What next after the World Cup?
Serbia is still stuck in an emotional dilemma
There is no lack of zeal in the Balkan country. Serbia’s problem is the overflowing emotions, says someone who should know. And there is no improvement in sight.
Nikola Milenkovic briefly loses his composure against Granit Xhaka during the game.
Samuel Schumacherforeign reporter
Jovan (39) did not see a single one of the five goals scored during the football match between Switzerland and Serbia. The hotly contested match between the two nations flickered across the screen right next to him. But Jovan was too busy for 90 minutes explaining to the only Swiss in the jam-packed “Pub Brod” in Belgrade why Serbia and football will never happen: “We as a people are far too emotional. There are always far too many feelings involved with the Serbs,” says the tall Belgrade native with the pitch-black beard. “It always gets in our way – not just on the football field.”
Jovan will be right tonight. The Serbs fail because of Switzerland and are eliminated. Nobody is really disappointed in the “Pub Brod” in Belgrade. Because you saw it coming.
Serbia is thirsting for new heroes
Serbia, the nation of seven million, the rump state of the former sports superpower Yugoslavia, the country with the pretty capital and the difficult history: it needs new sports heroes to look up to and thanks to whom it can turn its eyes away from the gloomy past could. Sure: There are the tennis high-flyers Novak Djokovic (35) or Nikola Jokic (27), the two-time “Most Valuable Player” of the North American basketball league NBA. But they are not enough to make people forget the national trauma.
Right now, in the sad heyday of the Ukraine war, the old trauma, the rift between East and West, is coming to the fore again. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (52) has so far steadfastly refused to support Western sanctions against the Russian regime. Along with Turkey and Belarus, Serbia is the only country in Europe that turns a blind eye to Vladimir Putin (70). The Russian trading partner is too important.
And the wounds left by the Kosovo war at the end of the 1990s are too deep. In the spring of 1999, NATO stopped the Serbian warlords with a devastating attack. To this day, the Serbs have not forgiven the defense alliance for that. And to this day, the conflict with Kosovo – in the eyes of most Serbs nothing more than a “breakaway Serbian republic” – regularly flares up again.
The double meaning of the double-headed eagle
This was shown not least by the heated discussions in the run-up to the Switzerland-Serbia game. The Serbs have not forgotten that the two Swiss national team players Xherdan Shaqiri (31) and Granit Xhaka (30) celebrated their goals in the last encounter in 2018 with the double-headed eagle hand signal. The sign is commonly understood as a symbol of Albanian nationalism, although Serbs are happy to point out that the double-headed eagle, that ancient Byzantine royal emblem, is also emblazoned on the Serbian flag.
In any case, in the “Pub Brod” almost every longer touch of the ball by Xhaka or Shaqiri leads to a loud murmur. Vladimir Filipovic (33), head of sports at Blic, Serbia’s largest newspaper, which, like Blick, belongs to the Ringier Group, explained in the pre-game interview that politics would no longer play a major role in Serbian football this year. “Half of our team wasn’t even born when the war ended here. They don’t want to get bogged down in these old stories.”
On the pitch, however, emotions between Xhaka and the Serbian players ran high again. And also: You don’t win a football game with too much emotion. The Serbs must have learned at least this lesson from their history by now.