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Neighborly Cheer

Are the people from the former Yugoslavia pleased with Croatia's success in the World Cup? Yes they are. From Global Voices.

by Marko Angelov 18 July 2018

Despite losing this year's World Cup final to France, Croatia's success story resonated with fans around the world — after all, who doesn't love to see an underdog defeating some of the mightiest national teams, including two-time champion Argentina?


But praise coming from the former Yugoslavia region felt particularly special. As its only representative to have made it to the knockout stage, Croatia inspired numerous positive reactions from across the Balkans, defying the historic ethnic tension between the neighboring nations.


Such a reaction came, for example, by one of the region's most famous celebrities: Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic, who sealed his fourth Wimbledon title also on 15 July. Earlier this month, he told a reporter that he would be supporting Croatia in the then-upcoming World Cup final:


“I [now] support Croatia and I hope they will win the title. I don't know who's the real favorite [for the championship title]. The World Cup is an unpredictable contest, as we can see from the fact that Germany and Argentina, previous finalists, were knocked out.”


Writing for Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji, local journalist Ante Tomic pointed out that Croatia's goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, hailed a hero after defending three penalties against Denmark, is a member of Croatia's minority ethnic Serbian community.


The column, titled “Here's why nationalism is shit“, was shared over 29k times on Facebook.


“…Across our country… everybody screamed with ecstasy to a paradoxical event when, besides over five hundred thousands registered war veterans, our homeland was defended by a Serb.”


Luka Modric at the awards ceremony for the winners of the tournament. Image via


Whatever happens until the end of the World Cup in Russia is irrelevant to me after this. Subasic's defense of three penalty kicks in itself is a great historic victory which brings tears to one's eyes, as a triumph of humanity against hatred and stupidity. There was no better moment for it because the football World Cup, with all its flags, national anthems, hands over hearts and faces painted in war paints is a first-class nationalist event. Possibly nationalism inflames the masses even more than displayed sports skills. Even more than Modric's dribbling and Rabic's volleys, the displayed red and white squares contribute to the record sales of beer and potato chips. In that insufferable madness of blood and soil, we needed Danijel Subasic to jump as a panther and kick the ball into a corner and irrevocably prove that nationalism is total shit.”


Nevertheless, some Serbian nationalists reacted negatively to Serbian support for Croatia. According to one Twitter user, “no Croat would ever root for Serbia”.


In response, many on social media pointed out the fact that in August 2017, the Croatian basketball players publicly supported the Serbian female team after the latter had made it to the finals of FIBA Under-18 Women's European Championship.


At the time, a photo of the Croatian players, wearing the national team's uniform and with the word “Serbia” painted on their faces, inflamed the internet. 


A Shared Heritage


There is some controversy on how FIFA handles each team's historical record when countries change names and borders.


For example, Russia is considered the only successor of the USSR's victory, in detriment of all other former Soviet countries. Similarly, Serbia is the official successor of Yugoslavia, despite the fact that the Yugoslav national team had players from all the constituent republics, including Croatia.


This contrasts with a rising sentiment of shared heritage across the current nations. In an article by Montenegrin newspaper Vijesti, for example, Croatia's World Cup performance is seen as a continuum of the former glory of Yugoslav football. The article was also widely shared, including by Croatian football coach Mario Kos.


“Former Yugoslavia had many great masters, big stars, football icons respected by whole Europe.


From Montevideo 1930, to Chile 1962, to Sekularac, Skoblar, Jerkovic and the others, the Djajic generation of the early 1970s, and the powerful team of Pizon, Surjak and Susic which disappointed in Spain 1982, to Stojkovic, Savicevic, Prosinecki and their comrades who lost by penalties in the quarter finals of the World Cup in Italy 1990.


They had exceptional coaches too: Miljan Miljanic, Tomislav Ivic, Branko Zebec, Todor-Toza Veselinovic, Ante Mladinic, Vujadin Boskov, to Ivica Osim and Ciro Blazevic.


And none of them, absolutely no one, had achieved what on the historical 11 June 2018 achieved Zlatko Dalic and his players in Russia.


Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, Dejan Lovren, Ante Rebic, Danijel Subasic and the other boys whose names will remain written with golden letters in the history of Croatian football managed to put a closure to the dream of generations of citizens of the former state.


They managed to surpass the “fiery” generation of Croats from 1998 – Boban, Suker, Prosinecki, Asanovic, Jarni, Bilic, won the bronze at the World Cup in France, a success which very few believed can be exceeded.” 


A Day of Victories

With Croatia playing in Moscow and Djokovic in Wimblendon, subscribers of this new, inclusive spirit truly (and literally, for some) had a field day on 15 July.


Saluting the Croatian team, Serbian blogger and writer Igor Cobanovic posted a collage with Croatian and Serbian flags with a spoof of the well-known Balkan proverb “may the neighbor's cow croak!” — it means that one should always enjoy the other's misfortune, even when not advancing their own benefit.



Image text: May the neighbor's cow be alive and well!

Tweet: Let's act as human beings for a change.


Bosnian blogger Srđan Puhalo remained pessimistic: “Balkan brothers, tomorrow we won't have neither football nor tennis, we remain alone with our hatred, our poverty and our anger!!!”


The mood wasn't shaken by France's victory over Croatia, even less after captain Luka Modric won the Golden Ball award for the tournament's best player.


Ironically, upon its return to the homeland, Croatia's team paraded in the streets of Zagreb with neo-Nazi Marko Perkovic Thompson, whose concerts had been banned in several Western European countries on account of promoting the fascist World War II Ustasa regime.


But, so far, this doesn't seem to have deflated all the excitement around Croatia's team around the region. Croatia's feat will likely long resonate with all underdogs, from former Yugoslavia and beyond.

This article written by Marko Angelov originally appeared on the citizen journalism site Global Voices, and is republished under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 3.0 International license.
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