featured photo: kristelynx.deviantart.com/
It wasn’t only flares and other pyro thrown on the pitch that stunned the football world when in 85th minute Croatian fans interrupted the game between Czech Republic in Saint-Ettiene. Legends as Gary Lineker, Thierry Henry, and the likes along all the TV stations were mesmerized why would Croats want to interrupt the match their team was winning while playing maybe the best football we have seen so far in France? Why would they risk UEFA’s punishment that might go as far as suspending Croatia from further competition?
Well, the story is long and those who are a bit deeper into international football might remember flares at San Siro during Euro Qualifiers in November 2014. Croatia was then ordered to play in empty stadiums for a few matches. However, that didn’t prevent incident as swastika appeared on the pitch during the game against Italy (again) despite only officials were at Poljud stadium in Split. Now, why would some parts of Croatian supporter groups go this route really?
Knowing UEFA’s stance on pyro and Nazi symbology, there was a long discussion among Croatian media if the swastika was really an expression of political attitude or just a way to force UEFA to ban Croatia from big tournaments. Well, there is a part of Hajduk Split ultras, Torcida, that call themselves “Hajduk Jugend”. One of most influential part of Dinamo Zagreb ultras, Bad Blue Boys, call themselves “Norci”, meaning “Crazy”. However, it is also the plural of a surname of a convicted war criminal from Croatia, Mirko Norac, who in 1991 ordered the massacre of 19 ethnic Serbian civilians while killing one woman himself. Coincidence? You decide.
To make it a bit more complicated, at the end of the play-off match for Brasil World Cup that Croatia played, in November 2013 against Iceland, in Zagreb there was another incident. Joe Šimunić, mostly known as the only player ever who received three yellow cards in one match, led the choir of about 10 thousand people screaming a Croatian fascist salute used during 2nd World War. Times when Croatian qvisling government has killed tens of thousands non Croats and those opposed to fascist government. He was banned by international football governing bodies for 10 matches which effectively ended his international career as he retired just before World Cup that he would have otherwise participate in summer 2014.
Could you imagine doing this in Germany saying “Sieg Heil”?
Nobody from Croatian Football Federation had a word to say against Šimunić. Currently he is in France with national team as a coach. That doesn’t really surprise as the president of Croatian FA, world renowned striker and Golden Ball at France ’98 World Cup, Davor Šuker happilly took pictures beside the tomb of Ante Pavelić, the head of Croatian fascist state during the 2nd World War.
A curious reader might ask himself why would ultras who write swastikas want to oppose the national team which is governed by a person that takes pictures at the grave of fascist leader… Well, read on.
The fascist choirs, like the one that in 2013 was led by Joe Šimunić can be heard at every match of Croatian national team since Croatian independence in 1991. A quarter of century nobody said anything. Players never objected, FA never objected, TV commentators never heard them, and same behaved the politicians as well as the police.
Just a random match of Croatian national team
What made that possible was the silent suspension of law in Croatia right before the start of war in early ’90s that is still applicable and drags on to present. At those times, early ’90s, it was accepted that non Croats, primarily Serbs, were abused, beaten, their flats bombed, and themselves murdered. There was suspension of law on part of population of Croatia (remember beforementioned Mirko Norac), and as the country was in war, a life of a Serb was worth very little. Part of this suspension of law was executed recalling the tradition of Independent State of Croatia. You have guessed it, that was the name of fascist regime during the 2nd World War.
Now, how does all that tie down, you wonder… Neo-fascist ultras, neo-fascist, or at least, fascist tolerant society lead by such politicians and pro-fascist football association? “Dogs of war” is the answer. Once there is a breakdown of civilized behavior wild packs of dogs are let out to pillage, rape and destroy without being held responsible. There were many types of “Dogs of War” in Croatia. Some were politicians, some petty criminals, a few of them were soldiers, but they all have in common that they have pillaged one way or the other.
While some of those who defended the country during the war indeed believed in merciless fascist regime that echoed back from 2nd World War they were minority. However, they possessed brute force that was tolerated as they were used to defend the country. That lenient approach from political elites comes back to hunt them as those are today represented by ultras such as some parts of Torcida and Bad Blue Boys described before. However, they aren’t alone, a vast majority of organized supporter groups in Croatia are neo-fascist.
There is the other side of that coin mint way back in ’90s and is fundamental to understanding the flares on the pitch in Saint Ettiene. They are the “Dogs of War” who often went along with nationalism and/or fascist legacy of Croatia. Although they were using it, as it gave them the power that came with fear it represented, they were really more interested in their own well being and how to profit from war while banging the drums of it. One of those is a new and key character to understanding why are some of Croatian ultras so stubborn to get their national team out of the big tournaments.
He is a vice president of Croatian FA, and until recently, he was at the helm of most successful club in Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb, for 13 years. He would still be the top man of the club if last year he didn’t step down and changed his role to an advisor after facing the charges for tax evasion and various others misdeeds. Making secret contracts with numerous players from Dinamo Zagreb (Luka Modrć being just most renowned) where he allegedly sold them keeping the money hidden from Croatian IRS. The list of players that came from Dinamo into the national team is huge as it is the only club in country that has firm ties with the state and local government since independence and was able to scrounge every talent in the region and beyond. Allegedly all the players, such as Marcelo Brozović, Mateo Kovačić, Milan Badelj, Vedran Ćorluka, Domagoj Vida, to mention just those currently in the national first 11, have some kind of deal with the man who runs the football in Croatia. Under his helm Dinamo completely depleted the Croatian league of talent, won 12 championships in 13 years, installed the current president of the FA, Davor Šuker, and mightily annoyed anyone who doubts his success is due to shady business more than sheer ability.
Have a bit of pattience and see for yourself the man who owns the football in Croatia
Now, if there was any doubt of shade the state would have already prosecuted him or let him free, you might think. Well, not in Croatia it wouldn’t. Remember those “Dogs of War”? During that war in ’90s they were scourging the country for anything valuable (pun intended). Be it companies formerly owned by the state and then privatized, land, air, see… Anything. And there were a lot of them. Naturally, as they were “Dogs of War” they had a part in the crimes that still go on. Be it by directly being involved in disputed privatization or by rising through political elites and participating in corruption. Therefore today Zdravko Mamić, who also privatized some companies under suspicious circumstances, organizes birthday parties for current president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović. Among numerous prominent friends of his is also Tomislav Karamarko. A leader of biggest party in the country (Croatian Democratic Union). Previous president of that same party, Ivo Sanader, was first prime minister to end up in jail for corruption. Tomislav Karamarko, a close friend of Zdravko Mamić, whot took over got far and was a vice president of Croatian government until two days ago. Why he isn’t any more you wonder?
Well, he voted against prime minister, Tim Orešković, a man whom he installed himself as Orešković wanted the vote of confidence on Karamarko in the Parliament. You see, there are strong suspicions Karamarko’s wife is working for Hungarian oil company that bought Croatian national oil company (the deal previous prime minister Ivo Sanader was trialed and found guilty for corruption). At the same time Karamarko was lobbying in government not to further investigate the case in Hungarian overtake of national oil company. So, to avoid parliamentary discussion he put the machinery of his party in motion and they overthrew their own government . If your head isn’t spinning too much, you should know enough to make your own mind if Croatian supporters were stupid to throw those flares or not.
In any case, it is neo-fascist ultras who are fighting right wing nationalist, self proclaimed guardians of state, for doing to football what they already did to the whole society. And they have silent support from the left. Ain’t that convenient?