12/05/2006versione stampabilestampainvia paginainvia



Football is helping to finance the defence of Gotovina and other Croatians accused of war crimes
There’s a football match being played this Saturday at the Maksimir stadium in Zagabria where the gate receipts are going to charity. However, the proceeds from the match between Dynamo Zagabria and Hadjuk Split aren’t going to a children’s association or towards the fight against some illness but to pay for the legal costs of a dozen or so Croatian generals accused of war crimes by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. One of the accused is Ante Gotovina, who was captured last December in the Canary Islands and is considered by many people in Croatia to be a national hero.
 
Important Match. “Let’s hope the stadium is full”, the Dynamo team manager,  Zdravko Mamic, was quoted as saying, and if it is it will mean that 40,000 people will have contributed around €150,000 to the cause. In all likelihood the ground will be full since the match is the penultimate of this year’s championship and is between the two teams  that in recent years have been the strongest in the league. In fact Dynamo has just won the championship, which in the last years was won by Hajduk, and the team wants to celebrate in front of its own fans.
 
Ante GotovinaNational heroes. The episode is the latest demonstration of how Croatian society has closed ranks around Gotovina and the other soldiers accused by the Hague. The European Union declared that their capture was a condition for Croatia entering the EU in the near future, but not even this incentive changed public opinion in Croatia. In December 70,000 people took to the streets in Zagabria to protest after Gotovina was captured and another 100,000 followed suit in Split, while a survey revealed that 60% of Croatians don’t believe that Gotovina is responsible for the war crimes he’s accused of and 53% think that his arrest is negative for Croatia.
 
The accusations. The general’s trial is taking place at the moment and Gotovina has claimed that he is innocent, suggesting that the trial could go on for a long time in much the same way as that of Slobodan Milosevic, who died in March before his trial finished. Gotovina, who was in charge of Croatian troops in Krajina, in eastern Croatia, on the Serbian border, during the final phases of the war between Zagabria and Belgrade, is accused of crimes against humanity involving 150-200,000 Serbian Croats who lived in the region and were forcibly deported to Serbia by Gotovina’s troops. According to the Hague, the Croatian troops killed 150 Serbs and burnt the houses of thousands of others so that they couldn’t return.
 
Football and politics in the Balkans. The plan to give the proceeds of the Dynamo v Hajduk game to the alleged Croatian war criminals once again demonstrates the links between sport and nationalism in the former Yugoslavia. The former Milan player Zvonimir Boban, for example, has never denied his support for Franjo Tudjman, the Croatian president who was also charged by the Hague, while the star of Croatian tennis, Goran Ivanisevic, publicly defended Gotovina after his arrest. Things in Serbia are little different where Sinisa Mihajlovic, the professional footballer, was a great friend and admirer of Arkan, the Serbian leader of the paramilitary Tigers who was also accused of crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Kosova, before being assassinated by a sniper. Arkan, who began his militancy among the hooligan fringe of Red Star Belgrade supporters, consolidated his nationalist base by becoming president of Obilic football club.
 
Alessandro Ursic