BFP Exclusive- The Geopolitics of Soccer in the Balkans

The interlinking of politics and sports goes a long way back in human history. However, whereas in the ancient days, all wars stopped during the Olympic Games, there has been a trend recently to start major wars precisely at that time. The Georgian attack on South Ossetia on the opening day of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 and the Ukrainian coup d'état during the closing days of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 immediately come to mind. The global media attention was focused on the Games and the opponents seemed to have let their guard down. Still, neither operation has been a success, while the noble tradition of laying down arms to compete on the green has been destroyed.

In a certain sense, sports can be taken as the sublimation of the human aggressive drives (what Sigmund Freud and Herbert Marcuse referred to as Thanatos). But, one can easily see that the sublimation extends only to the direct participants, and not to the fans. Sport fans, especially soccer fans, have in the past decades become a source of tremendous violence and public disorder all across the world. Their "chiefs" are typically linked to the shady world of organized crime as well as the military-intelligence networks, which only exacerbates the trouble. One area of the world where this is particularly glaring is the Balkans.

Some observers trace the symbolic beginning of the break-up of Yugoslavia to the soccer match between the Croatian team "Dinamo" and the Serbian team "Crvena Zvezda" held on May 13, 1990 in Zagreb, Croatia. The match was suspended due to the extreme violence between the fans of the two teams at the stadium.[i] Both groups of fans operated under nationalist slogans and their intent was to show to the Yugoslav public (the match was on live TV) that Serbs and Croats could not live together in the same state. Close to 200 people were injured in the ensuing violence, most of whom were the police officers, and the Zagreb city center was partly demolished.

In the past several years, new evidence emerged that the incident was carefully planned by the hardliners in the military-security complex in order to give the nationalist politicians, both in Croatia and Serbia, an excuse for the speedy disintegration of the country.[ii] In my opinion, the close examination of the events also warrants a speculation about the involvement of Western intelligence networks (especially the CIA-BND constellation).

Over the years, soccer fans in the (now) independent states of ex-Yugoslavia hardly deviated from the pattern of vulgar and violent nationalist behavior. In addition, many of them were the members and even the commanders of various paramilitary forces during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. And when the wars were over, they formed their own crime networks. To this day, the fans' organizations remain linked to various deep state structures and do their bidding when the opportunities present themselves.

Two recent incidents at the international soccer matches in the Balkans can be used as the case studies of this inter-relation. The first is the incident on the Serbia-Albania match held on October 14, 2014 in Belgrade, and the second is the incident on the Montenegro-Russia match held on March 27, 2015 in Podgorica. Both of these were qualifying matches for the 2016 European Championship and both were stopped and abandoned before their completion. The objective of those who planned the incidents was to send a geopolitical message of regional instability both to the local publics and to the international community in order to increase the support for NATO integration.

The Serbia-Albania Match

Serbia and Albania have long had a tense political relationship due to the ethnic conflict between the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, but is still not recognized by all the member states of the European Union and does not have a seat in the United Nations. In the past two years, there has been a certain level of normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo under the auspices of the European Union. However, many issues remain unresolved and represent a source of constant tension. Some observers expected that the elections of the new governments in Albania led by the prime minister Edi Rama and in Serbia led by the prime minister Aleksandar Vučić would accelerate the Kosovo reconciliation process. However, it appears that the powerful circles within the Western intelligence community want to keep the region under a permanent threat of destabilization according to the age-old maxim "divide et impera". The incident on the October 14 soccer match should be seen in that context.

The match itself started under a tremendous pressure of disorderly Serbian fans. Many objects were thrown on the soccer field, but the game kept going until the 40th minute of the first half when a drone carrying the flag of a "Greater Albania" (which includes Kosovo) landed on the field. It was picked up by a Serbian player who was immediately confronted by Albanian players, resulting in a brawl. The fans went wild and started throwing everything they could onto the field, so the referee had no choice but to suspend the match.[iii] Right away the speculations appeared in the Serbian media that the drone was flown by the prime minister Rama's brother Olsi from the VIP lodge, which he denied.[iv]

The immediate political fallout of the incident was the postponement of Edi Rama's official visit which would have been the first visit of an Albanian leader to Belgrade since the meeting of the WWII Communist allies Josip Broz Tito and Enver Hodxa in 1946.[v] It should be noted that the idea of "a Greater Albania", which is an expansionist/revisionist geopolitical narrative, goes back to the pre-WWI Great Powers rivalry in the Balkans and had been used to threaten the territorial integrity of what were at that time perceived as the Russian allies in the region (Serbia and Montenegro). It appears that the same trend continues to this day.

Rama did visit Serbia a month later, but his meetings with the Serbian officials, including the press conference with the prime minister Vučić, took place in the atmosphere of tensions and mutual recriminations. Not much substantive was achieved, no doubt due to the lingering consequences of the soccer match incident.[vi] In addition, both national soccer teams were punished by the Union of the European Football Associations (UEFA) by being fined 100,000 Swiss Francs. UEFA rewarded the Serbian team with a 3:0 technical victory, but then immediately substracted those three points from their score.[vii] In this way, hijacked by a devious political agenda, soccer as a sport and its authentic fans both in Serbia and Albania were forced to pay a heavy price.

The Montenegro-Russia Match

For the last few years, Montenegrin citizens have been subjected to an intense anti-Russian propaganda coming primarily from the politicians and the media close to the US political, economic, and intelligence centers. Especially vocal in this respect has been the Speaker of the Montenegrin Parliment, Ranko Krivokapić, whose visits to Washington have recently become quite frequent. As the head of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) last year, Krivokapić pretended impartiality in his meetings with the Russian and Ukrainian parliamentarians, but in fact he is a dogmatic proponent of NATO expansion in Europe and typically speaks in a Mackinderian fashion about the threats of Eurasia.[viii] Krivokapić is, however, not the only Montenegrin high official whose US visits are sponsored by the Atlantic Council, the think tank whose main goal is the strengthening of the US-NATO Empire in Europe.

In April 2014, the Council's guest of honor was the prime minister Milo Djukanović.[ix] No wonder than that Montenegro later joined the US-EU sanctions against Russia, even though the head of the EU Delegation in Montenegro Mitja Drobnič said that it did not have to do this as it was still not the EU member.[x] However, in the behavior of the Montenegrin ruling elite, one can easily discern a clear case of servile comprador mentality, of being "more Catholic than the pope", which wholly explains their foreign policy priorities.

And yet, the problem for the US-controlled political circles in Montenegro is that the majority of the population does not share their Russophobic agenda, while at the same time the Russian government has tried not to retaliate for the actions of the Montenegrin government. This is why the CIA-dominated Montenegrin military-intelligence network went into an overdrive to create an incident which would drive the wedge between the Montenegrin and Russian people. The soccer match between the national teams of Montenegro and Russia in Podgorica on March 27 turned out to be an ideal setting for their perfidious plan.

Even though the stadium police is supposed to enforce strict measures of control, those posing as the fans of the Montenegrin team were able to bring in a large amount of flares, fire-crackers, and other pyrotechnic material. This shows that the ensuing incident had support from the "inside" the security apparatus, that is to say, its taking place was pre-arranged in order to damage the Russian-Montenegrin relations. And so, already during the first minute of the game, one of these "fans" hit the Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev in the head with a burning flare. Akinfeev collapsed and was taken to the hospital and treated for head injury and burns.[xi] Under the pressure of the UEFA officials, the Russian team agreed to continue playing the game, even though the fan rage did not show any signs of subsiding. Then, in the 22nd minute of the second half, another Russian player was hit by an unidentified object and the referee decide to halt the game.[xii]

Immediately after the injury of Akinfeev, the Russian minister of sport Vitaly Mutko called the incident "a disgrace",[xiii] and it is clear that the treatment of the Russian national soccer team in Podgorica will be taken into consideration next time when the Russian-Montenegrin relations come under scrutiny by the Russian government. This re-consideration might lead to the activation of a full-fledged arsenal of sanctions-retaliatory measures, which would then play into the hands of those in Montenegro and in the US in whose interest it is to drive these two countries apart. The ultimate hope of these Gladio-type circles is that these retaliatory actions and the emerging animosity toward Montenegro among the Russian public will increase the Montenegrins' public support for NATO membership and, in fact, that is the main reason while the whole incident was set up.

Since the incident happened last week, it is still too early to know the extent of UEFA's punishment of Montenegro's national soccer team. However, it is already obvious that the Montenegrin chances of qualifying to the 2016 European Championship have been smashed. The final (ironic) twist is that those who watched the game say that the Montenegrin team could have won fair and square. This is yet another proof that those willing to push, under any and all circumstances, the Atlanticist geopolitical agenda in Montenegro are causing real damage to the country's global image as well as to its internal political, economic, and social stability.

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Filip Kovacevic, Boiling Frogs Post contributing author and analyst, is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco, and can be contacted at
















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