For the last few months, many countries around the world have been participating in soccer matches that could qualify their country for the World Cup in Brazil next summer. With a top ranked soccer team, Croatia is no exception. This week, they played a match against Iceland in Zagreb. To say this game was very important would be an understatement – a win would qualify Croatia for the prestigious tournament, so emotions were running high. The Croatian national team celebrated a 2-0 win against Iceland, and landed them a spot at the World Cup 2014.
The FIFA World Cup attracts not only soccer fans but in parallel, promotes nationalism, and the two basically go hand in hand. Since Croatia’s break from Yugolsavia, the World Cup quickly became the foundation of nationalistic appeal and in this setting, soccer was utilized very clearly as a means by which to instill pride and faith into the hearts of the Croatian public. I view soccer as a form of nationalism that forges unity in countries with significant social divides and it is a way for fans to channel pride for their country in a positive setting.
Croatian national team defender, Josip Šimunić, an Australian born and fellow diasporee, has been scrutinized and fined by Croatian public prosecutors for allegedly chanting ‘racial’ slogans after Croatia’s victory over Iceland. He took the microphone, and saluted: “To the battle! to the battle!” (U boj! U boj!) to which the fans replied: “For our people!” (Za narod svoj!) He then continued: “For the Homeland” (Za Dom) to which 20,000 fans responded back: “Ready!” (Spremni!) The Australian native is also facing possible suspension and hefty fines from FIFA, which has caused a divide once again with Croats.
“For Homeland: Ready!” (Za Dom Spremni) is a CROATIAN salute that has been used by many people, over the course of a few centuries and it is a salute used in the latest Homeland War. Many people, specifically communist folk in Croatia, associate this salute to the Ustashe, WWII, Hitler and Ante Pavelić which is the reason why political officials have condemned Šimunić and his supposed criminal actions. As if one would be so idiotic to believe that an Australian, born in democracy, who always wears a rosary around his neck would demonstrate such hate toward a group of people at a soccer match!? Having Ustaše in my family (grandfathers and their brothers), I don’t even associate Za dom Spremni as facist. To me ‘Za Dom Spremni’ is patriotic – love for Croatia, not hate for another ethnicity.
Political leaders and the mainstream media are having a field day with this. Šimunić’s actions come at a perfect time, where they can deflect their own insufficiencies as political leaders. Corruption, unemployment, and a general disapproval of the government have all taken the backburner and all focus has been placed on Šimunić. What is more laughable is these same people want to lecture ME about democracy. These people who were born in communism, and still live and breathe it today would like to give Šimunić a lesson about democracy and Croatian history. These people, who hated everything Croatian, are suddenly the experts on Croatia’s bloody history.
But yet, when a Croatian flag was burning in the 90th minute of a soccer match between Croatia and Serbia 2 months ago, these same people didn’t condemn these actions.
These same people who at that same match seen a 50 metre Serbian flag with the words BYKOBAP (Vukovar) didn’t speak up. They stood silent, like the nice little communists they are, for fear of rocking the peace boat with Serbia.
What amazes me is these political leaders and their group of small followers claim the salute brings back horrible memories of the nazi’s and killings, but yet – the cyrillic alphabet in Vukovar does not. And then when FIFA banned a banner that says “Remember Vukovar” basically on the anniversary of the fall of Vukovar, they stood silent. Because apparently remembering the victims of the biggest slaughterhouse modern day Europe has seen is a crime.
Joe Šimunić did not incite hatred and did not give any racial speeches. His salute was love for his homeland, pride for our nation, and a guaranteed spot at the World Cup in Brazil.