Sunday, 15 July 2018

Football's Problem of Not Seeing the Problem: Nationalism and the Croatian Football Team

"Yugoslavian football once served as an important unifier of Yugoslavia by fostering ideals of 'Brotherhood and Unity'. However, once Tito died, football took on a different role, fostering ethnic nationalist sentiments and contributing to the demise of Yugoslavia."
Adnan Kajetzovic (2015)

So far, FIFA has collected more than 650.000 euros through fines that had to be paid for disciplinary reasons. The highest ones were those for not respecting marketing deals. The Swedish team, for instance, was charged 60.000 euros and 43.000 euros in another incident for wearing socks of a brand that was not licenced. During this World Cup, FIFA received 250.000 euros paid for wearing the wrong socks. Fines look different when it comes to racism and nationalism. When Russian fans used a poster with a code for "Heil Hitler", there was a fine of only 8.500 euros. Croatian footballer Vida dedicated the match with Russia to Kiev and the Ukraine. FIFA just warned him not to do that again. When a Croatian footballer drank a beverage produced by a brand not licenced by FIFA in public, 60.000 euros had to be paid (via).

Euro 1996:
Croatian coach Blazevic stirs up nationalist emotions in the run-up to the quarterfinal announcing the "German tanks and Stukas" will be met by Croatian "commando troops and kamikaze pilots" (Schiller, 2015).

World Cup 1998:
Croatia is still busy constructing a nationhood shortly after the demise of Yugoslavia. The World Cup 1998 is used as a means to invent nationalist traditions. Newspaper accounts, for instance, clearly show a pro-nationalist rhetoric (Milasincic, 2013).

Euro 2008:
Croatia manager Bilic plays Thompson (will be explained in the next paragraph) songs to his players (via). Croatian fans shout Nazi slogans and give "Heil Hitler" salutes in Austria, which, according to the police spokesman, is not hooliganism but just a "beer brawl" (via). At the Euro 2008, Asner is spotted supporting his Croatian team - the number four on the most wanted list of Nazi-hunters, wanted by Interpol for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (via).

Euro 2012: 
Some "key people from the football federation insist that a nationalistic song is played before every Croatia match", sung by Thompson (the stage name of Perkovic) whose songs are about murderings Serbs in concentration camps and slogans used by Croatian fascists (via). Perkovic had had to stand trial in 2008 because of the salute he demonstrated during a concert in Croatia. In Switzerland, by the way, his concerts were cancelled as they were not compatible with anti-racism laws (via), in the Netherlands Perkovic was banned from performing in 2004 (via).
When Uefa fined the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) €80,000 for offences including racist abuse of the Italy striker Mario Balotelli, the media back home reacted with relief. It could have been much worse – a points-deduction for the 2014 World Cup qualifying, for example – and the fine was generally viewed as being too lenient, especially after the Uefa president Michel Platini had said he was dismayed by some of Croatia supporters. "I'm not happy with Croatia", the Frenchman said. "They are a good team but it's unacceptable when you've got a hundred or so arseholes among the crowd."
The Guardian
Markovic, president of the Croatian Football Federation in 2012, causes controversy when he refuses to visit Auschwitz as many other teams at Euro 2012 have done. After much pressure, he finally sends a delegation to the memorial centre but does not join them. He is also the one who refers to the team Dinamo Zagreb as the "ultimate Catholic club" and makes sure that as long as he is presidet, there will be no gay players adding "Thank goodness only healthy people play football." His successor Suker openly shows his support for a Croatian leader "who ruled a second world war puppet state" with the help of Nazi Germany (via).

World Cup qualification 2013:
Controversies again, due to tasteless chants by fans and defender Simunic who shout to the fans the war call ("For the Homeland, ready") used by Ustashas, "the Croatian pro-Nazi puppet regime that ruled the state during the second world war when tens of thousands of people perished in concentration camps". Fans show a tradition of combining the chant with the Nazi salute. The Croatian Football Association has been fined by Fifa and Uefa  in the past (via). FIFA suspends Simunic for ten matches - which, according to his lawyers - is done because of a "Greater Serbian lobby" interfering - and fines him for 24.000 euros. Two years later, he becomes the assistant coach of Croatia (via).

World Cup 2014:
"Croatia performs a very distinct, and very political, type of nationalism in its matches, a kind of behavior that makes much of Europe deeply uncomfortable" (via). Croatian fans are seen with banners with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi symbols (via).

World Cup 2018:
Football is seen as a continuation of the war, Croatian footballers, such as Lovren, openly support Thompson (via). Even in Austria, Croatian fans celebrate with Ustasha flags, the Nazi salute, and buttons displaying the word "Endsieg" ("Final Victory") after beating Russia. Nationalist Socialist reactivation is strictly forbidden in Austria, the Office for Protecting the Constitution and Fighting Terrorism is carrying out investigations. After the Argentina-Croatia match, a clip is published online showing the two footballers Lovren and Vrsaljko singing Thompson's nationalist war song in the locker room, a song that starts with a salute Ustasha used (via).

- - - - - -
- Kajtezovic, A. (2015). The disintegration of Yugoslavia and football. University of Norther Iowa, link
- Milasincic, A. (2013). Nationalism and Sporting Culture: A Media Analysis of Croatia's Participation in the 1998 World Cup, link
- Schiller, K. (2015). Siegen für Deutschland? Patriotism, Nationalism and the German National Football Team, 1954-2014. Historical Social Research, 40(4), 176-196.
- photograph of French football player Jean-Pierre Adams via


  1. Very, very interesting share. Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much, Kenneth. Given this background, it is painful for me to watch the match against France. 2:1 and still so many minutes to go. Allez les Bleus! :-)

  2. Abbie Winterburn15 July 2018 at 18:10

    This is shocking.

    1. Very shocking, indeed. And FIFA is sending a wrong message with its fine hierarchy. Many thanks for dropping by, Abbie!