Arkan, Zvonimir Boban, football and the bloody end of Yugoslavia

Article published on Feb. 7, 2008
community published
Article published on Feb. 7, 2008
I do not remember where, I have seen the slogan: „football is war, and war is football." One can agree with such statement, as well one can oppose it. However, we are all forced to believe at least, that the football arena is the only space, linking people of various religions, attitudes, ethnicity, or races. Football depends of these groups.
They are making football a civilized contest, based on the clear rules, which are encouraging coexistence, or the scene of hate expression and the virtual field of battle, where they fight for the recognition of the discourse stating any form of identity and trying to keep it.

So is it peace, or war?

Football can link and it can create peace. After all, during the famous Christmas armistice of 1914, when the I World War was only starting British and German soldiers were playing football. Germans won this match 3:2 against British. Later they surrender to the allies. People say that in the prime years of Pele’s career, the civil war was suspended for two days in Nigeria, when fighter camps, who were involved in the bloody conflicts, wanted to see this Brazilian star chasing ball on their grass-plot. During the last world football championship the team of the Ivory Coast demanded to cancel the bloody disunion in their homeland. Otherwise, they were not going to play in the championship. That is the bright side of football, which unites, and football, which does not motivate to take up arms, but promotes the civilized contest in the stadium. Nevertheless, there is another side... the side, which covers hate with a bloody shirt.


The tragedy of Maximir

The football in Yugoslavia reflects both the good and the bad side. In 1987 the world youth under 20 years old championship took place in Chile. No one had hopes of big achievements by the team of Yugoslavia. Moreover, the football federation of the country itself did not hide that the team was sent to South America only to carry out obligations to FIFA. The captain of the team Aleksandr Djordjevič after the last selection match in Hungary was disqualified for four games. The future star Siniš Mihajlovič, who was later representing the ‚Lazio‘ club of Rome, Vladimir Jugovič, or Alen Bokšič were not there. The coach of today’s Croatian national team Slaven Bilič was also not there. It was alleged, that the official reason, why he was not in the championship was his ankle trauma. However, an equally plausible explanation is that Bilič was not going to Chile because of his father, who demanded a wider Croatian autonomy and did not approve of the fact, that his son would represent Yugoslavia. It turned out that Bilič has not played any games while wearing the Yugoslavian team t-shirt.

Instead, young diamonds, such as Robert Jarni, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinečki, or Davor Šuker left for South America. After some time this company formed the striking axis of the independent Croatian team. Predrag Mijatovič was also there and the Yugoslavian team reached the finals, when after 11 meters penalty series, it broke the West German team and received gold. People say that the team celebrated the gold for two more days and there in a family atmosphere. One can only guess how this team would look like later, if the war would not have started, and if the barrel of powder would have not exploded in Zagreb stadium Maximir.

The monument near this arena is dedicated to Yugoslavian war casualties – the ultras of Zagreb “Dinamo”. A sign on it proclaims: “club fans that started a war with Serbia in this arena”. The war sprang up in the spring of 1990, on the 10th of May in the Arena Maximir during the match between the local “Dinamo” and Belgrade’s “Crvena Zvezda”. Since the death of the Yugoslavian dictator Tito, the competitions between these teams had seen only endless outbreaks of violence. Nationalistic moods were rising in Serbia and Croatia. The ideal propagated by Slobodan Milosevic that Big Serbia is the place where any Serbians live was revived.

Meanwhile, in Croatia the growth of nationalistic moods was associated with the ex-general of the Yugoslavian army - Franjo Tudjman, who was also the head of the club „Partizan“ in Belgrade, some time ago. This politician, committed to Croatian nationalism, perceived the Zagreb “Dinamo“ club as a tool for spreading his position, and generating support for independence. It is worth mentioning, that the fatal match between the “Dinamo“ and “Crvena Zvezda“ teams took place in Croatia, before the elections and the referendum over the independent country. Croatian Robert Prosinečki, and Bosnia Muslim Refik Šabanadžovič, a couple of Montenegrins and Macedonians played in it.

The meeting itself, became a ground for the collision of two forms of identity, - Croatian and Serbian nationalism, which were categorically denying each other. While football players were combating in the field, the fight between ultra fans of Zagreb and Belgrade - “Bad Blue Boys“ and “Delije“ already started in the tribunes. Very soon, the stadium transformed into a field of battle and the game was suspended no more than 10 minutes after it begun. The football players got involved in fighting, as well. The Croatian football star Zvonimir Boban, who later represented and the famous club “AC Milan”, will remain in the memories of many admirers not only because of his impressive game, but also an equally impressive fight with a policeman, who used power when trying to stop “Dinamo” fans. There is an opinion, which could be also exaggerated, that it was precisely the strike of Z. Boban, which evoked the civil war. In one of the video tapes recorded during the riot, one can hear him shouting: ”Where is the police? Where is this bloody police”?

The forces who were suppressing the fight were blamed with backing Serbian hooligans. The fact that the policeman who was hit by Z. Boban was a Bosnian Muslim, was realized a bit later. “I entirely understand why Z. Boban behaves like this” – admitted the injured policeman. Z. Boban himself was born in the small town Imotsk on the border with Bosnia in southern Croatia, which is famous for a nationalistic mood. Some people characterize this Croatian football star as the romantic nationalism agent, who came to our days straight from the XIX century books. As Boban himself mentions, he grew up by reading the books of Anton Chekhov, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky one after another. Once, before starting the match between Croatian and Italian national teams, he said to a journalist, if someone were to change writers into football players, Italians would win without any struggle. „Dante, Petrarch, Leopardi… No one would be able to compete with them, - stated Z. Boban.

The fighting on the 10th of May continued for a couple of hours when the match was terminated, and the stadium was on fire. The players of “Crvena Zvezda“ were lifted out of the stadium with the helicopter. The war started.

Arkan on the stage

When the Yugoslavian war begun the figure of Želko Raznatovič, better known as Arkan, got into the epicenter of attention. This person is still considered controversial in Serbia. Some say, that he is a hero and embodies the ideal Serbian, others claim that he is an awful war criminal, who paid no attention to any norms ofethics. Anyway, - he played a crucial role when provoking the Balkan war fireplace.

In the beginning of the 90‘s the leader of Serbia S. Milosevic was worried about the activities of the fan group “Delije“. Therefore, he assigned the head of the state security department Jovic Stanisič, who later stood before the Hague war crime tribunal, the contact Arkan and entrusted him with the control of this group of football hooligans. S. Milosevic understood, that „Crvena Zvezda“ in his hands could become a tool of mass mobilization, as Madrid „Real“ was for the Spanish dictator Francisco Franc, or the Italian team playing with black shirts was for Benito Mussolini.

Arkan started to supervise every action from selling the tickets to the private members of “Delije“, to the organizing of the hooligans trips to matches outside the country. In a year, he managed to create even a paramilitary unit, miserably famous by the name of “Tigers“. This unit marked itself with ethnic cleansing not only in Croatia, but also Bosnia and later Kosovo. The truth is, that not all the Tigers were the members of “Delije“. The fans of Belgrade “Partizan“ and ultras from other hooligan groups were also present. As it was said by one of the leaders of “Delije“, “Partizan“ and “Crvena zvezda“ fans can passionately hate each other, but they understand, that in the end they are all Serbians and united Serbians will never loose.

The fact that two savage opponents can unite was confirmed during the war between Serbia and Croatia. The relations between the countries got even worse after 1991 April, when Serbian declared they take Krajna region, and their forces smashed into the east Croatia. The crazy battles followed close to city Vukavar. In these battles, the members of the “Bad Blue Boys“ radical group actively participated with the NATIONAL flag and their heraldic group symbols. The “Tigers“ were also there.

On the 22 of March 1992, with the 60 000 people in the “Marakana“ the match took place between “Partizan“ and “Crvena Zvezda“, two competitors hating each other. The beginning of the game did not promise anything new - some actions outside of the stadium turned into violence, the fans of both teams were insulting each other with their slogans as usual in the tribunes. The atmosphere heated up silently and after the match one could expect serious turmoil. However, the shouting was stopped soon by uniformed “Tigers“ who brought road signs with them, which they collected on their way to Vukovar, as the war spoils.

Among those showing the distance left to the goal 30… 20... 10 kilometers, one could also see the road signs of other Croatian towns, which had fallen surrounded by Serbian army. Arkan was standing in the tribunes with square shoulders.

So, the thing happened which was hardly believable, - the hate merged „Crvena Zvezda“ and „Partizan“ club fans to one entity. They were shouting out insulting slogans against Croatians together. The biggest enemies were linked by hatred.

Unfortunately, Arkan will never hear his judgment. He was killed on the 15th of October on 2000. Thanks to him, football became integral part of Yugoslavian war, and the football hooligans became its participants.

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