Pride (in the name of hate)
The war exploded on June 25, 1991 when Slovenia declared its independence but there had already been different sign of the forthcoming violence and war. In 1990, in the first multi-party elections since more than 50 years, in Croatia Franjo Tudjman triumphed. An year before he had founded the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), a nationalist movement affirming Croatian values based on Catholicism blended with historical and cultural traditions. Its aim was to gain national independence and to establish a Croatian nation-state. His party got around 60% seats in the Croatian Parliament. So, Croatia started along with Slovenia to promote the transformation of Yugoslavia into a confederation, a reform strongly opposed by Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian nationalistic leader.
A week later, on May 13, at the Maksimir Stadium Dinamo Zagabria faced Red Star Belgrade. Dinamo’s fans, called the Bad Blue Boys from the 1983 Seam Penn movie Bad Boys, agreed to build a statue outside of the stadium representing a group of soldiers. On its plith is written: “To the fans of this club who started the war with Serbia at this ground on 13 May 1990”. Founded in 1986, they soon developed a reputation as violent hooligans. “Numerous blows were given and taken; to prove one’s love for the club, they didn’t mind. Dinamo was and still is something sacred” they wrote on their website.
BBB, strongly supportive of the new president, fought against 3,000 Red Star hooligans, the Delije, a nationalistic group guided by Zeljko Raznatovic, Arkan, who later picked many of these fans to form the paramilitary group of the Tigers, involved in more than one operation of ethnic cleansing.
Violence was unavoidable
Police, largely Serbian, attacked the Dinamo fans with truncheons and tear gas. Ultras reacted and the riot passed from the stand onto the pitch. Zvonimir Boban kicked a policeman and immediately became a national hero despite the Yugoslavian federation suspended him for 9 months (then reduced to 4) and forced him not to play the 1990 World Cup, the last football event where a Yugoslavian national team was present.
In 1990 the fraternal friendship between the basketball stars Vlade Divac, playing as a center for the Los Angeles Lakers and adored by Magic Johnson, and Drazen Petrovic, the Mozart of basketball who played for the New Jersey Nets. Serbian the former, Croat the latter, the two almost come to blows after the 1990 World Championships final won by Yugoslavia. During the celebrations, a supporter with a Croatian flag entered onto the pitch but Divac took it and threw it away because, he said, we’re Yugoslavia, not Serbia or Croatia.
While some people understood and agreed with him, many in Croazia started to hate Divac, like Toni Kukoc, Croatian star shining at the Chicago Bulls. In 1995, in Athens, Yugoslavia (reduced to Serbia and Montenegro) won the gold medal at the World Championships; Croatia, without Petrovic, dead in a car accident two years earlier, arrived third and abandoned the prize ceremony.
Sport and politics have always had an indissoluble tie in Yugoslavia, the more during those years of war. In August 1991, after beating his Croatian friend Goran Prpic at the Us Open second round, Goran Ivanisevic announced he’s not going to play for the Yugoslavian national team in the Davis Cup semifinal against France. “There’s no reason to play for a country that doesn’t exist” he said.
So, against the new Muskateers, he left alone the old Zivojinovic and the 19-years-old debutant Srdjan Muskatirovic: France easily won 5-0. As Gencic said, after that defeat, and for a decade at least, young Serbians had just gangsters and drug traffickers as role models. But Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, Nenad Zimonjic and Jelena Jankovic overturned that hierarchy along with Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki.
Troicki, the unexpected hero during the 2010 Davis Cup final, has Russian grandparents; his father was a lawyer, his mother worked at the U.S. embassy in Belgrade. It was thanks to her job that Troicki could have the chance to follow his dreams and fulfil his potential. In 1999, in the middle of the bloody civil war, he and his mother escaped in Hungary and from there to the United States. His father remained in Serbia to take care of his ill mother. Troicki hadn’t met his father for three years.
What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.