.
As mentioned previously, the politics and culture of the Balkans in the 20th and 21st centuries has been fractured, with nationalist and racist inclinations ingrained in the populace throughout this period, and prone to explode on the football terraces and in wider society. This can be traced back to the 28th June 1914, when Bosnian Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, within which much of the Balkans was situated. The consequences of this event changed the world and the region irrevocably, as it was the catalyst for the outbreak of the First World War, which led to the creation of Yugoslavia, incorporating territories such as Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Kosovo, Slovenia and Macedonia. The heavily nationalistic and patriotic overtones of this ‘Yugoslavism’ were evident throughout the rest of the century, as were the internal divisions that this unsurprisingly created, due to vast differences in culture, ethnicity and identity. Never was this more graphically highlighted than in the 1990s, with the collapse of Communism and the subsequent collapse of the Yugoslav federation, which re-ignited previously dormant feelings of ethnic nationalism in the region. This resurgence led to people of minority ethnicities fleeing their region to areas where their ethnicity was in the majority. However, the substantial population transfers and trauma this caused paled into insignificance compared with the crimes against humanity committed in this period, in the name of nationalism. This is best illustrated by the Kosovo War of 1998 and 1999, in which forced deportation, mass murder and genocide against the ethnic Albanians was perpetrated by Yugoslav government forces, under the leadership of Serbian ultra-nationalist, Slobadan Milosevic.
Ethnic violence in the region over previous decades has translated into cases of racial abuse by fans on the terraces. In 2005, Serbian fans displayed banners glorifying the Srebrenica genocide, at the height of the Bosnian War in 1995, in a qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose population were the primary victims of this massacre. In October 2006, 152 fans of Serbian side Rad Belgrade were arrested after shouting anti-Muslim and neo-Nazi propaganda at opposition players and supporters. Indeed, the case this week is not the first in which Serbia has been investigated for racial abuse of English players. In 2007, both Justin Hoyte and Nedum Onuoha were the victims of sustained racist abuse from the home fans.
There is little doubt that the problem of racism, accentuated by periods of aggressive ethnic nationalism in the Balkans, remains a significant problem for football. This is a problem that UEFA and the football authorities appear unwilling to address, in the hope that it will fade out of public consciousness. Their actions to this point in dealing with Tuesday’s despicable incidents have only added weight to this claim. So far, both England and Serbia have been charged by UEFA for failing to control their players. Nothing has been said about the remarkable decisions that the referee made after the final whistle. Moreover, there has been no indication that Serbia will be punished in any way beyond a fine for their actions, despite being additionally charged with alleged racist chanting. A ban from competitive football seems to be a suitable deterrent. That way, perhaps we would move one step closer in achieving the aim of kicking racism out of football. However, I do not wait with any sense of expectation that UEFA will act decisively, judging by past experiences.