By clinching a berth in the 2014 World Cup, the Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) national football team created a moment that overcame the country's national and political divisions.
By Bedrana Kaletović for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 23/10/13
Fans celebrate BiH's victory against Lithuania to gain a berth in the 2014 World Cup. [Bedrana Kaletović/SETimes]
The celebration in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was and still is unimaginable, ever since the national team earned its spot in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil -- the country's first since the breakup of Yugoslavia a generation ago.
The victory is arguably the biggest sporting achievement in the country since its independence.
"For us, this game was more important than life because those 90 minutes were made up of all our expectations of better days for this country," Elvis Oruč of Mostar told SETimes. "We are all accustomed to constantly having melancholy days and just depressed thoughts, but this win put a smile on every face, from newborn babies to pensioners."
The citizens' support for the national team was equal in both the Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska, in city squares and in homes all over the country. For the last 20 years there has not been any single event that so united the nation. The achievement was also recognised by many politicians.
"The national football team is unfortunately the only thing which functions properly in disturbed BiH ... Bravo, bravo, bravo," said Republika Srpska Vice President Emil Vlajki, one of those who until recently did not acknowledge the national football team at all.
The team's success is a story that overcomes national and political divisions. More than 50,000 citizens welcomed the team in Sarajevo, and street parties were organised in the rest of the country. For the first time, public celebrations for the team were held in many Republika Srpska cities.
"When you see people hugging each other on the street while celebrating the success of their country, even though they supported other countries in football, you become aware of how much sport can do for its country in comparison to politics," Boris Behram of Sarajevo told SETimes.
"For the first time Bosnian Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox were all Bosnians," said Nenad Perić from Bijeljine.
"The fact is that we live in one of the poorest countries in Europe, there are too many unresolved ethnic and political problems around us, and we still stagnate toward the EU. However, all those dark thoughts have become small in comparison with the optimism and unity brought by this victory that has not been felt for many decades," said Alma Dedić, a psychologist.
How far will the football team's success go toward unifying Croats, Bosnians and Serbs in BiH? Add your thoughts in the space below.