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Bosnia | ‘Joyful fandom’ & the flares of Sarajevo (w/ podcast)
Posted By John Turnbull On 10 December 2007 @ 01:54 In Balkans,Podcast,Teaching Resources | 3 Comments
Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina | In a programmatic introduction to a 1997 collection of anthropological essays, Entering the Field: New Perspectives on World Football  (Berg), editors Gary Armstrong and Richard Giulianotti establish the anthropologist’s role as that of “credible witness” to human events.
The anthropologist of football, unlike the sports journalist, must go deeper than the game. She or he must see the 90 minutes, in Harry Pearson‘s terms, as “the Kernel of … the Game,” discerning human motives and emotions to conjure an authentic representation of “reality.”
The fundamental aim of [anthropology] is to investigate classifications, of which there [is] no shortage around the game. Played to clichés, reported on in similar fashion, football’s followers and critics have always attempted to compare, compartmentalize and classify. Anthropology has to try to decode presumptions and prejudices, and go amidst the “natives.” Such research requires pursuit of the “imponderabilities of everyday life,” of which football contains a multiplicity. Such fieldwork is, as a consequence, usually an extremely personal and traumatic experience, but an essential one if anthropology is to be differentiated from other subjects. From this experience the anthropologist becomes a knowing presence capable of understanding on the basis of minimal clues … that “a great deal of what is important to observe is unspoken.” (3)
Özgür Dirim Özkan, 31, in fieldwork among supporters’ groups in Sarajevo since Feb 07 and on the Bosnian Football Culture  website, has examined football as but a small part of a society that, in the Western frame, implies little but ethnic-riven conflict and a constellation of indecipherable place names. Özkan’s preliminary findings in concentrating on supporters of FK Sarajevo  and FK Zeljeznicar  offer nuance to this picture.
His intent to study football, as part of the Ph.D. course at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, in itself signaled to his research subjects that his would be a different approach from that taken by Western journalists or ethnographers. He says on the Dec 4 podcast:
Bosnians are sick and tired of foreign researchers who are just focused on war and ethnic categories, who only see ethnic differences—whatever relates to the concept of “ethnic.” And when they hear that somebody from a foreign country is not only interested in war, conflict, etc.—for example like football, or music, or cinema, any other sphere in the cultural life—they appreciate it … because they see that this guy is interested in us, not in ethnic warfare. That’s why my job here has been very easy since the beginning.
Özkan recognizes that Bosnian football, unlike other spheres of cultural life, offers a place in which nationalist discourse—what Özkan calls “old language”—inflamed by memory of the 1992–95 Balkan conflict can survive. “Football increases ethnic tension. It is the only public sphere where you can observe this ethnic tension between the ethnic groups,” Özkan says. The observation bears superficial similarity to sectarian conflict surrounding Glasgow Rangers and Celtic, for which the phrase “90-minute bigot” has been created to caricature supporters who sing sectarian anthems during matches but for whom religion has little place in daily life.
The supporters’ networks of Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb sides in the 16-team Premijer liga and in lower divisions hurl invective toward so-called Ustaše  (Croatian nationalists), Cetnici  (Serbian nationalists) or Turci (“Turks,” referring to Bosniak or Bosnian Muslim teams), the latter in homage to an Ottoman past. Muslims are denigrated as “al-Qaeda.” Serbs are de facto fascists.
But more lurks behind the use of such slurs than simple nationalist or ethnic impulse, according to Özkan. First, “swearing cultures” predominate in central Europe and Turkey. People swear at each other as part of daily parlance. “It’s very common that they express their wish to have sex with the other fans’ mothers,” Özkan says of the terrace language. “They are very hardcore.”
Further, in Sarajevo, among the Horde Zla  (Hordes of Evil) of FK Sarajevo and the Maniaci  of Zeljeznicar, hostilities between supporters of the derby rivals cannot be characterized in ethnic terms. Nor is it an issue of resentment between rural dwellers and teams from the capital: a conflict between periphery and core, in anthropological categories.
Rather, the animosity appears to come, in Özkan’s preliminary judgment, from club histories. As railway workers did elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, those from the Grbavica district of Sarajevo established Zeljeznicar (meaning “railway worker”) in 1921. With the flowering of the Danube school and Yugoslavia’s footballing successes in the time of Josip Tito, rivals, primarily FK Sarajevo, came to be established with Communist Party backing. Sarajevo raided players from the Grbavica side.
Now, resentments have become entrenched, with Sarajevo viewed as a side of the “establishment,” albeit a previous establishment, and tagged with the moniker pitari, or pie-house owner. Zeljeznicar supporters are košpicari, literally, “the person who eats a lot of sunflower seeds.” This is the person “who wanders around with cheap sports dress, [is] busy with small-scale illegal businesses … [and] also eats a lot of sunflowers since it is very cheap.” Sarajevo plays in Kosevo Stadium, constructed for the 1984 Winter Olympics—an out-of-the-way venue that contrasts with the central district of Grbavica, busy with markets and buregdzinica (pie houses). The auxiliary football pitch at Kosevo became a graveyard during the war. Its surface features white mezars, Muslim tombstones. Özkan continues:
Sarajevo fans go to the stadium as if they are going to holiday; on the other side, Zeljeznicar fans go to the stadium, which is already internalized in their daily lives. The different spatial perception has effects on identity formation. … [U]nlike Turkey, it is almost impossible to meet youngsters with fan scarves or jerseys in Sarajevo daily life. The basic reason behind that is, like in any other Balkan country, football fans are perceived as unemployed, trouble-making, and uneducated, low-cultured persons. One of the basic reasons behind the formation of such an image is “hot” scenes from the stadiums.
Of these “hot” scenes, Özkan remarks in understated fashion that “Bosnian football is not a very quiet one.” Scarves aloft, the singing of the supporters’ groups begins well before match time, security personnel marching along the athletics track and eyeing the banks of fans, waiting for the brightly burning flambeaux to be lit: a tell-tale sign of Balkan football.
But even such signs of heat might confuse a newcomer. Acknowledging hooligan acts and fighting, Özkan nevertheless adds that watching Bosnian football among Bosnians “is not dangerous.” Fundamentally, in Özkan’s view, Bosnian football, while not politicized, features a political dynamic: polarities, a contentious dynamic and a context for argument. Thus the negative perception of supporters in Bosnian life, not unlike the English “yob” of an earlier day. The supporters are not seen as political or rebellious or countercultural. They are seen as criminal.
Another twist to the Bosnian story lies in the general disregard domestically for the national team of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The leadership of the football federation  has been branded a “mafia” by the primarily diasporic fan group, the Fanaticos . And support at home is fragmented, with many having the view that the federation has been set up along ethnic rather than professional lines. Many attending a World Cup qualifier between Bosnia and Serbia-Montenegro in Oct 05 in Belgrade—at which Serbia advanced to the finals, 1–0—were from Republika Srpska, the Serbian section of the fragmented modern Bosnian state.
“Our reality is unique in the world ,” said Munib Usanovic, the federation’s general secretary, in 2005. “More fans from Bosnia will support Serbia-Montenegro than their own country.”
Özkan envisions, in the future, a program in which football facilitates intercultural communication among groups in Bosnia rather than serving as a divider. Such an idea falls under the banner of “joyful fandom,” which Özkan has advocated as a supporter of Gençlerbirligi in Ankara, sometimes planning friendly matches with fans from rival clubs.
[F]ootball is a very joyful thing. When you play football with another person you cannot throw a stone at him in the next match, you cannot swear on his mother in the next match. It’s a collective game. When you play this game side by side with another person you know him better. You are playing together. You are running for the same team together, you are running for the same game together.
The discovery has been made on the multicultural men’s team at the University of Illinois–Chicago (Philip Hersh, “Fanning Flames of Unity ,” Chicago Tribune, Dec 9). The side advanced to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I quarterfinals on Dec 9 before losing, 1–2, to the University of Massachusetts. UIC integrates Bosnian Muslims, Christian Serbs and a Croatian assistant coach within a large diasporic community in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. Amateur leagues in these areas feature teams with Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian orientations, although there is some mixing.
Özkan offers friendship, rather than rivalry, as the best statement of football’s essence.
One of the best-known Bosnian writers with football leanings is Aleksandar Hemon  of Chicago. British novelist Zadie Smith  had a unique encounter with the “big, bald, handsome, mountain of a man with a passion for Soccer” (see “On the Road: American Writers and Their Hair ,” part 4, “Chicago: Aleksandar Hemon,” read at Neal Pollack’s Timothy McSweeney’s Festival of Literature, Theater, and Music, 26 Jul 01). “You talk to me of these various opportunities,” Hemon tells Smith while driving and discussing the writer’s life.
I say this to you: can I still play football three times a week? Can I still play football three times a week? You look at me with your monk’s face, full of an infinite pity, yes, but without understanding, loosened from the realities of this life like a boat that has slipped its rig and floats in the bay. Because you know the truth as I know it. The aesthetic, political, journalistic, academic opportunities afforded a writer in these United States of America—all of them are sadly incompatible with playing a game of football, three times a week.
Article printed from The Global Game: http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog
URL to article: http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog/2007/12/among-the-flambeaux-anthropology-joyful-fandom-and-the-flares-of-sarajevo/
URLs in this post:
 www.themaniacs.org: http://www.themaniacs.org/
 Entering the Field: New Perspectives on World Football: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1859731988?ie=UTF8&tag=theglogam-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1859731988
 Bosnian Football Culture: http://bosnianfootballculture.blogspot.com/
 FK Sarajevo: http://www.fksinfo.com/
 FK Zeljeznicar : http://www.fkzeljeznicar.ba/
 Image: http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/ggpod11.mp3
 Ustaše: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usta%C5%A1e
 Cetnici: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugoslav_Army_in_the_Fatherland
 Horde Zla: http://www.hzsa.net/
 football federation: http://www.nfsbih.ba/
 Fanaticos: http://bhfanaticos.com/
 Our reality is unique in the world: http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,,1590019,00.html
 Alkaralar: http://www.alkaralar.com/
 Fanning Flames of Unity: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/chi-uic-soc09dec09,1,7937863.story
 Aleksandar Hemon: http://www.randomhouse.com/nanatalese/hemon/intro.html
 Zadie Smith: http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth257
 On the Road: American Writers and Their Hair: http://eyeshot.net/zadie1.html
 Association Out: http://sports.yahoo.com/sow/news?slug=reu-europebosnia&prov=reuters&type=lgns
 named several foreign-based players: http://uk.reuters.com/article/worldFootballNews/idUKL1662860520080116
 fired coaches of the national team and all age-group sides: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=491897&campaign=rss&source=soccernet&cc=5901
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