The youth culture presented in this paper will be the football hooligans in Serbia. To start off, the way in which contemporary hooligan groups in Serbia are organized will be presented. These organization aspects will include the ways in which groups are structured, as well as how they are being financed. In addition to this, certain elements of the specific clothing style that this youth culture possesses for the sake of recognition and appearance will also be mentioned. Furthermore, by taking the war in Former Yugoslavia of the 1990’s as the focal point, certain causes and motives will be uncovered as to determine the degree of nationalistic, racist, and religious roots in the formation of the hooligan youth.
The paper will include a majority of the activities that these hooligans participated in, while also trying to highlight certain little known positive ones (i.e. charity donations). Additionally, the role of media in depicting Serbian hooligans will be examined on the principle of how beneficial or detrimental has it been for the existence of the entire phenomenon. The media questioned will be the mainstream media such as television news programs and newspapers, because of their broad ranged impact on all levels of society. Finally, the issue of media misrepresentation will be looked at more closely, with a couple of relevant examples.
Serbian Hooligan Groups Organization and Style
In his article, Savkovic (2010) gives a detailed description of a contemporary Serbian hooligan group. His research was based on the two most famous groups of hooligans in Serbia, the FC Red Star Belgrade and FC Partizan Belgrade, teams whose rivalry Daily Mail (2009) hails as one of the Top 5 greatest and most dangerous ones in world football. Their hooligan groups can immediately be recognized as always occupying the first rows of a stadium, wholeheartedly singing the club’s anthems and provocative slants for the opposing team often without even looking at the events on the pitch.
To some extent this fact serves as an example of their low-level of interest for the sport event itself, with them instead focusing on verbal and potentially physical conflicts. Off pitch, most of them, if not all, sincerely believe that the protests they’re expressing, including the violent ones, are a matter of personal choice when instead most of them have been carefully planned beforehand by the organization. Organization of a hooligan group in Serbia is strictly hierarchical, with their leader at the top being an influential persona in the club’s management decision-making processes as well. Savkovic (2010) notes that this designated leader is usually in strong ties with the organized crime parts of the city, facilitating the process of drug using and trafficking through the members of the hooligan group.
Considering their average age being between 16-23, it is somewhat obvious that their peers in schools or neighborhoods present quite a viable target group of customers for these substances. Activities such as the above-mentioned drug trafficking ones, in addition to certain petty robberies, are usually the main source of income for the group. Money earned this way is then used for travels abroad, buying weapons or pyrotechnics, etc. As far as the visual appearance of the hooligans in Serbia is concerned, like their British and European counterparts, they are most often seen sporting sweatpants and sweatshirts emblazoned with the club’s symbols.
However, based on certain personal experiences from my growing up in Serbia, one rather distinctive feature of a contemporary hooligan in Serbia is their shoes and the way they are worn. More specifically, the Nike Air Max shoe has been considered as an unrivaled status symbol within this youth culture.
Perhaps because these shoes were out of reach up until recently thanks to the ‘90’s sanctions imposed on Serbia, or purely because their higher price range made them more “exclusive” than other such sporting goods, but according to some of my acquaintances whom I have interviewed regarding this culture, today’s hooligan cannot be considered a “real” one without saving enough money to buy a pair of Nike Air Max shoes. Another distinctive trait is the way these shoes “must” be worn. Namely, for some undisclosed reason, a person has to tuck his sweatpants into white socks before putting on these shoes. This has further led to their previously mentioned instant recognition.
The Relationship Between Football and Politics in Socialist Yugoslavia
Before going into the specific details of the relationship between football and politics in Former Yugoslavia, certain complexities of this federal state should be brought to light as means of clarification. As Mills (2009) puts it, the best example of a particular complexity is the fact that Yugoslavia’s 1974 constitution presents the longest constitution in the history of the civilized world. Its mission was to include six different republics (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro) – each with its own Communist Party, as well as two autonomous minorities (Albanians and Hungarians). All this was held under the helm of Yugoslavia’s lifetime president and leader Josip Broz Tito, whose main career goal was ensuring peace and stability across the country’s borders.
But not long after Tito’s death in 1980, these separate national identities started having secessionist motives. According to Mills (2009), during this period, football clubs stood for much more than just sport. They became symbols of their respective nations and a social vehicle on the road to forming independent national identities. Moreover, Djoric (2010) mentions how the youth of the time was heavily affected by the turbulent events that surrounded them, and it was soon that they took refuge in the hooligan groups of their favorite football clubs searching for a feeling of belonging. Having been brought up in a disarray of a federal state after Tito’s death, with no properly specified education or social system, adolescents presented easy targets for indoctrinating techniques based on nationalism.
As a consequence, at the height of the war, these fan clubs immediately turned into bases for recruitment into battle for their respective nations. This further led these football hooligans into forming their own paramilitary formations that, as Djoric (2010) notes, presented the most ruthless segments of Serbian and Croatian armed forces during the war. In future years, many of these indoctrinating techniques prevailed. If the previous generation was mostly beset by Tito’s death, then the following generation was overwhelmingly affected by the ‘90’s war.
Imposition of the sanctions coupled with the 1999 NATO bombings, as well as the 2000’s complete political transitions, only deepened the extent of the “wasted youth” feeling that many young people endure. Sports, and especially football, remained the prime form of futile escapism. But perhaps even more importantly, all of the above mentioned events painted a portrait of a completely disillusioned country in the eyes of the worldwide media, paving further way for some of the more contemporary events.
Media Reports on Serbian Hooligans
Serbian Ministry of Youth and Sports, in cooperation with one of the biggest Serbian Media houses “B92” conducted a research in 2010 under the name “The Media, Sports, and Violence”. This research dealt with the articles in a number of Serbian and International media outlets (Internet, TV, Newspapers) that are related to violent outbursts and sport events in the period from 1999-2010. Some disturbing figures that came out of this research include the fact that, over this period, every 136 days a fan was killed in Serbia, with all the victims and attackers being between 17 and 25 years of age (Simonovic et al., 2010). Almost all of these reports involved the fans of Serbia’s two biggest football clubs, Red Star and Partizan.
Noted incidents ranged from those between the fans of the two clubs, to those that happened in conflicts with fans from foreign clubs during international competitions, as well as those incidents that happened during the Serbian national team fixtures. While most of the domestic disturbances were being reported about only amongst the Serbian media, certain relatively recent international excesses have stirred up the global media world as well. A prime example of this were the events from October 2010, when during the Euro Cup 2012 qualifier game against Italy in Genoa, a group of 50 young Serbian hooligans wreaked havoc on the streets of this coastal city. Racial abuse, grand theft auto, and looting, were just some of the accusations brought up against this group of adolescents.
Media powerhouses such as Guardian, CNN, BBC, etc. reported on this event, thus making it one of the “hottest” topics in world news that week. Many of these articles, including BBC’s “The Context Behind Serbia’s Hooligan Problem” (2010) included references to the break-up of Yugoslavia as the root of racial and nationalist hatred. One of the strongest points made in the article was how the expression of this hatred relates to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious past of Yugoslavia, in turn making the new generations of Serbian youth averse to anything similar.
Even though at that point the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs issued significant penalties to the captured perpetrators and started introducing certain legal changes, it was not long before the Serbian hooligans caused another global-scale incident. In October 2012, during the U-21 game against England in Krusevac, Serbia, large segments of the stadium crowd started jeering and openly yelling racial slurs pointed at the black players of the English squad. The judicial process within UEFA was immediately started to determine a ban for the Serbian national team from participating in all European competitions. As this paper is being written, their decision is yet to be made.
Inverted Effect of Media Representation
However, with this major increase in media coverage of the entire phenomenon, certain doubts about the general influence of media on the culture of hooliganism began to appear. Namely, based on a paper by Kovac (2005) that was written a couple of years before any of the above mentioned events took place, an idea about the detrimental value of media representation for such incidents can be introduced. More precisely, Kovac (2005) argued that the ongoing increase in media audiences and platforms would give the extreme hooligan groups an unprecedented chance to be heard and seen. Meaning, that in a situation where a particular hooligan group has an ideology or a message they want to get across to the rest of the country/world, media presents itself as a perfect weapon for it.
Furthermore, this would entail that incidents of the future would be initiated for the specific reason of getting media attention, thus putting the authorities within a vicious circle in which a universal solution would be very hard to find. Having this in mind, view on the media role in the above-mentioned events of 2010 and 2012 is rather different. In Genoa there were large banners with “Kosovo is Serbia” inscriptions (referencing another recent secession that Serbia experienced) all around the Serbian crowd in the stands. In Krusevac, an entire stand expressed their racist ideology under hundreds of camera lenses that quickly enveloped the globe. The underlying motives suddenly seem clearer in both cases – hooligans started to crave for media coverage opportunities.
On a final note, one more issue that derives from the way media portrays these young people should be mentioned, and that is the issue of selective media coverage. What that means is the fact that incidents and fights caused by hooligans have always been reported on, while certain other hooligan group activities are never being mentioned. Savkovic (2010) notes the 2008 example of charity donations for underprivileged children organized by FC Red Star fans as an event that was never covered in mainstream media, despite how successful it was (certain reports claiming the final figure to be around 10 000 Euros). Even though this can in no way overshadow the more negative deeds condoned by this same hooligan group, this kind of an ignoring process hardly helps when it comes to establishing a concrete and more informed picture about them.
Instead, the only form of representation (nonetheless true) that they are going to have is the one of being indoctrinated with political ideas of the “great” and “proud” Serbia while intoxicated with freely available drugs sponsored by local crime lords. In concluding the paper, it should be mentioned that media misrepresentation is not a concept that solely relates to hooligans in Serbia. Instead, it presents a much wider phenomenon and, potentially, a much bigger problem.
Be it the riots in the United Kingdom, or the shootings in American High Schools, it can be spotted even by naked eye that media predominantly strives towards shocking, sensational, and mostly negative news. A student, who shot another fellow student in high school, would always garner more media attention than the student who won most awards in his generation (i.e.). But the truth of the matter is that mainstream media is essentially a business, and as such, it lives off of what mass audiences consume the most. Until any change happens in that regard, very little difference is likely to be made.
Mills, R. (2009). ‘It All Ended in an Unsporting Way’: Serbian Football and the Disintegration of Yugoslavia, 1989–2006. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 26(9), 1187-1217.
Kovač, M. (2005). Violence in Sports – Hooliganism as a form of spectator violence (Nasilje u sportu – huliganizam kao oblik nasilja sportske publike). Zbornik Instituta za kriminološka i sociološka istraživanja, 24(1-2), 347-374.
Simonović, B., Đurđević, Z., & Otašević, B. (2011). Violence at sporting events in the republic of Serbia – National and International Standards Prevention and Repression. NBP.
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| |Savković, M. (2010). The Context and Implications of Hooligan Violence in Serbia. Western Balkans Security Observer-English| | |Edition, (18), 91. |
Djoric, M. (2010). Politicization of Hooliganism. Political Review, 25(3), 379-400.