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War and football wars (nd current)

Football in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Velez Mostar narrowly missed qualifying for the European Conference League in the summer. The game was played in Sarajevo’s Grbavica Stadium.

Photo: imago images / Armin Durgut

We saw the first soccer game in Zenica. A qualifying match between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria. The small stadium was well filled, the spectators seemed seriously moved when the national anthem rang out. The Bosnian national team was cheered on by two active fan groups who hate each other for political reasons. They stood far apart from each other and supported in ultra-style.

We already knew this group formation from Serbia, where every political line-up finds its echo in the fan scene. The ultra-nationalists with Greater Serbian flags, the average nationalists (at the same time the largest group) with the current flag of Serbia, those interested in football with no flag at all. All nibbled sunflower seeds.

If you travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina, you have little chance of avoiding the scars of the Yugoslav civil war. In Sarajevo, Sniper Alley reminded us of the 1425 day siege of the city during the Yugoslav civil war in the 90s by the army of the Bosnian Serbs.

We wanted to go to Mostar. As an affair, the caravanserai in Višegrad seemed just right to us. Before the civil war, it was a predominantly Muslim city. In the meantime, almost all Muslims have been displaced and replaced by Serbs, who in turn have been displaced from other areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In Ivo Andrić’s novel of the same name, the bridge over the Drina stands for a divided world of pain and suffering. The civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina led many young football fans straight to their deaths. The graves of Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats, Albanians … can be found all over the country. The path to the Serbian military cemetery in Višegrads leads past dilapidated Muslim houses. They are decorated with red graffiti that, in poetic terms, recall the fallen Delije. Delije is the collective term for all Red Star Belgrade fans. They were particularly present in the civil war – as perpetrators and victims. Some tombstones show the portraits of milk-bearded figures stare defiantly into the distance. Not only the Serbian dead are remembered, but also the Russian ones. The war in Yugoslavia drew various nationalities into the dark grave.

Mostar, divided city. Two clubs, one Croatian, one Bosnian. Nobody loves each other, the derbies between Zrinjski and Velez take place without guest fans. We rarely felt comfortable in the stadium or in the city, and the great graffiti of the two football clubs couldn’t help but get over it. Idle to report which club has the greater density of nationalists, it is not easy for everyone. All nibbled sunflower seeds.

On the way to the sea we stopped in a Croatian village near Široki Brijeg. In 2009, a football war lasting several hours between Bosnian fans from Sarajevo and Croatian fans from Široki Brijeg brought back the civil war for a few hours, which miraculously claimed only one human life. A friendly Croatian country resident invited us for a morning schnapps in his front yard. He spoke a little German, we a little Croatian. We peeled and nibbled sunflower seeds. At some point the conversation turned to Roma. Our host smiled and said, Gypsies are not people.

We left our half-empty glasses and drove to Medjugorje. In 1981 the Virgin Mary appeared there to proclaim eternal peace. She only got as far as Medjugorje – and turned into a football that has been crying ever since.

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