FOOTBALLERS as soldiers of the nation, violence in the stands that heralded war, outrageous corruption and fans belting out fascistic slogans: Croatian football has been a dramatic affair for the past three decades. In few other countries are politics and the beautiful game as closely entwined. When Croatia beat Russia on July 7th its president gyrated for joy in front of Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister. With reason: she, her party and other Croatian political parties have all benefitted from football-related election financing. On July 15th Croatia’s footballers, spurred on to avenge defeat at the hands of France in the World Cup semi-finals in 1998, take on les bleus again in Moscow.
“Football victories shape a nation’s identity as much as wars do,” said Franjo Tudjman, independent Croatia’s first president and the man who led the country through the traumatic disintegration of Yugoslavia and the wars of the 1990s. It is sometimes said that Croatia’s war of…Continue reading