Dispute over Yugoslav medals pits Serbs, Croats

28/07/2012

Bloggers say the debate over the rights to medals won by the former Yugoslavia is an issue of fairness.

By Katica Djurovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 28/07/12

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Former basketball star Vlade Divac, president of the Serbian Olympic Committee, said Serbia hopes to win its 100th medal in London. The count includes medals awarded to Yugoslavia from 1920 to 1988. [Reuters]

The largest contingent sent by Serbia to an Olympic Games – 115 athletes – are hoping to win the milestone 100th medal for the nation at the 2012 Games in London.

But many Croats dispute Serbia's medal count, arguing it is unfair that Serbia counts as its own medals won by athletes from the other former Yugoslav republics.

Croatian athletes won 41 of the 83 Olympic medals awarded to Yugoslavia from 1920 to 1988. Since declaring the independence in 1992, Croatia won 27 medals.

As an independent state, Serbia has participated three times at the Olympics -- in Stockholm in 1912, Beijing in 2008, and in the winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 -- and won three medals.

"The medals were never determined on national basis, but rather by territorial belonging to a state which is recognized by the UN and whose Olympic committee is recognized by the International Olympic Committee," the Serbian Olympic Committee told SETimes in a written statement.

Zlatko Matesa, president of the Croatian Olympic Committee, fueled the debate in the Croatian press by arguing Serbia is the legal successor to Yugoslavia and to all the medals won by that country.

"The matter was set after the breakup of Yugoslavia [in 1992]. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia were admitted in the International Olympic Committee as new members, while Yugoslavia, consisting of Serbia and Montenegro, remained as the old member," Matesa told SETimes.

Matesa's statement outraged many. Some, like Jastreb, argued it is a question of fairness, which is why others are voicing the need to re-examine the Yugoslav succession of medals.

Marinela Remeta wrote that fundamental rights have been infringed upon.

"The Croatian Olympic Committee should seriously deal with this issue because our elementary right to an independent state and [Croatian] athletes' rights have been endangered. They have right to see their name next to the country they were born in as well as their nationality," she said.

"Serbia must act responsibly and accept only medals from the Serbian athletes," Remeta concluded.

Many Serbian bloggers argued Serbia has a legitimate right to Yugoslavia's historical medal count.

"After Yugoslavia's collapse, Serbia received all legal inheritance, from the country's debts ... to its sporting achievements. Only Serbia did not want to secede from the artificial state and it inherit all problems and all successes," Radilica said.

But Brane disagreed, saying the medals should not belong to anyone because of perceived unfairness by whoever else appropriates them.

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"Serbia is not the same as [Yugoslavia] and we do not need others' medals just because Serbia is legal successor. I do not see it as something that belongs to me or my country, Serbia," Brane said.

Others, like a blogger who calls himself Duh, propose what they consider the most logical alternative. "Medals should be distributed among former member states, depending on the number of sportsmen in each team."

But if Serbia has a legal right to the medals as Yugoslavia's successor state, argued Kokos, it follows it should have an obligation to pay pension to all the athletes in Slovenia, BiH, Macedonia and Croatia who won them. "The law should not be followed selectively," he said.

There are some, like MartinZ, asked why an issue concerning sports is targeted as a political problem 20 years later. "Successes have been achieved, winners awarded. It is up to the new athletes to prove themselves and win medals for the countries they represent."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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