Serbia cheers for neighbours in World Cup

20/06/2014

While their team isn't playing in the World Cup, Serbian citizens are supporting their neighbours from BiH and Croatia.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 20/06/14

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Serbians gather at a Belgrade bar to watch and support World Cup teams from BiH and Croatia. [Ivana Jovanovic/SETimes]

For Lidija Cvetic, an attorney from Belgrade, supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia in the 2014 World Cup feels natural.

At 33 years old, Cvetic was born before the 1990s conflicts -- born in Yugoslavia, a country in which Bosnians, Croats and Serbs lived together.

"I was very unhappy when we didn't have anyone from our region to cheer in World Cups and we had to support Brazil or Argentina. Finally, there are our neighbours and those with whom we had lived almost since yesterday," Cvetic told SETimes.

"Bosnia is my first as well as Croatia. I have so many friends in Bosnia and whenever I have visited, before or after the war, I have had a great time. I love the people there, and I'm happy because they have qualified for the first time and the whole region should support them. I'm so sorry I am not in Sarajevo now."

Jovana Prusina, 22, a law student from Belgrade, is not a football fan, but the idea of showing solidarity with neighbours motivated her to cheer for Croatia and BiH.

"I do believe that such little things can be the beginning of real reunion and co-existence and end up at some high level of co-operation," Prusina told SETimes. "I cheer for neighbours exclusively. All of us here are connected somehow with Bosnia and Croatia. I do not know anyone in Serbia who doesn't have anyone there, so it is crazy to not cheer."

The Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) branch in Belgrade is organising gatherings at the Kulturni Centar Grad bar in the city centre every evening when Croatia or BiH play.

"The idea stems from our desire to watch World Cup games somewhere outside of our houses and to be happy or sad publicly because of our neighbour's results, and to portray real sport fans in Serbia, since the worst pictures from Serbia are those that come from sport," Masa Milutinovic, a representative of the Belgrade YIHR told SETimes.

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"We, real sport fans, have a problem with the fact that hooligans and criminals call themselves sport fans. Very often, I tell the story of my friend who was in a café during the 2012 Euro championship when Ireland played Croatia, and he was the only one who didn't cheer against Croatia. Those who were cheering against Croatia were not even Ireland supporters."

YIHR's experience shows that bringing together young people from conflict-torn areas can contribute to positive changes and better relations, according to Milutinovic.

"With this gesture, we are sending a message of reconciliation and showing we are ready to work on our relations. We can't influence the past, but the future is our responsibility," Milutinovic said.

How can sport and cultural activities help to improve inter-ethnic relations in the region? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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