Thursday, 21 October 2010

Zenit fans stand alongside their Serb "brothers"

A butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo and a storm rises in California. Or perhaps that should be: a Serbian man dons a balaclava in Genoa, and four Hajduk Split supporters are beaten up in St Petersburg.

Eastern European politics is an immensely complex arena. Events in Russia this week have provided a nice illustration of this point. Hajduk Split fans have travelled to St Petersburg for a Europa League group match against Zenit St Petersburg.

On Wednesday evening there was a stand-off at the Hotel Dostoevsky, where many of the Hajduk fans were staying. Some fifty men wearing balaclavas entered the building and began to attack the supporters with chairs. Four sustained head injuries and were hospitalised.

St Petersburg governor Valentina Matvienko - who has been considered for some time as a natural successor to the Presidency of the Russian Federation - described the attackers as hooligans and vowed to prosecute those responsible.

In response, one Zenit fan contacted newspaper Sovetsky Sport to give his side of events. Essentially, this was much more than football-related violence - this was a defence of Orthodox Slavs (in Serbia as well as Russia) from their "enemies" in largely Catholic Croatia.

The connections between Serbia and Russia run deep. Russia's attempt to defend Serbian independence from the Habsburgs precipitated World War I. Russia's refusal to acknowledge the independence of Kosovo stems to a large degree from sympathy with the Serbs.

Now, if the statement of one Zenit fan is anything to go by at least, this political alignment has found new expression in the footballing arena. One thing's for sure - there will be fireworks at Zenit's Petrovsky Stadium on Thursday night.

The Zenit fan's statement in full:

Let's not evaluate what happened as typical hooliganism. Rather, it is a pre-emptive strike. These Hajduk fans are far from angels, they belong to one of the most serious "firms" in Eastern Europe - Torsida 57. The majority of those 300 fans who have flown to St Petersburg are by no means rich tourists, who have come to support their team and witness the beauty of St Petersburg. They are pretty tough guys who won't back down from a fight.
You don't know what Croatian fans did in Athens during their match with AEK? They came to Greece in even greater numbers - around a thousand people. And, armed with belts, they attacked the Greek police, and ejected them from the stands. Basically, the fight in "Hotel Dostoevsky" is no surprise - what happened could have been predicted in advance. And the Croats were ready for what happened.

As always the reasons are political. Serbs are our brothers, Croats - for well-known reasons - hate them. Given that we are friends with Serbian fans, Croats consider us enemies too. Also, we have our own reasons for being antagonistic towards them. Go on the internet and have a look how their Ultras talk about our churches, our religion. The bad language in these statements are typical. By the way, if you go to a match in Split, I advise you not to speak in Russian or carry scarves or flags which give you away as a Russian. That would be dangerous.

On the bodies of those injured Croatian fans we took away two banners, one of which reads "Torsida Biograd". I hardly need to explain what it means to take away a trophy - a scarf or a banner - from a group of opponents...Now on Croatian websites fans write that they "spit on this banner". Last year they lost one of them, but they just made a new one. But it's doubtful that they'll resolve the situation so simply...
There will be a continuation, though I'm not sure exactly what. I think the Croatian fans will show themselves for what they are. I can't even suggest what exactly we should be expecting. But they will definitely actively "light the touchpaper" in the away end. It's definitely possible that there will be some kind of abuse or provocation from the away end.

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Always glad to hear your thoughts. Be nice now! James